The summer sun yields to the crest of the mountain. The shadows deepen, then darken.
Here, nestled deep in suburban Las Vegas, night falls on America’s birthday. And Joseph and I are ready. Loaded for bear.
Joseph is 12. And, speaking of birthdays, his father was about to turn 57.
With an explosive series of pop-pop-pop-pop, our neighbors begin the attack. I’ve never seen or met these neighbors. But the sounds of their arsenal echo from down the street and to the left into the cul-de-sac.
Joseph and I are unafraid. Undaunted. About an hour ago, we hauled our munitions out onto the driveway. Wrappers off, we are well-organized. We counter the firecrackers with orange, purple, blue and white smoke bombs that make an intimidating fizz noise as they belch clouds of colored gas across our street. Thus distracted, our neighbors are in no way prepared for Mad Dog.
That’s what it says on the canister: Mad Dog. Joseph lights it. But, after a promising start, it blows up with a loud cough. Instead of a successful counterattack, it rolls around as if you’d set fire to a brain damaged chicken. Sparks and flames jettison the canister in random spirals.
I watch helplessly, wondering if I’ll end up in an emergency room. Or Joseph. Or what I’ll do if the mortally wounded Mad Dog rolls under a parked car and lights it on fire. Or into my neighbor’s hedge.
I remember the young, hopeful faces of the teens who were selling me these fireworks earlier today. They told me stories of how this fireworks stand was helping them raise money for their church youth group and its mission work. Somehow I doubt their organization includes a “quality control” hotline for my poorly constructed Mad Dog roman candle … which is now engulfed in flames, dead on the asphalt, happily burning down as it literally passes gas in pathetic burps and toots.
Luck of the draw. I think I won’t sue the church youth group.
My neighbors press their advantage with bottle rockets. Hmm. I didn’t see bottle rockets at the church youth group fireworks stand. We can only counter with Piccolo Petes which, when lit, don’t really sound so much like a piccolo as it does Satan’s fingernails on a chalkboard. It’s obnoxious. I think my ear drums are bleeding. The CIA could extract confessions with these things. I’m never buying Piccolo Petes again.
My neighbors’ cul-de-sac erupts with an aerial display rivaling what Frances Scott Key saw aboard the British warship HMS Tonnant as it pounded Fort McHenry in 1814. I’m serious.
Gigantic, blooming flowers of color stretch across the roofs of our little village. Whistle … KA-BOOM!!
Whistle … KA-BOOM!! Over and over. Then bigger rockets are launched. On an angle. Right toward us. Their shrill whining and bright tracer path cuts the sky right over our heads.
More neighbors join the festivities. And I don’t mean licensed, professional fireworks shows.
No; I mean neighbors with a lighter in one hand, a beer in the other, barefoot kids biting their ankles and enough explosives to bring a small army to its knees. It feels like I’m trapped in a PBS newsreel of Beirut.
I’m beginning to think my neighbors did NOT purchase their arsenal at the church youth groups’ firework stand. No; they went to the Moapa Indian Reservation. Or to Mexico and smuggled these explosives into our fair city. I’m thinking it might be illegal to light such fireworks within city limits. And I’m really amazed that more Las Vegans don’t lose eyes, fingers, toes, etc., every Fourth of July, not to mention setting fire to houses and yards.
Joseph and I surrender. It’s not a fair fight. We feel silly standing there, pathetically waving our impotent magnesium sparklers.
Ah, but just when we think all is lost — divine intervention! The heavens bring an early “monsoon.” A sudden desert deluge with drops of rain the size of nickels. Lightening traces crazy through the clouds, followed by claps of rolling thunder. My neighbors’ displays are shamed, hauled and humbled before an indomitable perspective, then extinguished.
Whereupon I do finally see a police unit creep through the neighborhood. Maybe God’s about to be cited for an illegal fireworks display.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at email@example.com.