Just a few errant candles

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel

July 4 is one of those holidays you just have to like.

You usually get a day off work. You get to eat things you wouldn’t normally. You get to drink beer before 5 p.m. You get to mingle with friends and neighbors you might not see very often. You get to watch a fantastic light show after dark.

And you get to remember why America came to be, and oftentimes how America came to be. We have to remember that July 4 is a uniquely American holiday. Other countries have no reason or desire to celebrate our birthday. The folks in England, I heard, have actually petitioned their government to remove the date from their calendars for some unknown reason.

Of course, the fact that the holiday has many good aspects doesn’t stop the idiots from taking the revelry over the edge. Nothing stops that. It’s just that they seem to get more creative around holidays.

And the July 4 holiday usually goes hand in hand with explosives.

Idiots and explosives—a dangerous combination.

I’ve worked as a journalist across much of the Midwest and east coast, always in small towns. Some of those were as quirky as the Keys, others were staid and stodgy, many were somewhere in between.

I’ve covered and/or photographed dozens of July 4 celebrations in dozens of places and each one had its moments.

When I was in northern Kentucky I covered a July 4 celebration in a small town of about 1,500 people. They went all out. Nearly every business in town contributed to the show, just about everybody came to the event. It was a lot of fun.

And of course there were idiots, you know the type, candidates for the Darwin Awards.

Everyone gathered on the local high school football field for the fireworks show. It was the only place large enough and flat enough to accommodate everyone, not just those with a four-wheel drive.

The bleachers were set up. Mostly kids used the bleachers. The older folks were roaming around renewing acquaintances.

As the evening progressed, the requisite blowing up of firecrackers began. And so did the list of Darwin Award nominees.

When lit firecrackers are pitched at people on the ground, a miss is usually not at all of consequence. The cracker hits the ground, lies flat and goes bang with nothing much besides noise.

When that same lit firecracker misses the target and lands on metal bleachers, they tend to bounce in some unusual ways. A short throw can generally mean a hit on the target as the firecracker bounces the extra inches before going off and the target gets the full brunt of the noise and jolt.

A long throw, however, generally sends the lit firecracker into someone else’s lap, not always a someone who is part of the game.

Thus was the case there.

A kid tossed a lit firecracker at his friend. The throw was long. The lit firecracker bounced once further down the metal bleachers and then veered off into the row below. In that row sat a young lady with a sweater on despite the 80-degree night. The sweater had pockets. The lit firecracker jumped into the pocket and exploded.

Pieces of polyester flew in a hundred different directions, she jumped up and started slapping her side to put out the fire.

As with most Darwin nominees, the thrower was unable to contain himself and by his laughter revealed his identity.

It was apparently not this young lady’s first trip to the rodeo. She was prepared.

She waited a few minutes until the Darwin nominee’s attention was diverted elsewhere.

Out of her other jacket pocket, the one that didn’t get blown to bits, she pulled a roman candle. She lit it and laid it down on the bleacher row above her, the one where both thrower and missed target were sitting.

It went off. With each bolt it shot, it moved backwards. The target got the hint after the first shot and jumped out of his seat with just one burn hole in his shorts. The thrower took three bolts before he realized what was happening.

On the fifth bolt, the roman candle flew off the end of the bleacher and into the draft beer cup of a woman standing there. Her beer went one way, the still spouting firework went another. It sailed, shot three more bolts, and went skittering back across the bleachers.

Now spent, it came to rest about halfway down the row, just as an elderly gentleman was sitting back down from the national anthem to start the fireworks show.

The roman candle was still hot. It burned through his pants. He shot up, kicking over the beer on the row in front of him, spilling it into the hair of—you guessed it, the young lady who set off the firework to begin with.

I got the pictures.

It was glorious.

I couldn’t use them, but I had them.

When I returned to the office to process the film (Yep we still used film in those days) I recounted the story and took votes on who got the Darwin.

I was surprised by the outcome.

The lady who took the candle in the beer glass got the Darwin. She should never have allowed the beer to spill.

If she had kept the grip on the beer cup, the candle would have fizzled out then and caused no more damage.

Ain’t it great to be American?

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