My Top 4 July 4ths

Counting up:

4) The year I went to Battery Point to see the Tall Ships. I think I may have spent the day alone, with the exception of the homeless woman for whom I bought breakfast, but it was a really nice day. Hot, mind you. But the ships were worth the heat and humidity.

3) Manhattan rooftop parties. A friend from college and I started out at a party on a balcony overlooking the Roosevelt Island tramway. You know, the one Spider-Man rescues Mary Jane Watson from in the first Tobey Maguire movie. Then we went to an actual rooftop to see fireworks over the East River. The only problem? We couldn’t see the fireworks. Between the humidity and the smoke, there very quickly was no visibility. All we could see was a colorful glow through the fog or smog or vog or whatever it was. Booms and red-glowing mist? It was like watching a psychedelic war zone.

2) Grilling. I lived in Austin, and my parents lived in San Antonio. This particular Fourth, they were on a cruise. So my brother, who was house-sitting, and his best friend decided to have a cookout. I decided to join them, because the air conditioning in my apartment was nominal at best. It was a Thursday, which meant I worked Friday–so I drove down Thursday morning, helped get ready for dinner–the guys grilled everything but the fries–watched area fireworks from the upstairs window, and drove back up to Austin before work the next morning. Nothing had changed about my air conditioning, so that evening I drove back to San Antonio and spent the weekend indoors.

1) Pop goes the question! Mr. Sandwich and I were long-distance for all three years that we dated, with him in Los Angeles and me in New Jersey. There were a lot of plane flights back and forth, which meant a lot of frequent flier miles. I planned a trip out and discovered that I had enough miles for a business class seat–which definitely beat paying for coach. What beat the business class seat? It turned out that this was the weekend Mr. Sandwich had chosen to propose. I inadvertently ruined his plans, I said yes, we went to celebrate with friends, one of my bridesmaids took me to try on wedding gowns at a shop FAR outside my budget, and in the airport on the way back, I realized that all of those wedding magazines now applied to me. Flying business class did not even come close. I really don’t see what could.

multicolored fireworks in midair

Photo by dider.camus. Public Domain.

Traditions: What We Did on the Fourth of July

I like to think my Independence Day tradition is watching 1776, but the fact is that I don’t always do that. In fact, I suspect I usually don’t. But I love that movie so much that it feels like it ought to be my tradition.

My second favorite Fourth came when I lived in Austin. It was incredibly hot, as Austin is wont to be, and my apartment air conditioning was working poorly, as my apartment air conditioning was wont to do. On the spur of the moment, I called my brother in San Antonio and said, “What are you doing for the Fourth?” He said, “[Best friend] is coming over, and we’re going to grill.” I said, “Can I join you?” and then did so. We grilled everything but the french fries–burgers, buns, corn, you name it. After dinner we all went up to the second floor and watched fireworks on the horizon. And because my brother was house-sitting for my parents, the air conditioning was much better.

My favorite Fourth doesn’t even feel like the Fourth, because the highlight of the day had nothing to do with American independence. Nine years ago today, Mr. Sandwich proposed in a way that was so perfectly us that I can’t imagine it happening any other way.

In more recent years, we’ve gone to a variety of parties–last year I think we hit four in the 3-day weekend. But none of those materialized for today, so we woke up this morning with no plans. We talked about whether to take Baguette out to see fireworks–would she love them? would she get scared? After deciding that it would probably keep her up (and us out) too late, we opted for a daytime visit to Travel Town.

When my brother and I were kids, he adored Travel Town–after all, you could climb all over the trains and even sit on top of them. On one visit he spotted a birthday party and announced that he wanted his next birthday to be at Travel Town, and it was.

But we moved away and grew up, and I hadn’t been back. Now, with Baguette, it seemed like it might make a nice outing. We decided to head over as soon as they opened, and I began to get ready. As I was packing the diaper bag, I looked up and discovered that Baguette had passed out on the couch. Apparently she was ready for her nap–two and a half hours early. In the interest of letting sleeping babies lie, we moved her to the bed and postponed our departure.

I’m glad that we did, because she loved it. We read about different kinds of train cars, peered into a car that had been used by USPS, examined a variety of engines and box cars and lounge cars, ran around an empty passenger car (now used for parties, but not being used for anything at the moment we were there)–and of course rode the miniature train that circles the grounds.

