Playing With Fire

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

I’m
a fireworks fanatic. But I want my pyrotechnics the way some folks
want their government hand-outs: abundant and free.

There
should be bombs – plural – bursting in air and rockets redly glaring
in dizzy profusion and boisterous joy. I want the sky lit to the
horizon in a tumult as fun and exuberant as the freedom we once
had. Wheels and fountains and Roman candles and shot cakes, cascading
through the night, dazzling the heavens and our eyes and ears as
they limn a liberty dearer than life. Optimally, the Declaration
is recited against this background, but I haven’t yet figured out
how to hear it over the thrilling thunder.

We
lived for about a decade in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, a working-class
neighborhood near Coney Island. Each year, its large Italian population
matched my fervor for fireworks. The first firecrackers exploded
on the afternoon of July 3, in broad daylight. From then until nightfall
the next day, they multiplied in number, extravagance, and joy.
The zenith occurred about 10 PM on July 4, when every foot of the
firmament blazed with white stars, serpentine tails, red, white
and blue sparklers, spirals, cones. We would stand on the roof of
our apartment building, mouths agape and necks craned, slowly revolving
to savor the giddy and wild wonder of it. No matter where we looked
for the next few hours, the sky laughed with color, life, happiness.
The fact that all of this was illegal only made it more rapturous.
What better way to commemorate the greatest rebellion in world history
than to flout Leviathan’s silly little taboos?

Contrast
that with the tame, choreographed fireworks beloved by municipalities
across the country. After my years in Sheepshead Bay, I find these
oh-so-professional displays not only boring but insulting. They
are the State’s sop to slaves, more akin to the Roman Empire’s bread
and circuses than to John Adams’ famous prescription for celebrating
the Fourth. Radiation Outbursts, Monster Sparklers, and Armageddons
tamely wait their turn to perform at Our Rulers’ command. All that
power, all that glory, biding its place in line, as controlled as
the sheeple who throng to watch. Line up, shuffle into the park
after a punk rifles your bag in a warrantless search, sit down between
the ropes where the cops tell you to, no bottles or glass allowed
– I’d rather stay home.

In
a further tyrannical twist this year, a community on Long Island’s
beachfront banned not only unofficial fireworks but refrained from
even the official ones yesterday. It seems the piping plover, an
endangered shore bird, might be further endangered by Leviathan’s
weak-kneed imitation of a genuine fireworks extravaganza. The village’s
government cited a Federal law prohibiting fireworks within 3/4′s
of a mile of a plover’s nest, so the pyrotechnics were cancelled
this year. This pitted the citizens who figure even thralls are
entitled to their circus against those who ascribe to the environmentalist
faith. One resident in the former camp publishes a newspaper; he
printed a recipe for grilled plover, reasoning that if the birds
are extinct next year, the fireworks will be reinstated. But I’d
rather grill bureaucrats: “Who are you to dictate to me?” and “Why
should I ask, ‘Father, may I?’ every time I want to light a Roman
candle?”

Dangerous,
risky, exciting, glorious. Like life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness. And, like them as well, fireworks are increasingly stifled
by the government they so effortlessly outshine.

July
5, 2005

Becky
Akers [send her mail] writes
primarily about the American Revolution.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare