Thursday, July 20, 2006

My Fourth That Really Fizzled F'Shizzle

My Fourth really fizzled this year. F'shizzle. The day started when I called my brother, because I wanted to blog an entry about playing with fireworks as children, and I wanted his memories and input on the subject. The Sunday before the Fourth I had been visiting at his home with the forewarning he had lost power during a storm. That evening, our group sat in the dark with the few candles on hand, and while not unbearable, it was odd sitting in the dark, seeing the shape of the person, but with no discernable facial expressions. Everything seemed very…quiet. I have to admit I felt relief when I was able to return back home to the coolness of air conditioning and some lights. So you see, I had done the “no lights” thing.

Over the weekend, before the Fourth, I was thinking about fireworks. I could hear them being tested over at the Mall, (something I hear every year,) and I was trying to remember what I was allowed to play with as a child. There is a real firearchy when it comes to these things in terms of gender. I was usually left with sparklers and fountains and smoke bombs and the true orphan of the fireworks world: the black snake, sometimes called the black cobra, or just snake.

The snake is that nasty little pill that you lay flame to, and it rises in a growing tubular coil that falls in on itself while laying it greasy ash all over the pavement. Parents hate these things. Long after being brushed or rinsed away, there are small stained circles so embedded into the concrete that archeologists will be studying the phenomenon centuries from now. The most ambitious thing I was ever allowed to set off was called “ladyfinger” firecrackers or “crackle bombs.” These are the tiniest of firecrackers so that when it finally goes off, all you hear is *pop.*

“Oh man,” my brother said that morning. Then he started laughing as he remembered. My memory is of my brother and his gang running around trying to blow up everything. They had firecrackers, of course, in every size, but also the infamous illegal cherry bombs brought up from the South by some loving parent, and my father used to bring home M80’s from when he did his time at summer camp in the Army Reserves. I remember one summer my father and another Dad running through yards dropping them into various metal things like say, oh…the inside of a tube attached to a swing set. I think Daddy hadn’t quite gotten his Army time out of his system yet. Shades of Jefferson in The Dirty Dozen. There was tiny Cubie, taking it all in while twirling her sparklers with rotating arms going, “Oooo. Pretty.”

You don’t know what a M80 is? Why that’s what they use to teach soldiers what it’s like to be in a battle. A simulation of warfare. I do believe my brother said it was (then anyway) the equivalent of a fourth of a stick of dynamite. Oh, yes. My brother had M80’s too, as did his pyromaniac friend, Steve. Steve tied some of them to a weather balloon his father had and let it loose into the sky. The cops showed up on that one and little Steven was given a “talking to.” They were letting cherry bombs fly using slingshots, going to a nearby creek and blowing up…I don’t know…the delicate ecological structure of nature. Talk about global warming. I distinctly remember following them one summer where they kept tossing tin cans with cherry bombs inside of them. My brother said the worst thing they ever did was when four of them had a firecracker battle inside of Steve’s house. Yes. Inside. This also speaks a lot about what little boys love to do when you aren’t watching them, the little blastards. True cherry bombs look like cherries. I used this illustration because I liked the label. Don't fireworks have wonderful labels?Well. Back to the Fourth. I began to write, and my black cobra stained road was paved with good intentions. Around 4 o’clock, a storm was brewing so I shut down everything running, including my computer and printer, to wait it out. While I sat at my desk I looked out the window and saw a really bad ground strike of lightning. Loud, too. I did that little half jump you do when you see something like that. Then, silence. Dead. Everything off. Gone. When I first saw the lightning touch down, it looked like it was hitting a decorative iron garden bench my neighbor has in his yard. No. The whole street was out. I later learned it hit the transformer box on the telephone pole and PEPCO said they could see the scorch marks. That evening, my neighbor and I went to see The Devil Wears Prada to get out of our dark, oppressive homes more than anything, with the hope once we got back home all would be restored. Not so lucky. It was a rough night. I had opened my bedroom window to catch a breeze, and all I heard until 3 a.m. was some enthusiastic soul illegally setting off what sounded like M80’s. You would think I would have been lying there with a wave of nostalgia. Sleep didn’t come easy, and I kept thinking the power would be back before dawn. Noooo. No. No. No. No. No. Although a tow truck did come down the street at 4 a.m. Who on earth has something towed at 4 a.m.? A neighbor, apparently, or an ambitious government employee removing something parked illegally (insert chortle here.)

The next day passed and when the early evening hours approached, the bulk of my block decided to jump ship. Some went to stay with family members, or friends. I checked into a hotel. I looked like a Bedouin decamping. Did you know that Bedouin have quotes? They do. “I against my brother, I and my brother against our cousin, my brother and our cousin against the neighbors, all of us against the foreigner.” Man. I should have sent them over to visit PEPCO Customer Service on Pennsylvania Avenue with that mindset. I took pillows, I took water. I had books and music. Luckily, the room had a mini refrigerator. I was digging in for the long haul. By day two PEPCO was leaving messages after our initial “power out” calls that we wouldn’t be dealt with until Thursday, 11 p.m., no wait make that 11:30, no wait….well, they just didn’t know. My neighbor’s sister was following the PEPCO website as repairs were made. Turns out we were in the last batch of 500. I had made calls for Comcast to come out later in the day on Friday to fix my cable problems that had developed, and the modem and cables were replaced, but it still didn’t fix my computer, so then I called The Geek Squad, and they did show up on Saturday, not at the promised “noon,” by rather 6 p.m. and they worked on my Ethernet and made replacements, God love them. Everything had fried, despite being shut off, despite a very expensive surge protector. The all-in-one printer? R.I.P. I still need to replace it. Everything in the refrigerator? Gone. I was scrubbing it out to start over at 1 a.m.

