The Chinese, we are reliably informed, invented fireworks about 2000 years ago when some unknown cook accidentally created an entree he called "chef's surprise." Apparently the Chinese also invented paper, guerilla warfare, and Internet piracy. But my concern here is only with the fireworks.
I have never been particularly a devotee of exploding gunpowder wrapped in easily burned paper in order to make a loud noise in a more-or-less controlled explosion. I've been watching this happen for quite a while now and there doesn't seem to really be anything new or different from when I was a kid. About the only change is the amount of money which is wasted in the endeavor. It is beyond me why exactly someone would want to burn up in one second what could easily have been used to buy a gallon of gas. At least the gas would have taken my van 4 or 5 minutes to burn off.
The tradition of firing off controlled dynamite to celebrate major occasions apparently came to us from the British -- who may have picked up fireworks in China while shopping for tea. The "explosion" (pardon the pun) of usage in our country is traced to President Nixon's opening up China for trade with the U.S. This made fireworks cheap and plentiful (along with just about everything else).
When, exactly, though, did setting off fireworks become a Memorial Day tradition?
It used to be no one heard fireworks going off before near the end of June. But, for the past week someone near us has been setting off bottle rocket type things almost every night. I don't object necessarily; just don't know why it's starting before the beginning of summer.
I was surprised to learn there are not many restrictions on buying or shooting off fireworks. You have to be 18 to buy them (16 if they are not too deadly). And there are some noise restrictions as to when they can be set off -- which seem to be ignored on or about the 4th of July. When we first came to Indiana twelve years ago you had to "register" to make a purchase. Now all you need is cash or credit card.
This is a big change from my days growing up in the Big City. Back then people actually acted as if it was in the public interest to protect folks from themselves. At least that was what was politically correct to say -- some nonsense about not wanting to overload the E.R.'s. As I recall, setting off of fireworks was illegal within city limits (although you could buy them in the city); and it was legal to set them off in the county (where you could not legally purchase same). It may have been the other way around, but you get the point -- politician made themselves look good without actually doing anything (so, what else is new?).
Anyhow, if you really want to waste money -- I mean celebrate with spectacular patriotic demonstrations, may I suggest you stop by Aerial Arts Fireworks next to Adamson's Laundromat on West National Ave. They can give you a printout of Safety Tips and Fireworks & Indiana Law from the Indiana Fire Academy.
If you visit the E.R. because of "celebrating" Memorial Day or whatever, at least I tried to be politically correct.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.