If we do that again, I'll bring more of the Arsenal of Freedom than just a few packs of ladyfingers. Where we parked, I could have lit every last ground bloom flower I have while waiting for the show to begin. But oh well!
* * *
So there I was, age 9 or 10. It was July 5, and some neighborhood kids and I were hanging out in my back yard. I lit a firecracker, but it didn't go off; when I picked it up I burned myself on the wick. With all the wisdom of a prepubescent boy, I held the firecracker up to my ear in order to listen to the wick, to see if it was hissing. You know what happened next.
...in my hand, about an inch from my right ear.
This was a 1970s' style Black Cat; it had some oomph to it. Four of these firecrackers, a year or two earlier, had lofted an aluminum cup about eight, ten feet in the air. The world went silent on that side and remained so for fifteen seconds or so. Then sound came back, but it was muted by ringing, loud, on that one side. I could hear normally out of my left ear. Over the course of the next hour the ringing went away and by the next day it was like nothing had happened.
Injury: zero, other than my pride. Even at that age I realized (a little too late) that had been a stupid thing to do, and I was lucky not to have permanent hearing damage.
These days, I have to wonder how much was luck. I mean, DOT class 1.4G package fireworks aren't particularly powerful, and they weren't even in the 1970s when they were DOT class C. They're made to make noise and give off colorful flashes without being really dangerous, as long as you use them with some common sense.
I'm thinking about the video clip where a Japanese guy puts bottle rockets in his nostrils and lights the fuses. He does this as a stunt for laughs, and it's not a stunt I'd care to replicate, but notice that he isn't injured by it? If you want to do something idiotic, a firecracker or a bottle rocket is your best friend because they don't do anything for very long, and usually the brief duration prevents serious injury.
Injuries happen mainly when people do stupid things with higher-end fireworks. If you're shooting a mortar out of your car, or holding it atop your head, is it really all that surprising when bad things happen? If you put a fountain in your pants, sticking out your fly, and set it off? If you put a 50-gram aerial shell rocket in your asscrack and have someone light it?
But of course Fireworks Are Dangerous And Must Be Banned.
* * *
Back in the 1970s--the same year of the firecracker incident--there was this one year that we got fireworks from Missouri.
See, at that time, you couldn't get the good fireworks in Indiana. You could get anything that didn't fly into the air and/or explode there. You could get fountains, ground bloom flowers, spinners, flashers, smokes, snakes, etcetera--but not firecrackers, bottle rockets, aerial shells, or mortars. For that stuff you had to go to Missouri, which was the next closest state with lax fireworks laws.
On trips to Florida my brother would ask Dad if we could stop at a firework stands in Tennesee and elsewhere, and of course the answer was always "no". Dad was very safety-conscious and furthermore didn't want to get in trouble with the law, and since he didn't know what the laws were in the various states we'd be passing through, it was safest just not to buy any fireworks. He didn't explain any of that (he rarely explained why) but merely said "no", and that was it.
This seems terribly unjust when you're a boy and your head is filled with a cornucopia of neat things with fuses, but Dad's word was law and we shut up.
...so the opportunity to get fireworks from Missouri--well, I was nine or ten, my brother was fourteen or fifteen, and yeah!
So one night, before the 4th, Dad told me I could pick out a couple of things to light from the assortment that had come to us via my oldest sister's fiancee (or were they married then? I don't recall exactly) and I selected some interesting-looking things. Chief among them was this squat, silver cylinder set in a square black plastic base. I wanted to see what it did; as usual the label wasn't much help.
So I, under my Dad's watchful eye, set it on the far corner of the patio, struck a match, lit it, and backed away. And
this ball of burning magnesium erupted from the thing, howling to an altitude of perhaps fifty feet. I can vividly remember the bright white light on the patio; I think it exploded, too, though I'm not sure. All I remember was Dad's reaction.
He pulled me inside the house, and shut off all the lights. Further ignitions were curtailed; the rest of the fireworks show was canceled, because if someone called the police--
Well, no one called the police. I don't think anyone even noticed.
And as I've chronicled here before, around 1985 or so the rules in Indiana loosened such that fireworks stands could sell any class C firework as long as the purchaser signed an affidavit stating he'd take it out of state within five days. And a few years after that, even that requirement had fallen. Now you can go to Indiana and buy all kinds of goodies, to the point that people can drop thousands of dollars on fireworks and put on informal shows in their back yards.
I've had occasions here at the bunker where I and my friends lit fuses for hours and never saw a single police car, and a short distance away there's at least one guy (this year there were two) who are obviously serious pyros, judging by their fireworks displays.
Fireworks are fun, and if they're used with a modicum of common sense they're less dangerous than a lot of activities we claim to be "safe and sane". I'm more afraid of my circular saw than I am of a roman candle. Do I wear heavy leather gloves when setting off a roman candle? Usually, yes, because there's enough pyrotechnic in that thing to burn you if the casing blows out. But I've set off dozens of roman candles and I've seen that happen twice...once when someone was not using gloves (which prompted me to start wearing gloves) and once when I was. He got a painful first-degree burn; I got startled. No one had to go to the ER. No one even needed bandaging. He ran some cold water on it and was fine.
I do insist on some rules when lighting fireworks. I keep the fireworks in a plastic tub, and the lid must go back on it before anything from it is lit. Fireworks must be lit away from vehicles, people, furniture, and other fireworks (if there's open packages on the ground, for example). If more than one person is lighting fuses, there's got to be separation between them, and anything that has a noncircular thrust vector gets aimed up and away.
The plastic tub is not going to keep out anything laying on it and burning, but that's not what it's for; it's there to keep embers away from the cache of fireworks. Something spinning on the ground could take a weird turn and bounce off the tub, but that won't melt through the plastic. The tub will prevent a repetition of that time my friends and I nearly had a full-on meltdown due to one guy's spinning flying thing cartwheeling into the pile of unlit stuff. (But again: this stuff doesn't stay lit for long.)
And damn, do I love fireworks.