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Illegal firecrackers satisfy male craving for explosive devices

Well, Mardi Gras is almost here. It is bearing down on us like that giant boulder that almost crushes Indiana Jones in the movie where he's raiding a lost ark. I forget the name of the movie.

I'm actually looking forward to Mardi Gras because the celebrations usually include music, dancing and if I'm feeling especially saucy, pulling my shirt up.

Despite all this, my favorite part about Mardi Gras, or any big celebration, is the firecrackers. I've been setting off firecrackers for as long as I can remember. I believe I actually threw some "Snap & Pops" when I was in the womb, but I've gone on to more dangerous explosives since then.

There is something about firecrackers that mercilessly attracts boy and man alike. Because they are illegal in Virginia, as a kid I only got a glimpse of them during family vacations to states, namely North Carolina, in which the number one export was devices with fuses.

During these trips, I would look out the window of the car as we cruised down the highway of an unfamiliar land and allow my little mind to be over-stimulated by the vast array of multicolored firecracker billboards. Eventually, my little stomach would become over-stimulated with car sickness, resulting in a not-so Happy Meal all over the back seat of the car.

I believe those billboards are not much different from the Sirens which beckoned Odysseus and his men to join them on the deadly rocks. In the same manner, firecrackers seem to beckon men to join them in enjoying flammable chaos.

Firecrackers have several crucial elements which make them irresistible to most boys and men.

1) They bring out man's primal instinct to dance around a blazing fire like an idiot.

2) They can do damage to less manly objects such as fat-free cookies and Hanson posters.

3) They have godless yet sexy images on the packages such as she-devils.

4) They are illegal enough to be fun, yet not so illegal that the law against them includes the phrase, "two consecutive life sentences."

5) They are dangerous enough that if something goes wrong, you could lose a finger, but not so dangerous that if something goes wrong you could lose a nephew.

My dad understood a boy's need for firecrackers, so he would let me and my brothers purchase a few every once in a while. We would stop at some run-down shack that boasted the fiery goods. The shack always seemed to be run by a man with a name like "Short Fuse McGee" or "One-Eyed Jed."

Although my mom predictably wanted to limit the number of explosive devices we purchased, she never succeeded. My dad tried to act as a voice of reason with advice such as, "If you set the neighbor's cat on fire, I'm not helping you bury it."

Of course my brothers and I inevitably headed straight for the biggest firecracker in the store. We went for the one that looked as if Jed had fashioned it himself in his back yard, the one that might well have been used by Iraqi troops to combat NATO missiles, the one that had a warning label which simply read, "Do not activate this device unless you're stupid." That's the one.

Because my dad wanted to continue to have three living sons, he never did let us buy "the big one," but we did spend enough money to put two of Jed's kids through professional wrestling college.

Usually we'd wait until we got home to begin lighting fuses, but sometimes we couldn't hold out that long. In that case we'd set off a couple of perfectly innocent bottle rockets in the parking lot of the store with Jed cheering us on. It was during one such time that a man doing an article on the definition of "white trash" came and took our picture.

Over the next couple months my brother and I would light various firecrackers in our driveway. We soon discovered it was rather amusing to blow up food products. I actually remember going into 7-11 and shopping for snacks to blow up.

I remember thinking, "What will look good exploding? If this pastry were blown to pieces, would it look cool? Is peach filling more flammable than berry?" My life has never been more like "Beavis and Butthead."

Eventually we ran out of fireworks and our destructive tendencies were tamed-much to the relief of woodland creatures for miles around. Then we went out and purchased a pellet gun.

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