Fireworks! So loud! So destructive! So shabbily made! Why, they’re the perfect embodiment of America itself! No wonder we blow them up real good every 4th of July.

Of course, the use of such potentially destructive materials should be handled with the utmost care, and only by responsible adults. LOL JK FUCK ALL THAT. It is sacred tradition round these parts to entrust the detonation of big-ass fireworks to only our most irresponsible, drunkest citizens. This is America, gang. If we wanna blow our hands off, we’re gonna blow our fucking hands off. And there ain’t shit you can do about it. THE SMELL OF BURNING FLESH IS THE SMELL OF TRUE FREEDOM. Here now are a handful of triumphant stories from readers who nearly blinded themselves in the name of patriotism.

PJ:

In 2004 my friend and I drove to Pennsylvania to load up on about $300 worth of fireworks. We didn’t know much about them but bought the heavier things available, including some mortar shells (which shoot up and make a real firework in the sky) and the tube to shoot them out of. We went to my friend’s lake house for our usual 4th BBQ, and had been drinking all day. The sun went down, and it was go time. We grabbed a mortar, shoved it in the tube, and lit the fuse. NOTHING HAPPENED. What we didn’t realize was the tube was pre-loaded, and another mortar was jammed in there now. My friend grabbed the tube to investigate, and as soon as he picked it up, both mortars exploded and shot out, INTO THE BOX OF FIREWORKS. We had a 10-second window to panic, but we didn’t even think to do that. The entire box was on fire, and the ensuing explosions were like WWIII shooting past everyone’s heads, pelting the houses, and nearly setting the trees on fire. We ducked under cars and the dogs jumped in the lake.

My friend’s face and chest were bloody and soot covered, and his hand was burned and numb, but no permanent damage. The next-door neighbor threw a punch at him and called the sheriff. I highly recommend setting a box of fireworks on fire all at once.

Will:

Most of my family lives in Idaho, with my grandmother’s house being on a golf course. My uncle decided that this was a perfect spot to set off some fireworks for July 4th. He also had a terrible Jack Russell named Casper who was a poorly trained shithead. My uncle and his kids aren’t much on dog ownership and didn’t really bother to train the dog. They had a pretty standard fireworks, nothing too impressive, just Roman candles, bottle rockets ,and other basics. Casper, who lives through this story, was off the leash running around doing the things a shithead dog does …

Then they lit a roman candle.

Casper decides that it’s a toy, and grabs the thing and runs off. So now we have a dog running around with a lit roman candle, spewing balls of fire. No one can catch the dog … finally the Roman candle goes out, but the dog refuses to come back…

So my uncle decides to fight fire with fire … and lights another Roman candle hoping to entice the dog back. It works, but there was not a strategy to STOP the dog once he got the Roman candle … so he swooped in, grabbed the second Roman candle, and took off again. By this time, most of the family was laughing too hard to actually chase the dog … he managed not to catch anything on fire and eventually returned unscathed. Fortunately my uncle gave up on firing off any more Roman candles.

Kyle:

When I was about 10, I had this great idea to carefully unwind hundreds of Pop-Its and consolidate the gunpowder inside them into one giant table napkin Pop-It. After a couple hours (and no supervision), I had a tennis-ball-sized Pop-It ready to throw at the ground outside. On my way out the door, I somehow managed to drop this thing right onto the dining room carpet, which obviously caught on fire. I managed to put it out with bowls of water and mop all that up with towels. But the damage to the carpet was done, and I had to come clean with my parents about it after coming up empty for a believable way it happened without me being a guilty party in the whole thing. So yeah, I got grounded for that ...

Ryan:

When I was around 12, I would babysit for my mom’s friend’s kids who were just a few years younger than me, but too young to stay home alone. The older kid was 10, and had a great collection of fireworks that he would get when he’d visit his grandparents in parts of the state where fireworks sales were less restricted. Being the great babysitter I was, we went out at dusk to shoot off bottle rockets in the backyard. A kid from next door saw, and came over to join in on the action. On the neighbor kid’s turn, he lit a bottle rocket fuse just as his pudgy younger brother came walking around the corner with a “Hey guys, whatcha doing?” The bottle rocket-wielding neighbor turned to face his brother, and the bottle rocket took off, traveled the 30 yards or so to his brother, and went straight to the pudgy kid’s groin. There was a brief moment where the rocket bounced up against the kid’s groin like a fly bouncing against a clear glass window. There was panic in his eyes like when Wile E. Coyote knew he was screwed. He knew his fate. The bottle rocket exploded, and the pudgy kid stood there for a few seconds in shock before screaming a little kid girlish scream, and went running inside. We chased after him because we had to make sure he wouldn’t tell his parents on us. As it was the early ‘90s, shorts were still pretty short, so outside of some black powder marks on his thighs, he was relatively unscathed. The next time we launched bottle rockets, we made a game of it where the pudgy kid would stand on the other side of the yard and we would shoot the bottle rockets at him. We were never able to recreate the moment.

