Incendiary Freedoms

It’s that time of year again when huge multi-colored tents spring up in otherwise ignored parking lots around the rainfall endowed, less urban areas of the United States. They’re just setting the tents up now – most won’t be open for business until next weekend. The firework tents mark the redneck de riguer manner to enjoy the upcoming 4th of July holiday.

If you’ve never lived in these areas where fireworks are legal, well, you might not understand what I’m talking about. That’s not necessarily your fault; people can’t help it if their parents were sophisticated and safety conscious. This may be a novelty to those of you.

These giant firework tents drip sweat and excitement as little kids fill up baskets and do the math necessary to determine just how many explosives can be purchased. The temperature is just one degree below the level that would set off all the enclosed fireworks in one big fiery Reverend Camping apocalypto. It’s carefully titrated to be just shy of that mark. And the punks are free unless the proprietors are assholes.

Make no mistake; I’m not judging this rite of passage (which I have not finished passing through myself yet). I love homemade crappy fireworks even if they celebrate our “freedoms” through items produced by dangerous factories in China. The botched English descriptions and bizarre names are really half the fun. It’s not often that symbolism is so blatant that it literally explodes in a multicolored shower with crackle, then whistles  in your face and possibly even lands a parachute at your feet.

One of the lighter passages in Joe Bageant’s Rainbow Pie is his description of purchasing illegal fireworks from one Cecil Boyce, a recent release from a jail work camp. Bageant said that Cecil was “a rather exotic, mob-like figure, given his fireworks connections.” Bageant used his paltry earnings, money he earned helping out with tasks at a local boarding house, to buy fireworks from this character. At this time he was only 11 years old.

There’s a sad end to this tale of childhood want, and it doesn’t involve lost fingers. Bageant’s dad caught wind of the situation and quickly apprehended the contraband. He told Joe “You’re gonna blow your damned hand off with them things.” Not 24 hours later, Bageant’s dad and his friend Elwood were at the river setting off Cecil’s wares.

I never had an exotic source like Cecil Boyce; we had to get by with the legal stuff. That is, unless you could get a ride over to Missouri, the place of border ruffians and bottle rockets.

The 4th of July has changed little in this regard over the decades. Kids still salivate at the latest offerings of the tent. It’s essentially a rite of summer, and a lovely excuse to blow things up. Only the sickos like young GW Bush used the fireworks in a less than wholesome manner. One of his nostalgic tales involved the description of blowing up frogs with fireworks. I guess certain folks start with something like that. Even serial killers can be nostalgic evidently, since he shared this story. I don’t know how the story about the goat ended up, but the frog exploded.

We still blow stuff up on the 4th, but something is a little different now.  It’s okay to consume voraciously, in fact, it is encouraged. It takes a away a little of the allure of burning through money in this fashion.

The heavy handed protection state we occupy now — hell, Great Britain only tries to emulate it. They aren’t even adequate bad guys for a national myth any longer. They may have a leg up on us in terms of cameras per capita, but we’re hand in hand on the totalitarian path. And the Native American reservations are often a great place to buy those hard to find explosives. The confusion of the holiday really can only be properly celebrated with Cracklin’ Balls from Liuyang!

No community will light up this statement during their ground display:

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.

It’s a turned upside down national conscience when we believe that quote to still reflect our values. But, make no mistake, if that statement showed up in “the wrong context” it probably would be viewed as the rantings of a goddamn turrorist.

The public displays will probably just say “God Bless the USA or Support the Troops”, though.

How about a John Milton Bomb?

Nations grown corrupt
Love bondage more than liberty;
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.

Wouldn’t the crowd stare at that with baffled, enlarged pupils?

America really does continue to have freedom of a sort. The kind of freedom afforded to you as a friend of a violent status quo enforcing cheerleader in high school. You’re just fine and allowed to be in the cool group (American allies) if you agree with everything. Oh, and participate in random cruelty to the “other”. It’s not a nuanced national personality.  And then they wonder why the outcast kid comes in with a gun one day. And then they wonder why the survivor of a drone attack organizes a resistance. Baffling behavior. Why do they have to, you know…react?

You have the freedom to protest, within a free speech zone or cage. You have the freedom to confront large tyrannical corporations, but only by yourself, not in a powerful, collective manner. And you have the freedom to blow up small things during a calendar sanctioned week or so. Enjoy.

Kathleen Wallace Peine welcomes reader response. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Kathleen.