Independence Day is at hand, and you know what that means -- fireworks and alcohol. Tonight we check out the former, not an easy feat since the spirited little explosives are absolutely illegal here in NY. I could head to Chinatown and seek out a rebel wirf rah rause, or I can trek out into other cities where it's a-OK to buy enough M80s to kill Dumbo. Better yet, I could dust off an old bag of shitty fireworks leftover from last year's search, take some pictures, and check another "holiday special" off the site calendar. Look out, Yom Kippur. You're next, and I don't know jack shit about you.

So yeah, there's what's leftover from 2003. Nothing particularly "good," but a lot of the cheap classics are represented. And, in heavenly order, at least one of them is shaped like a tank. Up until a few years ago, smoke bombs and cobra snake eggs were perfectly fine and dandy even here in the land of illegal Fourth of July fun. Couldn't find anything this year besides the "Pop Pop" snappers, otherwise known as Phony Fireworks, I'm Not Buying It.

With nothing better to do on a late, sunny Friday afternoon, the decision to bug the Hell out of our neighbors with an early smoke invasion was easily come upon. Pound for pound, there's few things in the world more exciting than lighting the fuse of something that will ultimately be pretty and on fire. From Roman Candles to Saturn Magic Sunballs of Pain, no celebration of the United States is complete without blowing something the fuck up. Like I, surely some of you have endured an Independence Day without fireworks at some point during childhood. You never really think it's going to be that big a deal, but when you're sitting there with all that hamburger meat and nothing explosive to plant inside, Independence Day ranks right up there with Thanksgiving and Labor Day as holidays we like but mean nothing to us, only it's even worse with the 4th since you were gonna be off from school anyway. Don't suffer. You've got a day left, or at least a fraction of one by the time you read this. Find your fireworks. They are the only way to celebrate like you mean it.

Let's kick things off with the Pop Pop Snappers, arguably the only fireworks suitable for people of all ages. Basically, you just throw 'em onto a hard surface and let the good times explode. I don't think there's a kid on the planet who can resist the urge to throw 'em at their friends; I sure couldn't, though with our "no face" rule, I rarely got the things to pop. Too much cotton shielding, or polyester if it was a hand-me-down situation. What I wouldn't have given to break the code and smack a pal in the forehead with a Pop Pop Snapper, laughing before doubling over to laugh even harder after noticing the ashy gun powder stain on their skull. Alas, they were all too big and I couldn't make that iconic scale lady balance the two collection plates while considering how hard my friend would've punched me. What I've just written makes sense, you just need to read it about 45 times first.

Thank God I decided to go with the extra big pictures for this article, as I've never actually bothered to read the Pop Pop Snapper box before. "Bang drop it" is going to be my too-cool-for-you-response for the next five years. After that I'll change it to "I can't get over how much Italian marble Caesar's Palace used in that new wing." Sorry, there's just not much to say about fireworks that only mimic the talent of Rice Krispies cereal. If I'm the guy who fixed Jack Napier, voo vee vhat vie vahvf voo vork vith vere!

Better times are ahead...

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Warining! WARINING!

Glory be to the Cobra Black Snakes, perennial bore but still one we love. Every kid is a sucker for the cobra doodle on the boxes, though newbies run the awful risk of being really disappointed when they find out what crappy lumps of nothing are inside. I kid, I adore the things. You get a neatly wrapped group of cobra "eggs," each looking sort of like the treacherous Bizarro world villain in the Rolaids cartoon which probably doesn't exist. I'm not going to pretend I know what the eggs are made of, though I'm sure 98% of you do. It's black, coaly stuff, cut up into tiny tablets. Unlike real snake eggs, babies are only birthed by being set on fire.

When the dealer hands you the right to make a 500 KB animated gif, you keep your poker face, but you want to say thank you:

It doesn't look like much, but it's pretty neat -- the snake pours forth from its receding tablet like magic, and usually surprises you with how long it's able to grow. The big question is: is it still in one piece? My friends and I used to have contests to see who could grow the biggest cobra without a break; winners were rarely decided, but it sure was fun stepping on the snakes who were destined to beat yours before they had the chance. Their growth is quick and painless, accompanied by a pleasant sizzling noise that very nearly sounds like a real snake who's extra happy about something it ate. In the post-holiday clearance world of fireworks distributors, Cobra Black Snakes also have the distinction of being the cheapest orphans on the table -- come August, these poor snakes go for as low as ten cents per box. I think it was Sophia who said, "Brother, can you spare a dime?"

And oh yeah, it looks like dog shit. That was the best part.

The Tank might be new to you, but its spirit isn't. It's one of those mysterious, cool looking fireworks that piques the interest of all it encounters. Some are tanks, yes, but the spirit lives large in the form of horses, planes, cars, monsters, particularly monsters from Godzilla movies, foreign figureheads and a whole bunch of other weird shit nobody can resist. While the shape and context of these mysteryworks often lay clues to its abilities, a little pot luck is always involved: you're never really sure what they'll do or if it'll be any good, but God damn, you must be the one to light it.