It was an expensive week, it was a stressful week, and as I sit here writing this, I am wondering how any of us made it past age twelve. I don’t even have scars or burn marks to display saying, “See? When I was ten on the Fourth of July...”


Anonymous drew said...


Ms. Cube? Get thee to a punnery!

I love the piece, and am sorry to hear of your woes. TheGeekSquad must have also been up late at night listening to the M80 chorus, appreciating the lightning striking far too many times to sleep. For future reference, I woulda done it for cheaper. *g*

I'm for fireworks, by the way. I like to think it's a healthy little splash of chlorine in the gene-pool. I also played on bare metal jungle-gyms without padding or plastic... and over CONCRETE! *gasp* But, I can see the obvious hazzards and parents' need for child safety. Before the 1% doctrine became a joke, it was used in a lot of arguments which create the "safety standards" we have now as laws.

That being said, I'm glad July 4th, the fireworks, the floods and the plague of frogs has ended. Oh -- wait... the frogs are next week, after the plague of mosquitos. le sigh... Summer in DC and the living is easy, fo'sheazy!

11:27 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

What a whirlwind of a 4th! I didn't get to grow up with firecrackers because they're illegal out here (SoCal is mostly a desert and we get enough wildfires as it is). But, I got to frightening live vicariously just now through your brother and sweet, dear little Stevie. (BTW, I'm going to get my tubes tied now after reading this; with my luck I'd be cursed with 10 Stevens.)

Well, think about it: you celebrated our nation's birth in a truly American way--consumerism. Sure, this was forced consumerism due to nature (that bitch), but you still spent spent spent like a good little American. Ain't nothin' more patriotic than that!

12:02 PM  
Blogger Velvet said...

I'm glad you finally got a chance to write this up! Is that a Cubie aged 10 at the end?

I remember those snakes. I loved them. My two older brothers got to blow up the good stuff while I just got the snakes. My parents repaved our driveway several times.

One year, we had a catepillar explosion. My friends and I would catch them in plastic beach pails, but they could eat through the plastic. Those things were amazing. Anyway, once we caught about 60, put them in a can, sealed it up, and blew them up. It was disgusting.

Of course if we did that now, we'd be tossed into anger management, and therapy. Things just aren't the way they used to be...are they?

12:40 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Drew: It's funny you mentioned frogs, because they got blown up, too. I decided to leave that part out without being buried under a chorus of "ew's," and groans.

Megan: My brother started wondering where Steven was, after we talked about this. Uh. Dead or in jail? He "might" be living in Arizona. And yes, I most certainly did spend and more to come next week when I replace the printer. All from one storm.

Velvet: Adults forget how children love to blow things up. I was thinking about all of the things we weathered like falling out of trees, falling off jungle gyms, having rocks thrown at us. There was a piece in the news this week about little children riding their bikes on 15th Street, weaving in and out of traffic. When you're that age, you don't know all of the ways to get hurt. I almost killed myself at that age when I borrowed my brother's bike without being aware it no longer had brakes, then went flying down a steep hill. I finally was able to hit a curb, and little Cubie went into orbit over the handlebars.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

Wow. I was only allowed to hold sparklers. Then I burned myself with one and I wasn't allowed to do anything but look at fireworks from that point forward.

3:16 PM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

As younsters we used to put M-80's in film canisters filled with BB's. We'd Elmer glue the entire concoction for the heck of it, put a hole in the lid, seal the lid with the fuse sticking out. You could never run too fast when you set those things off!

5:29 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

MA: Your parents were obviously sane.

Thai: A man after my own heart. Also you prove my contention that little boys love to blow things up.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

I must confess Bon & I were not opposed to strapping a bottle rocket to a small frog, then strap them both to a matchbox car.

Good times!

8:14 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

I'm sorry you got stuck as a victime of the storms! There's nothing as unsettling as losing your own personal infrastructure. I'm glad things are improving.

I've never seen those black snakes before - v.v. weird! My little bro and I were only ever allowed to use sparklers. A bunch of the older boys in the neighborhood were notorious for being destructive on July 4th, and as they got older they started snatching neighbors' dogs and tying cherry bombs to their tails. Not good. There's got to be a limit to "boys being boys."

8:58 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Phil: I hate to second guess people, but somehow I knew at least one Playaz was into fireworks as a child.

