I am a nine-year-old boy when it comes to fireworks, especially after having resided for so long in New York, where they are illegal. So you can imagine my zeal when I started seeing those massive, bright yellow, carnivalesque, quintessentially Southern seasonal fireworks stands erected sporadically along the highways. (Picture a college kid turning 21 and then wanting to hit every bar in town.)
I embarrassed myself last week when I accosted the kids unpacking the wares for one outside Walmart, smiling from ear to ear as they first began lining the shelves. “When are you going to open?!” They were polite and were pleased with my interest, but they definitely thought I was odd.
Turns out that the laws governing the sale of fireworks are pretty particular, even here in Virginia, where they’re not prohibited. The stand where I arrived early was waiting for approval from the local fire marshal, which I suppose makes sense.
The laws also affect which fireworks can be sold — there are none of the simple “bottlerockets” that I grew up with, for example. (In New York, we usually managed to lay hands on at least some simple ones, whether the law allowed them or not.) The woman at the stand where I stopped today explained that they can’t sell anything that can travel more than a certain number of feet in the air. This is why there are no airborne fireworks such as those you see at shows, but there is a cornucopia of small, freestanding “shower” -type standalone units that shoot colored sparks just a couple of feet high.
In a way it makes sense, and in a way it doesn’t. The allowed units can’t be fired at a target, for example, the way bottlerockets can. (Some of the more enterprising boys in my old neighborhood actually sawed off their hollow plastic Wiffle bats to make handheld launchers for them. It made “playing army” even more interesting.) But the ones I was able to buy to actually still could be considered fire hazards in that they … kinda produce fire. (The product’s only function is to launch colored bursts of sparks upward.)
There were no plain firecrackers, like “Black Cats,” “Lady Fingers,” or “TNT’s,” for reasons I can’t figure out. Predictably, there were also no “jumping jacks.” Those were the delightfully, frighteningly unpredictable little bastards that screeched and flared and zipped and ricocheted in every direction after they were lit. Hell, we figured out that those damn things were dangerous (and were a little in awe of them) when we were kids. And that says a lot.
I remember one year, a pal of mine lit off a jumping jack in the wide open, ostensibly safe space in front of his house’s front steps. The wicked thing had an incendiary little mind of its own, though, and promptly shot beyond his yard, all the way across the street, and into the bushes of his neighbors’ house there. One of those bushes ignited at once, burning as fearsomely as the one that confronted Moses. It was scary. As an pre-teen, I remember being unnerved at discovering how quickly something very dry could burst into flames.
Anyway, the good natured Virginian lady who sold me my wares today remembered my face from my purchase yesterday and greeted me sweetly when I returned. (Everyone is so amazingly friendly here.) I inwardly opined that she was herself a fire hazard; she was hot enough to light off every fuse in that place. (I kept that joke to myself, though.)
Below is the day’s haul. I wanted to buy more, and maybe just stock up. I hit upon a brilliant idea … why not make it a tradition to shoot off fireworks EVERY holiday?! But I didn’t. These things are sold plentifully, but that doesn’t make them exactly dirt cheap.
Those two bags you see are hopefully destined for that annual campout at Iron Gate, later this summer, with the Mary Wash alums. (Will I finally make it this year?) The others, I hope, I might use to entertain some local munchkins I know. (Those “Lightning Flashes” are utterly harmless and safe for kids; they’re really just a variation of the “Snaps” we used to buy at the corner drugstore.)
I’m just going to pretend that they’re all still against the law. It’s more fun that way.