On Fireworks and Being a Fuddy Duddy

Photo from smashingmagazine.com

Once upon a time, in a land very far away, I was not such a fuddy duddy. I was younger then. Maybe not so easily annoyed. I lived in town, but living “in town” didn’t mean what it does now, for me anyway. Living “in town” in those days meant that I lived in a house with a back yard and a front yard. Forty or fifty feet back from the street and with plenty of space between the house in which I lived and the houses on either side. Living “in town” meant that the house in which I lived was in the middle of a sub-urban housing addition, probably one of many, but that it wouldn’t take all that long to drive outside of the city limits, sometimes outside of the county limits, and find wide open, unincorporated, largely unregulated spaces in which to do, well… Just about anything.

Photo found on flickleflu.com

I remember those days so long ago, when you could drive around “town” in the weeks leading up to the celebration of our nation’s independence and find fireworks stands on many street corners. There was nothing covert about them. They were large wooden structures, brightly painted with huge “FIREWORKS” painted on the sides along with colorful bursts of what must have been meant to be exploding fireworks in the night sky. Interestingly, I remember these colorful bursts as looking like what you might see on any commercially sponsored, professionally launched fireworks display. Explosions of reds and greens and whites, high in the sky, launched from a place of relative safety, with no one for hundreds of feet around the launchers but the professionally trained (or so one would assume) pyro technicians who knew how to present these displays in the safest possible manner. Of course, they didn’t sell those types of fireworks at these stands but no one would mistake the images.

I always thought it strange that in a city where it was illegal to set off fireworks, it was legal to sell them. But sell them they did. And the people generally seemed to respect the laws and take their fireworks outside the city or county limits and set them off in an open field (or hopefully an open lot – an open field, after all, could still catch fire.)

I remember as a young boy, going with my family to the local high school, and laying out our blankets on an unoccupied patch of grass outside the football stadium fence. No one was allowed inside the stadium for safety purposes. We would lie on our blankets watching the sky, waiting for it to get dark enough and for the first bursts of light and color to fill our views.

I remember another time, when I sat on the bank of the Ohio River with my father and his wife. From our vantage point, we could see, not just the explosions in the sky, but we could see the barge from which the rockets were launched and we would watch as the cartridges raced into the sky until they disappeared from view and we would try to guess with our eyes how high the bomb would go before it erupted. From that location we were able to feel the ash from those cartridges raining down on us, and occasionally, a larger piece of the paper wrapping that surrounded those shells would fall over us or wash ashore.

Photo found at jeffw.org

I remember one fourth of July when I was very young, when my father stood at the edge of the second story balcony of his enormous rental house (a story for another time), holding a roman candle in his hand. He lit he contraption only after the rest of us were sufficiently back from the edge, from him, and from the dangerous device. Once lit, he stretched his arm out far beyond the railing of the balcony and angled the launching end of the tube toward the sky over the wide open back yard. One after another those colored globes arced into the sky and fizzled out before landing on the grass. Nothing happened that night, but even at the tender age of 6 or 7 years old, I remember thinking how stupid this was, how dangerous it could have turned out to be.

My older siblings would hold metal sticks with powder on them and one of my father’s wife’s children would light the end. Everyone would smile and laugh as the sticks lit up and sparks flew in all directions. My siblings would wave those sticks around and tracers of light would linger in our eyes as they made shapes in the dark with those sticks.

I wouldn’t touch them. I was afraid. What they did made no sense to me. Why would you hold, in your bare hands, a stick with fire shooting off of it? I was ashamed, as well, because no one could understand my refusal to get involved and they always made fun.

Everywhere I have ever lived, the use of fireworks was illegal within the city limits. They are dangerous and disruptive and every city I know of us has deemed them too much of a risk to life and property. And everywhere I have lived, for the most part, the citizens have respected this fact. Until now.

—–

In my younger, non-fuddy duddy days, I always went out to see a fireworks display on the fourth of July. I love them! They’re beautiful. It’s always fun to see the different colors and patterns that come from those rockets. When they’re paired with a musical backing they’re even more enjoyable. And when enjoyed from a safe distance, the physical impact of the explosion, that slight concussion in your chest, is kind of cool too. I enjoy going to a wide open space and enjoying the show with a few thousand of my neighbors without everyone crowding on top of each other and making the experience unenjoyable.

That doesn’t happen anymore. I’m certain it’s because I live in a densely populated area where, due to the cost of these shows, there are far fewer of them than there were ten years ago. I haven’t gone to see professional fireworks presentation in years because of all the effort and hassle that goes into seeing 20 minutes of a show, while trying to keep the people who crowded all around you at the last minute, when you went early enough to stake out your nice spot, from stepping on your feet. This is not my idea of a good time.

