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Val Kilmer & Greenpoint Pyrotechnics

Sparklers, Cones, Punks and Snakes

July 14, 2003

There comes a time, even during the most spectacular fireworks show, when you check your watch and wonder how much longer until the finale. This moment occurs for me twelve minutes into this year’s dizzying display over the East River, against Manhattan’s skyline.

I’ve weaseled my way into a prime viewing spot – the rooftop of a waterfront Greenpoint, Brooklyn industrial loft – after getting a casual invite from a guy a few nights before. He asks me to remind him again where we’ve met, but no matter. The lack of impression I’ve made is small price to pay in exchange for this prime bit of real estate on my first New York City Fourth of July. I go with my friend Sara, also a recent California transplant. We arrive several hours before dark and mix with guests.

A young actor resembling Val Kilmer has sneaked us into the place and up the stairs from street level. I’m thankful for this – my buddy who can’t place my face said nothing about these difficult access issues. A few more minutes and Sara and I would have been back on the subway, trying to scrape sparkler money and a cold Bud tall boy. We strike up a conversation with the kid, feeling like we already owe him much.

He’s made his way to New York via Baltimore, and used to live in the building. He points to the Russian landlord, setting up a folding chair at the top of the roof stairs, demanding seven dollars from each arriving guest. The man noticed the large crowd forming last year and decided to pounce on the opportunity. This irks our young friend, who isn’t a major marquee player, but did have a bit part in the John Waters film “Pecker.” Sara tells him she thought he looked familiar and offers an even wider smile.

I have to fork out my seven dollars on the way back down the stairs, unable to hold out any longer before using the facilities. There is one bathroom, below in the loft, and I can see that getting in will become more of an issue as the night goes on. I switch from beer as a young lady stringing together sentences like an ad for amphetamines offers me tequila. “What do you think of the midriff decision?” she asks me, showing off the unclothed area between jeans and shirt. “Appropriate or no?” I tell her that the weather certainly warrants it, and keep to myself that her real problem is too much mid and not enough riff.

Approaching dusk, Sara and I join separate groups, trying our luck fishing for engaging conversation. I chat briefly with an attractively distracted woman. “I’m from California” seems a decent opener and less affected, if no more imaginative than “what’s your sign?” She excuses herself after ten minutes and I end up landing a neurotic lawyer with a camera phone, uncomfortable laugh, and wedding date looming in the near future. He assures me repeatedly what a “great gal” she is and tries to spot and point her out across the crowded roof. He mentions having kids and how he wouldn’t even mind if they “turned out retarded or something.” I ask why he would focus on such a tragic idea, even in advance of conception, and he tells me that he doesn’t consider retardation a “tragedy.” I stand duly corrected and he logs my snapshot into his phone.

Dark nears and Sara lights up the dance floor with Val Kilmer, shaking it to the strains of a sufficiently amplified Salsa band. She’s honed her skills in San Francisco and New York clubs, while he’s obviously mastered the essential element of staying drunk on two feet at countless fraternity affairs. Two women shake it beside them, and draw the attention of the guy standing next to me; a sleeveless city veteran with Manhattan roots and a Sicilian lineage. “You think they’d mind if I cut in?” he asks me, sloshing a bit of brew over the side of his plastic cup. I grin and offer an honest “yes.”

Closer to ten, as the big show rains a four-staged fountain of color over America’s biggest player, I find myself semi-engaged with a guy sporting a shaved head and conservative political slant. He mentions that Bush is in the city, gesturing toward Manhattan and putting a pinch of tobacco in his cheek. I ask if I can bum a bit, reverting to an old college habit, and he takes an immediate liking to me.

“I don’t care what anybody says,” he tells me, “this is a great country.”

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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