Well, we revved up the lighter and let 'er rip. I expected some halfhearted show of averageness. Didn't foresee much from the year-old "TANK." Maybe a few sparkies, a little blue flame, but nothing to shout yes in seven languages like I was having an argument with Gumby's dog. How wrong I was. The "TANK" rocked.

Here's the great thing -- contrary to what the picture might have you believe, the Tank actually rolled forth in the same direction that the sparklerbombs are shooting. Another explosive hides in the rear, aiding the Tank to blitz north and attack. It didn't last very long, but hey, the only fireworks that do cost a hundred bucks and require safety tongs to transport. I was happy with my Tank. My Tank went out in a blaze of glory, taking with it at least ten potato bugs too tiny for the camera to catch. Incidentally, an underside textbox claims that the Tank was made in Cihna. No typos there. Thing says it's made in Cihna.

Being illegal here and all, my family rarely went through the trouble of seeking out "real" fireworks. We had the sparklers and the smoke bombs, but nothing to make our dicks feel bigger at the block party. Some of our neighbors, on the other hand, always came prepared. They'd previously hit other states on the hunt, poised to own the Fourth of July with their giant milk crates full of primary colored skyblasters. We couldn't compete -- it wasn't even worth trying. We instead watched from the sanctity of our living room window, embittered and more than willing to throw a hissy fit if anyone's bottle rockets landed on our property. But, for many kids, the coolest thing about fireworks aren't all of the pretty explosions: it's how the fireworks looked before we made 'em black.

So, the morning after the 4th, I'd grab a plastic bag and head outside, scouring the streets for used up fireworks -- anything that looked interesting. I definitely would've picked up the smoldering Tank. It never quite hit a level where I considered the dead fireworks "friends," but I certainly saw them as toys. I'd lose interest by the 8th, but for the few days before that, Lion-O and Megatron had some serious weapons treaties to discuss. It sounds dumb, but I had way more fun collecting everyone else's dried up fireworks than I ever did lightning my own. It's nice being a looter when nobody really gives a shit what you're taking.

Shown above, Ground Bloom Flowers. Every firework's name is this close to being something I'd order at Trader Vic's. These aren't anything special, but the shape reminds me of their larger, distant cousins, the incomparable Roman Candles. As I recall, there were two species of Roman Candles -- the kind you had to peg in the ground and run away from, and the better kind, the kind you could hold. You felt like one of those outerspace Marvel characters, the ones who shoot lightning from their palms and talk as if it's actually important to be smart when you can shoot lightning out of your palms. They were a little over a foot long I guess, sort of like oversized magic wands. Balls of light in different colors shot out and shot often, with you choosing where they should crash and fizzle out. Yeah, they're a bit more dangerous than the other species, but who wouldn't want 15 seconds as Thanos?

That's the Ground Bloom Flower in action, spinning around aimlessly, making whirring sounds, shooting sparks and making me tap dance because I totally didn't expect that to happen and was standing way too close. It's one of the cheaper fireworks out there, but no cheaper than those great "Bees," which live up to their name by looking like bees and live up to their name by flying into the air and exploding.

Saving the best almost for last, Smoke Bombs are a guilty pleasure of mine. Had any of you been inspired by some science fiction kids as a kid, chances are good that you spent at least a little bit of time fiddling with your parents' camcorder, trying to make your own fantasy epics. In the case of my friends and I, the movies were usually about the kid across the street wearing a trenchcoat, battling me in a Beetlejuice mask, with no real reason ever explained. In one "episode," I dulled my enemy's senses by pouring a giant water cooler bottle full of pennies over his head, as he sat there trying to act like he didn't have room to move over. The one special effect ever used in our films? Smoke bombs.. Whenever I appeared (usually during any instance where my heroic friend was seen casually reading a book, or looking for something in a desk drawer), it was in a cloud of smoke bomb smoke. I don't know why I told you this story. It's just the only personal anecdote I have that relates to smoke bombs. Voo vee vhat vie vahvf voo vork vith vere!

They come in assorted colors -- blue and red are some of the most sought, but they're neither the best nor the worst. The worst are, obviously, the white ones. Who wants to create normal looking smoke with such a variety of toxic flavors at hand? A bit more surprisingly, black was always the favorite around these parts. So evil and so deadly. So good to keep around in the months following July so you can better trick people into thinking something they own is on fire. Sadly, no black smoke bombs in this box. If Easy-Lite ever tries to sell you a car, check the motor first.

The smoke is always a crowd pleaser. People applaud, really. The sulfuric scent may be a turnoff for some, but those with noses held will feel like they're on Happy Mars in the best part of town.

Finally, the Strobe bears a striking skeleton on its bod, warning all who are curious that it may in fact kill them. I'm not lighting it today, sorry. It's not that I'm afraid, I just gotta save something for the 4th other than spare boxes of Pop Pop Snappers. I know you'll understand. I know you're drunk.

Have a wonderful holiday. I mean it.

-- Matt (7/02/2004)

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