Hooshms:

Well, I was like 11 and was thoroughly entrenched in my pyromaniac phase. Me and my friends decided that it would be fun to strap fireworks to all of my action figures and launch them into the air (who the fuck wouldn’t?). Well it turns out they just kind of melt into a blob and don’t go anywhere. Shit got old fast, and so we just picked all the molten pieces of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Luke Skywalker and threw that shit in the dumpster, then ran off to do some other stupid shit.

So 15 minutes later some asshole is banging on my front door. “What?” … “Well, I am not sure if you realize this, but your dumpster is on fire.” NO I DIDN’T REALIZE IT FUCKFACE! The flames were no joke: at least 15 feet high. This is a plastic dumpster, so the whole thing is just melting away into my lawn full of diapers and shit and all the nasty shit that an 11-year-old throws away. Being too stupid to use the hose in the front of the house, me and my friend were running out fucking saucepans full of water and throwing it on like a fucking bucket brigade.

It eventually stops raging, but now it’s just a molten shit pile burnt into my front yard. Cue my father pulling into the house and flipping the fuck out on me and my friend “YOU BETTER GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE AND DON’T COME BACK FOR AT LEAST A WEEK” (my dad was both an asshole and very judicious with his punishments), and me spending the next few hours inhaling toxic fumes and bagging up half-burnt diapers full of shit.

Jughead:

We used to have bottle rocket wars when I was a kid. This involved kids hiding in bushes on opposite ends of our front yard, haphazardly firing bottle rockets at one another from handheld tennis-ball cans. Bottle rockets aren’t very accurate, so the hit rate was pretty low, and they don’t do much damage. My parents knew about it and all but encouraged it, which seems odd now that I have kids of my own.

Anyway, so one New Year’s Eve when I was about 12, we were having a bottle rocket war when a buddy of mine jumped up and came screaming across the expanse of the front yard like William Wallace with a lit Roman candle pointed at my face. (Note: Roman candles were expressly forbidden by the rules of bottle rocket war. There was no ambiguity here.) It started firing off balls of fire, as Roman candles are wont to do. I took a Roman candle fireball directly to the left eye. My eye was literally fried shut. I thought I was blind and began screaming incoherently. My mom took me inside and put a wet rag on my eye, whereupon after about 10 minutes the eye opened and I was able to see out of it again, and I was allowed to return to combat, sans eyebrows or eyelashes on the left side. My scofflaw friend suffered no repercussions for his brazen Roman candlery. I had a black eye that I wore like a badge of honor for two weeks. The ‘90s were a lawless time.

Pete:

Two years later I was riding with a lady friend and decided it would be a good idea to throw an M-80 out the window while I was driving. As I went to throw it out, a car came around the corner so I jerked it back inside. I lost the tip of my finger and the girl’s hair ended up on fire, and we both ended up temporarily deaf.

No, I’m not very good with the ladies.

Mike:

Sometime in September when I was in 5th grade, my friend Pat from across the street and I were walking to school at about 8:30 a.m. in a heretofore peaceful north Seattle neighborhood. We met up with a couple other kids along the way, and Pat opened up his lunch bag to reveal a dozen or so M80s that his older brother still had from the past summer. Pat lit a couple in the gravel alongside the street, sending pebbles scattering in all directions. The noise caught the attention of a few others, so we quickly had a group of maybe 10 boys trying to think of what we could blow up. This is 1983, still the free-range-kid era, none of us accompanied by parents on the mile walk to school.

I noticed in a nearby front lawn a pile of dog crap gleaming in the morning sun, and thought to myself that it would be the coolest thing to see explode. So, Pat handed me an M80 and Bic lighter, and I made my way over to the pile of poop. I bent over the pile, stuck the M80 all the way into it with only the fuse visible, lit the fuse, and began to run away. The poop exploded before I was able to turn around and watch, though everyone else was laughing their asses off at how awesome it was to see.

We then continued along our way to school. There was the occasional pointing and laughing for the next 20 minutes or so until I got into class, with me thinking I was everyone’s hero. It took Mr. Burton pointing out to me that something was wrong with my appearance, and smell. Turns out, due to an unfortunate combination of a quick fuse and my short legs covering very little distance, I hadn’t made it out of the blast radius in time and my back was splattered with dog poop. I got sent to the office to change into clothes from the lost and found. I was sad hero dressed in loser clothes.

