I’m spending this morning recovering from the holiday. Not the day of the Fourth itself, mind you. I expect that to be loud and boisterous and patriotic and smelling like barbecue, and I take whatever steps I feel appropriate.
But this Fourth landed on a Tuesday and out here in the woods my neighbors have been observing our nation’s independence for five days running now, firing off colorful munitions every night in a joyous celebration of the fact that dealers out of state will still sell weapons-grade fireworks to minors, and if that isn’t a symbol of this country’s freedom I don’t know what is.
The Fourth is a day of our country honored, liberties celebrated, forefathers venerated. The Fifth is a day of lessons learned and a slight loss of hearing. The bangs from the night before are all just empty, sulfurous cardboard casings now. Bare sparkler sticks lying in the grass, waiting for the unsuspecting lawnmower next Saturday. Burnt smears on the driveway where Dad lit the brightly colored packages from a roadside tent while the kids stood far, far back, ready to go “ooh” and “aah,” with good reason.
All those brightly colored warning labels? All the dire prophecies and wartime stories of kids losing fingers, eyes, and credit ratings because of Improper Use of This Product? They are all, every one of them, true. And these are the lessons I have learned on previous Fifths of July.
Holding on to lit fireworks and then throwing them might cost you a finger. Or a car. Most of the stories of this happening are from kids who hang on to the lit fireworks too long, or encounter a faster-than-expected fuse, or try to relight a dud. In my case it was because I was Darwinian enough to try throwing a lit firecracker from a moving car, not considering that the wind would blow it back through the rear window (which it did) where it would go off, causing the food wrappers tossed in the back to ignite (which they did) where a foolish school chum would think fast enough to pour his drink on it (which he did) but not fast enough to realize he was pouring alcohol onto an open flame (sigh). Once we dealt with the conflagration I was left with a Chevette with a blackened rear floor and a burnt plastic smell that never, ever went away.
Putting somebody’s eye out with a bottle rocket is the least of your worries. I had only minor experience with these until my friend John planned a war. Twenty of us, adequately armed with bottle rockets and lighters, facing off in a clearing in the woods by his house. Results: several injuries from burnt fingers, one guy hit in the head by a rocket, one guy hit in the head by a bottle, and John getting badly burned because the handful of rockets he had stuck in his back pocket, with fuses tangling, proved to be too much of a temptation for his fellow marksmen.
Smoke bombs — the little round ones — are not useful in espionage situations, at least not at my level. Turns out that releasing clouds of noxious smelling gray smoke actually gets you unwanted attention, rather than hiding you. Who knew?
M-80s are not as useful for anthill demolition as you’d think. Mostly they just made a whoomph noise and the dirt shifted a little, and that was it. And that was with 70’s and 80’s M-80s, when they were considerably more powerful than the measly legal flash bombs they are today. They were useful for mailbox demolition, but in a suburb neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else and phone calls would get home before I would, this was never a viable option.
Even the prepackaged theme sets from the local grocery store can be hazardous, if you use them right. After being bored by sprits of sparks and another box of sparklers (Ooh. Aah. Yawn.) we’d just cram the whole mess into a paper bag and light it. This provided the extra drama from not knowing what was going to go off next, or what direction it would be aiming when it went, such as the spinning firework that, rather than whirling around in place in an approved fashion, chose to cartwheel after my girlfriend and then set a bush on fire. Lesson learned: girlfriends don’t like being blown up.
And the most important firework warning of all: Parents do not like practical jokes involving loud bangs. This applies to the snap pops you heave at the ground, those little crackers with strings on both ends designed for doors and drawers, amusing little loads you shove into someone’s cigarette, and other hilarious pranks. I was never in danger of getting my eye put out (I don’t think) but I risked much greater peril from my parents than I ever did from a short fuse. Come to think of it, when it came to my fireworks fun my father had a pretty short fuse, too, and I can’t blame him a bit. Not now, anyway.
Worst of all, my frivolous use of fireworks invariably resulted in a personal loss of liberties — usually for a couple of weeks, at least — and liberty is what the holiday is really all about.
So please, combust safely. For your country’s sake.