—–

Those youngest days were spent in Ohio. Maybe I was just too young to know and remember correctly, or maybe times have changed. But to my recollection, rarely did people use illegal fireworks in “town”. Or if they did, it was a small number, it was done as soon as the public displays were over and then it ended at a reasonable hour.

From there I lived in Oklahoma. Oklahoma being the center of the Bible belt where, apparently, people are too good Christians to disobey the law, I don’t recall there being much in the way of illegal fireworks within the city limits.

I have lived in four cities in the drought stricken state of California: Turlock, Richmond, San Francisco, and finally, Oakland. Never before living in Oakland was I aware of a problem with illegal fireworks, but here, in Oakland, it starts weeks before the holiday even happens and lasts days after. But the day of? The day when this city, chock full of immigrated foreigners, many of who aren’t even citizens, celebrates the birth of this nation? On that day, this city is like a war zone, starting midafternoon and lasting until well into the wee small hours.

I lived through seven years of it. The first three I was on the edge of the city. Not much happened immediately close to my home, but I could see it on the horizon and hear it all over the city of Oakland, bombs bursting in air; but also on the pavement and sidewalks and front yards. And it kept me awake half the night. Then I moved to my current home and lo and behold, I was in the thick of it. All up and down my own street people were firing off all sorts of fireworks, putting not just themselves, but all of the rest of the neighborhood at risk as well.

A year and a half ago, a house across the street which had sat empty for years became occupied and last year on the fourth of July, the new residents made their presence known in the worst way. They set off fireworks in the middle of the street, right in front of my house, for hours. I sat in my living room, watching television, trying not to fume too strongly at the blatant disregard for the law and public safety. Trying not to be too angry at our sorely underfunded and therefore understaffed police department who did nothing to curtail this villainous activity, when suddenly BAM! A deafening explosion went off. The whole house shook. The windows rattled. My chair rocked… on its own. The cat jumped and my heart skipped a beat or six. I felt the explosion in my chest and it actually, physically hurt.

I went outside to see what had happened and there were my new neighbors, all eight of them (mostly adults in a very small house) sitting on the front steps talking and laughing while one of them went out into the middle of the street to kick away the debris from the last bomb and set up the next one. I watched as he lit a fuse and ran for the safety of the porch and within a few seconds there was a bright flash of light and I felt as if I’d been kicked in the chest. No colors, no movement. Nothing beautiful. Just an explosion.

I went back inside my house and called the police.

And got a recording prompting me to leave a message about illegal fireworks and where they were happening.

I left a message.

The police never came.

I decided then and there, that the following year, I would stay at a hotel overnight away from the war zone that my home had become.

This year, I stayed in the previously mentioned hotel in the middle-of-nowhere. Small, but nice, this hotel was in an unincorporated area in the middle of the Capay Valley of Northern California. There’s nothing around it for miles besides farms and groves. I hoped there would be a professional fireworks display there, but was perfectly content for there to not be.

How ironic, I thought, to have to go to unincorporated land, outside any city limits, to get the peace and quiet of not having to deal with illegal fireworks in my own front yard.

Fuddy. Duddy.

I love a good fireworks display.  I really do.  Always have.  The kinds of displays put on by professional pyrotechnicians have never ceased to thrill me.  I love the power of the concussive force as the cartridges explode in a myriad of colors and patterns in the sky.  When I was a kid I loved the Fourth of July and could not wait for one or the other of my parents to take me to a fireworks display.

These days, my love of professional pyrotechnics is confined to New Year’s Eve, when I’d sooner suck on a salt lick than sit at home alone, missing the celebrations!  Why a salt lick?   I don’t know.  It’s just the first thing that came to mind.  So many of the professional Fourth of July fireworks shows that I once loved have been called off due to expense and the ones that are still in effect are a lot of trouble to get to for a 20 minute display followed by a 90 minute trip home because of the amount of traffic (on a school night, no less.)

As I write this, I’m sitting naked in my non-air conditioned apartment with the doors and windows open, because it’s been too hot to have the place closed up, and I imagine what it might have been like to live in any number of places in “The Gulf” during our many attacks on the “bad guys”, which is to say that on this night, every year, I feel as though I’m living in a war zone.  It starts in the early afternoon and will continue until well after I go to bed; a constant bombardment of explosions and sizzles and bangs.  Noises that, only because of what day it is, are brushed off (mostly) as the sounds of some unwise, amateur pyrofile getting his (or her) jolly’s, but on any other day would prompt me to pause the television and wait for the sounds of the sirens that one would expect to follow gunfire in the neighborhood.

