Every summer around the Fourth of July, when I see the fireworks tents pop up in parking lots all over the Triad, I’m reminded just how lame North Carolina fireworks are.
Currently, the only fireworks permitted in the state are what is known in the industry as “sparkling devices” — yep, those hard-to-light angry incense sticks that begin to lose their appeal when the consumer ‘s age approaches the double-digits, but also stationary fountains — as long as they don’t spin — and the even more pedestrian snakes, party poppers and smoke bombs.
No thank you.
I’m here to tell you that you haven’t truly lived until you’ve blown something up with cherry bombs, lit off a whole pack of firecrackers at once or participated in a backyard Roman-candle fight using garbage-can lids as shields.
Of course, consumer fireworks of almost every type were illegal on Long Island when I was growing up, but it was illegal in the same way that urinating on the street in Manhattan was illegal — which is to say that everybody did it anyway.
Before I was 14 years old, my friends and I were placing lengthy mail-orders from fireworks catalogs, and when we got a little older some of us would take the train into the Chinatown to load up on the good stuff: M-80s, jumping jacks, mats of Black Cat firecrackers and bottle rockets, those rolling tanks that would pop off a few rounds and then catch fire on the ground, and maybe a couple packs of lady fingers for good measure.
We’d prowl around town on our bikes and skateboards, popping off firecrackers and waiting for it to get dark so we could shoot our rockets into the night sky. Sometimes we’d get chased by the local cops, and sometimes they’d catch us; all they’d do, every time, was confiscate our fireworks. We were convinced that they’d just bring them home and light them themselves.
A few years ago I drove down to South Carolina in advance of the Fourth. I spent more than $100 on Texas rockets, king-sized jumping jacks, heavy-duty boxed pieces loaded with mortars and shells and the Strobe Spectacular: a 20-shot repeater that reminded me of the helicopter scene in Apocalypse Now when I sparked the fuse and ducked for cover.
After lighting up the night sky like that, a sparkler holds about as much excitement for me as lighting a match.