The Smell of Fireworks in the Morning

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2015-07-05 – On the morning after the July Fourth fireworks, I get up early to take Lefty on a walk. He’s scared of fireworks and, beginning midafternoon on the day, he won’t pee or poop even if we can coax him outside for a walk. Yesterday afternoon I managed to get him two blocks before he froze. In the evening, at the height of the battle, I could only get him to go a half a block—presumably the troops were reloading at the time.

On the morning after a haze hangs over our neighborhood park. The smell of Sulphur is strong. The battlefield is strewn with boxes and spent rocket launchers and lots of shredded and singed red tissue paper. Later today, or maybe tomorrow, park district employees will be walking through the parks with pointy sticks and bags to clean up most of the wreckage. The shredded red paper will remain. There’s too much of it. It will remain for weeks through several cycles of rain and clearing until it becomes part of the soil.

Back in 1969, I had a job cleaning city parks in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. On Mondays and Thursday—days when the Torah is read in synagogues—I rode a dump truck through the park collecting garbage from overflowing barrels. On Fridays and sometimes Tuesday, I walked through the parks with my own pointy stick. Cigarette filters were the worst. My pointy stick was dull and wouldn’t pierce them.

I had four jobs that summer. The park job was my third. I had started out unloading trucks. Then I washed dishes at a Ponderosa Steak House. Then I worked in the park. And finally, I had a job in a solid-state physics lab where the scientists were doing some kind of work investigating the properties of matter at close to absolute zero (-273.15 degrees Celsius, -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 degrees Kelvin). This involved magnets and lasers and lots of low-temperature liquids like liquid nitrogen and liquid helium.

The job I had there would now be done by a computer. I counted squares on data graphs and entered the result on a sheet that would be read by a keypunch operator to create punch cards that would be fed into the mainframe computer. There were no personal computers at the time. That was the summer between high school and college for me.

In August, everyone in my g-g-generation went to a music festival in upstate New York called Woodstock. Only I stayed home. Counting squares on a g-g-graph.

During the ‘80s I celebrated the Fourth of July a day early. For some reason, the City of Chicago decided that its big fireworks display would be on the evening before. You’d get to Grant Park early in the day and stake out a spot for the day’s festivities. As the sun was setting, the Grant Park Symphony would play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Then the fireworks began over Lake Michigan. At some point the city merged the Independence Day celebration with the Taste of Chicago, when literally millions would descend on the lakefront to “sample” the city’s restaurant fare.

A friend of mine once worked one of the booths and I stayed after the crowds left to take her home. Garbage was knee deep.

The last time I went to this “celebration” was when my boys were small. We had to park over a mile away and walk in with the boys riding in a wagon. We couldn’t get within two or three blocks of Grant Park’s Petrillo Band Shell where the orchestra was playing before we were just stalled in the crowd. We couldn’t hear the music, but we could see and hear the fireworks. At the first bomb bursting in air, the boys began to cry. We crouched down and covered them with a blanket until it was over.

A few years later, for budgetary reasons, the city cancelled the July 3 fireworks. Insurgents in the neighborhoods then escalated their own fireworks.

On nights like that, Lefty might sneak down into the basement to pee. He did last night. But mostly he finds a corner to curl up in that is as far away from a window as possible where he waits out the storm.

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