Every Fourth of July, my aging mind wanders back in time to a Glorious Fourth that I spent with my friend from college, Courtney Harris. Courtney was by far the coolest woman in our Engineering School class at the University of Virginia. (Granted, there wasn’t much competition.) I was a Catholic nerd from the suburbs, but Courtney was a rock-n-roll chick from Richmond with an older boyfriend. She took me to concerts and bars and was always fun to be around.
One of my fondest memories of Courtney was when she rolled into the early morning final exam of some dreary engineering class wearing naught but an oversized Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt, which I knew for a fact was her pajamas.
One or two years after graduation, I traveled down to Richmond to spend the weekend of the Fourth with Courtney. Courtney was born on the Fourth of July, so it was also her birthday weekend. Courtney’s parents had divorced some years earlier, and her mother’s new boyfriend invited us over to his house for a barbecue on the Fourth.
Here’s the first thing I remember about Courtney’s mothers’ boyfriend: he was a huge proponent of Norman Vincent Peale, the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking”, which is a primer to help inadequate white men feel better about themselves. I just googled it, and not surprisingly, Donald Trump is a huge fan.
Here’s a snippet about the book from a 2016 Politico article entitled “How Norman Vincent Peale Taught Donald Trump to Worship Himself”: “Subsequent rules tell the reader to avoid “fear thoughts,” “never think of yourself as failing,” summon up a positive thought whenever “a negative thought concerning your personal powers comes to mind,” “depreciate every so-called obstacle,” and “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it 10 per cent.”
Here’s the second thing I remember about Courtney’s mothers’ boyfriend: he was trying to turn the collection of mangy animals in his yard into a for-profit petting zoo. The house was surrounded by sad, diseased-looking animals and, consequently, lots and lots of flies.
Our party of four (Courtney, her boyfriend Mike, her friend from high school Hunter, and me) rolled up into the clouds of flies and scurried for the interior of the house, which was un-air-conditioned and full of Norman Vincent Peale plaques. Then we learned the third thing I remember about Courtney’s mothers’ boyfriend: He was a teetotaler. Courtney’s boyfriend Mike withstood the hot boredom for about five minutes and then stood up and made a declaration:
“You gotta drink beer on the Fourth of July.”
He matched his action to his words and drove back to town and brought us blessed relief from heat and boredom: many six-packs of cold, canned beer. We sat in the living room and drank beer and chatted in a desultory fashion until, finally, it was time for the meal, and then, blessedly, we could drive back through the flies to Courtney’s house.
I have always appreciated Mike’s determination to improve our afternoon, and I have always, always followed his mantra: “You gotta drink beer on the Fourth of July.”