by Catherine Breese
I have a burning question. Why do men love fire so much? Not just fire itself–which suits only a certain category of psychopath–but anything at all to do with making fires, building fires, lighting lighters, playing with matches (despite all parental instruction to the contrary), lighter fluid (they buy gallons of the stuff) and, of course, the pinnacle of all fire-related enjoyment, the firework. Men love fireworks, a lot more than women do. All the Title IX funds in the USA are not going to balance this one out. Yes, I’m sure there is a woman or two out there who share the enthusiasm for flames, but I purport that if you put two men in a room (gay or straight) with an incendiary device of any kind, one of them will light it and the other will suggest an object in the room that could be set ablaze. When the Chinese invented fireworks a few thousand years ago, I can assure you there was not a woman for miles.
This isn’t criticism–it’s just a puzzling observation. Hey, fireworks are dangerous. Not a July 4th has gone by during my lifetime that the local newspaper hasn’t published an article about a young man who blew off a few fingers or received burns requiring hospitalization while using fireworks. These stories are meant to be didactic, designed to scare young people into having common sense. However, what most Americans seem to believe is that this one injured individual is exceptional; he is nothing more than collateral damage in the battle for fiery flaming fun.
When I was a young, more than a few of my teenaged male friends received scarring burns from a little game of shoot the bottle rocket at one another. In my own family (two female children), we girls were allowed to play with sparklers and attend publically sponsored fireworks shows run by professionals. My dad, on the other hand, had a different set of rules for himself. A high school principal, my father occasionally confiscated illegal fireworks from rule-breaking students (M80s and H100s were the popular models). Yes, he brought those loud nuisances along on our lakeside vacation and set off every one. He was not alone. My uncle never failed to purchase some giant box of glorious danger with all of the instructions conveniently written in Chinese. Strangely, it was claimed that these fireworks were for the entertainment of the children, but we children were not allowed anywhere near the fun of lighting the fuse.
Recently, I was in a Canadian bakery purchasing some delicious sugary baked treats. The baker reminded us that it was actually the 4th of July, and if we were good Americans we would set off some fireworks in celebration of manifest destiny and American imperialism. We agreed. So we immediately set off for the Gift Bowl, a beachside junk store where one can purchase highly dangerous and probably illegal fireworks alongside of assorted other inflatable toys and hand-crafted wool blankets and socks. My enthusiasm for the whole fireworks thing was minimal at best, but I have always wanted to try one of those Chinese lanterns that are illegal just about everywhere because they have frequently burned down forests and homes. They look so pretty, though. So, foolishly, (sorry ladies) I not only allowed the purchasing of a large wad of fireworks, I actually paid for them. I did get my lantern, however. I had nothing to do with the selection of fireworks, which seemed to take the two males involved very long time. Additionally, a big boom item was purchased–you know those loud bangs that reverberate through your chest and make you a wee bit deaf for a couple of days?
When it got dark my 15-year-old son took a Roman candle outside. I don’t know exactly what happened, or what a Roman candle even is, but all I know is he came back in rubbing his hand and saying he was done with the fireworks for the night. Of course, we couldn’t have that! So, the elder male of the house gathered up the fireworks, set up a camera, and set out to celebrate American Independence Day with additional fire and injury. Well, let’s just say that fireworks were lit, there was a pause, and then a really big boom. Another long pause and then the door opened and everybody slogged back inside. Here is a direct quote: “They should put better directions on those things.” Me: “Do you need ice?” Elder male: “No…oh, give me the damn ice.”
It may have been evolutionally advantageous to be a caveman (cave dweller?) who could start a fire, but it’s just silly now. Our human attraction to fire is inexplicable.
Okay, so in summation, fire is bad. Women are burned a lot less often than men. Fireworks are pretty, though. Sometimes beauty hurts.