If you lived in West Barnstable you didn't live in Barnstable. Barnstable was huge--at least 3,000 people. We called them townies and they drove fast cars, smoked Marlboros (in the box) and had all-night parties at a place called The Cellar.

Their hair was long and straight, their jeans were born faded and they smelled of a mixture of the street and way down under somewhere. No verdant fields for them; they walked on asphalt--and blew their lunch money on potato chips and Coke.

We were always bad when we went to Barnstable.

Fortunes rose and fell at legendary drag races on the mid-Cape. We had the village store and the post office. They had the courthouse, the police station, two restaurants and a drugstore. And every Fourth of July they had the fireworks.

We went every year. It wasn't so much the leftover smell of dying barbecues, or the shock of burned skin against white shorts, or even that the fireworks were so great..

It was the bonfire. Ominous, it sucked the world inside it. It was so much bigger than us and it stretched and bulged into the sky. Your body was pushed and pulled with this thing that breathed and shifted.

For that one moment, the fire was the great equalizer. We were appalled, thrilled. Conversations stopped, parents shifted feet and began the tired process of counting heads but we were enthralled as the fire breathed on.

Every year some lucky local was burned in effigy. Every year it was the Barnstable town sheriff. I stood, mesmerized by the blaze, thinking how perfect life must be for someone who could hold that high, hot place.