Stef: Just reporting from the front, and the rear. :)

11:26 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

I remember Bon & I getting picked up by the police, because we started a tremendous fire (we claimed 'fireworks', which we had, but left out the 'gasoline' part) and he had escorted us to our parents - my mom, who berated me in front of the officer wanting to know where I got fireworks from, obviously forgetting the giant grocery bag full in our basement that dad brought home.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Phil: You got me laughing this morning. Did you know my brother and Steve?

10:27 AM  
Blogger Johnny said...

i would hate to have my machine fried.

that porno is irreplaceable!


11:17 AM  
Blogger cuff said...

Being a Pennsylvanian, I had no legal fireworks except sparklers, snakes, and smoke bombs. However, we always managed to get some contraband, of which bottle rockets and roman candles were my favorites.

Also, I believe that what we called M80s were about two inches big and maybe 3/4 inch diameter, while what we called a quarterstick was more like four inches long and an inch or so in diameter.

A few firecrackers in an empty tennis ball can (back before they came in plastic) creates a hell of a noise.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Thai sold his house years ago, we found a box full of some kind of dangerous-looking fireworks in his basement. I was shocked. I made him help me take out all of the fuses, then soak firworks in a bathtub full of water before throwing them out.

He was crushed.

Yes, I am a wet blanket, but safety first.


1:59 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

Back when I worked in Boston, I lived in a group house west of the city in Waltham. One of my roommates was a half-crazy construction contractor named Andres. One night we hear a bunch of fireworks going off and when we go out to the balcony we see a handful of kids sneaking around in the dark shooting off bottle rockets around the neighborhood. I see Andres start to smirk and get an evil look on his face and he says, "Turn out all the lights in the house. I'm gonna show 'em some REAL fireworks."

A couple minutes later, we're standing on the balcony with all the lights out and can still see the kids scooting around from bush to bush as they set off more bottle rockets. I see Andres pull something out of his pocket and I go, "Holy shit! Is that dynamite?" and he says, "It's okay, it's just a small stick." Then he lights the fuse and flings it into the median/courtyard between our house and where the kids are crouching. A couple seconds go by and...


Man, those kids scattered like pigeons on crack! The whole neighborhood shook, and lights and car alarms started going on all over the place.

Of course the next couple hours are filled with police cars driving incessantly back and forth our neighborhood streets as Andres and I giggle like eight-year-olds and drink beer in the dark in the living room and he says,"I probably shouldn't do that again. Not until I'm off probation anyway."

Ah yes, the group house in Waltham. Good times, good times.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Johnny: After reading what you were up to this week, I understand what you are saying:

Cuff: My brother and his little n'er do well pals were using military M80's. Your story, and others, only reinforces my point about little boys. Even my father, as a responsible adult (ahem) still loved blowing things up. I am also fascinated at what you men are reporting in terms of your little "projects." Very creative.

Grince: Boo. No fun.

Hammer: I LOVE this story. I am loving André wherever he may be. You know the part I loved the best? When he said, "It's okay. It's just a small stick." Still laughing.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Living in Dupont said...

Very well written piece. Thankfully, my Fourth was a bit easier, though it being my first summer as a DC resident, I only did the tourist-thing. Ended up being evacuated into the Air and Space Museum from the Mall, but next year I think I'll stay home with a bottle of wine.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Megarita said...

I liked "fierarchy" as well! I remember girly fireworks to0, until my one boy friend's dad took me along with the guys to the lake and we all set off the big fireworks using cigarettes. I was 9 or 10, tops. I cannot recall a time when my parents were more furious. I, of course, was delighted! Who knew the girls got such short shrift? I'm setting shit on fire EVERY DAY!

4:14 PM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

The WORST of the entire incident was that Grince took the firecrackers and M-80's away that I got when we drove past "South of the Border." The reason we were down that way was because we were headed down to S.C. to Parris Island Marine Corps Depot to see my brother graduate with his platoon.

Those fireworks were a remembrance of the event.

Don't even THINK that I didn't consider drying everything out later to see if they were still usable.

Such is life.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Snakes! I was always fascinated by them. I was in Rome on July 4, celebrating Italy's win over Germany to go to the finals in the World Cup. I might as well have been millions of miles away. Nice.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Living: After you've been in D.C. for a while, you learn what to avoid, and 4th Mall crowds is high on the list. Glad you stopped by.

Mega: Laughing at your comments on "fire." We did cover that subject this morning, didn't we? Yeah...girls got shortchanged on the good fireworks. You'll notice it's the guys who are writing the great comments stories on this subject.

Thai: South Carolina has great fireworks. I think that's where my brother got most of his.

Reya: After reading your blog during your travels to Rome, I think a huge portion of Washington would have swapped with you. I know I would have done.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Reading this post again, it occurs to me that this episode is a perfect story of Mercury retrograde victimization. I would love to see where Mercury is in your birth chart. Does it always affect you so strongly? Yikes! It goes direct on the 27th, I believe. thank goodness!

Glad you were able to get out and go stay in a place with a mini-bar, at least!

9:28 AM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

"Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other one off"

8:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi - I'm writing a 4th of July memory piece and would like to use a copy of your ashy snake. I will link to your blog if that's not ok, tell me and I'll take it out of my post.... I can't find an email to contact you so am posting here in comments. Thanks! Laura

11:32 PM  

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