There are three things that I associate with summer. Eating a bomb pop while it drips down your arm. The smell of cold water on hot asphalt. And the arrival of the “fireworks stand.”
I don’t know how it works in other parts of the country, but in Southern California there are only five days leading up to the 4th of July in which it is legal to sell firework. And the evil marketing geniuses at the fireworks manufacturers make sure to set up their stands in supermarket and church parking lots at least one week before that in order to whet the appetites of the local pyromaniacs
I was one of those aforementioned pyromaniacs.
As a young kid, seeing the stands go up was like visual crack to me. I loved the colors, the graphics, and the awkwardly translated names of the fireworks they sold. Names like “Apollo Witches Cauldron,” “Jet Dragon Snake Jumbo.” and “English Type Snow Drop.” However, to say that they didn’t quite live up to what their names promised is an understatement.
I’m convinced now that somewhere in mainland China each year there are thousands of factory workers laughing their heads off at how gullible the “Yankees” are to buy this crap. Still, no matter how many years previous I had seen an “Ace Lightning Spray Fountain” emit a Randy West type shower of sparks, I was sure that eventually it would it would finish like Peter North.
But the arrival of the fireworks season wasn’t really about buying the family friendly “safe and sane” items that we were limited to by California law; it was about finding David Sherman.
Think of David Sherman as the sixth grade version of a rogue arms dealer. Every year he was the “go to guy.” The “connection.” The pyrotechnic “candyman.” He knew he was the only game in town, and in a pre-Road Warrior world coined the phrase, “you want firecrackers, skyrockets, or M-80′s? You talk to me….”
There were rumors about where he got his contraband, with some saying that he had an uncle who lived in Mexico that was his source. Others said his step-dad was a cop who passed on the confiscated illicit goods in order to curry his favor. One kid even swore that he saw a triad member leave Sherman’s house late one night, but it turned out to only be the takeout boy from Li’s Schezwan Palace.
I couldn’t have been more than ten years old when our mutual friend Eric Phillips arrainged for me to gain access to Sherman’s inner stronghold; basically his bedroom. Sure he may have had NFL bed sheets and KISS posters on the wall like other kids, but there was an old cigar box full of cash in his sock drawer and a wrist rocket within reach if anybody started trouble.
“Hey Phillips, whose this guy?” he asked.
“It’s my buddy Brian. Brian Lund! He’s cool man,” replied my suddenly nervous friend.
“Lund huh? Sounds like a fag name to me. What do you want Lund?”
“S-s-s-some firecrackers,” I murmured.
“Firecrackers huh? You go the dough? Let me see it.”
Having saved some money from my paper route, I was flush with cash. In fact I had a whole twenty-dollar bill in my pocket, which I took out and showed Sherman.
“Whoa, hey alright,” he said, suddenly warming to me. ”I think we can do some business.”
And with that he pulled out a box from under his bed. It was filled to the top with lovely and beautiful illegal fireworks. Bricks of “Black Cat” firecrackers. Pack after pack of “Moon Traveler” bottle rockets. And the familiar small pink cylinders with green fuses knows as M-80′s. I bought everything I could and thus began my dicey history with fireworks.
Later that day I tried launching a bottle rocket for the first time. I had no idea how this was done, nor could I wait until dark to try it, so I just stuck the stick attached to the rocket into the grass, lit the fuse and ran to the other side of the street. To my disappointment it didn’t take off like the promised moon traveler, but exploded like a firecracker.
I assumed it was faulty and tried another but got the same result. After a couple more ended the same way I decided to change my tact. If all they did was blow up, I reasoned then that I would use them in that way. I broke the sticks off of about ten of them and placed then into a tin can, ready to see it blown to pieces. I tied all the fuses together, lit them and stepped back. Five seconds later I was pelted by a stream of fiery projectiles, two of which hit dangerously close to my left eye.
I hadn’t quite understood the concept of a “bottle” rocket, meaning one designed to be set loosely in a bottle or similar stand in order to launch correctly. I had stuck the sticks into the hard ground which didn’t let them take flight when lit. And because I watched them from the other side of the street in broad daylight, I didn’t notice the flames jetting out of their ends, only the explosion when they were finished.
By placing them in the can, I had in fact turned it into a mini-mortar launcher, conveniently aimed at my face. But wait, there was more 4th of July stupidity to come.
The following year I thought it would be cool to throw firecrackers in the air and watch them explode. However I didn’t realize that there is in fact only one way to do that correctly, using the “quick wrist flick” technique (every male reader is knowingly nodding right now and saying to themselves “exactly”). Instead I went for the full Sandy Koufax windup and throw.
My hand, with the lit firecracker in it, passed next to my ear just in time for it to explode; leaving me both with a ringing sensation and a numbness in three of my fingertips that lasted for hours.
In subsequent years I had more mishaps, most born out boredom. That is the time when you can really get hurt, when all the “good” stuff has already been done, and you are just left with the “boring” stuff. It is then your mission to make it “less boring.” For example one year I gathered up all the “dud” fireworks, opened them up, poured their contents into a pile, and leaned over it with a match to light it.
Pro Tip: The real world is different from the movies and you can NOT move faster than gunpowder can ignite. The hot flash that burst in my face left me seeing “spots” for a while, but I thought I had avoided any further damage until I walked into my house later that day and my mom looked at me and said, “what happened to your eyelashes?”
Ground Bloom flowers suck. All they do is spin on the ground and change colors. I thought that if crushed in a vice, I might entice them to blowup instead, like what happens with a Piccolo Pete. Unfortunately all I did was cause one of them to wobble out of control and land directly under the gas tank of our neighbor’s car, where it sat and shot a white-hot stream of fire straight upwards for an extremely long and nervous ten seconds.
Sparklers and snakes are kiddie fireworks. Not so if you crush them up and mix them together. Then they produce a wonderous glowing flame that not only catches your pant leg on fire, but burns down half your of you mother’s prized rose-bush.
Suffice to say, I made it though those years with nary a scar to show from it and with all my fingers intact. Nowadays I become “Fire Marshall Brian” when the fourth rolls around, following the guidelines suggested by The National Council on Fireworks Safety to a tee. I always set a perimeter, have a bucket of water standing by, and only handle burned out cones with metal tongs.
However, don’t think that when I see a “Cluster of Bees” shoot overhead or hear the sound of cherry bomb go off that I’m not tempted to rush over and tell the purveyor “look, this is how it should be done.”
What bclund is, is the intersection of markets, trading, and life (with some punk rock, pop culture, and off-beat humor mixed in).