As another July 4th holiday approaches, in the midst of taking our freedom for granted, feeding our obesity at picnics and sending all our money to China via Fourth of July sales at Wal-Mart, thoughts often turn to celebratory fireworks.
I grew up in the Maryland burbs where you couldn’t buy your own fireworks easily, nor did you really need to. You went out in the yard or up on the roof and watched the displays in nearby College Park or as far away as DC itself. I guess I grew up a little spoiled by easy access to massive holiday fireworks displays. And while we didn’t shoot off our own in the yard, we always managed to have a few sparklers around on the Fourth. Like any normal kid, we’d run around to and fro with our hands waving our little torches, and we thought it was just the coolest shit imaginable.
When I was in the Army, one of the few cool things about being stationed out at Fort Riley, Kansas was the fact the fireworks were legal for purchase the week before the Fourth. When you’re that far removed from big towns and cities with displays, you end up making your own, though the base itself put on a pretty nice show and invited all the locals to attend. Being mature, responsible Military Policemen, we’d all pool together a couple hundred bucks and buy a massive stockpile of pyrotechnics like we were Guy Fawkes blowing up Parliament. We’d semi-illegally set off about half our stash on the Fourth and then cache the rest like the Viet Cong, breaking it out to do stupid shit like tossing smoke bombs into the gate shacks, bottle rocket fights in the hallways of the barracks, and tossing lit bricks of 250 firecrackers under your buddy’s door at 3 AM. Bear in mind, these were pre-WW2 wooden tinderboxes we were living in that would ignite at the slightest spark. Mature & responsible indeed; that was us.
Now I live in South Carolina, where fireworks stands and full-blown warehouse stores are running neck and neck with Starbucks for command of every street corner. Some of these stores are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so if you get a sudden craving to light off a display at 1AM to celebrate Sweden’s National Waffle Day on March 25th, you can. Someone will gladly accommodate you, right of any exit on I-95, where any mook from the Jersey burbs can buy a box of Black Cats and later get arrested by Newark’s Finest.
The other sure thing that’s become synonymous with July Fourth is the annual litany of well-meaning but trite news blurbs on local as well as national TV about the dangers of fireworks. I’m 38, and I know that for at least 30 of those years I’ve had to watch some poor mannequin get its fingers blown off by an M-80, and slabs of beef get scorched by Roman candles. Horror stories of disasters and tragedies will be used to frighten and dissuade the masses from enjoying fireworks in their yards. The latest report I caught had some whining ninny railing against kids using sparklers because, according to this pundit, sparklers burn at the same temperature as electric arc-welders. Who’da thunk it? Sparklers are the WMD’s.
I’m not saying that these warnings are useless, though. Each year, drunken fruitcakes across the land, including here in the Deep South, utter those immortal words “Hold my beer while I get the matches”, and end up a side note on the evening news. And a couple days ago a 9-year old kid in Maryland was burned when his pants caught fire after he put a lit sparkler in his pocket. Yes….he put a burning stick in his pocket. Someone pissed in the gene pool, methinks. Most kids figure out before age 9 that flaming objects and pants pockets don’t mix. Keep an eye on this kid; he’ll end up in the White House for sure.