punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

The Curse of the Fireworks

I am a mild pyromaniac. I blame my childhood friend Patrick Calrton who stole some matches from my home, and showed me the fun of fire. I got caught and blamed for it, and I wasn't allowed to play with Pat anymore after that. But it was too late: fire and I have played a partnership for quite some time.

I respect fire. A lot. I treat it like a living thing that cares not for my power over it, and will try and escape if I turn my back in its need to feed. I know, someday, I will be horribly burned. I have made piece with this concept, but it has also been the roots for my fire safety. I light the grill, I light the fireplace, but what really pushes the fire safety home was my horrible experience with fireworks.

Not that I ever got hurt, I just kept seeing other people getting hurt.

Twice at Wolftrap, once at the DC Mall, and another time at a high school, I have been to public fireworks events where the fireworks display blew up. As in not planned, where the fire department gets called in. As kid, I used to think I had some sort of curse that caused fireworks events to go haywire. I have even been to a few where chunks of fireworks landed on the ground close to me, leaving a strange hunk of burning ash that evaporated before my very eyes.

But the one I really remember was Solomon's Island, I think it was 1983-4. The Calvert Fire Company always put a show on the beach opposite the Patuxent Naval Base. It would start with a huge parade down the main street, and then end with fireworks at dusk. I was about 20 feet away from this display, curious how they all worked. I saw some guys wade knee-deep in the water, hand-lighting huge fireworks from large tubes on a floating raft/frame. It was REALLY fuckin' cool to see fireworks launch, and explode directly over your head. But the third firework set fell over, and the guys lighting the tubes suddenly realized... FUCK! They ran as fast as the could to the shore, which was probably only 5 feet away, but they were slogging through water in firemen's boots. One firework launched straight at a guy, and shot right between his legs as he was driving for cover, and set the cornfield next to the shore on fire. The sounds were tremendous. Flames shooting everywhere, luckily 90% of them away from the shore, and as the explosions broke apart the floating deck they were on, it all rapidly began to sink. The firemen assembled already had the pumper truck running just in case, and this paid off in a big way. They put out the whole raft in less than a minute while all the Maryland citizens scrambled for their lives. I was nearly trampled, and remembered some safety rule to NOT travel with a panicked mob, and so I jammed myself behind the ambulance, and looked skyward.

It was so disturbing, it was beautiful. Because I was a little messed up then, I kept thinking of that scene in Apocalypse Now where the people guarding the bridge were under attack. It was really like that, even if only for less than 60 seconds. A firework exploded into a tree, framing it with emerald green sparks for a second, before giving way to the orange glow of flaming leaves. Several white streaks shot over the ambulance and the air smelled thick with the acrid gunpowder. Pockets of smoke and heat wafted back and forth across my suntanned face while I listened to someone shouting something unintelligible over the some bullhorns, but after everyone crossed the main road, they stopped fleeing, and just sort of wandered back and forth, eager to see the spectacle. The air alive with colors, smells, and when the sounds finally died down, the orange glow of the various small fires around the shore lit up everything like the embers of a cigarette after a really good round of sex.

I rounded the ambulance and I saw the guy who got the fireworks between his legs in the ambulance deck. They had cut his jeans off, and he was being treated for minor burns, and they said he was okay. At first, the firemen just let me linger around while they put out the various fires on the docks and the cornfield. Finally, one of them said, "Hey, kid? You okay?" I told him I hadn't been hit, but stayed behind the ambulance to avoid getting trampled. He quickly ushered me back to the throngs of native Merliners shaking their heads, and saying, "Well, I'll be darned..." I walked the mile back to my dad's yacht where my parents were waiting. My mother didn't know I was so close to the action; they had been a lot farther back (we got separated early in the day and made no attempt to find each other), and didn't see what had actually happened.

I didn't really go to many fireworks after that. I mean, it would be a letdown of excitement, and I was convinced I was cursed, and being the responsible type, I figured it would would better if I stayed away from such venues.

But when I got married, Christine and I went to see fireworks until CR was about 5 at Lake Fairfax in Reston. Then we said, "They don't thrill us anymore." And CR was certainly bored (to the ADHD, fireworks are about as exciting as several hours of a Lava Lite), and I remember thinking, "Damn, why do we come?" We stopped going every year, and only went back a few times when they paved over the old Farmer's Market Hayride area with suburban saltboxes across the street from the park entrance. It was funny, natives all got used to being in the hayfield, and when they put houses there, we didn't care, and sat in the street, people's lawns, on top of our cars, and so on. Like a bunch of seagulls.

I don't think any of the Fairfax ones blew up, so ... I guess I am not cursed.

Have I set off fireworks myself? Rarely. I always know I am one matchstick away from a serious burn, so I handle them like guns on a firing range, and I prefer to watch them from a distance. I'll light a sparkler or two, lose interest, and jump when I hear explosions. But honestly, I feel fireworks are BORING. Lot of work, sitting in the heat and bugs, all to see things blow up the same way they have blown up since the Chinese invented gunpowder.

I am not sure what we are doing July 4th. I am on call, so I can't go very far. We're going to hang out with anyarm and fuzzywhuze in a parking lot in the evening. I am going more for the company than to see something blow up.

And remembering the smell of gunpowder one Marlyand night...
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