A Meerkat Rants: Keep Your Boom off My Lawn

This one’s for the Americans.

It’s July, therefore we’re embroiled in those debates again. You know the one, where some folk are demanding their god-given and Constitutional right to set of explosives anywhere and anytime they want to, and some folk are demanding their god-given and Constitutional right to not have their PTSD triggered, their children frightened, and their pets traumatized because someone else wanted noisy colors in the street in the middle of the week, in the middle of the afternoon, and any other random time and place.

And here and elsewhere we have the additional joys of drought conditions and fire bans, which would suggest to someone with half a fucking brain cell that MAYBE it’s not a good idea to set of fucking explosives where one spark could, oh, wipe out half a neighborhood (or state park). But noooooooooo.

JFC, people.

The arguments are the same every damn year, until I could recite them a second before they’re posted, word for word. “It’s just noise,” “it’s legal in my town,” “why don’t you want anyone to have any fun?” And, inevitably, “it’s my right to be an asshole.” (Okay, that one’s paraphrased but it’s pretty much what they’re saying).

My PTSD is not triggered by explosions, and my cats have learned to sleep through crack-booms in the street, thanks to the overzealous Seahawks fans with touchdown-fuse gunpowder. But I am squarely in the “don’t fucking do it.” And here’s why.

Personal fucking experience.

I was 19 or 20, hanging out with my then-boyfriend for my town’s annual fireworks display, which was a huge event — people came from all over to see them. Families with small children on blankets, groups of teenagers, dating couples, all gathered within the enclosed “paid” area, the better to see the ground displays.

About 20 minutes into the display —which usually lasted closer to 30-35 minutes —there was an absolutely gorgeous burst, followed by a series of rapid-fire bursts, exactly like you’d expect to see at the finale, but without the sense of deliberate design you’d get in a finale.

And you could feel it in the air, the instant the adults realized that Something Bad had happened. There was a moment that there could easily have been a panic. And a lot of people were flustered enough to raise the stress level. Thankfully, many of the adults calmly gathered their kids up and headed for the exits, pretending everything was normal but not lingering to chat the way they normally would.

We didn’t find out what had happened until the next day. A backspark had managed to get under the tarp and ignite the yet-unused fireworks, setting everything off all at once. The entire grand finale, going off not well over our heads, but on the ground.

Take a moment to imagine all the damage that could have happened.

This happened, mind you, under the eye and control of a professional, with the backing and support of our local firefighters. The fact that they were on-site, with the training to react appropriately, was what kept it at “embarrassing fuckup” level rather than “tragedy.”  You ever see what a powerfully-blown spark of that size can do to a field of grass?  Or a parked car?  Or the roof of your house?

And yeah, handheld sparklers aren’t the same risk as that, but I’ve seen (heard) the assholes (often several beers to the wind) on the street with munitions, and y’all aren’t using sparklers.

So to every amateur out there with a grab-bag of tent-bought explosives and a sharp desire to hear things go boom in your residential street: yes, I think you’re a fuckwit and I’m not going to apologize.

For everyone else, I wish you a lovely and safe 4th with your professionally-managed display of controlled explosions.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


A Meerkat Rants: Keep Your Boom off My Lawn — 7 Comments

  1. Add to that the neighbors who believe their shotguns fall into the “legal” fireworks category. Wide spread pellets break windows, right in front of you even if you aren’t the target, or so they claim. These As*Hats also believe that declaring any firework illegal is illegal. The state cops and feds have no right to sit at the exit road to the Reservation 1.2 hours east of us just to arrest people who have purchased the big explosive stuff not available anywhere else.

    I plan to stay home and watch the big displays on TV with music in the background and lovely voices singing reminders of why we celebrate.

  2. When we lived on the East Coast, we used to go to a friend’s in Montclair, New Jersey, whose house was at the far end of the high school football field above which the local fireworks were displayed. Professionally done, beautiful things, and Paul’s front yard was a perfect viewing position. But guests also helped by keeping an eye out for sparks falling from the sky which could land on his roof, or in the foliage, because even as well controlled as those fireworks are, shit happens. Keeping fireworks in the hands of professionals seems like common sense to me. I am not immune to the charms of Making Something Blow Up Loudly… but if that’s your pleasure, why not take a chem class and do it in a lab, wearing safety glasses. Or something.

    Also: my dog is unfortunately not one of those who can sleep through anything, and while the blessing of age-related deafness may mitigate the terror a bit, she still shivers through the Fourth. As do many other local animals.

  3. Bay City Michigan, when I lived there, always had huge fireworks, set off in a trench at the edge of the Saginaw River. One year, just after the Governor had left the trench, something misfired and set off all the fireworks at once. It was a nightmare. I believe at least one person died.

    After that, they set off the fireworks from barges in the middle of the river.

    And a coworker of my brother’s, about ten years ago, was messing with what they in that area of Michigan an “M80” firework, and lost three fingers on one hand. But then, as my brother said, an M80 is equivalent to a quarter-stick of dynamite.

  4. They are idiots. Years ago my folks neighbor just loved his drunken fireworks -starting close to midnight. A drought summer. The wind blowing towards my folks house. My 82 year old father -with heart condition spent hours with his hose extinguishing sparks in the woods. And on our roof. Neighbors didn’t notice a thing.
    (My mum who had been through some bad bombing in the early days of WW2 had bad PTSD all her life so the boozy forth was always stressful for her)

  5. You have my sympathies from across the Atlantic, at least when our firework times roll round it’s late October so there is far less risk of fire. We have had some changes in the laws aroung fireworks which do confine the worst excesses to around Guy Fawkes and on New Year, as well as limiting how late they can be let off, but the one change I wish they would make is to limit all fireworks sold to the public to pretty ones that do not bang. I do not enjoy the unexpected bangs, and neither do my dogs.

    I hope you all have an unexpectedly peaceful day.

  6. Thanks! My feelings exactly. We have to huddle with our traumatized pets to get through the idiotic neighbors setting off their illegal fireworks every year.