Culture vulture

Lighting the fuse
The term civil disobedience, like its adjectival cousin passive aggressive, seems to be an oxymoron, a phrase containing words with mutually exclusive meanings. But most of us have committed small acts that intend no damage to society at large but which transgress the letter of the laws that are designed to keep the citizenry from devolving into an anarchistic mob. These minor declarations of social independence are often not even thought of in terms of defiance; fairly often they’re simply matters of applied practicality or common sense, such as walking across the street against a red light on a cold rainy day when no cars are in sight from either direction.

Then there are the slightly larger and more deliberate transgressions, such as are exhibited every Fourth of July all around the town. One has only to walk outside anytime after the sun goes down to hear a symphony of whistling, crackling fountains, Piccolo Petes, bottle rockets, firecrackers and the occasional boom of a much larger explosive device or swoosh of an ascending skyrocket. All accompanied by the excited laughter or delighted gasping of children and adults.

It’s a great sound. The sound of civil disobedience in action. Certainly we are all aware of the reasons for making fireworks illegal—they are after all dangerous incendiary devices that cause injuries and property damage every year—but few of us can resist the urge to light the fuse that causes the stream of colored sparks to dazzle the night air for a few glorious seconds. And having lit one, the only satisfactory way to proceed is to light as many more as possible until the supply runs out.

Ironic that the spirit of independence from repressive laws that led to the founding of this country is now expressed by circumventing laws meant to protect us from devices formerly used legally to celebrate our independence. But until they pry the punk from my cold, dead hands, Culture Vulture will spend every Fourth of July lighting fuses, legally or not.

The grand celebration
The backyard fireworks display has been an integral part of my family’s celebration of American freedom for as long as I can remember. But whenever we lived close enough to a town to make it practical our folks would load us up in the family car and drive to wherever the civic fireworks display was being presented, and we would spread a blanket on the grass or sit on the hood of the car and watch the really big ones rocket into the sky to fill the night with the most wonderful explosions imaginable.

Then as now I figured that any society that would create such a beautiful and mysterious celebration for its citizens once a year must be a pretty good society at heart.

Hearing the cheers ringing out over the soccer field after the climax of this year’s Nettleton Stadium fireworks display, and then walking out with the crowd of friendly strangers, it felt like we were united in that heart. And hearing all the little crackers and fountains and cheers going off as we walked home reminded me that freedom sometimes means breaking the law just for fun.