Tricentennial

By Per Fagereng

Mom’s boy friend talked me into going, although I was really doing it for her. She liked Sam, and he was a member of One Nation Indivisible. He lived at a church farm halfway between Damascus and Boring, where he managed the ducks.

Sam lived with his son George, who was a few years old than me. George was dim, but Mom kept wanting me to get to know him better and maybe like him as an older brother. She had a lot of little dreams like that, and I didn’t want to kill them. Her biggest dream at the time was to marry Sam and move into his house on the farm. There she would take the wool that the laborers sheared, spin the wool into yarn and weave pretty shawls. Maybe some day she would weave a fine tapestry about American history and it would hang in the church sanctuary. But for now she hoped I would march with Sam and George in the Tricentennial parade.

So early on the morning of July 4, 2076 I rode the streetcar into Portland and walked to the Columbia Hotel, which the One Nation Indivisible committee had rented for the occasion. In the ballroom I stood in line to get my uniform. When I got to the head of the line the man behind the table pointed to three pictures of soldiers in uniform and said, “That’s all we got left.”

“No Continentals?” I asked.

“They went fast,” he said, and waved to the empty rack at the end of the row.

I’d waited too long to make up my mind about joining the parade. So I took a World War One Doughboy uniform, which looked the least uncomfortable for a hot day. And from what I knew about history, that war was the most stupid of all.

The man handed me my uniform on a hanger, and I took it upstairs to our hotel room. Sam and George were already dressed and admiring each other. Both of them were Continentals, with white knee britches and heavy blue coats with white sashes across the chest, and their little three-cornered hats.

“We got to get going,” said Sam. “Let me know if you need help.”

I put on a pair of brown pants that were slightly puffed out like riding britches. I wrapped some brown leggings around my shins and kept my regular walking shoes. I buttoned up by brown tunic, and pulled a belt with cartridge pockets around my middle. With a brown campaign hat on my head I looked ready to fight and die in the muddy trenches.

We walked downstairs to the lobby that was filled with soldiers from all the wars that America had fought. I guessed there were fourteen or fifteen wars, but maybe I missed a few.

A committee official spoke to the crowd. He was dressed as a Continental general with a plume on his hat. He said, “We’re going to walk a few blocks to the formation area. And then we’re going to line up into our contingents. The troops will be leading the march and the band will be playing right behind us. And bringing up the rear will be the politicians and local luminaries. Which I guess is in the American tradition.”

The men all laughed at that and trooped out the door.

The parade formed under the trees in the North Park Blocks. The band began braying and thumping and we crossed Burnside Street and marched up Broadway. Leading the parade were two drummers and a guy playing the flute. Then came the Continentals, followed by the Union and Confederate troops, General Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, the Doughboys, the soldiers of World War Two, and after that it got blurred. There must have been eight or nine different wars in different parts of the world, but they were all represented by men and a few women in camo uniforms.

None of us carried muskets or rifles or any kind of weapon. Sam said the One Nation Indivisible committee couldn’t afford to lose any real weapons, and fake rifles would have looked tacky. “The real message,” he said, “is we are armed by the spirit of America.”

Sam and George marched up front with the rest of the Continentals. I trudged along with the mud-brown Doughboys. The days was heating up. I unbuttoned the collar of my tunic and wished I had a canteen of water. Somewhere behind us the band was playing. You could hear snatches of music but it was hard to march to.

We passed a bank building where a row of military officers stood on the front steps and gave us a perpetual salute. A few people lined the curb, but other folks were just out for a stroll and didn’t even look our way.

Then we came to Pioneer Courthouse Square, and there we saw the Doug Fir flag of the Cascadia Republic. It had green, white and blue horizontal stripes and a tree in the middle. People stood at the edge of the square, waving their flag and shouting. A trumpet blared. Three women raised their tops and wiggled their breasts. Then we saw a red and black flag with an eagle. “What the hell flag is that?” asked the Doughboy marching beside me.

