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I've never been all that big on just blowin' stuff up

Of all the things in this world that explode, I think fireworks rank among my favorites. Cheesy-bratwurts that pop violently asunder in the microwave are up there too, as are soda cans that burst in cars while they're parked for eight hours in the hot August sun (as long as it's your vehicle), water balloons dropped on people from third-story dorm windows (man, we had fun in college), and June bugs when they collide with your windshield at 60 mph. Yeah, that last one's kinda gross, but ya gotta' admit, it makes the drive home from church just a little more exciting for the kids.

Nowhere though, can we find a vaster waste of energy and resources than in the fireworks displays we humans loft skyward to celebrate everything from national independence to the beginnings of new years to local civic anniversaries to personal events. Why, I even had fireworks at the reception for my second wedding; alas, the cannisters of gunpowder and luminescent metals were not all that shined brilliantly for a moment but went dark and fell to the ground in pieces shortly thereafter.

This Saturday night alone, Americans will shoot off fireworks in such volumes it would have made the Battle of Gettysburgh sound like a popcorn bag in the microwave. Even in this year when a microscopic viral bug has battered and bruised our national economy and introduced us to such new terms as 'social distancing' and 'safer at home' and 'Mike Pence looks dorky in a mask,' major cities across the land will ignore their COVID-created budget deficits and send more smoke into the sky than the Mount St. Helens eruption on May 18, 1980 -- yeah, it has been 40 years already.

According to multiple sources that I will not name 'cuz I'm kinda lazy that way, Americans will dump well over $1 billion this year on fireworks. That comes despite a relative shortage of the big boomers, mainly because the big factories that produce them are located in China just a few hours from Wuhan, where, shall we say, they've been sorta busy with other stuff this year. With 90 percent of the fireworks we import coming from China, well, maybe we ought to be wiping them down with hand sanitizer before we blow 'em up. Better safe than on a ventilator, I always say.

Speaking of safety, it is a proven fact that numerous stupid people are injured every Fourth of July. A full two-thirds of all fireworks- related boo-boos occur within a few weeks of Independence Day, and that includes the guy who shoots a bottle rocket down his pants just to see what might happen. Missing and mutilated fingers and hands are the most common fireworks injuries, but humans have been known to surrender eyeballs, toes, ears, glops of hair, internal organs and even your occasional lip in the name of July 4 'fun.'

It ought to go without saying that fireworks are among the most dangerous toys with which we play at any time of the year. A common sparkler that your kids run around with in the dark backyard burn at 1,200 degrees, and considering that you bake your fish sticks at 450 and glass melts at 900, that's like, well, really hot.

Projectile fireworks burn various forms of propellants, such as good 'ol black powder (think muskets and canons), and obviously enough of it to shoot it into the sky. Once aloft, a time-delay fuse inside the main body of the firework ignites, causing yet another explosion. That creates a chain reaction in which small globs of explosive chemicals called 'stars' then blow up, and those stars contain the various metallic components that supply the color. If a star has copper in it, for example, there will be blue. Lithium causes a red explosion, barium makes green, and magnesium glows white. Uranium 238 ... well, I suppose I ought not be revealing any national nuclear secrets here.

Professional fireworks show are the safest, with highly-trained personnel setting them off in a controlled manner with various safeguards in place for public protection. Then there's your backyard after-BBQ show, staged by a drunk father who has violated all federal explosives laws by buying banned fireworks items that have more gunpowder in them than most Russian surface-to-air missiles. This guy uses the instruction manual to light the propellant fuses and figures he's being safe since he has a swig of beer left in his bottle that he can use to put out the flames when he sends a lit M-80 into his neighbor's bedroom. He has so many poppers, snaps, snakes, Roman candles, smoke bombs and aerial repeaters he has to register as a foreign military entity. Best of all, he's your neighbor. Your fault, before you moved in you should've noticed the hole in his fence where the rocket mortar tipped last July 4. Me, I don't think I've ever even handled a real piece of fireworks, other than a sparkler when I was 10 or those little Black Cats we slipped into mouths of perch when I was 12 (no, don't try to picture it). I've always been a fraidy-cat when it comes to things that blow up (not to mention things that go fast, or things that squeal, or things with red hair), so whenever there are fireworks around, I shy away and let the reckless guys take over. I'm not all that fond of being de-fingered, severely burned or decapitated, and putting a match to a short fuse is not my idea of a thrill.

Truth is, I think fireworks are one of the biggest wastes of money we humans have concocted in the name of recreation. Just think about it, this July 4 we will spend more than a billion dollars on things we plan to blow up for no reason other than color and noise. Worse yet, it pollutes our air and leaves tons of debris floating to the ground, to say nothing of the spent sparkler sticks we'll whack with our lawnmowers on July 8.

But so it goes, hope you enjoy the show wherever you might be. Me, I'll probably be at home, in my kitchen, microwaving an egg. Now those are fun to blow up.