Fireworks: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em?

The last time I was interested in fireworks, I was 14 and I lived in Iowa, which basically means I was dumb as a box of rocks and bored stiff.

Since fireworks were illegal in Iowa at the time, we had to drive to Missouri to buy them. Entrepreneurs set up roadside stands 100 feet over the border, so you’d be screaming along at 70, 75 mph, and then when you saw that first stand, you’d slam on the brakes and go fishtailing along the gravel shoulder before coming to a stop at some point.

It wasn’t uncommon for a car or truck to plow right into or through the stand and go arcing over the ditch and into a soybean field.

No one cared about the stupid fireworks themselves; the allure was the risk, the chance we’d get to see something sobering, horrific, something we could talk about for a while, that would make us thankful for our lot in life instead of resentful.

We bought the big M-80s. If you put one in a mailbox and lit it, it would turn it into twisted scrap metal. Same with a toilet. (Ever wonder why park bathrooms have steel toilets now? That’s why.)

Just imagine what it would do to your hand!

We’d dare each other to hold a lit one until the very last instant before flinging it away, always wondering if the other person would misjudge, sending bone shards and singed meat flying across the yard. But somehow it never happened.

Our instincts for self-preservation were too deeply ingrained. Only once a did firecracker blow up in a friend’s hand. It was a faulty fuse, and halfway down, before we’d even started to get nervous, the thing exploded. We all stood there, shocked, and then, one by one, noticed that our friend’s hand was unmarked. His palm was slightly red, but that was it.

Does it hurt? Someone asked.

It’s just kind of numb, he said.

We were stunned but also sort of angry, in a disappointed way. Even the friend who’d been holding the firecracker when it went off was mad.

We discussed driving back down to Missouri and demanding our money back, but it was already the night of the 4th, and we knew that the guys had packed up their stands and gone back to being carnies or moonshiners or whatever they did outside the three weeks immediately preceding the 4th.

I haven’t been interested in fireworks since, and that includes the ones in the sky.

One of the strangest things about DC is how people set up blankets and folding chairs to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July, like they’re about to watch the finale of a prestige miniseries, and not just a bunch of loud noises and flashes of light. There’s not even a hint of danger there; it’s like watching a screensaver.

So what’s the allure? Are all those people pretending we’re at war, and the fireworks are the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, etc.? Or could it be as simple as they’re just enjoying looking at colors in the sky?

At a time when entire industries are dying because people are migrating toward insidiously addicting, endlessly novel media, I guess it counts as encouraging that people will still turn out in droves for something that’s so godawful boring.