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Fireworks: Or, the Simple Pleasure of a Colorful Explosion

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

It seems that every Independence Day brings news that small parts of several Americans have died: fingers, eyeballs, and eardrums, mostly, and always due to some fireworks mishap.

This leads to an ever-growing tally of American towns putting fireworks on the list of "Things We Must Protect Our Children Against," and with that, a small part of me dies as well.

This is not because I'm lamenting the belly laughs I forego when a person (generally in Florida) avoids certain death because they didn’t set off a

cherry bomb in a toilet, or because I feel there's some Darwinian rectitude at work when bad fireworks etiquette claims another victim. It's because fireworks are awesome, and exposing yourself to potential disaster and living to tell the tale is what this great nation was founded on. Sure, 96% of all fireworks are made in China. Yet, what fireworks symbolize—loud noises, bright lights, short fuse, instant gratification—could not be more American.

To be clear, fireworks can be dangerous; no reasonable person disputes this. But, as a general rule, most things that push the boundaries of convention—hunting for Bigfoot, learning to trapeze, constructing a human pyramid—also contain the faint possibility for calamity.

Growing up, one of my family’s traditional rites of summer was having a bottle rocket fight. No joke, my brothers and I donned ski goggles and hockey pads and would position ourselves about fifty feet from each other. We'd then put lit projectiles inside a glass Coke bottle and proceed to launch them at one another. There were two rules: only one person could fire a bottle rocket at a time, because dodging them was the best part, and keep the garage door closed, because Dad would hate to be under the hood of the El Camino when we incinerated the house he worked his whole life to afford. All told, my three brothers and I have eight eyes and forty working fingers, so the only lasting effects are the memories, which I wouldn't trade for all the fireworks in China.

If you are at odds with the fact that fireworks are a cultural necessity, or perhaps didn't have siblings talented enough to shoot an apple off your head with a Roman Candle, then think of their value in our familiar lexicon. If I tell you my new (purely hypothetical) girlfriend is “a real firecracker,” you'll take that to mean she doesn't suffer fools, can whip me at pool, and knows all the words to “Friends in Low Places.” If I tell you that there are "real fireworks" with this same (purely hypothetical) girlfriend, you'll know that my adorable human heart is pounding like crazy. Even the Katy Perry empowerment jam "Firework,” although terrible, mostly gives me goosies. Without accessible explosives to use as references, how would I describe my new fake romance? It would almost be like it never happened at all.

There are some who would argue that fireworks are more hype than substance, or that the spinner-burnouts in the driveway are unbecoming of a pastor’s residence. (Hi, Dad.) There are others who posit that the inherent dangers are impossible to ignore, and that fireworks should only be deployed by trained professionals after Packer touchdowns or during the rousing crescendo of “Proud to be an American.” I get it.

But to me, fireworks represent the only carnage I'm comfortable causing, my small parcel of controlled chaos. July 4th is my day to be a little reckless before I settle back into normalcy for the rest of the year, kind of like The Purge, but with noticeably less bloodlust and a few more American flag bandanas.

By all means, be safe with your fireworks. But let’s not lose the direct, elemental entertainment that fireworks offer, especially when simple safety precautions are there for the taking.

I'm told that ski goggles and hockey pads really do the trick.

Published July 2017

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