Esquire's skyrocket salute to the grand old verities is set off from a pea patch of 30 American writers who meditate on such as Mom (Grace Paley), the Flag (Russell Baker), and Apple Pie (M. F. K. Fisher). There are sober moments when Nora Ephron examines a mink coat and the ghost of desire, John Leonard bleakly admits the defeat of American fathering, and Gore Vidal takes on the ""mysterious they"" who do us out of effective participation in the republic. There are tributes to the varied potencies of Duke Ellington, the Reverend Ike, Roy Rogers, and a certain schoolmarm in the youth of Merle Miller. Jim Villas, Julia Child, and Walker Percy celebrate achievements in fried chicken, corn, and bourbon; Jean Stafford is unashamed to revel in CocaCola (a razzmatazz version is still alive in the South, and have you tried Coke for defrosting windshields?). Among the entries by anybody-who-is-anybody lurk some exotic items: a right-to-the-jaw ""commencement address"" by John Steinbeck, Andy Warhol's input-output TV review, and Harold Brodsky's boy scout memoir of a group project in masturbation. No real cherry bombs, but no duds either. Pack it with your picnic.