There are two kinds of fireworks: legal, and fun. Dull, and forbidden. Dull is the stuff we have in Minnesota. You either have a cone, which shoots sparks and belches smoke, or a fountain, which belches smoke and shoots sparks. The big assortments you buy at the store might as well be named "Indistinguishable Effects of Varying Duration," to be honest.
It's different over in Wisconsin, where the attitude toward fireworks seems to be "think of your hands as eight fingers and a couple of spares."
Yes, they have the real stuff. Here, try the MegaDeafener! Only $29.99! Done in a second, but it can liquefy a squirrel a block over just by sheer concussive force.
I made a recent trip over the border to see what they had, and no, I didn't buy the Forbidden Rockets. Don't want to get pulled over with a bag of missiles in plain view. You see the lights in the rearview mirror, you get all "Dukes of Hazzard" and try to make it to the county line so you can escape, and the pursuing officer will have to get out of the car and throw his hat on the ground in disgust. Turns out they can follow into Hennepin, though. Or so I hear.
Besides, rockets in the city don't make sense. They have to come down somewhere, and I always imagine them landing on a pile of gas-soaked straw on a neighbor's roof. Or corkscrewing across the street into a group of orphans.
It's taken a while to learn caution; back in North Dakota we set off rockets so big you were required to file a flight plan with FAA. The biggest one was attached to a piece of wood that looked like a ceiling beam and would have punctured Skylab if it hadn't blown up with a flash so brilliant it burned our shadows into the side of the barn.
A far cry from today, when kids have to wear a helmet, oven mitts and welder's goggles to hold a sparkler. We also had M-80s, which is what the Air Force used to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora. These were rather terrifying: whatever was in the vicinity of the M-80 ceased to exist. If you taped it to the back of a busted G.I. Joe, there was nothing left, although maybe Joe's head would fall in the front yard a day later. But these were for amateurs.
Clever kids bought bricks of Black Cats, unraveled the firecrackers to get the precious gunpowder, and built their own bombs. It is a miracle that my generation is not walking around with dark glasses with white canes taped to the hooks on our wrists. Really, kids, you didn't miss anything.
Sure, there was a delicious sense of terror you felt when you ran away from the fuse as fast as you could, but if you want the same effect in a safer context, run across 35W some morning.
At the Wisconsin store I saw M-98s, but I don't believe they're 18 points more bangtastic than M-80s; there's no internationally recognized M scale for fireworks, with sparklers at M-1 at one end, going all the way up to the M-2000, which was banned because it momentarily affected the Earth's rotation.
The box was ugly, as most are; as consumer-level fireworks have gotten more elaborate, the graphics have gotten worse, as if designed by someone whose résumé said "helped lay out the church bulletin." Gone, for the most part, are the evocative names of Chinese pyrotechnics: Chicken Laying Eggs. Swan Belching Honorable Chrysanthemums. Lucky Frog Seven Star Happy Time. Now the names are brash and violent and surreal, like POUNDER BANGTIME. Favorites this year:
DRINKER OF THE WIND. Features an inebriated leprechaun. ONE BAD MOTHER-IN-LAW. Picture has a guy in a wife-beater with a can of beer in his hand. SHOGUN CRAZY IDEA. If this one removes the eyebrows of everyone in a 50-foot radius, well, you were warned.
Picked up a few Strobe Pots, which are good for burning permanent holes in your retinas and inducing seizures. The store owner noted sadly that Strobe Pots would seen be no more - the fellow in North Dakota who made them had closed shop. But! He noted that the Strobe Pot tradition will go on, and pointed out the latest and greatest: it strobes, but at the end, it explodes.
Progress marches on!