“I think it’s the farm workers,” I said.

“What are they doing up here?”

“Waving their flags. Working on the farms.”

The band music and all the noise echoed off the tall buildings. We marched past the square, past the theaters and up the hill.

Then I heard yelling and screaming ahead. The parade piled up. The people in front stopped and those in back pushed against us. I slipped away from the crowd and ran up the sidewalk and saw a big fight going on. It looked like another parade was coming down Broadway and they ran head-on into ours. A row of scowling faces stared at our Continentals.

And then from a side street came a bunch of screaming Indians riding electric bikes. They had long black hair and war paint on their faces. They rode between the groups of soldiers and they waved toy rifles that squirted real or fake blood. One of them passed about twenty feet in front of me. With a fierce grin he aimed his rifle at a Seventh Cavalry soldier and splashed him with a bright red stream.

The Indians passed through our ranks and then they were gone. But the other parade was standing its ground. Some of our soldiers went running up to join the fight. Then behind me the  band began playing again and now people were turning around and heading back the way they came. Some were marching and some were starting to run.

The parade had turned into a crowd of people shuffling along in the street. I looked for Sam and George. I saw a Continental holding a handkerchief to his bleeding nose, but it was some one else.

We came marching raggedly back to Pioneer Courthouse Square and found a party going strong. Down the steps in the plaza people danced to a country string band with a couple of extra trumpets. Sweet smoke from the barbecue barrels filled the warm air. On Morrison Street a freight streetcar stood on the siding and people were buying food brought in from the farms.

Then another parade came up the street. The Cascadia people had marched across the Hawthorne Bridge, and now they entered the square waving their Doug Fir flag. They filled the square and overflowed onto the streets where trolleys inched along in the crowd. Then a squad of cops rode their motorcycles along the sidewalk in front of the laughing people.

The sun was going down behind the tall buildings and our parade moved faster. We quickstepped back to the hotel and stood at ease while the Continental general spoke to the troops. I heard about half of what he said:

“You did the nation proud…marching with heads high…resisting provocation and fighting back…Troops dismissed,”

The hotel ballroom had been decorated while we were gone. The empty uniform racks were lined up along the back wall. Along a side wall stood the food table with two big punch bowls. The floor was filled with round tables, and American flags hung down from the ceiling.

I sat at a table with Sam and George, a woman named Mary Jo wearing a camo uniform, a Seventh Cavalry guy and a pudgy Confederate.

Sam had been at the front rank and he told about the confrontation with the other parade. “They were anarchists,” he said. “That’s what they called themselves. From the university. Some of them looked pretty old, if you ask me.”

The Confederate chuckled. “That’s how it works. You pick the right classes, you can make a career out of it. The system works so you don’t have to.”

George looked dazed. He took off his three-cornered hat and his hair was wet. “A bunch of traitors,” he mumbled.

The Seventh Cav trooper had fake blood spots on the gold trim of his blue tunic. “The guy next to me got sprayed right in the face. He couldn’t see. And then he stepped out and a so-called Indian riding his motorbike damn near knocked him over. We got him over to the sidewalk and we tried to wipe his eyes. I don’t know what was in that paint, but it wasn’t coming off.”

“Did it sting?” the Camo woman asked. “He could’ve been blinded.”

“They finally got him to a clinic,” said Seventh Cav. “Something like that happened to me once. At the clinic they put a little cup over your eyeball under the eyelid. And then they run water through it. It doesn’t hurt so much but it feels a lot worse. Like your eyeball’s gonna cave in.”

“I hope they catch the ones who did it,” she said and added, “Rotten people.”

“They were gone pretty fast. If somebody had a stick they could’ve poked it through the spokes and stopped the bike cold.”

“Would’ve served them right,” she said.

Later at the food table Sam said to me, “I’m glad your mother didn’t come. I had a feeling something might happen.”

