Thursday, July 2, 2009

You Could Put An Eye Out With That Thing...(Happy 4th)

My first memorable personal experience with 4th of July fireworks was in 1957 at my uncle’s summer home on Lake Butte des Morts. There, my cousin Jeff had a masterpiece of Chinese ingenuity called a “Repeating Bomb”. It was about six inches tall, a tube on a base, with a fuse sticking out. I’ll never forget the simple directions on that clandestine piece of pyrotechnics: “Light Fuse and Run”.

He set it on the broad lawn behind the house leading to the lake, lit the fuse, and we ran for cover behind my dad’s green ‘57 Chevy. It did not disappoint. It let off five of the loudest explosions I’d ever heard and brought the adults running out of the house to see if Winnebago County was under attack.

As an adventurous youth in the 60’s, I blew off far more than my fair share of Cherry Bombs and M-80’s. And back then, those things packed a punch - not like the wimpy stuff that passes for fireworks today. One M-80 tossed into a phone booth would blow the glass out with enough force to maim anyone nearby. (Don’t ask how I know that.)

In the 70’s, a pal of mine had invited me to his parents’ Fond du Lac home for some real good cookin’ and a beer or two on the 4th. Late that night, after the fermented malt beverages had taken effect, we went down into the basement of the home where my pal’s dad had created “The X Bomb”. It had a number, like X-17 or X-3 or something; I can’t recall. It was shaped like a rocket. We set it up in the back yard under the cover of darkness and launched it. Suffice it to say that the roar that went off when it had achieved maximum altitude was deafening.

In the 80’s, it was harder to get high-quality fireworks that pack a punch. My brother had made a road trip south in the mid-80’s and had his hands on what he called “some good stuff”. We were at our parents’ house for the 4th of July, and when the time was appropriate, we decided to “test fire” one of the M-80’s he’d brought with him. We set it on the top of my parents’ wooden picnic table, lit it, and put an empty coffee can over it to see how high we could blast it.

It turned out to be REALLY “good stuff”. The detonation actually broke the two-by-eight plank it was set on, and I believe the coffee can is still in orbit. Dad was not amused, and the next day we had to replace the plank and repair and repaint the picnic table.

Nowadays, in Nanny Headquarters USA, a/k/a the City of Madison, anything that’s fun is against city ordinance. You are allowed only sparklers, snakes, snaps, caps, and party poppers. And the fine for a first-time violation is up to A THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Humbug! Party poppers, indeed.

Well, I don’t live in the city. I live in the township of Madison, which is far less nanny-ish. And this old dog has a few new tricks up his sleeve for tomorrow night, and that’s all I’m sayin….

1 comment:

  1. The city ordinance has banned all but the wimpy stuff for many years. It has been widely ignored. If they enforce it this year, it's purely for revenue-generating reasons. I've heard far fewer firecrackers this year so far in my neighborhood. I don't know if it's fear of the law or lack of disposable cash to spend on fireworks; I suspect the latter.