I hate this, immensely.

Maybe it’s because I remember watching my father holding roman candles IN HIS HANDS while they shot off their seven or eight colored orbs into the night sky.  Maybe it’s because I never got over the fear of being burned while holding a thin wire with sparks shooting off of it in my own hands (what sense does that make, I ask you?)

Maybe it’s because I live in what some might consider the Murder Capital of the United States (certainly of California) and the sound of gunshots is neither uncommon, or comforting, and it can be difficult to differentiate between a hand gun and rampart.

Maybe it’s because I live in a place where most of the time, everything is so dry that it will catch fire if you look at it sideways.  Maybe it’s because I watch the news and hear the stories that are inescapable of the various types of injuries and even deaths that take place every year as unqualified and unintelligent people operate fireworks IN MY FRONT YARD (figuratively.  I don’t have a yard, just a driveway and a crowded street.)

Maybe it’s because I’ve learned enough in my EMT training to not be cavalier about the possibilities on a night like this (and fully expect that if ever I get a job as an EMT I’ll never have the Fourth of July off work again).

Maybe it’s because I’m an egalitarian and amateur fireworks within city limits are simply illegal.

Whatever the reason, I’ve grown to hate this night, in which I will get no sleep (this raucous will continue until the wee hours of the morning) and I will have to fight hard against my nature to become angry because hundreds of people, who I do not know, have decided to take it upon themselves to take away my choice, my freedom (on Independence Day no less) to have a good nights sleep, free of noise polluted disruption, free of fear at whom might be dying from gunshot wounds (the sound of which might be mistaken for fireworks), free of fear that my house might randomly catch fire from a stray, or misdirected rocket, well into the early morning hours.

This  is not what Francis Scott Key had in mind when he wrote “The rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night…”

 

Christmas and New Years and Knitting, Oh My

I had planned to write again, sooner than this, but as usual I allowed many various distractions to prevent me from doing so… including working… I know!

My next planned post was going to be very clever.  It was going to be titled Brace Yourself and the first line of the post was going to be, “‘Cause I did.” and it was going to be followed by a picture of my smiling face in which you’d be able to see that I now have traditional braces on my still imperfect teeth.  The problem is, I’m about the least photogenic person you’ll ever meet.  And I’m not even calling myself ugly.  I mean, I’m not anything I would be interested in, but I’m not grotesque or anything.  Just, I can not take a good photograph.  As such, it proved impossible to take a photograph in which I looked neither horrible,  nor cheesy, and yet still showed my braces in a natural looking smile.  COULDN’T.  BE.  DONE.  So you’ll just have to be satisfied with my word that I now have traditional braces on my teeth to finish the process that Invisalign was unable to complete (possibly due to my own non-compliance with the process… maybe.)

~~~~~

Christmas came and went without much excitement.  I had lunch with Lori again and after further discussion about her family dynamic, which out of respect for her privacy, I will not repeat here, I decided to decline her invitation to go with her on Christmas Eve.  Sure, I was already leaning in that direction, but even if I had planned to attend, I would have opted out after that conversation.  We talked about getting together on Christmas Day after her children went to their father’s house, but when the time rolled around, the weather was terrible and neither of us felt like getting out in it.

I received exactly two gifts, a check from my father and cash from Michelle.  Both of which have been set aside for a specific purpose.  I’m going to buy a half sized deep freezer.  My refrigerator is not quite full-sized, because there’s not room for a full-sized unit in my kitchen.  For three years now I’ve been fighting with my too small freezer and struggling to keep the balance between economical “bulk” purchasing and having enough room to store stuff.  With the extra freezer space, I can keep “bulk” items and left overs in the deep freeze while keeping immediate use items (like ice cube trays – which I have no room for now) in the main freezer.  Now the only problem is, how to transport the freezer to my apartment, and how/where to plug it in.  I’m concerned about overloading circuits.

~~~~~

A friend of mine was in my office one day when the conversation somehow turned toward the fact that I crochet.

When I was a kid, my three-years-older sister, Erin, couldn’t sit still while the family watched television.  My mother taught her how to crochet so she’d have something to do with her hands.  My brother, Jonathan, and I never got along.  He’s five years older than I am and always resented me.  As a result I was always closer to Erin and wanted to do whatever she was doing, so I learned to crochet too.  Over the years, I would make something and then rip it out to make something else.  I had a collection of scrap yarn that I had tied end to end, until I had a huge ball of yarn.  Eventually, the ball grew to be about 18 inches in diameter.  I would make granny squares, and athgans and placemats and when I finished one thing I’d take it apart and make something else.  It was just for my own entertainment.

