Jul 5, 2009

Airburst! With Report!

You know, leftover grilled zucchini and California rolls go really well together? But then again, most things go well with grilled zucchini, especially when they're fresh-from-your-garden zucchini, especially after a nice long weekend full of fireworks and enough barbecue'd goodies to feed a small third-world country.

So here it is, the Fifth of July. Nothing important, calendar-wise (that I'm aware of, I mean, there may be some special National Day Of... today, but I've never heard of it.) It's just the day after Independence Day, or "Thank God They're Gone Day" if you're from England. That particular quiet day where, thankfully, I didn't have to immediately return to work, where I can sit around and look at the house that's still clean from the painstaking scouring it got Friday, looking at the yard that won't need to be cut until next week.

Driving down our little country lane this morning en route to cutting grass at work there was the usual signs of post-Fourth celebrations. Each driveway had its own little signs--black scorch marks on pale grey concrete, burnt Roman Candle tubes lying drunkenly around, and piles of clear cello torn off and gleefully discarded by small hands. My field was no different--this morning going to feed the chickens I saw by pale golden morning light the signs of last night's fireworks party: scorched squat blocks of tubes wrapped in colourful paper, the black PVC tube left over from a huge collection of double-burst mortal shells and the burned remains of pale tan punks stuck in the ground, as well as a few red plastic drink cups tossed helter skelter in the green grass.

It was one more in the long chain of fireworks memories for me, a good one, as every one is. There's something about the smell of burnt gunpowder and paper in the air, something about the trembling instant of a huge carnation of burning light in the air, as transitory as the breaths of air that came and went last night, stirring the heat around a little. Lsat night seemed to be all about near-misses, though. Perhaps my luck biting me in the butt for landing a work-at-home job, or payback for some windfall yet to come.

Oh, no bloodshed last night, no one even got burned, but many near misses, many almost-was-bads. Ever since they've come out for public purchase I've been a huge fan of the mortar shell-style fireworks--the huge rectangular boxes with garish cartoons on the front, advertising "Wizard Airburst Shells With Report!" or "Nerves Of The Steel!" Inside lurks a black PVC tube with a flat base and innocuous tan-paper wrapped spheres, each with a little pad of gunpowder at the bottom and an impossibly long, terrifyingly fast fuse. In the finest tradition of mortarmen everywhere you stand the tube up somewhere stable and drop the paper shell inside, listen for the soft tap as it strikes bottom. That long fuse just barely extends over the top of the mortar's tube, just enough room for you to hold it with fingers that will soon be scorched by punk or lighter or wonderfully fast sizzling as the fuse takes fire.

A few heart-beats later and the tube makes a wonderful hollow "THUMP" as the charge sends the firework high in the air and then a few heartbeats later it expldoes into one or two or three glorious flowers of fire and sparks and then is no more. It's long been a habit of ours to buy two, and fire them as simultaneously as possible, filling the sky for just a brief moment with multiple bursts, different colours vying with each other for dominance, sparkling and crackling pieces flowing outward from the center of the burst.

I learned an important lesson last night about those mortars--putting a double shell in a mortar tube designed for single-stack shells doesn't work. My brother-in-law and I lit and moved off, and while his shell boomed and soared some ninety feet in the air or more mine only made it thirty feet or less and exploded in all its glory, the wonders of pyrokinetics exposed for all to see at a height not intended for explosions. I was still running when it burst, and my father-in-law said it looked like a scene from Apocalypse Now: the hero striding out of the jungle, the golden white flares of thousands of tiny burning fragments spreading out from just behind my back. As much as I love the image I doubt any Viet-Nam soldier was ever caught in combat with a white T-shirt extolling his local NPR station, a pair of black shorts and a white straw Panama hat. Or, or for that matter, a red plastic cup with Sprite and Bombay Gin on ice in his hand.

I have to wonder what it's like to be outside shooting fireworks in cool weather, or even mild weather. I was listening to Garrison Keillor broadcasting their 35th anniversary show from Minnesota and it was something like 70 degrees there, almost frozen compared to the 90 or so it was last night here in the Delta. I don't know how I'd handle it, chewing on a cigar, taking sips from my drink, trickles of sweat making their slow way along my spine. I wonder what it might be like to stand in a field of grass in blue jeans and a flannel shirt lighting those fuses, smelling that sweet, sharp cordite smell in the air, watching the white plumes of smoke billow and roll out across the air.

Every time I go out with a bag full of potential I think back to the wild chills evoked in me as a kid lighting black snakes, those tiny pills that would hiss and sizzle into long chains of ash and the joy of filling the air with purple or red or green smoke from the small globes of smoke bombs. Later, carefully unwinding long chains of Black Cat firecrackers from their paper wrapper and their gunpowder-coated fuses woven cleverly together, so that each one could be lit and tossed at something or someone. Graduating to the plastic-finned rockets and thence to the mortar shells and huge blocks of firework tubes all wrapped in balsa wood and paper. Every time I go out I wonder what next time will bring, and wish that it could last just a little longer.

4 comments:

twisted said...

Say no more!

Today happens to be National Turnover Day, I thought everybody knew that brother myne.

*wink wink nudge nudge*

Irrelephant said...

You are messed up, sys. Probably why I love you so.

Clowncar said...

Mortar shells? I am jealous. Anything that goes up in the air is illegal here. We are about the snakes and sparklers. Though the "crazy eyeball" remains my favorite.

twisted said...

And today is National Fried Chicken Day. That one must have started in the South.