Happy birthday, America! True, we seem to have had more halcyon national natal days, but if we ignore I--q for the day, we should be able to celebrate our national heritage without punching each other in the eye.

So let's salute all that makes America special, starting with us, the people. Here's to all the musicians from country to hip-hop to rock to classical to jazz to folk to be-bop to norteno to polka to reggae, and to all the fusion forms thereof. Here's to all the artists who get no respect -- the washboard players and lute strummers, the harmonica blowers and banjo pickers. Here's to their endless generosity in playing special benefits for retired musicians who are ill and have no health insurance, all over America, every night. And here's to the great Ray Charles, bless his heart. May we all hear his version of "America the Beautiful" this holiday.

And here's to all the dancers who move to all that music, from the wildest Goth Watusi to the competitive ballroom dancers and the tango enthusiasts and the two-steppers and line-dancers and Celtic folk round dancers and square dancers and those who never got beyond the box step. Here's to the African dancers and tappers, and the experimental modern crowd.

Here's to everyone trying to lose 10 pounds and all their low-carb, high-protein, all-fruit, cucumber-only, martini-drinkers' diets -- may they all succeed. Here's to all their exercise machines and speed walking and gym workouts. Don't give up, we'll all be thin and gorgeous someday.

Here's to all the civic fandangles and to everyone who makes them happen -- to moms who contribute brownies and dads who judge the goat contests, and the guys who set up the band seats. To all the Peanut Festivals, Turkey Trots, One-Armed Dove Hunts, Crayfish and Petroleum Days, Fat Stock Show and Rodeos, Blueberry, Strawberry and Artichoke Festivals, the Watermelon Thump, the Prairie Chicken Fling, the Black-Eyed Pea Festival, the county fair, the school fair, the state fair, Puerto Rican Day, Gay Pride Day, St. Paddy's, Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth and thousands more. Not to mention the Fourth of July parades.

Here's to all the good deeds we never hear about: to people who stop to help change flat tires, return wallets, take crying children to the lost-and-found and stay until their mommies come, to those who help old ladies across the street and especially to those who make waitresses laugh.

Here's to Tony Korioth, who used to stop to carry an old lady's garbage can up to her garage for her, and to his son John, who told the story at Tony's funeral. Here's to drivers who let others merge and to the neighbors who baby-sit for pets and children and aging parents. Here's to the gardeners who donate their excess zucchini and home-grown tomatoes to their neighbors, to people who bring food when someone dies, to all those who pitch in, lend a hand and say, "Let me help."

And here's to keeping America weird. To Scott Peterson and Kobe Bryant for making cable television so busy, happy and productive. Here's to the tabloids, eternally discovering alien zombies from outer space (have they checked out the veep lately?).

Here's to all our grumps and scolds, constantly insisting that we're going to hell in a handbasket. Where would we be without an active core of selfless citizens constantly prepared to tell us we're dumb, fat and lazy, and it's all our fault? Concerning our national habit of polling ourselves to find how just how dumb we are, a new study shows 88.2 percent of all Texans believe Osama bin Laden has two first names, like Jerry Jeff or Billy Bob.

Here's to all our dreams and fantasies, to the frumpy women who dream of looking like the models in Vogue and Bazaar, to the fat guys who read the extreme sports magazines, to the dentists who ride Harleys to get in touch with their Inner Biker, to the would-be gunslingers taking part in fast-draw contests, to the karaoke singers and amateur-night standup comedians, to the sopranos who never made it to the Met but still star in the Methodist choir, to the frustrated explorers who take wilderness adventure vacations.

Our national scolds say that we're something awful polarized these days, angry and snarling, don't like our fellow Americans. The fundamentalist Christians can't stand the so-called secularists, and vice versa. Oh, poop. Fellow citizens, we are, by and large, a splendid lot.

Did you hear what the Buddhist said to the hot dog vendor? "Make me one with everything."

{copy} 2004 Creators Syndicate Inc.