She fell asleep on the way home, resulting in an unusual second nap. So while we’re still set on grilling later on, the question remains: will we, or will we not, bundle her up in PJs and shoes to watch fireworks?

Regardless, may you all have a happy and safe Fourth of July. And if you don’t celebrate the Fourth of July, just be happy and safe.

Guest Post: Mr. Sandwich

This is my 500th post. Recently Mr. Sandwich wrote something that started out as a message to me, but we both agreed that by the time he was done, it had become something that we wanted to share here. And I can’t think of any way I’d rather mark this milestone.

Isaac’s Live Lip-Dub Proposal from Isaac Lamb on Vimeo.

The other day I got forwarded the video of Isaac proposing to his girlfriend Amy by way of a four minute long song and dance number which involved sixty friends and family as well as relatives beamed in via Skype. It was a peppy, happy, extremely well-orchestrated number complete with marching band uniforms. It was very cute. I watched the entire thing and smiled wistfully a number of times during the bit I’m sure. What struck me however, were the two things that occurred to me after the video was over. The first thought my wife and I shared congruently, which was that when the singing and dancing stops and Isaac strolls through the parting crowd to ask Amy to marry him, he does so in a sweet, sincere, and very touching way. He tells her that she’s already given him a lifetime of happiness, and if she married him, he would do all he could to return the favor to her. My wife asked me “Didn’t you think the words he chose when the number was over were strong enough on their own?” Yes, clearly they were. That man loves that woman and she loves him back. You can tell even through the over-the-shoulder backseat-cam mounted in the car. The Broadway number is the garnish on the plate. A bouncy, choreographed, Music-Man styled garnish, but a garnish nonetheless. The part where Isaac asks Amy to marry him is the real meat of the matter here.

Which brings me to the second thing that occurred to me. Almost immediately thereafter I started seeing links in the various online news feeds and Facebook postings about how this was the best marriage proposal ever. Isaac was interviewed and issued a statement to all the other men out there that he hadn’t intended to mess things up for them. Apparently the overwhelming consensus among women was that the bar had now been raised as far as marriage proposals were concerned–and all men planning on popping the question had better sharpen their pencils, fire up their copies of FinalCut Pro, and orchestrate something fantastic . . . or they weren’t going to get the answer they were looking for. Which makes me cringe just a little bit. I mean, it shouldn’t. I’m married. I made my proposal to the most stellar woman in the Universe and she said yes. What other men out there do or don’t have to do to get their gals to marry them nowadays affects me about as much as a sneeze in a hurricane, and yet I still cringe and I’ll tell you why.

When the time came for me to pop the question to my Sweetheart I got lots of advice from both men and women.

  • “Take her on a hot air balloon ride and ask her there!”
  • “Get the pilot to announce it on the plane’s intercom when she arrives in town to see you next.”
  • “Skywriting!”
  • “Jumbo-Tron!”
  • “*Don’t* put the ring in her food and have it delivered to your dinner table. If she chips a tooth on it she’ll be pissed.”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

In the end the lavish public gesture seemed like neither me nor her, so I went my own route, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that so many people had given me that a grand, public spectacle was not only expected, it was the only way to go. I had been clearly told that I had only one chance to do this and I had to go big or risk looking like a goat in her eyes.

Instead, on a July 4th when she came out to visit, I planned a bike ride from breezy Brentwood to the ocean, where when we paused for a breather overlooking the Pacific from the bluffs of Santa Monica I planned to go down on one knee and ask her to marry me. It seemed like a pretty and inspiring spot indicative of the beautiful vista our life together would be.

It didn’t go down like that.

What I learned on that Independence Day was that my Beloved was terrified of biking downhill. And downhill is exactly what the Santa Monica bluffs are from Evanston and Bentel where we parked the car. About 1/3 of a mile into our pleasant bike ride I heard from behind “This isn’t fun anymore!” and turned around to see that in her new clipless pedals on her new, unfamiliar road bike, my possible fiancé was indeed, not having a good time. At that moment I had a decision to make: Insist we press on the next 1.5 miles to the sea where I had *something very important to do* or turn around, find some nice flatter, more inviting road to pedal on and just wing it. Good thing there wasn’t a flash mob waiting for us at Ocean and San Vicente because their performance would have been axed. Instead we turned around, made some nice lazy loops around the golf course and when we got back to the car and I put the bikes on the roof I got down on one knee, took out my Oma’s ring and told her I loved her and asked her to marry me. To my eternal gratitude, she said yes. While we will never make enough money to live in Brentwood, there is a patch of somebody’s grass at Evanston and Bentel that will forever be our lawn. And every July 4th when we watch fireworks, we will always know that they’re really for us.

