July 4th is rapidly approaching, so it’s time for me to start my annual July 4th activity. Thinking of ways to avoid bottle rockets, roman candles, those little spinny things, tanks, whistlers, sparklers, etc and to keep my kids away from them with as little drama as possible. I have issues with fireworks. Now, I’m not talking about the real thing, the big, professional Zambelli displays. I’m talking about backyard fireworks. The kind you buy in the little roadside stands ands the supermarket and illegally cross state lines to get. I avoid them at all cost. If I am somewhere where they start setting them off outside, I go inside. If there is no inside, I leave. We get invited to picnics, and as incentive the host says, “Bring the kids, we have fireworks”. Suddenly I’m Marsha Brady and have to “wash my hair” that day.
I can’t help it – I am afraid of fireworks. First off, I just don’t get some of them. Like firecrackers, cherry bombs and their evil cousins, M-80s. What is the point? They make noise. Big deal. My kids make noise, my pets make noise and my neighbors make noise. I have enough noise in my life, thank you very much. Also, I mostly like hearing. And what about those little “snakes”. You know, the little black cylinder that you light and the ash grows into a snake-like shape- Stupid. Sure, the first one is kind of cool to watch, but then it just becomes an air-fouling, pavement staining mess. Stupid. Secondly, fireworks are dangerous. Third, see “issues”. Well, actually, they last 2 are related. Let’s look, in chronological order, at why I have this phobia:
– Age about 7: Shortly after July 4th, my friend Carol and I find some un-exploded penny firecrackers on the sidewalk. We decide it would be fun to take them out back, where no one is watching and set them off. Carol, being much older and wiser (i.e., 8) gets the matches and we start setting the things off. Somehow my Grandma and Nana manage not to hear us. Finally, the last one doesn’t have a wick. We decide to make a wick out of a dried blade of grass. I hold it as Carol shoves it in and lights it. Well, a dried blade of grass doesn’t have the slow-burning properties that a wick does. The thing explodes in my hand, resulting in me having no feeling in three of my fingers for a month. I kid you not, a month. I never told my parents about it because I was afraid to get in trouble, so I suffered in silence, preparing myself for a lifetime of numbhand.
Fireworks: 1, Gina: 0
– Age 9: I’m on a treasure-hunting trip in the mountains with my dad, his friend and his son. The dads buy some bottle rockets for “fun” (this in the days when Coke still came in a tall, glass bottle – perfect for bottle rockets). At first, we’re all having fun. Then, as my dad is setting one off, I decide to get up, turn around and walk across the camp. It turned out to be a good decision, since the rocket was defective, split in half and flew in flaming glory into my shoulder blade. It hurt like a BITCH, I tell you. Of course, considering that if I hadn’t gotten up when I did, the thing most likely would have gone into my face or eyes, which is obviously much worse.
Fireworks: 2, Gina: 0
– Age 13: Some blockhead decides to phone in a bomb threat to the school. This obviously being pre-Columbine and pre-9/11, they decide that instead of sending us home for the day, they will ship us all out to the various elementary schools where we can sit in gymnasiums and cafeterias and cafetoriums, thinking up ways to be even more obnoxious. While we wait for the buses, they cram the entire 7th through 12th grade into the gym, where they make the announcement, telling us not to panic and line up for the buses. In the inevitable ensuing panic, friend of blockhead, asshat, thinks it would be hilarious to throw an M-80 in to the crowd. It explodes 5 feet from me, rendering me almost-deaf for several hours and causing my heart to jump up my throat, out of my mouth and scurry across the gym floor.
