Heartland hell

Rating: NNNNNSHELL ROCK, Iowa -- It's the 4th of July in this hellhole of a town, population 800. Upwards of.

Rating: NNNNN

SHELL ROCK, Iowa — It’s the 4th of July in this hellhole of a town, population 800. Upwards of 8,000 people from across the state — all of them white — gather here annually to celebrate their independence from British rule.

It’s a three-day affair during which the most grizzled crew of carnies sets up shop to rip off the citizenry in general and make time with 16-year-old girls in particular. Before the midway has been running an hour, word spreads that the daughters of two of the little burg’s most respected citizens have already been caught with their knickers down in the company of the Tilt-a-Whirl operator.

So indignant is the accused sharpie that one of the two Shell Rock cops sustains a gash over his eye, a couple of chipped teeth and severely mangled pride. By the end of the day, the story has mushroomed to include a concussion and a chipped vertebra. I’m not even convinced about the teeth.

Rotten roots

I get home so seldom, I try to convince myself that I’m getting in touch with my roots in a situation like this. But this year it’s become painfully clear that these aren’t roots I want to water.

July 4 festivities are about getting drunk and disorderly (the beer tent takes up a city block, which here is half of Main Street), pounding pork burgers, dancing to the most ancient, execrable country bands in existence and do-si-do-ing with your neighbour’s wife.

Aside from the “most expensive fireworks in the Midwest,” the biggest draw is the goddamn patriotic parade. The weather usually holds up for this pathetic display of military mania and agricultural aggression.

My brother-in-law is the bull-goose looney of the whole shebang — the grand marshal, I should say — and weather-wise he’s had a cascade of horseshoes coming out of his ass. It’s traditionally brutally hot or colder than a well-digger’s butt. It never rains. Just ask Duane.

But for reasons known only to God, the millennial edition of the biggest deal in eastern Iowa since the advent of the horse is cursed with torrential rain the likes of which these once-a-year revellers have never seen.

It pours so hard you can’t see Kaiser-Corson Funeral Home — the town’s most lucrative business — across the street.

The cow pies, littering the road like stinky land mines, mercifully dissolve. But the townsfolk are irate. They look forward to this massively meagre event for 362 days a year. It’s all they’ve got. Damn you, God!

For me, though, the deluge is an outright blessing. The shirtless, pissed-up teenagers who usually hurl brilliant cracks my way like, “Hey Sting!” or “Fuckin’ Canadian!” leap down from the rooftops.

The marching bands — and I use the term loosely — scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on. The floats, most of them bedecked with crepe-paper rockets and cardboard tractors, droop and drip, the spirits of their riders plummeting even quicker than mine rise.

I’m cozy and dry under a huge golf umbrella with my two-year-old nephew, Andrew.

Not impressed

He’s absolutely unimpressed, more interested in the puddles that surround us and a soggy Tootsie Roll. He’s as yet unencumbered by the prejudices of his countrymen.

I then realize the sharp contrast between his good-natured, almost ironic view of the goings-on and the swelling chests and teary eyes of the assembled gaggle of Yankee yahoos who love everything American if it isn’t black. Or gay. Or Jewish.

Thanks to him, I can renounce, once and for all, the ridiculous roots I always thought were so precious. Give me Kenny Robinson, Martine Lamy, Blue Rodeo, Caribana, Vince Carter, the Symphony of Fire and the Gay Pride parade.

Above all — in a slight variation on the immortal words of American revolutionary Patrick Henry — give me Canadian citizenship or give me death.

darylj@nowtoronto.comHeartland hell

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