SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
I’m of mixed feelings on the subject of Indiana’s new fireworks law. The firefighter in me hates it; the kid in me loves it.
The old law was a bit – how do I say this – ridiculous. Fireworks deemed “unsafe” could be bought, but only if you promised not to use them in Indiana.
Yeah, sure. We promise. Uh-huh. But was the result any different than before the law, when
relatives would arrive from Ohio with car trunks full of explosive devices?
The thing is, the fireworks that were banned were the ones that, if used properly, were the safest ones. You stick a bottle rocket into a – wait for it – bottle, and it rockets off to explode harmlessly in the air. The Roman candle shoots up and away from the user, also. The firecracker doesn’t go away, but it also has a truth in advertising aspect. Ask anyone what a firecracker does, and they’ll tell you: It explodes. If used properly, it explodes out there all by itself.
Legal fireworks were much more insidious. What could be more harmless than sparklers? So we light then, then stick them into the hands of kids who run around each other, screaming or yelling. If they did the same thing with knives, parents would throw a screaming fit.
A sparkler burns at a temperature higher than the surface of the sun. In World War 2, sparklers were used to melt enemy artillery. Astronauts in the space station can see sparklers on the surface.
Then there are smoke bombs. They didn’t explode, they just smoked. I don’t love smoke as much as I used to, having breathed in a good portion of it, but as a kid what did I know about carcinogens?
Smoke bombs had a tendency to burst into flame.
I’m talking acetylene torch flame. A jet of flame that could drive the Batmobile. You could cut metal with it. There’s talk of using smoke bombs to drive the next mission to Mars.
Sparkers and smoke bombs were legal in Indiana, so it makes sense to go ahead and legalize the more notorious fireworks, which are safe if used properly. But say – has anyone noticed that I keep saying “if used properly”?
Lots of stuff is safe if used properly. Guns. Cars. Dynamite. Humor columns.
We could do away with all the lawyers, and most of the government, if everyone used everything properly. Earth would be a hippie fantasy love fest. But no.
I would be a millionaire if I could sell all the toys I blew up. Remember Johnny Express? No? That’s because I blew it up. I blew up a battleship, and a broken model of the Starship Enterprise. My brother blew up every model car he ever made. Just to see what would happen, he ignited a rocket engine without putting it into a rocket first. It was the first mushroom cloud I ever saw.
Once, we set a firecracker under a Matchbox car. It never came down. Probably it landed in a tree limb, but I’m not discounting the possibility that it’s still in orbit.
The way you use firecrackers is to put them on the ground, light them, and get away. Yeah, right. We threw them at each other.
Yes, we put bottle rockets into bottles. Then we aimed them at each other. We would aim roman candles at street lights, to make the sensors kick in. Why putting out street lights was fun, I don’t know – it just was.
I put smoke bombs in everything. Bushes, toys, furniture … I don’t think I burned anything down, but it was hard to tell through all the smoke.
Then I grew up. Well, as much as males ever do, so – not so much. I was in my late teens when we walked down the railroad tracks in Albion late one night, lighting firecrackers and bottle rockets in our hands.
Next thing I knew, I was clutching my numb hand, looking away from it because I was sure fingers were missing. But when I looked to my friend for help, he was also jumping around in pain. At the same instant the firecracker went off in my hand, the bottle rocket’s stick broke and it dropped into the bottle, blowing it up in his hand.
Burns – glass splinters. Hard to choose. And we couldn’t go for help, because back in those days kids didn’t get sympathy for doing stupid things.
Fast forward a couple of years, to a couple of kids who hadn’t learned their lesson. I’ve told this story before, but it’s way too appropriate to my point not to tell it again. My friend and I are driving down the road in an old clunker, blowing up mailboxes.
Not really – even back then I didn’t like to damage the property of others. We lit firecrackers, threw them into mailboxes, and shut the lids. There would be a big thump, and the door would fly open. That was it.
Gas was cheap back then.
In order to reach our ammunition better, we stacked all the firecrackers in a big pile on the seat between us. That would be where they were when the spark found them.
You have to picture this from outside, as if you were seeing it on a movie. A car is going down Drake Road when suddenly flashes and bangs erupt inside as if from rapid fire machine guns. The car weaves back and forth, then screeches to a halt. Two doors are flung open, and smoke rolls out. The following conversation ensues:
I pretty much stopped using fireworks after that.
My point is that what the law says about fireworks may not matter that much – it’s what the people do with them. Alcohol is legal, yet causes all sorts of stupidity. Hard drugs are illegal, yet – ditto.
Maybe the only answer is to educate people as best we can. And put the ER on standby.