• Playing With Fire

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    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.

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