It is a sad day in America when teenagers across the country can’t celebrate New Year’s by setting fire to their neighbors’ property with bottle rockets.
Of course, I am referring to the tariffs President Trump set on China and the impact it had on the fireworks industry. The price of “backyard” pyrotechnics, as it is called in the industry, has pretty much gutted the mom and pop fireworks sellers. This time last year, there were fireworks stands in just about every parking lot you drove past. Now, you hardly see a one.
The impact on teenage vandalism alone is enormous.
I haven’t priced fireworks in decades, but I am assured by some of the younger generation in my family that the price has skyrocketed (excuse the pun).
Frankly, I don’t know what the President was thinking.
How are kids supposed to afford the bottle rockets they need to drive around in their cars and shoot at things?
One of my fondest childhood memories is the night one of my friends fired one of those super-big bottle rockets into a garage where a man was under his Corvette working on the engine. The bottle rocket got stuck between the car’s front tire and the garage floor. It was about two feet from his head wiggling and shooting out a six-inch flame. The guy yelled an especially bad word and gyrated like a hyperactive hula dancer trying to get away before the bottle rocket exploded. If it was an Olympic event and I was a judge, I would give him about a seven out of ten for effort, but he failed in the end. He got about two-thirds of his body out from under the car when the bottle rocket exploded.
Like I said, it was a big bottle rocket – big around as a fifty-cent piece. The explosion was stunning and made all the better by the fact it was inside the confined space of a garage.
He came running at our car yelling something. We screamed with laughter and peeled off out of there.
Another time a kid named Jack, demonstrating uncanny marksmanship, fired the same type bottle rocket into the local television station’s news van. If you’ve never seen one, news vans are festooned with directional antennas and whatnot on their roofs. They have all sorts of computer terminals and other such things inside them so technicians can stream videos and whatever to their company. They also come with these big, sliding doors that, for some reason, are always open.
Unlike the rest of us, Jack was new to vandalism and the complete disregard for human safety. Wet behind the ears, you could say. He desperately wanted to shoot the rocket at the van. We were initially against it. For one thing, it was a long shot. The van was parked in the middle of a baseball field and we were hiding behind the outfield fence. Eventually, his passion and dedication swayed us.
“Don’t miss,” someone hissed at him.
That night there were three technicians in the van. I know this, because all three of them came diving out of the van when that bottle rocket flew through the open sliding door and went crazy on the floor of the van. It rivaled, if not exceeded, the guy in the garage as the greatest bottle-rocket based act of vandalism I had ever seen.
The bottled rocket detonated with a satisfying Whoom!
The technicians came after us, but we escaped into the woods behind the baseball field.
Jack was a hero there for a while.
Sad to say, those days are over, at least for now. What, with the cost of bottle rockets, kids this year will be denied these memories.
I hope the President is happy.
Of course, you probably thinking to yourself: Instead of expensive bottle rockets, you can always buy packs of firecrackers and set them off in mailboxes.
This is true and it does give me a little hope.
For years my cousins and a kid down the road named Jeff conducted a mailbox firecracker war to beat all mailbox firecracker wars. Night and day, each faction would sneak over to the other person’s house and explode a firework in their mailbox. It was all clean, harmless fun until this happened:
My dad had a friend who was in law enforcement. For reasons beyond me, he gave my dad a small paper bag full of M80s to take to me. If you don’t know, an M80 is an explosive used to set off other explosives at construction sites and the like. It is a two inch long, one inch wide tube with a fuse sticking out of it from the side instead of the top like dynamite. We could tell by its size it would make a big explosion, but we had no idea how really powerful it was.
My cousin, Tim, and I snuck over to Jeff’s house, stuck an M80 in his mailbox, lit it and ran toward home.
When I say the explosion was massive – I mean the explosion was MASSIVE. It sounded like the world came to an end. The volume alone stopped us in our tracks. In the sky behind us, there was a plume of fire and smoke that had to be fifty feet high. No kidding, it looked like a miniature atomic explosion.
Suffice to say, the mailbox was destroyed. The explosion poofed the sides of the mailbox out monstrously, section were missing and it literally blew the bottom right off it. Hard to believe as it is, I swear the mailbox, damaged though it was, was still hanging on the pole – a testament to the tenacity of the American Postal system.
To Jeff’s credit, he never ratted us out, but the firecracker mailbox wars ended that afternoon.
There is a long list of other vandalistic accomplishments we achieved with fireworks, but there are too many to go into. We once shot a bottle rocket at a bunch of college football players who chased us around for hours. Then there was the time a guy named Bob that I went to grade school with set a bunch of firecrackers off on a city bus. That one was an accident. Bob was supposed to the light the firecrackers and toss them out the window, but when he threw them they hit the window and bounced back on the seat. We wound up walking home that day.
Of course, these are purposeful acts of fear and destruction. What we’ll miss the country over is the accidental property destruction and injury brought on by fireworks. You haven’t lived until you had a firework go off in your hand. I’ve heard of people losing their fingers that way. I almost feel sorry for people who haven’t been hit by a bottle rocket or dodged a cluster of firecrackers someone threw at them. In my crew, that was sort of a rite of passage.
I remember a 4th of July when a complete moron who was dating a friend’s daughter could not figure out how to set up one of those boxes of fireworks that shoots a bunch of rockets into the air that explode with all sorts of colors. No kidding, in an act of near unbelievable stupidity he set the box upside down on the road and lit them. I’ll never forget my friend’s elderly, infirmed grandmother was sitting in a lawn chair a few yards away with the rest of us when the rockets started zooming and exploding all around us. I, along with every other able-bodied person there, heroically bounded away leaving the old woman to face the onslaught on her own.
When the smoke cleared, we found her unharmed – coughing, but unharmed.
After we left, I strongly suggested to my friend that, once there were no witnesses around, his daughter’s boyfriend not survive unharmed. He might have taken me up on it. I never saw the kid again.
Hopefully, the tariff war with China will resolve itself and American kids will get back to the business of playing with explosives. Let’s face it, the average American kid probably has too many fingers anyway.