Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Night

The Fourth of July is unique among USA holidays in that it does not stem from ancient pagan tradition, has limited commercial appeal, and the only requirements for participation are that you be American, drunk, and eager to blow things up. We celebrated the occasion this year by traveling to the far reaches of our driveway and lighting firecrackers in the street with our friends, Cindy and James.

Charlotte and James had both gotten giant party packs of fireworks, which were probably as good as you could get, considering the lame selection of recreational explosives legally available in Oregon. If you've ever wondered whether states that outlaw the purchase of large fireworks for Independence Day are somehow less patriotic than states who allow it, well the answer is yes- they absolutely are.

The pack that we got included two boxes labeled, "Rising Flag," and featured an image of the American flag waving majestically amid a colorful swirl of smoke. It looked like a damned patriotic way to start off the evening.

"Firew Orks."

Charlotte broke open one of the boxes, positioned a Rising Flag firecracker out on the pavement, and lit the fuse. Once the fuse burned all the way down to the center, two miniature flares on either side of the device ignited and whistled, producing a twisty coil of gray smoke. After a few seconds the flares died down and the thing smoldered quietly for a moment before unceremoniously burping out a miniature American flag which, within less than a minute, was entirely consumed by flames.

As the last ash of the miniature Old Glory blew away, Charlotte wondered aloud whether a firecracker that burned the American Flag was appropriate for the 4th of July. We quickly moved on to less blasphemous fireworks, such as the regrettably named Golden Shower.

As the celebration continued, I pondered whether the Rising Flag that Charlotte lit had worked as designed. Perhaps it was just an unholy fluke? The next day I decided to find out. I retrieved the rest of the (unspent) Rising Flag firecrackers from the trash bin and lit them, one after another. While I was unable to find another that set the flag alight, in nearly every case, the flag ended up badly singed, and sometimes even dropped to the ground. Was this by design?

The Stars 'n' Bars. Extra crispy.

I inspected the things more closely and thought I'd found a clue when I noticed that on each of the firecrackers, the word "Flag" was actually printed on a little sticker that appeared to cover some different text underneath. I peeled off one of the stickers only to discover that the label had been placed to cover a typo.

Unless, of course, "Flrg" is something meaningful in one of this product's target markets.

Like everything else in the USA, the fireworks were manufactured in China, and it was when I was collecting the ashen debris in disappointment that I noticed some Chinese text printed on the bottom of the box in which they'd been packaged. With a sort of muted hopefulness, I entered the text into Google Translate, at which time the true function of the Rising Flag firecrackers was revealed. It said:

"Produces, desecrates American flag; goes peepee in your Coke."

Somewhere, deep in the freshly-empty warehouse of a Chinese fireworks factory, a little man is rubbing his hands together and snickering, "Just as pranned..."

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