Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Hunka' Hunka' Burnin'...Somethin'... 

I love the 4th of July holiday. I think that, if I were forced (at gunpoint) to choose (and rank) my favorite holidays, Independence Day would come in a very close second to All Hallow's Eve which, lets face it, is a holiday without equal. Halloween is COOL, it's spooky, it is THE dark foreboding holiday. It's a time of year that I get paid to draw skeletons for print ads and imitate movie monsters for radio and television commercials. I love it, but like I said, I love 4th of July too...A big reason for my amorous attitude should be painfully obvious...It's a summertime holiday. In early July, Summer is fresh and new, the weather is generally awesome and it's a time of year where it's perfectly acceptable to eat too much, drink (way) too much and THEN go out and play with explosives. How frickin' cool is THAT? You go ahead and try to convince me that this combination of factors doesn't absolutely "rock the house." If you try, you will fail...Miserably. This is because the 4th of July holiday "kicks ass."

I should probably offer up a personal disclaimer at this point. I am now, and have always been, a total pyromaniac. I've been completely fascinated with fire ever since I was a small child. Examples: My grandparents lived in Vail, CO for a while when I was very young. This was during a period of time when my Grandfather was working on a construction project. They lived in a cabin replete with a fireplace (something I had wanted for my whole life) for part of their stay there. I would beg my Grandpa to start a fire, even in Summer, just so I could sit and watch it burn. More example!: When I was older (but still a kid), I would grab cans of flammable liquid (generally Aqua Net® hair spray) and a lighter with which to make giant fireballs. It's fun! Also a bit dangerous I'm told, but isn't everything? I also had a habit of burning paper towels in the sink "just for the Hell of it..." I get this whole "firestarter" trait MOST LIKELY from my Dad. (He and his Brother burned down their house when they were kids.) I never burned down ANYTHING, let alone a house. I did INADVERTANTLY set my bed on fire once, but I never told anyone about it. There was also that grease fire when I was 19, but that got taken care of too...Anyhoo, We're not talking about THAT. We ARE, however, talking about 4th of July...

So it should now be obvious that, when I was a kid, there were few events in my life that brought the kind of insurmountable joy as when the Collins Fireworks stands began popping up around town. The stands would generally open for business the last couple weeks of June and be open through the 4th of July. My parents never did buy enough fireworks for my liking, though. I was always stuck with nothing more than sparklers, snappers and a fountain or two. I should also explain that, In Colorado, the only fireworks that are LEGAL are mild Class "C," which means that if it flies or explodes (or is otherwise "cool"), we don't get to have it. In fact, inside the city limits of Colorado Springs, Fireworks of ANY KIND are illegal (poor bastards). Growing up (and now, since we bought our house in Security) we were (and are again) in "Unincorporated El Paso County." This means that fireworks are legal provided that they are the non-flying or exploding class "C" and there aren't severely dry conditions present. Of course, legality is only a minor stumbling block for most people (as evidenced by the awesome displays in and around our neighborhood this past weekend). Availability of "illegal" (cool) fireworks is a mere 2 hour trip away...

Of course, I mean that the great state of Wyoming is only a couple hours away from where I live...In Wyoming, they allow the really cool fireworks like Bottle Rockets, Black Cat Firecrackers and M80s to be sold. I believe that it was Summertime in 1988, I was caddying for my Dad in the Wyoming Open golf tournament in Cheyenne. This was my first trip to Wyoming and, upon crossing the state line, I found it obvious why most people would visit the Godforsaken place. That reason? You didn't have to look hard to find purveyors of pyrotechnics, Fireworks stands were EVERYWHERE! These places also sold fireworks YEAR ROUND! (holy crap!) Based solely on my love of fire (also of all things explosive), Wyoming was instantly a heaven on earth. I tried my best to convince my Dad that we NEEDED to buy fireworks before we left the state.

Of course, having the "fire" gene inherent in him, my Dad was already thinking one or two steps ahead of me.

Long story short, we arrived back home in Colorado after our trip with the addition of several gross of bottle rockets and a considerable quantity of Black Cat® brand firecrackers. This was a source of frustration (also chagrin) for my Mother. She was convinced that some sort of law enforcement task force was only SECONDS away from breaking down our door and hauling us away, based solely on the fact that we had imported such contraband. My Dad and I assured her that, if we were careful and only shot off a few at a time, we wouldn't get caught, nobody would get hurt and nobody would be "hauled away." Mom was unconvinced by our assurances. In fact, the bottle rockets and her had a very tenuous relationship, neither could stand the other. My Mother made damn sure to store the "illegal" fireworks under the sink in hopes of the pipe leaking on them and, subsequently, ruining them. Luckily, the rockets survived for many years, their sheer numbers making it near impossible for her to destroy ALL of them. A few years after their initial purchase, the rockets would come into play during one of the best Independence Day celebrations ever. First, though, I should introduce one more "player" in this deadly game (of fire). His name is Ryan.

