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The Daily Tar Heel

Double Dutch: fireworks

For the first few years, I was content watching the older neighborhood boys shoot them off, knowing I was $50 richer.

I soon realized, though, that I could just shoot them off at my friend's house and still collect my reward. (I wasn't getting paid $50 to be honest.) In any case, like most American boys, fireworks fascinated me.

At some point, I decided I'd much rather skip the $50 and shoot off all the fireworks I wanted in my own driveway.

The novelty eventually evaporated in the brutal July sun. Even lighting up whole bags of fireworks at once lost its appeal. The next logical step in my fireworks craze meant crossing the state line for some contraband: bottle rockets.

(The final illogical step in my fireworks craze resulted in a couple felony counts of criminal use of explosives and some community service, but I'll save that for a future "Serious Lapses in Judgment" column.)

Bottle rocket wars were the true tests of the worth of fireworks. Snakes, sparklers and parachutes were no good in the heat of battle. Ironically, nor were tanks.

The weapon of choice was the two-cent bottle rocket. The larger the better. Colorful Roman candles almost looked like actual weapons.

Stealth attacks usually warranted actual firecrackers. A pack of black cats or jumping jacks in your enemy's bunker did more to frighten and upset them than any bottle rocket ever did.

The largest of these epic battles among my friends took place on an isolated sandbar in the middle of a river. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have fit right in. Except for the fact that every one was tripping acid, stoned and/or drunk on High Life.

From behind bushes, we'd jump out, launch our attack and scurry back. The climax of this battle occurred when I launched the largest of my rockets at the opposition. (This thing looked like a beer can attached to a stick.)

My best friend Jim had been carrying a ridiculous wooden shield that was surely the remnants of a junior high Camelot play. Jim had taken some abuse all day because of the shield, but at that moment, he raised the shield and blocked his face. The rocket hit the shield just as it exploded.

"Ha!" Jim yelled in triumph. We all laughed at the near-miss that would have blinded, if not permanently disfigured him.

The sun soon fell, as did our interest in bottle rockets, sandbars and psychedelics. These days, I'll go to the stadium shows, but I haven't shot off a firework in years. If only I was still collecting $50.

Brian can be reached at

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