This is an essay from my book, A Little Bit Sideways. It's about us. Americans. We are unique, to say the least. Happy 4th, Everybody!
I once went to a Fourth of July celebration concert with an English friend. When I invited her, she said, “Oh, sure. Gloating’s far more fun when the losers are present.”
Huh. I hadn’t thought about the Fourth from a British person’s perspective. It made me consider how little we modern day Americans know about the personalities of the people who were responsible for that little tiff we call the American Revolution.
We were ticked off by King George’s government treating the American colonies as though they were property. As if! How dare they! Oh, wait. Technically, the colonies were. But still. The British had the nerve to levy taxes on needed supplies like paper, paint, glass, and tea. Never mind that the taxes were supposed to help pay off the debt from the French and Indian War. In North America and the Caribbean, it was a battle against the French for control of those colonies. The American colonists hated the notion of the French taking over, so England really was fighting for their cause as well. And it was pretty darn pricey. In fact, so staggering a debt, that it nearly destroyed the English government.
The colonists didn’t care. Already, the fledgling & soon-to-be rebellious ones conveniently forgot they almost had to learn French and step up their game in the kitchen. And who wouldn’t want to forget? That’s a lot of pressure—going from preparing basic grub (Sorry, English) to excelling in wine reductions, crème fraiche, and escargot. King George III was a little unstable—not completely mad yet, but King Louis XV? Despite being known as the beloved, Louis wasn’t. (It’s kind of like how every North Korean adores Kim Jong Un.) Louis was—as were all the Louies—weird. And surprisingly progressive by today’s standards. He was the first one to send a transvestite to spy on the Russians. Luckily for us, Louis never met a war he couldn’t lose. Might it have had something to do with too much wine and men wearing silk stockings?
Back to our British overlords. By 1770, only the tea tax remained. Big deal, right? Depends on how much you know about human beverage history. And lucky for you, I’ve done extensive research. Tea was the first non-alcoholic drink in the Western world that wouldn’t make you sick. See, back in those days, everybody knew if you drank water, you could die. They didn’t understand the why. Until tea, everybody drank beer or wine. Seriously. Even the kids. It’s a miracle the human race didn’t stagger its way into cave walls and off cliffs, stab themselves with poisoned arrows, and get dizzy and tumble down the pyramids to extinction. So tea was a big deal. It enabled the industrial revolution, because sober people can be trusted around machinery. Drunk people, not so much.
But perhaps England’s biggest mistake in all of this was allowing volunteers to go populate the New World in the first place. They should have assigned people to go instead. Because the people who would volunteer to leave everyone and everything they know to sail for months to an uncertain fate carry a certain daring adventure gene. No—it’s not really a gene. Don’t make me roll my eyes at you. All of us Americans, back then and now, carry this thing I’m calling a gene. Americans come from ancestors who dared to leave home and try something new. People seeking freedom from other people telling them what to do or believe.
As a result, by default—we Americans are independent. Curious. Brave. Brash. Restless. Self-motivated. Inventive. It’s why our spirit is admired around the world. The most adventurous people from all the other countries chose to come here, effectively diminishing their home country’s gene pools of such traits. We can’t help being rebellious. It’s in our blood. So, of course that pesky tea tax was going to piss them off royally. There was a bit more to it than that, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome in the history aisle.
My fellow Americans, this is an awesome responsibility. Our demanding that they—whoever they are (Oops, it’s the government, don’t tell anyone)--do something (This is outrageous!) is constantly at war with our inner rebel that doesn’t want anybody messing with our lives. Until we break an axle in a deep pothole. Why the heck can’t these fools manage to fill a hole?! Or dozens of people fall ill from salmonella in a restaurant. Why can’t THEY make sure these places serve safe food?! Or your baby gets lead poisoning from chewing on an imported toy. Why can’t THEY test these things before they allow them into our country?!
Nothing’s changed. We want it both ways. And that’s impossible. Happy Fourth of July, you rebel, you.
I believe the only way to get through the slings and arrows life throws at all of us is to find the humor.