While they aren’t unique to the U.S., and were invented in China, fireworks are the perfect symbol of America’s brand of ostentatious patriotism. They’re loud, they’re expensive, they’re terrible for the environment, and despite extensive discussion on the Internet, I am still unclear on what they have to do with the day we signed the Declaration of Independence. (Apparently, our founding fathers were extremely fond of them, though, so that’s probably where it all started.)
And yet, I love fireworks. Thirty years of ever-increasing cynicism have been unable to stamp out my enthusiasm for loud, colorful explosions. I like the communal nature of this relatively wholesome activity. I like the fact that fireworks displays are the one context in which most of our patriotic songs don’t sound ridiculous. And I like the sound. I like my fireworks so loud that you feel it in your ribcage.
I’m not sure why, but the 4th of July is one of those milestone holidays; I can’t remember every single 4th in my life, but I can remember most of them. I remember my early childhood days playing with sparklers and… snakes, I think they’re called. (Those soundless black things that you lit and then watched as they grew and slithered all over the pavement. And then left black marks that never went away.)
Every neighborhood had the one cool Dad who would buy legal and illegal fireworks and giddily ignite them in his backyard. When you were a kid you didn’t really understand where legal fireworks ended and illegal fireworks began, but it didn’t matter; you just knew they were dangerous and possibly against the law. And, therefore, awesome.
There were some unremarkable years during high school, when my conviction that I was too cool to get excited about such things was so strong that I wouldn’t verbalize any of my appreciation. (Fear not; I’m now one of those people who ooh and aah out loud at whom I used to dramatically roll my eyes.) By that point I was watching the couples around me cuddle while they watched and wishing I had someone to cuddle with. You know, angst and all that.
Then there was the time, home on summer break from college, my friends and I had a drunk debate over whether to leave the comforts of our friend’s back porch to go see the fireworks at the famous but slightly run-down amusement park 20 minutes away. We split pretty evenly; the girls, chauffeured by our least-drunk friend, went to see the show while the guys stayed back to drink more. I think a part of me knew then, as I watched the fireworks go off over the Long Island Sound while my then-boyfriend drank himself into a stupor, that my life was moving in a different direction. I was right.
Now I’ve come full circle; my parents, having found themselves empty nesters, relocated to the Jersey Shore and the spouse and I have spent the holiday weekend with them for the last few years. The ritual continues; the blankets and chairs on the grass, the deep-fried food, and the debriefing discussions as to which individual fireworks were our favorites. And always, the anticipation of the finale. (I don’t understand people who ask, when there’s a slight pause in the show, “Is that it?” Fireworks finales are like an orgasm: If you have to ask if that was it, then no, that wasn’t fucking it. You’ll know it when you see it.)
I guess that’s what I like about the 4th of July: I keep changing, but it stays the same. No matter what the rest of the year brings, I know that, when Independence Day rolls around, we’ll all gather, possibly drunk but definitely slack-jawed, to look up and watch the fireworks.
I’ll leave you with Charlie from Always Sunny going America all over your ass.