Phil:

I was working in TV news a few years ago and had to work on the 4th of July. I was in production and had to listen to police scanners for anything we could cover. The weather had been really nice and news was slow, so by 9:30 the only people left in the newsroom were an emergency on-call photographer, two anchors, and me.

We had the show almost done when the weather got nasty: severe thunderstorms first, and then a tornado warning. The scanner had been busy all night due to fireworks calls; the tornado warning sent it into overdrive with various spotters calling in tornado sightings. We were all scrambling to fit the weather into the show right up to about five minutes before 10. The anchors were finally heading to the set when a muffled call came across the scanner that said “a guy blew his head off with a firework.” The dispatcher repeated the call back again, but this time said it was a hand, not a head. We’d already sent the photographer to one of the tornado damage spots, and had no one to go check it out—a hand injury on the 4th is nothing. So we let it go.

The next morning I got to work and heard a guy had somehow procured a few shells from a commercial fireworks show/the government, depending on who was asked. He had rigged up one of them with a fuse and fired it off successfully early in the night. His neighbors in the trailer park said the second one wasn’t so successful; the homemade fuse didn’t ignite the shell. The guy leaned over to try to light it again and—KABOOM—headless.

The crew that went to cover it the next day had to step over pieces of the guy in the street to get video. They talked to his wife and asked her to send in a picture to use in the story—and of course she sends in a headshot.

Tim:

We knew a girl whose parents owned a storage lot, and she had a double-wide on the lot property. She decided to have a 4th of July bash, and there were about 30 people partying. When you’re 22 and living in New Mexico, that shit is as good as it gets.

My buddy happened to have some ecstasy, and we decided to have several (can’t remember how many) pills to keep the drunk in check and to sport a boner anytime we touched the shoulder of a fine young lady.

Come fireworks time, my friend decided he wanted to light a sparkler bomb. This consisted of getting as many sparklers (the plain silver generic sparklers) and wrapping them tightly with electrical tape with one sparkler pushed out to act as a fuse. So everyone watches in anticipation as my friend lights the “fuse.” It goes out. So instead of calling it quits and counting his blessings, he re-lights the “fuse.” And ... *click* ... *click* ... *light* ..........BOOM!!! A HUGE explosion with my buddy not more than two feet away. He immediately shouts a scream that is Sharapova-approved and hits the pavement. “I NEED WATER! WATER FOR MY EYES!” At this point someone actually has a gallon of water on hand. I grab that shit and immediately pour it down his throat. “IN MY EYES” the injured shouts, but I keep my focus and keep pouring it down his drowning esophagus.

I eventually worked my way to his eyes and the ambulance was called. They took him to the hospital and I informed his mother, who is a nurse, and we continued the party a bit shaken.

After some reflecting on our friend’s misfortune whilst gazing upon the fire, I decide it’d be a good idea to lighten the mood by walking over the hot coals. Now, when you walk on coals, they should be ashed over. These were not. As my feet melted into the death-fire, I realized that ecstasy, booze, fireworks, actual fire, and the need to be noticed don’t mix.

Long story short, I’m awake for two days straight with gigantic throbbing blisters on my feet. My friend (who is my roommate) walks through the door with gauze over his eyes and tells me the horrific story of “seeing the tweezers enter my eyes to get the shrapnel out.” He then grabs a duffle bag full of clothes and tells me “we can’t party for a while, you’re too crazy” and peaces out for a few weeks.

Fuck Ecstasy.

Fuck Fireworks.

Dan:

We had some hill-rod neighbors who had made the trip from the Chicago burbs to Indiana for some big fireworks—the mortars and whatnot that aren’t for sale in IL. After countless hours of big-time fireworks, the neighbors and their front-yard crowd of about 15 move onto the next display: straight black powder packed into a thick metal pipe with a short fuse. The result was a deafening explosion with little to no visual appeal, but by this point all they wanted was the type of noise that you could feel in your chest and make your ears ring.

Anyway this went on for a while without incident, but the continual blasts must have taken a toll on the pipe. They pack it up again and light it off, same result, huge explosion. But this time the blast is met with screams instead of clapping and beer chugs. The top portion of the pipe had blown clean off with the blast and hit a girl bystander square in the jaw from the side and TOOK HER LOWER MANDIBLE CLEAR OFF. The scene described to me year after year was straight out of a horror story, the girl screaming with a tongue hanging out of her face until she passed out from shock, teeth everywhere. Suffice to say I am the nervous one around fireworks because of hearing this story once a year.


Image by Jim Cooke.

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