Of all the secular holidays, the Fourth is the finest: a jingo-happy meat-fest that ends with explosions. Hot sun, beer, potato salad, the aroma of seared food and lighter fluid. Thanksgiving doesn't even come close. Maybe if we cooked an extra turkey and BLEW IT UP...

We all like the communal ooh-ahh fireworks displays, but some prefer to arrange their own detonations. Around town, kids have been shooting off fireworks for a few days; they just can't wait.

Twilight brings a single shriek sluicing up over the trees -- bang! -- then silence, as if shooting off two before today would be blasphemy. Bottle rockets are illegal, of course, but oddly enough, that hasn't stopped people.

If you're wondering which fireworks are permitted in Minnesota, it's quite simple. Ask yourself this question: Is it fun? Then it's not legal. Do you have fun fireworks with garish graphics and names like TERMINATOR BOUQUET or GLORIOUS BLOSSOM THUNDER? You went to Wisconsin, didn't you.

Didn't you. You went to Hudson, the Tijuana of fireworks, and bought the good stuff. Or you hung around a disreputable-looking fireworks stand on the outskirts of town, asked the clerk if he had, you know, the hard stuff, and he nodded and buzzed you into a tent in the back.

Man, he had it all. Black Cats by the brick, rockets thick as hot-dogs, thirty-dollar fountains with 350 firecrackers embedded within for that deafen-the-dog finale a true Fourth really needs. You know they're illegal. You don't particularly care.

Heck, the American Revolution was technically illegal, wasn't it? Light 'em up. Hey, what are those flashing lights outside the house? Is that a new firework? One that sounds like it's knocking on the door?

Before Jesse changed the laws, we were only trusted with sparklers, which kids love despite parental commands: Stand still! Hold it away! Don't look at it, it will sear your retinas! Don't breath the fumes, it's lead! Enjoy, sweetie.

We also got those tiny white things that went BANG when you threw them on the ground - terrifying, if you're an ant, but they leave a mess. Now we have fountains, which shoot sparkly plumes and leave you with the precise scent of what it smells like to burn six dollars. We cannot have anything that goes BANG or rises above the ground greater than the height of Prince's knee. (That is the actual statue language.) But just in case you find yourself near some unsanctioned pyrotechnics, you need to remember the rules, so let's review our fireworks safety for today. The same instructions can be found on all fireworks:

Place on level surface. This is self-explanatory, but it confused us when we were kids in North Dakota. The technical description for North Dakota is "level surface." What other options were there? Oh, we'd heard tall tales of the rolling hills of Iowa, where the land would rise two, three feet over the course of a mile or two, and we wondered how they kept their fireworks from falling over. They must have used glue.

Do not hold in hand. I know this puts a crimp in your favorite trick, which is to light the cherry bomb in the crook of your elbow, roll it down your forearm and throw it before it explodes -- a trick you learned from your best pal in college, Stumpy -- but fireworks need a firm, stable stage.

Light fuse, get away. You'd think this goes without saying. In these days of lawyerly cautions, though, you have to admire the frank command to GET AWAY. There's nothing else you can buy that tells you to GET AWAY once you've used the product as intended.

Use only under adult supervision. Good advice -- ignored by kids whose sense of adventure and immortality make them pack a tin can with six packs of Black Cats, but good advice. Unless the Adult in question is Uncle Larry, who's halfway through a case of Hamm's, uses a Winston as a punk, and wants to recreate a Star Wars light-saber duel using roman candles while shouting "Git 'R Done!"

Remember: The safest fireworks are the ones you never light. Be safe and use caution. All kidding aside, don't be an idiot.

Never would have figured that out if you hadn't read the paper, eh? Happy to help. Have a great Fourth.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/buzz.