Sparkler: Much like candy cigarettes were once an adorable towhead’s first awkward steps toward an adult lung biopsy, the equally harmless sparkler once started a child on the path that could eventually lead to firecrackers. Then M-80s. Then having to count to ten by using the same hand twice. That said, as fireworks, sparklers were only amusing if you had ever wondered what a corn dog would be like if it were made of magnesium. Limited in firepower, lacking in risk and wanting in unbridled machismo, the sparkler lent itself to only three forms of entertainment:
1. Pretending the sparkler was a light saber as you engaged in epic duels while imitating Darth Vader’s voice in a prepubescent voice so ludicrously high it made Neil Sedaka sound like Barry White.
2. Using the sparkler to quickly scrawl some incandescent doggerel in the air, such as "This sparkler sucks."
3. Making believe the sparkler was Tinkerbell burning up upon reentry.
Firecracker: While the sparkler was a sign from above of what the world would be like if moms had final say and safety scissors were considered "shivs," firecrackers were like manna from heaven. After all, when you’re a child nothing but nothing spells "fun" like "detonation." Throw in the added bonus of "deafening noise" and a firecracker seemed like Christmas and Armageddon rolled up into one. Granted, at times the appeal of the firecracker could seem limited at best. It didn’t scream across the sky. It wouldn’t burst into a shower of brilliant hues. It couldn’t be timed to blast perfectly to any thing other than that "The 1812 Overture." But while the firecracker may have lacked the sheer artistry of professional firework displays or even roman candles, if placed carefully and in sufficient quantities, it could instantly revert your Tonka tuck back into its elemental properties. The same went for your G.I. Joe doll, Lego sets, Aurora racetrack and Big Wheel. The downside of such merriment, alas, was that the firecracker could also rob you of all your earthly possessions faster than a crystal meth addiction.
Bottle Rocket: Back in the 60’s and 70’s, children oft dreamt of hurtling into space--usually within the safe confines of a capsule or some sort of ship. But while the very idea of commercial space travel seemed like something that would only come to fruition in the distant future--say 1992 or so--bottle rockets provided the perfect simulation for anyone who had already used all their Estes "D" rocket engines to send their hamster to another zip code. Of course, bottle rockets also had the rather nasty habit of arcing into a neighbor’s roof, setting fire to nearby brush or skidding down the street toward a wholly unsuspecting and soundly sleeping dog. But these were minor quibbles and acts of inadvertent arson compared to the pure elation of watching your rocket climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, slicing the air with its high-pitched whistle, only to abruptly and inexplicably turn and hurtle straight down into an idling car with a gas leak.
Roman Candle: Despite the presence of the word "roman" in its name, these beloved fireball launchers were initially conceived as the ultimate weapon of mass destruction by a long-forgotten civilization so woefully inept at everything (including arming itself) that it died off due to accidental strangulation moments before it was conquered by some wayward sheep. The fact that such occurred in the mid-1930’s only makes their sad tale all the more pathetic. However, their horrifying yet admittedly humorous demise became every child’s gain. For what small tyke did not gaze wide-eyed in wonder at those airborne spheres of varicolored light--especially if they were headed right for their face thanks to some son-of-a-bitch second cousin. Your best chance to emulate a professional fireworks display without a permit or sponsor, the roman candle also brought a touch of class to a night that might have otherwise consisted solely of immovable "tank" firecrackers, aeronautically-deficient "whirlybirds" and firework "fountain" displays that showered only disappointment upon family and friends--along with some sort of corrosive acid.
M-80: Providing a level of firepower not usually bequeathed to an eight-year-old outside of military service or backwoods militia, the M-80 was many a child’s first proof that there indeed is a God. And that He is cool. And that He, too, understood that to create one must often destroy or at least dismantle well beyond easy repair. Whereas the bottle rocket was elegant--and the roman candle resplendent--the M-80 possessed its own simple yet foreboding beauty, not unlike a sunflower wielding a Beretta. It also gave a small child an enormous bargaining tool outside of the Fourth of July celebration--say, such as during discussions of a "new" bedtime with one’s parents or a talk about whether or not you would get to drive the car to Grandma’s house, literally through the woods. In short, to hold an M-80 was to have infinite possibility within your very grasp. It was, in essence, a chance to be God. Until you detonated it. Then all you were was covered in plaster and the dust of whatever else once lined your bedroom.