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The 4th of July has come and gone and I have all my fingers intact, the integrity of my ear drums is near 90% and I have not been jailed for breaking the law.
Although I am getting older and like to believe that the attainment of maturity is in direct proportion to the advancement of age, something about that day makes me abandon all pretense of common sense, responsibility and adherence to local statutes and behave like a pyromaniacal, glee-addled idiot year after year.
Yes, I am a fireworks junkie.
This year, I satisfied my dark urge with the neighbor's cache of midsize rockets (with explosion and parachuting flare), a gross of simple bottle rockets and a lowly box of sparklers. Yes, even lame devices such as sparklers, burning snakes and smoke bombs can hold my attention.
By virtue of owning a Zippo lighter, I was awarded the exalted task of lighting the fuses, which is half the fun.
In previous years, I have had to cross state lines to obtain the objects of my addiction. As a child growing up in Seattle, we would travel to a nearby Indian reservation that sold fireworks, because they were illegal to sell in the state. Later, living in Denver, we would drive north to Wyoming, where fireworks were freely sold.
Now, in Chicago, one has a choice of heading north to Wisconsin or south to Indiana. I've done both.
I especially recall the time I drove north to Wisconsin for the express purpose of buying fireworks. While they were openly sold just north of the border, one could not take them from the store without owning a truck or Jeep. This, I suppose, was because only such sturdy vehicles were thought capable of withstanding the accidental ignition of one's purchase. So I made arrangements to have them shipped to my office in Chicago.
A few days later, I received a call from the receptionist informing me that I had a package waiting. When I got to her desk, there was a large cardboard box plastered with bright stickers warning of "explosives" and "danger." She gave me an odd look that I'm sure was what co-workers might have once fixed on Ted Kaczynksi.
It was even worse riding home on a crowded bus, standing with the large box tucked under my arm and waving in the face of seated passengers, who must have been holding their breaths waiting for me to hijack the driver and begin motoring for Cuba.
In spite of all those fond memories, I'm starting to feel like a pack-a-day cigarette smoker must feel in the cafeteria of the American Lung Assn. Maybe it's time I kicked the habit.
Why? Well, for starters I have children. While I can recall at age 8 my parents giving me a handful of explosive devices and rockets as a child and a pack of matches to do with as I pleased without adult supervision, I'm starting to wonder if maybe such "good old days" may really be a euphemism for a gross abdication of parental responsibility.
It's also against the law in more jurisdictions than not. This year I was in Indiana and refrained from stopping at a well-advertised roadside fireworks mall because a radio report announced that Illinois state troopers were stopping cars on the border to search for illegal fireworks. While I'm sure my version of "Civil Disobedience" would be a joy to read in this space, I decided not to risk it.
And perhaps the most important reason of all: It's not safe. Toying with explosives once a year hardly qualifies me as an expert in the safe handling of fireworks.
I've never been badly hurt, which is not the same as saying I haven't had fireworks blow up in my hands or thrown or shot in my direction for fun. And while it's OK for me to run the risk of burning or blowing up my hands, I involuntarily cringe at the thought of my daughters being accidentally maimed.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission on July 2 released statistics showing that in 1996, hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 7,600 injuries caused by fireworks. About 40% were burns to the eyes, hands and head. One-third were sustained by children under age 15.
So maybe it's time to retire my Zippo and satisfy myself with the annual municipal fireworks display. I have a year to decide before the urge strikes again.
Editor Paul D. Winston and Publisher and Editorial Director Kathryn J. McIntyre publish columns on alternate weeks.