Archived Story

Fireworks foreman for Fourth of July fired

Published 9:27am Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Column: Tales From Exit 22, by Al Batt

It was as if one of those magic lamp genies had appeared from his lunchbox and granted his wish.

He’d stuffed the mail into his lunchbox along with the baloney sandwiches. Baloney covered in ketchup on white bread. He hated those sandwiches. They were in his lunchbox every day. Why did he keep making them? He ate them with celery chopped into small pieces by an ancient Veg-O-Matic that his uncle Stan had left him in his will.

The guys he worked construction with carried lunch pails. He carried a lunchbox. It made him feel young and he liked Bonanza. It was comforting to see the faces of Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe on his lunchbox each day. He still watched Bonanza on that channel that he could never remember the name of after its name was changed from another channel whose name he couldn’t remember. He’d tried using The Incredible Hulk lunchbox, but just as the Hulk couldn’t control his anger, his lunchbox couldn’t control its contents.

The guys teased him about his lunchbox, but it was good-natured ribbing. But to be on the safe side, he kept his Brady Bunch lunchbox at home.

Back to the mail in the lunchbox, some of it tinted by ketchup that the wax paper couldn’t corral. Someday, he’d get some of those sandwich bags he’d seen others use. An advertisement in the mail had come from a discount fireworks company.

“Why pay more?” it said.

He wondered if it were reputable. He had a good number of fingers, but he hated to lose even one. The outfit was located in a city not far away.

This was good news. He was the Commissioner of Pyrotechnics for the city of Two Bits, “The city that never sleeps unless you count naps.” He was in charge of the 4th of July fireworks. He got the job because he knew which end of the fuse to light. It wasn’t an easy job after the city council cut his budget. They mumbled something about minimizing the carbon footprint.

Apparently, it takes 99 percent of a village to raise the other 1 percent. He didn’t know what they expected him to do — hold a sparkler between his teeth? At the prices shown in the flier, he reckoned he could give the citizens of Two Bits a fireworks display they’d never forget. He’d loved fireworks since that day he smuggled a jar filled with lightning bugs into the movie theater and released them right after the lights went down.

The delightful discovery in his mail made him feel like a president of a small country. One of those statesmen who wear odd hats of epic proportions.

After work, he went to the discount fireworks place and nearly bought out the joint. He’d amaze everyone. One problem. He had nowhere to put the stuff and still make it a surprise.

The fireworks were launched from the county fairgrounds. That location gave him an idea. He slapped together a storage building of hay bales. He made do. It’s the Two Bits way. The project had been doable, if not elegant. The hay shed was not unlike the forts he’d built of bales in the haymow of the barn of his boyhood.

Everything was set for the greatest Fourth of July fireworks ever. He’d show those stuffed shirts on the city council. This would be his Sgt. Pepper’s.

No one knows where the spark came from.

It might have been a boy playing with his father’s Zippo lighter and firecrackers. Maybe it was Gnarly. His wife had just had a baby and Gnarly handed out countless “It’s a boy” cigars.

Someone suggested that it was punishment for the city’s approval of Sunday liquor.

One doesn’t have to know the reason to know that it happened.

He wanted to surprise people. He did.

It was quite a show. The rockets created new directions to fly. Burning hay bales flew like pigs will one day. Some folks got religion. Others swore off strong drink. Deacon Smith’s funeral had an unexpected and deafening accompaniment. It was frightening enough that Squeaky Slaughter paid widow Smith the $1,100 plus interest that he’d owed her husband for years. People even hid behind people they liked.

It was something to see and hear, but there were no tears of joy and admiration.

There’s a crater in the ground where the storage shed built of hay bales once stood.

It’s a reminder of the greatest July 2nd fireworks display in the history of the city of Two Bits.

 

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.