Fireworks: 3, Gina: 0
– Age 14: A blockhead myself now, my friends and I have some sparklers at T’s house. But it’s hot outside, so maybe we can do them inside. Great idea. Hmmm. . .I wonder what would happen if we scraped off all the silver stuff into a giant pile, put it in this 70’s-style glass ashtray and lit them. I’ll tell you what: The damned things burn at about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so the ashtray will melt. Then, chunks of burning sparkler will fly out of the ashtray and sear black spots into the lovely, low-pile red carpet. We fixed this problem by using a Gillette razor to shave the burned spots away, then heated up red crayons in just the right shade (from the Crayola 64-pack, obviously) and colored the carpet. It looked like shit and yet somehow T’s mom never knew it. I think it’s because she had 5 kids a husband and a job. We told her about it years later, after the carpet had been replaced and she was STILL pissed at us. Personally, I think she should have just been happy we didn’t burn the place down. I guess, not having been there, she didn’t realize how very close we came.
Fireworks: 4, Gina: 0
– Age 16: Picnic at my mom’s house. My hilarious, sweet, fun Puerto-Rican aunt is “a bit tipsy”. Like every holiday, after a few drinks, she starts singing La Cucaracha, Feliz Navidad, and wishing everyone a Happy New Year. She expresses her joy by tossing a lit sparkler into the air. It goes off the deck, and down onto the inaccessible, brush covered hillside below. Yeah, fire. Next thing, my dad and uncle are spraying water over the edge to put it out. Catastrophe narrowly averted.
Fireworks: 5, Gina: 0
– Age 20: The piece de resistance. I am at my brand-new boyfriend D’s house (we had only been dating about 10 days) for a picnic, where I’ll meet his family for the first time. His family likes to party and his dad likes to get people to do shots. You can see this is going to and badly, can’t you? Well, it’s still early in the day and most everyone is feeling good. There are a ton of people there: his family, his friends, my friends (we grew up in the same town and had a lot of mutual friends) so it’s pretty crowded. Since it was a hot day, many people were sitting under a large tent. I was sitting there when I noticed a huge box of fireworks sitting next to me. As I was pawing through them. I spotted the teeny-tiniest little firecracker ever. It was about the width of a wooden matchstick, but shorter. I knew I HAD to light it. It was so cute, what harm could it do? If this were a movie, this is where the ominous music would start playing. I grab someone’s matches and light the thing. Music gets louder and faster I toss the little firecracker and it goes “pop”. No louder than a wine cork. Awww, that was so cute. See, I told you it would be fine. Music shifts to Psycho-style shrieking I was very, very wrong. Apparently, as I was tossing it, a miniscule spark landed in the box of fireworks. It must have landed on a packet of penny firecrackers, because 10 seconds later, they start going off. POP! POP! POPOPOPOPOPOP! Then more things begin to catch. Spinners are spinning, roman candles are sparking, pretty soon, bottle rockets start shooting out of the box, flying in all directions. It was like WWIII, with explosions, and people running everywhere, trying to find shelter from the attack. People digging foxholes. Tanks and exploding balls, and sparklers and whistlers and rockets and crackers and spinners going off, the air filling with acrid smoke, the sounds of laughing and screaming and chairs falling over. And for the grand finale, the tent collapses on the box, just as the display is ending. The tarp is popping and jumping for a short while, and suddenly all is quiet. Everybody stays where they are for a few minutes, making sure the ambush is over. Then slowly, we start crawling out of our hidey-holes, likes survivors of the apocalypse. I look at D’s parents and half whisper half croak, “I am SO sorry’. I start walking to my car in absolute shame, until I hear, “heh”. “Ha”. “Haha”. “HahahahahahaHaHaHaHaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Pretty soon, everyone was cracking up and D’s dad got the shots going again. I wasn’t banned forever, but I was still mortified. Then later, for a little icing on the cake, I accidentally threw a whole rack of ribs into the dirt. And somehow they still loved me. After we dated for a while, I realized it was because I was like them. His dad and I decided to do the polka at a local club (where we were drinking, of course), and we failed to stop quickly enough before we hit the door. Someone opened the door at that moment, and out we went, falling down the stairs and into the street. But until this day, the memory of that day and the humiliation of it all is still burned into my mind.
Fireworks: 873,425, Gina: 0