“Didn’t she want to come?”

“She thought about it. She was wondering if she could be Betsy Ross.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Betsy made her flag at home. And gave it to General Washington.”

On the food table were platters of ham and turkey and scrapple, bowls of squash and succotash, a pot of Boston beans, baskets of johnny cakes and biscuits, a big American flag cake and some gooey stuff called syllabub. And a bowl of rum punch.

We ate and watched the Washington DC celebration on a big screen. There on a balcony of the United States Capitol stood a dozen former presidents and the one still in office. They were all dressed in knee britches and frock coats, even the two women presidents, and they took turns reading from the Declaration of Independence. People stood packed into the two grand stairways because down below the  National Mall was flooded. We saw a quick shot of the Washington Monument and folks sitting in rowboats and then the screen went blurry.

I went back to the food table and kept on going. As I left the ballroom a man running for president was speaking from the giant screen, talking about the Indians who were trying to steal our country. Upstairs in my room I changed out of the Doughboy uniform and into my civilian clothes, and then I walked down to the lobby and out the door.

 

It was night time and the office buildings stood dark against a ghostly sky. Down on the street, the tavern doors were open and the lights glowed dimly inside. As I walked by I spotted a few parade soldiers sitting at the sidewalk tables. Now Broadway was back to its usual traffic of electric cars and scooters and alcohol rigs and people riding bikes.

Pioneer Courthouse Square was all lit up with hundreds of solar torches. Solar lanterns in various colors swayed overhead. Down on the plaza people danced to a Mexican band. The warm air smelled of barbecue and gunpowder.

Walking was like dancing. I noticed a few women wearing gauzy dresses and maybe nothing underneath. I stopped at the Cascadia beer garden and bought a pint of Doug Fir porter. The ice machine was running loudly. I slipped through the crowd and found an empty seat by the fence.

Some other people at the table were Diggers. They’re a group that finds land for people to farm, and one guy was talking about making a deal for the old federal prison at Sheridan. He said a church was trying to buy the place but they wouldn’t say where their money came from. “God provides,” a woman said with a grin.

“The Feds can’t get enough prisoners,” the Digger was saying. Most folks knew why: The state of Oregon was stopping US attorneys from turning every crime into a federal case. “If Oregon takes over Sheridan they’re going to let us run the farm camps. The same way we do in the state prisons.”

I wondered if it was Sam’s church trying to buy the federal prison, and I remembered one day when I visited Sam’s duck barn. It was feeding time and a few hundred ducks were all quacking inside the corrugated metal building, a great chorus of quacking that echoed up to the roof.

Another guy at the table said the Mormons ran one of the prisons in Idaho. “They rent out the prisoners to work on their own farms. They got a prophecy that says they’ll save the United States from collapsing.”

“We don’t rent out slaves,” said the Digger. “We help them set up their own co-ops.”

Another guy said, “If we were a country we wouldn’t have to take in all those refugees. We’d stop them at the border.”

“That wouldn’t work,” said the Digger. “You wouldn’t want it to work. Better to let them in and give them some land so they’ll fight with us.”

While they talked I drank my porter and watched the people in the crowd. A marimba band was playing, and the musicians danced on stage banging their mallets while people below danced to the music. I heard faint explosions in the air from the fireworks celebration down by the river. And wandering through the crowd came a Continental soldier.

He looked drunk with his red face, white britches and blue coat. He looked lost as he swayed in front of a woman who wore a gauze dress. She danced up to him and lifted her skirt, and he almost fell over. The woman laughed and held out her hand.

Then a guy who looked like one of the Indians from the parade handed a bottle to the Continental. The soldier took a swig and started a solo dance, grinning as he slowly sank down. The woman and the Indian each grabbed an arm and helped the Continental lean against a wall and slide to the ground.

And there he sat with the bottle cradled to his chest while the dance went on.

 

 

 

 

 

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