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7/5/2013 2:08:20 PM - Steve Pulcinella
Fireworks: This has nothing to do with strength

As I laid in bed last night at 11:00 trying to sleep, while the white trash of my town shoot volleys of 4th of July holiday mortars all around my house, I started thinking about two things. I hope these ignorant hillbillies don’t burn the whole neighborhood down and man how things have changed since I was a kid.

When I was a kid back in the early to mid seventies any type of fireworks you possessed were the highest form of legal tender you could ever have to barter good and services from other kids. The main reason for their value was that they were illegal to buy, sell or own in the state of PA back then. So it was quite rare for any of us kids to get our hands on even a few firecrackers let alone the really pro stuff you see people with today.

All us kids just had to suffer with what we could get our hands on. Each little neighborhood back then had their own corner stores and they would all carry what was legal at the time. The following would be the entire inventory of "fireworks" we could get legally:

Those little snappy things that you throw on the ground- fun for a while but gets boring pretty quick

Sparklers- Eh, not much kick there, unless you are throwing them at your brother’s head and stuff. But, they are hotter than a mig welder so there is a slight danger factor.

Smoke bombs- the only fun things about them is lighting them off and throwing them into people’s houses or light them off at school and stuff. They also smelled cool. Other than that there wasn’t much drama involved.

Black snakes- probably the lowest form of what is considered fireworks. A total disappointment at any level. Nobody likes them but they have been on the market for god knows how many years. I just can’t help thinking that the guy who invented them is probably filthy rich and is somewhere soaking it up in a hot tub with his soulmate somewhere. That though sickens me.

That was the extent of what we could get legally but there were options I would come to find out. Every once in awhile a kid from the bad side of the tracks would get his hands on some good stuff and by “good stuff” I mean something that contained actual gun powder and exploded. If a kid did get an entire pack of firecrackers he would usually stretch out his investment by selling them as “Loosies” meaning he would piece them out one at a time. I remember kids swiping dollar bills from their mom’s wallets to buy single firecrackers and then cherishing that thing for weeks before devising the perfect way to set it off. If you somehow got your hands on a few bottle rockets, or the holiest of holy grails an M-80 you were a god in the neighborhood. You could buy a kid’s ten speed bike out from under him for the value of one M-80.


There was always a mystique around the M-80 when I was a kid. Some say it’s power was equivalent to a quarter stick of dynamite, some stories say that you could blow a tree out of the ground with just one of them. One kid swore he saw his brother’s friend blow a full sized car into the air with one. But most of the stories that I used to hear about then were tales of personal mutilation and horror. For that reason I’ve always stayed far away from M-80’s. I was just getting ready to go through puberty and had recently discovered my penis so I was deeply in love with my hands at that time. So the last thing I wanted to do is blow off all my fingers and totally put the brakes on my budding sex life.


For us as kids, every summer the constant search for any kind of explosives would begin. One year a rumor went around that a little hoagie shop near my neighborhood called “Eddie’s” was actually selling firecrackers and bottle rockets! Could this possibly be true, oh good lord please let it be true! Now this guy Eddie was a semi-connected, low level, half a wise guy and I was told that he would only sell stuff to kids that he knew. I never went to that store much because one of his sons was the neighborhood bullies and older than me so my friends and I steered clear of Eddie’s. But the lure of explosive devices was too great, I had to take a shot. I was probably only nine years old when I walked into this dingy little shop and the little bell rang upon me opening the door. From some back room out walks Eddie, he was a grouchy old guy wearing a dirty apron and his son was with him, looking all miserable and mean. For a minute I was thinking of just running out the door and never going back but I got up the courage to approach the counter and as I looked at the floor I said in a low voice, “Can I buy some firecrackers please?” Eddie stood straight up and puffed out his chest and bellowed, “Kid, who in the HELL told you I sold illegal firecrackers?” All I could say at that point was “hummina hummina hummina well I . . . this kid . . . I don’t know?” and I turned to walk away I hear Eddie say, “Hey kid, come back here!” I thought for sure a team of ATF agents were about to swoop in and arrest me on the spot but instead he looked at his son and his son nodded as if to say “This kid is ok” and Eddie took me into a back room. He grumbled “Five bucks a pack kid, take it or leave it!” I was thinking holy shit, I’m going to own a WHOLE PACK? Now don’t ask me where I got five bucks, I have no idea, I swear, but I bet my mom is still looking for that missing money to this day. My hand was shaking as we made this back-room, illegal exchange. I’ll never forget his parting words to me as I quickly put the prized explosives into the pocket of my husky sized Wranglers. “If any cop asks you where you got these you say you found them in the street right?” I looked up at him with my little fat face and said “Yes Eddie.” As I was walking out of that store into the bright sunlight that day I felt happy for two reasons, one was that I had a pack of firecrackers all to myself and my friends will think that I’m THE MAN. And the other was that I partly felt like me and Eddie had made a connection that day, like we really bonded . . . even though looking back I’m pretty sure we hadn’t.

A few years later my father, who was always an avid private pilot, was down in Virginia and flew back with an entire shopping bag full of bottle rockets, roman candles and bricks of fire crackers. I remember my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw this. Then the famed bottle rocket wars ensued! With only football helmets and sunglasses as protection we would fire them at each other like the battle of Gettysburg, no bunkers or trenches, just open warfare of stupidity. Nobody lost any limbs or eyes and a good time was had by all. After that I would beg my father to make runs down south for me like an old bootlegger and bring me back bags of weaponry. I always imagined him coming home flying really low under the radar as to avoid the authorities.

kid with rockets

When I was about 14 I started hanging around with this kid named Bill. Bill was a real inventive guy, loved to tinker with engines and bikes but was most fascinated with explosives. Just buying standard fireworks didn’t interest Bill at all, he REALLY wanted to blow shit up like a pyro. So with me as his apprentice and helper he devised different kinds of bombs using many accelerants. One of his simple bombs was to put model rocket engines into those big soda bottles when they were glass and screw the cap on and stand back and it would explode in a spectacular and dangerous shower of glass. Bill then stepped up his game when he got into swiping his old man’s shotgun shells and was taking the gunpowder out to make some hardcore pipe bombs that in this day and age would make him a bona fide terrorist and place him on the no fly list. He built a bomb so powerful once and accidentally detonated it on his dad’s workbench in the basement of his house and it knocked his mom off of the couch upstairs. He was such a pyro that we would have bonfires in his back yard and when we were looking he would go into his dad’s garage and grab old spray paint cans and chuck them into the fire and wait for them to explode and shoot flaming debris all over us and laugh his ass off. The turning point was when he grabbed a propane tank and threw it in there. After the fire trucks left he was thrown out of his house and I think I’ve seen him like once since then.


Now that I’m an adult it has all come full circle. Where I live just south of Philadelphia I am just minutes from New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. All four of these states have legalized fireworks and there are massive stores that sell them all over the place. Which brings us back to last night, the fourth of July, I’m lying in bed all pissed off because every man, woman and child is shooting off professional grade fireworks at 11:00 when I’m trying to sleep. I swear some of them had to be surplus surface to air rockets and one of them might have been an Iraqi scud missile. My house was shaking all night from the concussions. All I kept thinking as I lay there was “haven’t you dorks gotten this all out of your system when you were kids like I did?”

I’m clearly getting too old to enjoy life.

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