We got to the park just after the parade of water and fire trucks and decorated bicycles had gone around its small green square. Uncle Sam, his top-hat made of something soft, like the coat of a stuffed animal, waded in his long striped pants through the grass. The water trucks had snugged up close to the curb, under the cottonwoods, and their giant hoses were now feeding the white slip 'n' slide the children were screaming and hurtling their bodies over. The park's pool has been closed all summer for renovation. Vote for Sheriff White the side of the biggest, shiniest water truck says.
The signs around the park clearly say No Dogs Allowed, On Leash Or Off, but our dogs stay politely near the curb, and that woman's mini-Yorkie pup doesn't really count yet as a dog, small as a haircomb, and anyway petting-camels are being unloaded from a horse trailer, the first one already tied by its red leash to a tree. You can forget how huge a camel is, how hairy its hump. The children who've never seen one before stare. Those of us who have, stare. Cotton candy freezes in beards under everyone's chins.
Jamie from Animal Control comes by in her black uniform--she doesn't mind if you call her the dog-catcher, by the way--and bends down to pet our dogs. She tells us she lost her beloved Yodi, part-coyote, part dog, three days ago. She says she can't talk about it, and goes on stroking our youngest, her eyes wet.
The mayor walks by and doesn't smile. Maybe he's tired. Maybe politicians need a holiday, too. Under the gazebo a high-school girl is reading her winning essay answering the question, "Does America Still Have Heroes?" We can't hear a single word she's saying, what with the children dive-bombing into the water just to her right. I worry about how long she practiced, if she imagined silence and dignity attending her words. I stand still to let her know I see her. A young Navajo boy is practicing his lasso-work while his mother sells fry bread. He expertly ropes a mock-metal-calf he's brought with him, the knot around its neck as perfect as a pretzel.
Everyone wants to eat something, ice cream, palm-shaped sugar cookies, popcorn, cotton candy, coffee cake. It's ninety degrees. Our friend Tad is selling oven-fired pizzas, delicious, but business has been slow, and he may have to move with his wife and baby to another, cooler town. Behind him there is one ride, something like a red starfish whirling wildly. It looks dangerous.
The average age in the park is eight. The old people look young today in their shorts. Only their bare knees show the long haul, like a camel's. A solitary man is trying to sell his apricots from a picnic table.
Our neighbor walks by; he and his wife built their dream house in this town a few years back, a beautiful bed-and-breakfast; and then, soon after it opened, she died.
He has his new girlfriend with him now.
It's a new year, America.
Just beyond the apricots, behind the sign giving the park's name, every kind of bicycle you can imagine lies in the grass, unwatched.
You can listen to me read this story here.