I was standing on the sidewalk by my apartment when I knew July 4 was just around the corner. I ascertained this because out of the corner of my eye I saw the brown sedan slow to a crawl beside me. I felt the handful of bang snaps thrown from it hit my pant legs as the car sped away. This wasn’t the first time personal fireworks had been lobbed at me, as I was assaulted a couple July 4s back in Ukiah, Calif. I was driving my wife, Ash, back home from her job when we turned down a side street. If I hadn’t slammed on the brakes and swerved at just the last moment, the explosive that went off in front of my car would have surely detonated underneath us. I screamed obscenities out my passenger side window as the large group of slack-jawed revelers responsible stared back, blank-faced.
I am happy to celebrate America’s birthday, but what does exploding questionably-packaged ordinance actually have to do with it? I don’t begrudge anyone the joy of watching things burn or explode. Far be it from me to begrudge you this simple pleasure of human existence. But this doesn’t have anything to do with America, does it? A lot us are pyromaniacs. Especially men, who according to “The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders,” account for a full 90 percent of those afflicted.
However, every year I do make a point of at least walking through one of those generic fireworks stores that seem to spring up out of nowhere. One day it’s an empty strip mall. The next it’s an emporium of explosives of every variety allowed by law. The outside of these establishments invariably indicate some totally American, patriotic sentiment, but the product inside is always anything but. This year was no exception. As I entered the shop, I noticed packaging generally fell into one of four categories: floral (“Coconuts and Chrysanthemums”), military (“Super Magnum Artillery Shells,” “Rocket Blaster,” “Boiling Point”), science fiction (“Magnum Tremors,” “Black Mamba,” “Chosen One”) or my favorite, blatant copyright infringement of American popular culture. A boxy fireworks set labeled “Jackass,” featured the same black and white lettering from the show and some images from the movies on the outside of the box, the faces crudely Photoshopped. Another set of explosives were adorned with the words “Bad Monkey” and a cartoon image eerily resembling the climactic scene from “King Kong.” “The Matrix” wasn’t really even trying, as it had the green numbers lined up down the side, just like in the movie. Packaging made to look like a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers had the name “Pyro Longnecks” slapped on the outside.
And, of course, everywhere was the omnipresent phrase written in big, black letters: “Made in China.” Considering the implications of the holiday, it’s worth noting the history of the corporations bringing these explosives to our shores. For majority of the fireworks in the store, one name kept reoccurring again and again: Standard Fireworks. Upon further research, I found that until 1998, it was a 100-plus-year-old British company. That was until it was bought out by Hong Kong-based global trading group Li & Fung, and became a brand name of Black Cat Fireworks. How ironic: the country that used to own us once made the fireworks that celebrated our freedom. And now they’ve been sold to the Chinese, which the U.S., as a nation, now owes over $1 trillion at last count.
Happy Independence Day!
• Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.