When I was about 18 I decided I wanted to actually make something real.  Something that would not be taken apart again.  Something that would endure.  So I bought a book of patterns and some yarn and I made my mother a really simple blanket.  It was supposed to be a “throw” but by the time I was finished it was a queen sized blanket that she put on her bed.

I’ve always enjoyed doing things that show tangible results.  I much prefer to dust after many weeks when I can actually see the difference, rather than doing it regularly.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather have a dust free home – I just want someone else to do it.)  So once I got “a taste” of making the blanket, I decided to keep doing it.  I don’t make them all the time because the yarn is not cheap, but when I get the urge, or a reason to make something for someone, I pick out a pattern and buy some yarn and go to work.  I’ve made quite a few blankets, over the years, for both adults and children, but I never really found anything else I could make by crocheting.  I always wished I could knit because I felt like knitting was a far more flexible medium.  My mother doesn’t know how to knit.  I only recently found out that my father knitted when he was young (he was on the front page of an Australian newspaper once with the caption “American boy knits on plane”.  He doesn’t remember why) however, he says he doesn’t really remember how to do it and wouldn’t have been able to teach me if he did, what with us being 2000 miles apart and all.

A few years ago, I made a baby blanket for K to send to her brand new nephew and as “payment” (which I didn’t request) she bought me a “Teach yourself to knit” kit.  I tried to teach myself but it really didn’t go very well.  I found it very stressful and as I would sit in my recliner trying to make the needles and the yarn do what my mind was clearly telling them to do, my feet would move and point and cross with the intended motion of the needles.  I gave up after a few tries, figuring that knitting was just something I’d never be able to do.

I mentioned to my friend, Juana, that I wished I knew how to knit and while it wasn’t a request, or even an inquiry, she walked away from that statement thinking that she needed to teach me to knit.  I’m not really complaining.  I wanted to know.  But she showed up at my office two days later with a small roll of cotton yarn and a couple of knitting needles and began teaching me to knit… whether I liked it or not.  She taught me the basic stitches, Knit and Purl and sent me home with an assignment.  “Cast on 40 stitches, knit two rows, purl two rows and repeat until you have a square.”  So I did.  Or at least I tried.  It was the first thing I’d ever done and I really didn’t yet see the delineation between rows.  I’d get confused or lose track and as a result the pattern of the finished product is inconsistent, but she said it was pretty good for a “newbie”.

A couple of days later she came back with another roll of cotton yarn and the first 20 lines of a pattern.  She told me I’d only get the pattern in pieces and she wouldn’t tell me what I was making.  I wouldn’t know until I got into it.  It turned out to be another wash cloth with an Eiffel Tower in the pattern.  I made one or two errors but nothing major and I was still learning.    A few days after I finished that, she came back with another pattern, a couple circular needles and a full skein of wool yarn.  It proved to be a cap which I made in a few days and with not too many errors.  I’m not really the knit cap kind of guy and I’m not sure if I’ll ever wear it out of the house but I might.  I decided if I was ever going to wear it, I’d need a matching scarf.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough left over yarn to make it and I couldn’t easily get more of the same yarn so I compromised.  I’m using a nice light tan yarn with the purple at the ends of the scarf as a coordinating accent color.

Juana came back a few days later and told me “My husband says, when you learn a new skill you have to keep going or you’ll forget what you learned.”  Makes sense.  She guided me to a website where we downloaded a pattern for a relatively simple pair of socks using larger needles and thicker yarn than is traditionally used for socks, but which is supposed to be good for beginners.  This time I was on my own for yarn and needles but that was bound to happen sooner or later.

