It is not a good year to run out of cherry bombs. A box of 50 of those ineluctable, hard, befused incendiaries, obtained in 1966 at South of the Border, lasts only so long.
The big bang theory of the Fourth of July. Red flare and stunning sound blowing fireflies out of the twilight. The goldangdest bang.
Last year, after a long reconnoiter, discovered the last of them, in the glove compartment of the car. Alas.
"Americans Love Fireworks," reads the hand-lettered sign at the plywood shack at New York Avenue near Florida. "Park Here." Cars hitting the brakes, pulling in. Fair and true, that sign, like a call to arms. And doubling business.
On this day in 1776 the declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. John Hancock, president. On April 18, the year before, Hancock aroused by Revere in Lexington. Battle the next day, 8 Minutemen killed, 10 wounded. British reengaged near Concord. British losses, 273. Ft. Ticonderoga, wreathed in smoke.And Bunker Hill. Washington takes command July 3. In the bitter cold of the new year, Lord Cornwallis falls at Princeton. Burgoyne and his Hessians take Ticonderoga back. Then the Green Mountain Boys, hurrah!
Smoke of muskets, reloading on the run, the screech of brakes on New York Avenue yesterday morning. A pickup truck stops near the sign that says "Americans Love Fireworks." (Blank) Iran, waves Mickey Mouse from the rear window. Some sparklers for the kids.
The traffic toward Ocean City is moving but heavy, the traffic is heavy and moving slowly, some delays are being experienced at the Bay Bridge. Scattered showers and thundershowers, now back to you. Thanks, and many municipalities which in recent years have cut expenditures for fireworks displays, or in some cases abandoned them completely, are allocating funds again. It's a sign of the times. Well, it wouldn't be Fourth of July without them.
1955. Two seventh graders are on the train to New York. They have lied to their mothers, naughty boys, who think they are at the movies in Newark. It is July 3rd. Quickly they find their way to Mott Street in Chinatown. iBanners in Chinese, shaded windows with dusty relics and charms. Between them they have $10. A lot of money.
A resident of Mott Street approaches, and they show him their money on the street. The resident reproaches them -- never show money on the street. Furtively he leads them up one alley, down another, until they are lost in the heat-steaming alien city. An abandoned ice cream pushcart.He opens the lid. It brims with inch-and-a-halfers, packs and packs of which he loads into a shopping bag. On the subway back they are sure to be caught. "Let's see what you boys have in that shopping bag."
At home, on the Fourth, the Neighborhood Dozen revels in the nonstop crackling explosions. A light rain on the wooded lot falls, wet twigs and gunpowder. Musketfire! The cops appear, walking with their hands on their guns and trying not to get their shoes muddy.
They want to talk to mother, who is playing the piano. Block chords from the hymnal sounding. She sees the officer standing in the kitchen. Block chords from the hymnal stopping.
Fireworks again when father comes home.
1957. To make your own firecracker is very simple. Gunpowder is merely two drug store chemicals mixed with charcoal. Big deal.Or you could get some liquid glycerine, and fill an eyedropper with it, and put some other stuff in a bottle, and set the eyedropper so that it dripped in. Then run away. Baboom. But for a solid fuel of choice, you needed a can of draino and a chemical easily available from Central Supply on Broad Street in Newark. State of the art.
Her name was Thyra Morf (not a pseudonym). Strange name. Looked great in lavender. Staying at Aunt Catherine's house at the beach over Fourth of July. Uncle Harry arriving on the steam train at Bay Head. Hey, where's all the Draino, my pipes are clogged. I don't know, sir, some kid bought it all up this morning.
The bomb of bombs. Thyra sitting on the front porch.Bullrushes swishing. Scent of ocean in the July air. Aunt and uncle and a load of relatives watching. Thyra batting her eyes, what eyes. How long should the fuse be. This ought to be enough.
Hey, watch this.
Ambulances being called. Miss Morf is mortified.
She visits three weeks later, during rest and recovery. The first- and second-degree burns are healed, but the third-degree burns will take another week or so. Tough luck, yeah, but did you see that flash?
She is impressed. But in the recuperative interim, she has found another boyfriend.
1960. The fireworks are in Edgartown, but Frank and Mia are in Vineyard Haven, on a 200-foot motor yacht named "The Southern Cross." The harbor is full of cruising boats.
Every yacht has a flare pistol, and there are a hundred yachts, and about dusk the fusillade begins. Red streaks uprising over the dark reflecting harbor. Smoke rockets hissing. White parachute flares descending. Laughter and music and people rowing in the dark.
Mr. Sinatra strolls once down the lighted decks of his chartered ship. Scattered applause from the lesser craft surrounding. But Miss Farrow remains out of sight. Nevertheless, holiday is the harbor mood.
By 11 p.m., bullhorns have begun the chant: "Frankieeeeee! Miaaaaaaaa!" Still the great ship lies silent in its lights. "Frankieeeeeee!" Other bullhorns take up the chant. Nobody can sleep. The harbor mood turns raw. Sinatra is stuck-up, and Farrow is whatchamacallit. "Frankieeeee!" But Sinatra does not show himself again. The motorboats turn off their bullhorns at 2 a.m., and Vineyard Haven sleeps at last.
July dawn. Helicopter noises.Coast Guard swooping. On the flat breakfast sea policemen in rowboats drag the bottom with hooks. "The Southern Cross" looms above, slab-sided, impenetrable.
On the cruising boats, radios flick on. In the early hours of this morning, a crewman on the yacht chartered by Frank Sinatra for his wedding cruise with the actress Mia Farrow was drowned while returning to the vessel at about 2 a.m. A search is being made for the body.
1968. At 7 a.m., Madrid is waking on its high plateau. Outside the city, the dust rises. Tiny cars speed workward, and motorcycles and bicycles weave and dodge. The rush hour. A random day in the Spanish summer. July 4.
At Torrejon Air Base, a few miles outside of town, the Americans are celebrating their independence from the English. Pictures of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The enlisted men's pool or the officers' pool, sir? The ticket is $5 per person, enough to feed a student at the University of Madrid eggs and tapas and beer for a week.
Generalissimo Franco is supposed to arrive. No, that isn't true. Scuttlebut.
Stewards prepare long barbecue rows, glowing coals baking the air. Great piles of ribs, and sauces, and corn in vats, and potato salad. You can thank LBJ for this feed, lieutenant. Sergeants with wise-guy expressions on their faces. Brass looking concerned but accessible. The day wears on, this day of celebration, this Fourth of July. But there are no fireworks. No musket fire. The Americans talk in low tones, under the baking sky. Wives splash in the pools.
It is the Fourth of July in Spain, but the war is in Vietnam.
You do the best you can, year by year, and there are good years and bad years. The band music is always playing, but some years we can hear it plainer than others.
Somewhere there exists the perfect Fourth. Maybe in the Midwest, with a bandstand and your father playing the tuba, and the smell of grass and Popsicles, and a picnic blanket, and senior citizens, who used to be called grandmother and grandfather. The night falls cooler and the stars are barely out before the first thump! sends up a line of sparks that unfolds an umbrella of fire, oooooaaaahhhhhhhhh. Mesmerized thousands. Wait'll you see the grand finale. The children are holding their ears, and the little ones are crying.
Our gunpowder heritage. The British recognized independence in March of 1782. Washington disbanded the Army. At Fraunce's Tavern, New York, he bade farewell to his officers. On Dec. 23, 1783, he retired to Mount Vernon.
And the rockets' red glare, tonight, again.
A bad year to run out of cherry bombs.