Happy Fourth of July, everybody.
Did you know that although this holiday commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, it was not officially declared a national holiday until 1941?
And did you know that the Pyrotechnic Motherlode, a 16-shot 500-gram aerial repeater, shoots up red crackle, blue crackle and white crackle, then produces multi-burst flower patterns with a crackling barrage?
I love fireworks. I love America too, but mainly fireworks. And every year when I was a kid, I would spend the better part of June poring over the Phantom Fireworks catalog, where you could theoretically call someone in Youngstown, Ohio and order things like the "Mammoth Chrysanthemum #20" and "100-Shot Saturn Missle Battery."
I never ordered any of those things, of course. The $50 cost of one Red Peony Shell would have blown up all of my summer allowance, plus some of my birthday money. But I did spend whatever I could, and whatever I could talk my mom into, at the fireworks stand. One year she gave me a $100 budget, and it was gone in five minutes. Then I got everything home, waited for nightfall, and it was gone in twenty.
It never really leaves you, this love of fireworks. Just the other night, I had some friends over for a cookout, and eventually I started shooting off rockets. I had some left from last year - that's the main difference between me at 12 and me at 28 - and as soon as we heard the neighbor kids lighting off firecrackers I ran off to find my stash.
We did about a dozen rockets, and some small stuff, and the neighbors cheered. Then I reached in my pocket and pulled out the Secret Weapon: one leftover mortar shell. Mortars are what they shoot off skyscrapers downtown, as the local light-rock radio station broadcasts patriotic music like John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town" that is supposed to be synchronized to the explosions but isn't really.
You take this ball, about the size of a plum, with a fuse about a foot long, and drop it down into a tube that comes with it. Then you:
1. Place on Hard Surface
2. Light Fuse
3. Get Away
I'm not sure what happened to the tube. It probably got left outside last July, and rained on, or just lost somehow. I had a section of PVC plumbing pipe, though, about five feet long, and the shell fit pretty well down in there too. So I set one end of the tube down in the grass, pointed the other one skyward, lit the fuse and dropped it in. (I couldn't actually Get Away, because I had to aim the pipe).
I suppose in retrospect that the fit wasn't quite tight enough in the PVC, or the grass absorbed too much of the blast, or something. The shell's launch charge exploded and blew the explosive ball up and out of the tube about three feet. Then it seemed to hang in the air for several anxious seconds, hovering and fizzing at everybody, then suddenly blasted apart in a hail of red cinders that momentarily blinded me and everybody else. One hit the back of my shirt - I was crouched directly below the explosion.
"YEAH!" yelled my friend, setting down his beer. "KICK-ASS!"
I laid down the smoking tube and took my bow, discreetly patting out the flames on my arm. There's still a burn mark on my sleeve, a brownish whorl of scorched cloth honoring this year's display of festivity and American ingenuity.
Happy Fourth of July, everybody.