This post originally ran 4 July 2014.
The first one that says “grand finale” gets it. It’s over when it’s over.
I spent a year of boyhood in Chicago, 1975. Actually, Oak Park. An enormous creaky house one block from the Chicago city limits. UFOs were in the air—and on television. There were areas of the house into which I would not go unescorted.
Fireworks were legal. So was the idea that you could set your kids loose in the neighborhood with only the warning “Be home for dinner.”
Who was it that said the past is a foreign country?
We would collect pennies and nickels and trade them for weapons of minimal destruction, or WMDs. We’d take off down the alleys on our bikes lighting bottle rockets from smoldering punks held in our teeth, holding the rockets just until ignition to get a better aim. Not unlike jousting.
My favorites were the plastic green grenades which looked exactly like those my grandpa used to hoist at Germans. Inside was a cardboard tube with a fuse. Tremendous thick clouds of white smoke. But they were expensive. So we’d buy the little round smoke bombs, light two of them and jam them into the grenade. Almost the same effect, but you ran the risk of melting the plastic.
They had this one tiny firecracker the thickness of spaghetti. To show your bravery, you lit one and exploded it in your hand. Some guys pretended to do the same trick with the regular-sized WMDs, but we told each other too many stories of fingers flying in all directions to do it for real. Somebody knew somebody who knew somebody who heard of a guy who lit one he was biting. No takers there.
The elusive goal was a cherry bomb, or M-80, said to be illegal. They were supposed to look like an over-sized smoke bomb and be the equivalent of a quarter stick of dynamite. Rumor always had it the kids in the next neighborhood had one. Massive explosions were attested to. Eyewitness reports were plentiful. But none of us ever had one.
Next best thing was to tape a bunch of regular firecrackers together, twisting their fuses into one. If you did it right, these would go off more or less at once. Looking back, I don’t know how powerful these were. We tried to blow up a bike tire with one. No success.
The same trick, incidentally, can be done with bottle rockets. Tremendous boost in take-off speed. And with snakes, those little cylinders of carbon which when lighted unspool to great length. A pile of five or six would release as much smoke in the air as a press conference by Chuck Schumer.
Remember those little green army men? I had battalions of them. Some came equipped with plastic parachutes, which worked if you were careful about throwing the man in the air just so. Well, all experiments to send a parachuter up with a bottle rocket failed. Oh, he’d soar into the wild blue yonder, all right. Sometimes. But he’d always stick to the stick of the rocket—the parachute would never deploy—or fall off at take off. If anybody ever solved this engineering problem, I’d be glad to hear of it.
Since I am, I blush to say, the Statistician to the Stars, I must present the total of all deaths caused by the WMDs in my neighborhood: 0.
Fingers blown off? 0. Teeth shattered? 0. Eyes poked out? 0. Maimings of any kind? 0.
Burns? Well, one or two, here or there. Mostly from holding the punks or the bottle rockets too long, or just as likely from gripping the match incorrectly or from picking up a thought-to-be-cool spent sparkler. Yes: we used to carry packs of matches everywhere.
But even though no mayhem ensued, it is a logical truism that it could have! And this mere possibly is enough for the more effeminate among us to quail and quake and to invoke the ever-present urge to San Francisco the problem, i.e. to ban, ban, ban. For your own good, naturally.
The “grand finale”, by the way, is the end of the fireworks show, the point where dozens of rockets are sent up at once, an end with a bang. It is the event which is always announced half a dozen times before it really happens.