Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another Fourth of July Blown to Shreds

I must confess, I’m a little hung-over today. Last night a friend took us out on his boat to watch the fireworks, where I battled valiantly against both a swarm of lakeflies and sobriety. I’m pleased to announce that I emerged the victor in both cases! Hurrah!

When I was a kid my family watched the fireworks at Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac. In a portion of the park called “Supple’s Marsh,” to be more precise. Who thought it would be a good idea to lure station wagons loaded with families to a mosquito-infested wetland to watch the fireworks? I suspect the OFF! corporation was behind that decision.

I remember how the traditional sparklers, the color of gold, sparkled in a much more satisfying manner than the colored jobbies, which half-heartedly fizzled for all of three seconds before winking out in a disappointing fuzz of smoke. Buying those sparklers (and if we were lucky, smoke bombs and bottle rockets and those weird expanding snake pellets) was the highlight of the summer.

And halfway into the fireworks, Dad would always make us pack up the car so we could leave early to "Beat the rush." I would peer miserably through the back window of the mini-van, watching the Grand Finale grow smaller and smaller on the horizon, giving pitiful play-by-play updates as long as I could: "That one was like a weeping willow. Oh, wow, you can almost see them over those trees ... they're still going ... " (ten minutes later) ... "Still going. I think this is the Grand Finale ... no wait, they're still going ..."

The other day at Target I saw a boy, maybe around ten, begging his mother to purchase a prepackaged assortment of fireworks. “It’s only $9.99!” he said earnestly, studying the assembly of shrink-wrapped bliss, calculating its thrill per dollar value. At the time I wanted to say, cynically, “Hey kid, how about I just light up a ten dollar bill for you? Would that work?” I was tired of kids lighting smoke bombs in the neighborhood, staining our driveway green and sending our dog into frenzied fits of anxiety. I was tired of the Fourth of July even before it began. In fact, I was tired of it last year, when we stayed home and went to bed as the fireworks were just beginning. Later, we’d heard there had been a stabbing among the crowd assembled to watch the show and I thought, (somewhat smugly), “See what happens when you go to the fireworks? I’m glad we stayed home.”

Now, if the stabbing had been fatal, I would have thought, “Oh, that’s horrible! See what happens when you go to the fireworks? I’m glad we stayed home.” I’m not a heartless monster, after all.

But when I look back at how the Fourth of July used to electrify my inner pyromaniac, I understand. It’s a ritual of childhood. It’s a family-bonding activity, if well-supervised by an adult or guardian. And if you’re lucky, you might end up with a cautionary tale to tell your son Timmy when he begs for the $9.99 fireworks at Target: the one about the reckless kid in the neighborhood who blew his right thumb off lighting an M-80.

And now for something completely different!

Guess who laid a bunch of eggs in my garden? No, not Hilary Duff. A monarch butterfly! In the milkweed patch! And now guess who’s going to try raising them in a caterpillar cage in the house so the birds don’t eat them? No, not David Spade. Me! I am! This will be a fun little experiment, won’t it? I’m already tracking the progress on my calendar, with “Hatch” scribbled on July 7 and “Pupate” scribbled on July 22nd.

(I know, I know. I’ve put my application in, but the wait to Get a Life is like, six months or more.)

This would be a fun activity to do with a kid. Kinda makes me want to rent a preschooler for a few weeks.


  1. Ooh, raising butterflies. I'd be all over that. Post pictures, pretty please?

  2. You need to keep us updated on your baby Monarchs, with photos, please! I am SO LOOKING FORWARD to hearing your story (told the Jess Riley way) :o)

    Your memories of fireworks are similar to mine. I still like the smell of sulphur. I remember those awful snakes but what I remember more were those rolls of caps that made kids look for their Dads' hammers. More often than not, banging caps on concrete ended with children sobbing over their bruised fingers.

  3. How much have you got?

    (I'll take a check and give you a deal if you take both kids.)

  4. I won't charge you. Hell, I'll pay YOU to take CJ. I'll e-mail you with the flight details.

  5. Anonymous3:23 PM

    Have you had a David Spade infestation in your yard again? Man I hate that.

  6. Baby monarchs!
    I don't know about that David Spade guy, though.

  7. Every time I smell those black snake pellet things I'm instantly 10 years old again. In fact, I had to join a 12-step program a few years ago when my family surprised me with an intervention for my snake sniffing addiction. Glad to say I'm all better now, but just writing this is making me jones again.

  8. I'm a foreginer and I've heard from so many American friends telling me that July 4 isn't complete without fireworks, so they are always so ready to spend money on fireworks.

  9. 1. My kids would come to watch the cats for free.
    2. Hooray! Monarchs!
    3. You make me wet my pants on a regular basis. The dry cleaners say thank you.

  10. May you always,always stay to watch the last fireworks display... as no matter what your age, standing beneath the canapy of fourescent colour is worth the long drive you are left with wonder...and how often is wonder orchestrated to happen???

  11. 1. Why Hillary Duff? Has she laid eggs before?

    2. Why David SPade? Is he hungry for some catepillar eggs?

    3. I can fed ex you a preschooler, or two elementary kids, if you'd like. They've all done the catepillar program.

  12. Oh, OK, and totally freaky, but I swear I didn't read the comment trail until AFTER i posted, and here I see susan gets native is just as clever as I was in her commenting! Kindred spirits, I tell you!

  13. Can my kids come and live with you for maybe a month or two and help you raise your caterpillars?

  14. Target kid was cheap. My Things only want the 50 dollar firework collections.

    Every year we go to a big ol' lake and watch the fireworks show set off by several of the marinas. Much fun, and it's really really hard to have a traffic jam on the lake. Especiall when you're parked in the bac. Away from the action. Because you need to get home first.


  15. Hi Jess Riley. I am new here, and you had me at hangover. Plus, I simply must love you because you list "kabobs" under interests in your profile. Am considering stalking you, but will let you know. Cheers to you, Jess Riley.

  16. Anonymous5:15 PM

    Tiger Swallowtail butterflies love to eat fennel when they're caterpillars. See? I don't have a life either and I've hardly noticed.