I now have three separate projects in the works.  Since Variety is the spice of life, I like to rotate between them.  One day I work on the scarf, the next day I work on the socks and the next day I work on this very intricate blanket I’ve been crocheting for a very long time but I keep putting down.  It’s going to be beautiful when it’s finished, but it’s the most intricate thing I’ve ever made and I needed breaks from it from time to time.  I’m determined to finish it this time, though.

~~~~~

New Year’s Eve, this year, was fairly low-key, compared to past years.  I have an unreasonable hang-up about New Year’s Eve.  When I was a kid we usually spent New Year’s Eve at home, doing nothing, half the time, already in bed before midnight even rolled around.  I always felt like I was missing out on something; like it said something derogatory about me not to be out and celebrating with the rest of the world.

As a growed-up person I know that’s not really true, and yet, I can’t help it.  I have this almost desperate need to be somewhere and do something for New Year’s Eve.  It’s bad too.  Over the years it has escalated.  When I first moved to California, I was perfectly content to go to Fisherman’s Wharf with Michelle and have dinner and drinks and watch the Fireworks and go home and go to bed.  Michelle, being the lightweight that she is, would usually be too drunk to drive back home and she’d spend the night at my apartment.

After I got laid off and moved in with her and then got a new job, we had to find a new way to celebrate that didn’t involve a lot of driving on the day of.  One year we drove to Reno, Nevada for a couple of nights.  It’s in the mountains, there’s actual snow on the ground, there are casinos and shows and fireworks at midnight.  It cost more than dinner and fireworks in town, but it was fun and we were out and about and we didn’t have to drive after partying.

Two years in a row we went on a Hornblower Cruise for New Year’s Eve.  The package we bought was a five-hour cruise, five-course gourmet meal with open bar and lovely views.  Just before midnight, they’d “park” near the Bay Bridge where we had “front row seats” for the fire works display.  We only did it two years because they had the exact same menu both years.  There were other reasons as well.  We stayed at home those years, because the apartment we lived in at the time was only six blocks from the BART station and we could walk to and from.

After we moved from that apartment new plans would have to be made.  We have gone to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and finally last year back to Reno.  Reno is dead.  There is nothing going on there anymore.  We want to go on a cruise, but they’re expensive and neither of us can really afford it.  These trips have gotten progressively more expensive and while we have the best of intentions when we schedule it, November and December always seem to be fiscally challenging for me.

Mischa is very old now and he spends all his time, when I’m not home or when I’m in bed, locked in a cage because he can not be trusted to potty exclusively in his litter box.  It is no longer reasonable for me to look to someone else to take care of him so I can go away, so a trip out of town for a few days is no longer possible.  We decided to scale back our plans for once.  We planned to get a hotel room in San Francisco, so there’d be no driving-after-partying involved and we were going to have a reasonable dinner and watch the fireworks.  I’d feed Mischa a full can of food before leaving and then I’d come back early the next day.

We ended up staying at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.   It’s a four star hotel and they deserve every one of those stars.  The cavernous lobby was beautifully decorated for the holidays.  The room was beautiful (I did not take this picture. I just happen to have found it on Google images.  But unless they have multiple rooms with the exact same finishes (pictures, lamps, linens, carpets, etc.) this happens to be the room I stayed in.) and had an awesome view. See:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I did take this picture.)

This was one of the nicest rooms I have had in quite a while.  As part of the package we bought we had a room on the second from the top floor with exclusive card key access.  We also had access to “The Regency Club”.  The Regency Club is a lounge on the very top floor of the hotel.  Until last year this space was occupied by a revolving restaurant with beautiful views of downtown San Francisco, and the bay. I was disappointed to find out that the restaurant had closed, but the regency club (which no longer revolves) is an exclusive lounge that only people who purchased the package we did could go to.  They had complimentary soft drinks and coffee, tea and juice, as well as complimentary deserts.  There was also an “honor bar” where you write down what you drank and leave it in their drop box and they charge it to your room.

Because the lounge is circular shaped, we walked around to find the best place to sit.  We arrived around 9:00 and were lucky enough to find a table facing out toward the San Francisco Ferry Building which was between us and the barge from which the fire works would be launched. Short of being on a boat on the water, this was possibly the best place from which to see the show.  In fact, this year at least, it was probably better.  It was bitterly cold that night and rained off and on.  It even started to rain right after the fireworks.  Meanwhile we were warm and dry inside.

When the fireworks started, I whipped out my iPhone and set my camera to “video” and began to record the display.  Thirteen minutes of really cool fireworks.  I wondered if my phone would actually record it all and whether I had enough room for that much media but it showed no signs of giving up.  When the display was finally over, I touched the icon that represents the “record” button on the screen to discontinue the recording.  When I did, a counter appeared in the top right corner of the screen and began counting seconds.  I couldn’t believe it!  Thirteen minutes of NOT recording really spectacular fireworks!

Our “scaled back”, less adventurous, less expensive New Year’s Eve plans ended up costing as much as a three day trip to Las Vegas by the time we added the package for the hotel and dinner to the mix, but I’m not complaining.  It was a really great experience and I didn’t spend New Year’s Eve at home, or alone.  Since I couldn’t leave the cat alone this year, this was a pretty decent way to celebrate!