And that’s where I double back to Isaac and Amy. Because any proposal where you get the answer you are looking for is the right proposal. I cringe at the notion that an intricate, heavily orchestrated viral video number with threescore of your closest friends and family is some benchmark that needs to be matched. I cringe because media outlets are contributing to the very theatrical and very entertaining notion that a marriage proposal absolutely must be a dinner-and-a-show kind of production or you don’t really love her. You know what? If you’re a hot-air balloon guy, great. If you’re a Jumbo-tron guy, terrific. If you’re FinalCut Pro/Vimeo music video guy, then outstanding, provided that that’s indicative of who you truly are, a snapshot of your essence. To thine own self be true. But as a guy who’s been there and done that, I’d like to offer my humble opinion to guys out there: This is how I did it and it’s worked out OK so far. Whether you make a big spectacle or not, the essence of the right proposal is always the same.

First, get down on one knee. For one thing it’s more or less a universal sign of what’s about to happen, and that way you don’t run the risk of launching into some unprompted dramatic soliloquy in such a way that confuses the hell out of your beloved and she misses the first thirty seconds of it. Also, when you get down on one knee it shows you’re putting her above you; it demonstrates your good intent.

Second, look her in the eye, produce a ring if you have one, tell her that you love her above all else, and ask her to marry you.

Third, and this is the trick: mean it. Really mean it. You have to mean it right down to your teeth. It’s clear Isaac means it when he asks Amy. Congratulations to you both! Cheers! Mazel Tov! The singing and dancing is nice, but it’s the saying and the asking and the meaning it that matters most, because this is actually serious business. There will I’m sure be more viral proposal videos and God help us all there will be endless reality TV wedding shows, but the reason that both those things make me cringe a bit is because they get all the press but they are not the meat of the matter, not even close.

Proposals and weddings are to Life what Proms are to your adolescence. They’re nice, they’re milestones, but they are nowhere near as important as all the other things that happen in that span without the least bit of fanfare. Proposals and weddings are in fact just symbols of the Big Picture, and when you propose you’re asking that person to join you in the Big Picture. When you ask someone to marry you, you are saying “When picking teams in the Game of Life, I choose you first. I always choose you first.”

That’s why you have to mean it, because when you ask someone to join you in the Big Picture you’re going to need all your energy for the times that really matter. So if you want to make the splashy proposal, go for it. If that’s the kind of person you are then you should ask your beloved to marry you in the same vein that you live your life. My advice, however, is to take that energy you put into the big show and save it.

Save it and put it into the relationship, making sure she’s The One. Because when you chop the top of your finger off in the garage, while you are busy wrapping your bloody digit in a washcloth you want someone who will find the missing piece on the workbench, bag it, tag it, and drive your bloody self to the ER. Save it for middle of the night when her feet are cold, because your feet are the fastest way to warm hers up. Save it and take her the cool and inspiring places you’ve been and see if they inspire her too. Save it and go to new places together so they can belong to both of you equally. Save it for when she has that awful day at work, because if you can do the laundry and take out the trash and get dinner started before she gets home maybe the end of her day won’t be as bad as the middle. Save it for when she has a miscarriage. Or four. If you think you’re going to feel bad she’s going to feel worse like you’ll never know, so get in there and hold her up as best you can. Save it for when she’s in Hour 38 of labor and the OB just told her she can either have a C-section right now or three more pushes if she can do it. The Big Display will mean more then, trust me. Save it for your baby. Save it for the joy and the exhaustion and the joy and the fear and the joy and the exasperation and the joy that is your baby.

It’s not that I don’t want anyone do have big splashy choreographed proposals. Not at all, I want people to be themselves. When you ask a question this big you need to be yourself when you ask it. I don’t want all guys or all gals to think that there is a standard of theatricality that needs to be met when they ask someone to join their lives forever. Get down on one knee, say it and mean it. The other stuff is just filler. The proposal isn’t the Game, it’s the first pitch. The Game is going on when the cameras aren’t rolling.

I love you Sweetheart, from the tallest heights to the deepest depths. I will always choose you first.