Tuesday, July 5, 2016

And The Rockets' Red Glare . . .



. . . the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night,

That my house was still there . . .

And my yard . . .

But not my peace of mind. Okay. My sanity.

Ever since they made the purchase of fireworks legal in our state, my former favorite 4th of July holiday has become an explosive event. I’m not just talking about my neighbors and their lack of thoughtfulness or even their lawlessness. I’m also talking about my reaction to their thoughtlessness.

There’s never been a more bottled up rocket launcher than the emotions I keep shoving down inside of me during every amateur micro-burst that shakes our chandelier. I keep doing that because I don’t want anyone to be mad at me. Or shoot at me. Or take direct aim on my house with their “legal” fireworks.

Okay, because I’m a chicken and it takes a lot to make the transformation into a mama bear.

Here’s something weird, but very important about fireworks.

It’s legal to buy them. It’s not legal to shoot them off in neighborhoods—not aerial missiles, anyway. You know, the colorful, photogenic kind that terrify everyone’s dogs and cats and leave me with PTSD until the next pyrotechnic event. So far, those dates include New Year’s Eve (also no longer my favorite holiday), Halloween (never a favorite holiday), and random weeknights—just because people bought fireworks half-price the day after a holiday and thought we’d enjoy a little background noise for no particular reason.

I don’t.

I am, too, a patriot. No, I am not old. I just want to enjoy fireworks shows in appropriate places, like shopping mall parking lots, city parks, and Disneyland, where professionals with all three fingers on each hand control them. Not overhead, six houses from mine.

So I cooked up a plan.

“Next July,” I yelled to my husband above the commotion of our neighbors’ late night, celebratory explosions, “I don’t want to be home on the 4th of July. I want to go somewhere else to see fireworks.”

“But we just got back from going somewhere else to see fireworks,” he said. “And why are you yelling?”

“Because I don’t want to be home at all on the 4th next year!”

This is the next year. So we booked a room with leftover hotel points, dug out all of our Christmas gift cards, and planned ourselves a date night so our neighbors could spend the evening being obnoxious and we could spend the evening not caring.

Somebody told them.

On July 2nd, a few preliminary rounds exploded down the street for about a half an hour. Okay, I thought. That wasn’t too bad. Ridiculously early, but short.

On July 3rd, one of our neighbors staged his own production, complete with lights and booms and cheers, for three and a half hours. I’ll say this for him—it was free. When bedtime rolled around, though, and the lamp on my side of the bed was still shaking, I lost my cool. And probably my salvation.

Now, hubby and I have different temperaments. I married him because he is the epitome of patience. And I usually get mad at him because he is the epitome of patience. So while I was fuming and losing my mind over the selfishness of our neighbors—don’t they know there are babies trying to sleep and people who get up at 4 in the morning every day?—my husband, the retired firefighter, who, for years, was serenaded to sleep by a symphony of firefighters and their foundation-shaking snores—really couldn’t have cared less that the neighbors were committing misdemeanors behind our house.

It took a little honest communication to sort all of that out. And I’m happy to report that we resolved our differences before anything other than an innocent neighbor’s backyard went up in flames. It looked like we’d find the July 4th of our dreams after all.

On Independence Day, we left our house because we didn’t have the freedom to enjoy any peace there. We headed to our Shangri-la hideaway in Phoenix, went out for a nice dinner, and returned to our room to wait for the sun to go down. 

Now, listen. Enjoying fireworks in the Valley of the Sun is almost an oxymoron. The high in Phoenix yesterday, July 4th, was 109 degrees. That’s the boiling point for frogs and tempers. We’ve tried to enjoy this holiday a dozen different ways before, but all of them left us with heat exhaustion and second degree burns. Finally, we discovered the one and only way to view a good light show in Arizona—from the inside of our air conditioned truck.

We found the perfect empty parking lot, aimed our windshield in the direction of the floor show, and sat back for forty minutes waiting for the big pay off. At ten after nine, we looked first at the dark sky in front of us, then at each other, and said,

“Where’s the show?”

We’d researched this. We were one mile east of the park where the big production was supposed to go off, and three miles northeast of another one the local casino was in charge of. They were late. Both of them. The next show we knew of was thirty minutes away. If we left now, by the time we got there we’d be lucky to see the finale. We pulled out our cell phones, searched Safari, and brought up the unbelievable truth. We were late. Two days late. Both events had gone off without a hitch on July 2nd.

I blame my neighbors for this. 

Since when is the Fourth of July celebrated in its entirety on the Second and Third of July? Is this a communist plot or a socialist prank in an election year? Who’s stealing our legal right to Independence Day? Was it written in the fine print somewhere in Obamacare that we had no right to find fireworks on Fireworks Day? I wanted answers. I wanted names.

I wanted people to stop messing around with the Fourth of July.

We turned around in the empty parking lot and headed back to our hotel, where on the way we saw eight cars lined up side by side against an open stretch of desert, in full fireworks viewing posture. Two cute college girls sat on the back of their open convertible, with John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever blaring from Pandora, while the man in the next car leaned against his vehicle looking at his cell phone. His wife stood against a wooden barrier, looking longingly off into the dark night. Everyone was waiting patiently. For something.

“Honey!” I said in excitement. “That must be where the show’s going to happen.”

“But it’s after nine,” he said, driving past the onlookers.

“Maybe it starts at 9:30 instead of 9,” I told him.

“But you looked it up,” he said. “The fireworks blew up two days ago.”

“Well, eight cars full of people over there think there’s a show about to start. I’m just one woman with a cell phone. I could be wrong.”

He sighed. Poor guy. What choice did he have?

He turned around, and we headed back to the impromptu parking area, where we took the last spot alongside the man with the cell phone. My husband rolled down his window and asked him,

“Are there fireworks happening here soon?”

“I sure hope so,” the stranger answered.

“Well, we wondered because online it says the show happened on Saturday.”

Silence. And then .  .  .

“Ohmigosh.” He looked up from his cell phone to my husband, staring at him blankly like he’d just been told there was no Santa Claus.

“You’re right,” he said. “And we’ve been sitting here in the heat for thirty minutes for nothing.”

We backed out away from our misinformed peeps, and drove away. I wish I’d taken a picture of that sad group of cars all lined up side by side. Thirty miles north, like a pinhead of light on the horizon, a distant fireworks display in a town that still owns a calendar punctuated the dark to the delight of the blondes in the convertible.

“Yay!” they shouted.

It was all the show any of us got. Some reward for the only true patriots in the south end of Phoenix.

I’ve got a new plan, though. Next year, we’re not even going to be in the state for the Second or Third or Fourth of July. We’re getting out of this stinking desert and going some place green. We’re gonna leave three days early and find a pretty place with good temperatures and a working calendar. Then we’re gonna watch fireworks without any early pre-show bologna, and cheer and eat hot dogs and applaud when the big finale lights up the sky.

“They don’t celebrate the Fourth in Ireland,” my husband said, when I laid out the plan.

That’s when I finally blew up. Talk about a rocket’s red glare.