“The brick is on fire!” Donna screamed.
Pointing feverishly to the Armeggedon in front of me. She was long at my back. Way back from my back. Like to the doorway to the exit to the floor below.
And it was.But if (when) you stepped away, the bricks engulfed in flame was the least of my problems.A good part of the apartment building’s roof was engulfed. It was a super-hot Fourth of July, too. 1976.
The tenement building’s roof was my personal summer sticky playground and now my playground was in danger of melting.
At least if a Brooklyn FD unit was in my future, I was wearing pants this time around. The last time fire trucks showed up I had my bare bottom stuck to hot asphalt. This time? I was prepared! Pants locked. Secured.
It all happened so fast. This was supposed to be the best fourth ever too. Portable radio, new hibachi (tiny, best BBQ ever), and $200 worth of assorted fireworks (that was a fortune for me). A fortune for 1976. Hey, it was the bicentennial. A big deal. I wanted a big bang to celebrate (from Donna too who wore a July 4 themed tube top ready for removal).
The wind was unusual. Air was still. Then a gust. Still. A gust. Let’s say it was damn unusual. I placed the first (of what I thought would be many) of the colorful fireworks, cone shaped, on the ledge of the roof facing the street.I was going to orchestrate the most impressive pyrotechnics display these sweaty bastards ever saw. Happy 200th birthday, America!!
I lit the fuse and stepped back. Excited. Then it hit me. A formula for disaster was right before my eyes.
Wind Gust + Huge Paper Grocery Bag of Fireworks On Roof Floor + Ignited Fuse =
I couldn’t have planned a more perfect disaster. The wind knocked the cone directly into the bag. Then the real show began.Before it was over, there was a flaming pile of ash and a trail from the wind swirling remnants of fiery trash now starting fires all over the roof.Flaming fireworks were now raining down on the courtyard too.
I dreadfully imagined the emergency call to the FDNY this time:
“The roof of _____? Is it the kid who had his genitals stuck? He’s at it again?”
Hey, it wasn’t my fault!!!! I didn’t plan this!!
Or did I?
Fuck off!! I’m the victim here!!!!
I needed to face smoldering facts. I was turning into a human I didn’t want to be. A person worse than a hoodlum. My soul was on fire.
My mother always blamed everyone else for her troubles, her fate, even though she was responsible for what lit her fuse and how she crashed and burned. Over and over again.
Turning into my mother was the worst thing I could imagine. In the flames I was still. I was hoping to burn. Donna? Long gone. On the phone with the fire department.
I imagined myself a scarred drone. A victimless victim. An ash hit my face. I left it alone. To wake me up. I was not going to fall for the hypnotic bad flames around me. I was bigger than the fire now.If there was indeed going to be fires, I was going to make damn sure I was responsible for them. I was going to use them to fuel my path. Out of this neighborhood. No more rooftops. No more bare ass to asphalt. And I was going to make sure my fires were mostly for good things. Not for ruining property. My beloved roof. Scarred forever.
At 12 years old I declared my independence. Never looked back. Little did I know when my mother left town forever a year later with a guy she knew for a week, this move would serve me well.
On July 4 we celebrated. We took back America. The one we remember or at least, like to remember. The one of loyalty, love, faith, friendship. The old of glory. The flames of patriotism and of course, independence.
Then July 5 rolls around. And it’s over. We are slaves again. Slaves to debt, slaves to overwhelming bosses and the corporations they serve, slaves to politics, slaves to shit we don’t need. We lose ourselves in the bad flames. Next 4th of July we’ll restore our faith again. Not good enough. It’s time to light your fuse.
No. A year is too damn far away. Today, July 5. You will be reborn. Today is your personal independence day. How will you create and serve this noble purpose?
How would you begin your PDI? What will be your Personal Declaration of Independence?
1). Burn (or blow up) Bridges. Set to flame those people who don’t ignite your passions, your creativity, your strengths, your will to live. You’ve already identified them you just haven’t had the guts to set the bridges on fire. Not literally. Put away the lighter fluid. Don’t even call these pricks. Just stop communication. Walk out. Get an attorney if you’re married. Nothing wrong with using the laws of the land to light the dynamite.
2). Be a Firestarter. Direct your fire slowly to those activities, the people, the materials that enhance your intelligence, bolster your wealth, lighten your mood and encourage you. Light the spark every day. At the end of the day, be thankful you were able to set good thoughts ablaze. Be thankful for the firestarters.
3). Who Holds the Fire Extinguisher Now? Or who is out to hose you? I’ve identified real false fire gods. They lurk in the coals of corporate America. You think they’re mentors. They are. Up until you stop chugging the Kool-Aid and speak out against an action that’s inappropriate to the customers or clients you serve.
Do that and you’re dead. Even if you speak out once. Dead. Covered in white foam. Your career fire is out. Just like that. What the hell happened?
Create a personal, small rebellion (which will turn out to be BIG) against corporate America. Corporate America is no longer your friend if you’re an employee. Although, you’re extra, extra special as a shareholder or a bondholder.
As a worker, you’re drudge at the bottom of a drudge bucket. Yes, there are exceptions but not as many as you think. Every corporate action that is taken and will be taken going forward will be to drain more life out of you and take time away from your family. All for the sake of fatter profit margins. All to appease Wall Street analysts. You work for Wall Street now. It doesn’t matter what your check says. Your corporate mentors will spoon feed you, pacify you until you speak up. It only takes one time.
After the financial crisis in 2008, behind the doors of mahogany boardrooms I’m thoroughly convinced that corporate decisions makers know they have you over a barrel. They’re willing to take advantage of the situation for as long as possible. They want the fire in your soul until there’s nothing left.
You’ll work longer hours for less pay. You’ll progressively be thrown lofty goals soaked in management hubris, which will be increasingly impossible to meet. And when you don’t meet or exceed these hurdles you’ll be written up or threatened with firing.
The future indicates you’ll need to deal with greater “innovation” from middle managers who consistently need to work off your sweat equity to enhance their miserable careers. You have now become a flesh cog in the corporate machine until the scales balance more in labor’s favor. It will happen someday. They’ll be more workers seeking to break free. For now? You’re screwed.
Don’t be a victim. What actions can you take today to further strengthen your personal declaration of independence. Knowing your enemy helps. Some dress well and talk sharp. Take what you can get. Be respectful. But never trust corporate mentors.
4). Positive Fires Rage through Humility. I’ve heard America likes overachievers. I don’t believe it. People will sincerely appreciate your help but don’t fall too in love with yourself. Remain humble and grateful in your life and in your delivery of guidance. Overachieve in your heart and be thankful when people recognize and commend your fires.
God will bless you and people will actually heed your words. Humble also means you have a fire to constantly gain knowledge. You can never know or learn enough.
I never went up to the roof again. I left everything. For all I know, the Hibachi and the radio are still up there.
The person I was remains in the brick of an urban hearth. The person I was died in flames on July 4, 1976.
On July 5th, I was reborn.
How will it happen for you?