And now it’s time for another episode of “Broad Conclusions Drawn from Observing my Narrow Socioeconomic Group.” What trite generalization can we overinflate today? Let’s spin the wheel … hey, it landed on one of my favorite topics, and it’s timely, too. Why doesn’t anyone care about fireworks anymore?
I mean the type you blow up at home. I’ve seen one stand around town. Target has flat boxes of interchangeable fizzy stuff: Storm Shock. Thunder Boom. Lightning Blast.
They should have warnings: No Shock, Boom, or Blast.
They’re all fountains, which are as fun as watching a small drunk dragon gargle. You light the fuse, run away — which, to be fair, is the most exercise some guys get — and then sparkly stuff comes out and changes color. Whoo-hoo. You think: “This Chinese-manufactured chemical reaction should fill my heart with the reminder of our Constitution’s historical uniqueness, but for some reason I feel like I just lit a $5 bill on fire.”
The real reason no one in my cohort is jazzed about ’works is simple: kids are older. Gathering around with the parents to slap skeeters and watch sparkly pots belch fire is much less interesting than looking at their phones to see a YouTube video of someone in Tennessee sword-swallow a lit Roman candle. I used to amuse them all with something called “Chicken Laying Eggs,” which shot flaming incandescent orbs from its hindquarters, then fell over dead and expelled one last sulfurous glob before catching on fire. It was like the death of a Viking warrior who gorged on vindaloo, in cardboard poultry form.
They clamored for it. They cheered for it. Chicken Laying Eggs! Chicken Laying Eggs! Now when I mention it I feel like some ancient relic who totters up, offers a Werther’s Caramel and asks if they’d like to hear some Smothers Brothers records. It was but two years ago this was the hit of the summer. OK, three. Maybe four. But still — Chicken Laying Eggs, huh?
OK, you’re off to see the fireworks with your friends. Have a nice time.
But that’s just us. There are some people in my neighborhood who have an inexhaustible supply of munitions whose resonant kabooms always make me throw a shirt and socks into a suitcase and think from the sound of it the Germans are just 5 miles from Paris. Where do they get them? Maybe you drive to Wisconsin, visit a stand, find the owner, and say “The pigeon flies at midnight,” and he says “feathers in the moonlight,” and you both nod. He takes you to the backroom where rockets as stout as a coffee can stand under spotlights, and fashion models bring you drinks while the arms dealer describes his wares:
“This is the Shingzu Assassin. Sets off car alarms for three blocks. Floral blossom, followed by rainbow crackle. The whistle alone has been known to make dogs dig four feet down in under five seconds. Or perhaps Sir would enjoy the Shanghai Salute: The explosion is so bright everyone glimpses, for a moment, the bones beneath the skin of their hands. Very patriotic.”
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but my father ran a fireworks stand for a while — at his gas station. Nothing expresses the old attitude about fireworks like selling explosive devices near hoses that pumped out flammable liquid, but somehow the Texaco sign did not end up cartwheeling into the stratosphere. People respected these things. Parents were safety-conscious. If you headed out of the house with a sack of cherry bombs and a Zippo, your mother would stop you cold. “You hold on, mister. You’re not going anywhere with that lighter. Here’s a lit cigarette, use it as a punk.”
Not true in my case, but I was permitted to handle cherry bombs and lesser flesh-rending delights. We regarded them with awe and no small respect. The Black Cat on the label, after all, was not a friendly animal spirit; he was insane with pyrotechnic rage, urging you on to foolish acts of bravado.
HEY KID! Take all the gunpowder out and put it under a can and blow it up it’ll be FUN. HEY KID! Put a bottle rocket in a glass bottle and shoot it at your cousin. He’ll probably duck and it’ll be FUN. To be honest, it wasn’t fun. There was the thrill of danger and the relief of surviving, but you couldn’t call either FUN. To this day I am amazed I have all my fingers. By all rights the teacher should have called on me when it was time to demonstrate Base 8 in math class.
But there should be some middle ground between boring fountains and passive observation of someone else’s professional handiwork. In a few years we’ll probably have programmable personal holographic projectors that will allow you to design your own fireworks shows, complete with speakers that send out deep bass notes to simulate the ersatz explosions. You’ll buy the programs online. It’ll be spectacular, but something will be missing. The moment of danger. The smell of gunpowder. The guilty sluice of dread in your gut when you hear a siren, the flood of relief when it passes by. But your kids will love it.
Where’d you get that program, Dad? That was incredible.
Oh, just something I downloaded, you say, thinking: and I had to drive to Wisconsin to do it. Sat there in a Hudson parking lot scrolling through all the programs that were illegal in Minnesota. Drove home expecting the Highway Patrol to pull me over and ask if they could check my e-mail. “Chicken Laying Eggs” was banned by the Legislature. Really. They said it had a virus.