Ryan and I had been friends since the 4th grade. We don't talk to one another anymore, but for the purposes of this story, imagine us as "bestest friends," we did everything together. Around the 4th of July, especially when we had more ready access to funds of our own, we would routinely purchase fireworks for no other reason than to light them and have fun. Ryan had a particular affection for a firework called Crazy Jacks. Crazy Jacks are small little things sold in bundles (and also bricks, being basically a bundle of bundles), the idea being that you light a bundle (of 12 individual Crazy Jacks, I believe) and, when the fuse burns into the firework, colored flame will shoot out the side causing the (aptly named) Crazy Jacks to dance wildly around your driveway for a few seconds. They also go by the name Jumping Jacks, Ground Dancers and such. Ryan discovered, however, that if you separate the individual "Jacks," light them, hold them until they are JUST ABOUT READY to spurt flame and then throw them into the air, they will take off like little bats exiting Hell in thoroughly random directions. This, effectively, turns a harmless mild Class "C" into a dangerous, airborne Class "C," if only for a few glorious seconds. When Ryan first showed me this little trick, I was (obviously) ecstatic. How awesome! Not only did you get 12 times the enjoyment from your pack of Crazy Jacks, it was simply really fun to watch them fly. This became a regular pastime for us every time the 4th of July holiday rolled around...

The first time I showed my Mom the flying firework trick, her reaction was predictable. "That's dangerous, stop it," she'd say. Of course, I would not have "Stopped it," not for anything. One particular night in the early 90s, Myself, Ryan and my Mom were in the backyard of the house on Hackberry lighting fireworks. Mom had been waffling all night as to whether or not we could shoot off some of the original "illegals," and, as such, the bag containing a remaining few gross of bottle rockets was outside with us. She had decided after some thought, however, that it'd be a bad idea and that we would not be allowed to shoot any off. Undaunted, Ryan and I set to the thoroughly enjoyable task of lobbing lit Crazy Jacks in the air and watching them take off. After too long, my Mom decided that she wanted to try throwing one. "I'm not sure that's a good idea," I told her. "You have to wait until the very last minute, right before the fuse burns into it." She still seemed eager to try it so I acquiesced and handed her a Crazy Jack of her very own. Ryan and I both threw a couple more to give her an idea of what she'd be doing and she exclaimed that she was ready. I lit her firework and watched her wait, holding the tiny incendiary device in her suddenly wavering hand.

Did I mention before that my Mom tends to panic a bit?

So yeah, Mom didn't wait for the fuse to go very far. Mom didn't throw the Crazy Jack in the air. Mom apparently experienced a sudden moment of clarity regarding her pending (dangerous) actions, freaked out and tossed the lit Crazy Jack away. She didn't throw the firework on the cement or on the grass, oh no. She threw it DIRECTLY INTO THE BAG CONTAINING THE BOTTLE ROCKETS. Whether she liked it or not, There was going to be a big bottle rocket show THAT night...After she committed this dastardly act, there was that tenuous sort of silence for a second or two, right before all Hell broke loose. It was the kind of silence where all parties involved seem to be simultaneously looking at one another in disbelief, but also looking for a good place to hide. Expectedly, the little Crazy Jack began it's Hellfire dance inside the bag, lighting the fuse of every bottle rocket that it came near (which was all of them). In no time at all, rockets began spurting from the bag, flying at us from all directions...I personally jumped through the screen door into the utility room. My Mom ran toward the gate, seeking refuge around the side of the house. Ryan, not being so lucky as to be close to the house, had to run like Hell toward the aspen tree, rockets on his tail the whole way. He dove behind the tree and tried to deflect the attacking missiles with the branches, but it was to no avail. He was being assaulted from all sides by hundreds of menacing little sticks of fire and fun. The sounds of that night are burned into my memory, as it's the closest I've ever come to experiencing any sort of "battle." Whistles, explosions, and screams permeated the night sky as 3 gross of bottle rockets, unleashed unwittingly by my Mother, rained Hell and horror down upon us in our own backyard...

After some time, and after the last of the rockets had done it's foul duty, there was a shaky sort of quiet. Ryan, battered and dazed by the rockety onslaught, crawled out from behind the tree and sat on the grass. I emerged from the utility room, actually OPENING the door this time around. My Mom continued to cower by the side of the house, now completely convinced that "Johnny Law" would be coming to take her "downtown" in short order for harboring and detonating banned fireworks. Our neighbor Jack, who had been drawn outside by the commotion, was standing on the fence, demanding to know where we had acquired such ordnance. All I could do was laugh while I surveyed the scene in the back yard, a thick cloud of smoke hung low, enveloping everything. Broken red sticks and spent rocket bodies littered every corner of the grass. Leaves and branches that had been torn from our two trees lay everywhere as well. Observing all of this, and ignoring my neighbors inquiry, I stood and chuckled away, still incredulous that it was all reality...Luckily, no Sheriff's Deputy showed up at our house that night and, eventually, our neighbor got tired of his simple line of questioning. After too long, we got everything cleaned up and back in order. It truly was the best damn 4th of july ever.

Not surprisingly, my Mother isn't allowed to handle fireworks anymore.

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