Retorts: Time of the rockets’ red scares

FIREWORKS are fun for some, but terrifying for others.

Have a heart.

The July 4 season is just about on us, and what we see and hear is the proliferation of fireworks, both legal and illegal. For the next week or more, we will experience a rising crescendo of pyrotechnics.  Windows will rattle, smoke will fill the air and certain unlucky individuals will sweat and suffer through an experience, which seems to be much more about noise and fire than patriotism.

So-called “Safe and sane” fireworks are legal in Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster. I call them “so-called” because many a nimrod – often liberally lubricated with Coors or Coronas – will modify the stuff so that it’s about as safe and sane as Hannibal Lechter.

Add on top of that the threat that comes from illegal fireworks imported from Mexico or Nevada or China and a mere annoyance becomes a threat to life and limb. Despite the $1000 fines, there are so many gunpowder fans that it would take a regiment of Marines to suppress their use around Independence Day, not a few dozen police officers.

OK, I get it. Blowing things up is popular. I enjoyed watching fireworks as a kid. But we did it – relatively – safely in our backyard with a bucket of water nearby and away from the house.

As a journalist, I’ve covered stories and seen images of the damage to life, flesh and property that can be done by fireworks, especially when the people igniting them aren’t using the sense given to a goose. They shoot them in the air over a neighborhood of highly flammable shake roofs. They ignite them in metal cans to “see what will happen.”

In my former neighborhood, the street was an insurance nightmare on July 4. I saw a teenage boy throw a lit cherry bomb, which landed just a few feet from a 5-year-old girl. I saw drunk fathers setting off illegal mortars in front of their sons, which is a great bit of parenting in terms of teaching youngsters respect for the law.

I could go on and on, but I don’t care to keep howling at the wind. If you feel the need to buy and use fireworks, so be it. The sale of such items is a useful fund-raiser for many good civic and youth groups, and it’s clearly here to stay.

But consider this. The bright lights and noise such items create may be entertaining to you, but are terrifying to others. We have two dogs, Scout and Grover. Scout is not bothered much at all by fireworks, but Grover is terrorized by them. The only reason we even have her is that she ran away from another home in the middle of the warfare of 2016 and never was returned.

Even now, a week from the holiday, there is an increasing drumbeat of explosions set off by people who just can’t wait until July 4 to explode stuff. Grover barks more-or-less nonstop for an hour or so, and then dives into bed – trembling and heart-pounding – between Marilyn and I.

If you can’t work up any sympathy for our scared little Aussie, you ought to be able to feel something for all the military combat veterans who suffer from PTSD.  For those who’ve been subjected to gunfire in Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan, the echo of explosions is a cruel reminder of terrifying times they’d just as soon forget.

So, if you must blow things up, do this. Only buy and use the legal stuff and use it as intended. Limit your use to a few hours … don’t keep “celebrating” for a week. If you live next to, or near, a scaredy-cat dog or a too-experienced war vet, take your noisemakers down the road a little. Clean up after your mess.

Independence Day was created in the spirit of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Don’t pursue yours by taking away that of others.


Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears some time on Wednesdays.

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