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Bombs Bursting in Air . . . Don't Say 'Fire'

June 24, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition. T. Jefferson Parker's column resumes in this spot next week. and

Here it is nearly July, meaning it's time for our first annual Lost in O.C. book and fireworks review. Let's start with the fireworks, since they burn easier.

That's important to me. Talk about kids playing with matches, I was the one who was getting laughed at by my sister because I couldn't for the life of me manage to get a match lit.

It was years after other kids learned that I finally mastered matches, and it wasn't till my 20s that I could use a lighter without singeing my thumbs. Even so enabled, I've found myself at freezing campsites, incapable of getting wood to burn, which always impresses a shivering girlfriend. So what a grand satisfaction it is to touch a match to a gray mousetail of a fuse and get big, sparky, noisy results!

Eternal vigilance may be the price of freedom, but the dividend is that you sometimes get to slide into utter corndog abandon.

Five years ago, I was interviewed by a then-Soviet radio reporter while visiting the then-Soviet Union, and when she asked how Americans celebrate their freedom on the Fourth, I proudly replied, "We get drunk and blow things up." What was I supposed to do, lie ?

I've certainly caused my share of combustions. I've even trucked with the sorts of illegal fireworks that should have labels reading "Caution: Emits Shower of Death."

My favorite was the Tiger Rocket, which may have been Communist China's secret weapon to destroy the United States. You could light one of these two-foot babies, drop it down a thick metal pipe and it would come screaming out of the tube in stereo, and no matter how you tried to aim it, the flaming thing would go skittering over neighbors' shake roofs or plowing into the thick dry branches of their palm trees. I recommend either prayer or a good alibi on such occasions.

Other items featured in our arsenal of freedom over the years have included military-issue star-cluster mortars and smoke grenades--the latter of which we accidentally used to shut down the Coast Highway at Morro Beach one year--and weather balloons filled with propane, which make a hovering ball of flame in mid-air, sort of like the Wizard of Oz at his least hospitable.

You should NEVER do any of these things! Like everything else we experimented with in the '60s, '70s and '80s, we were only doing it so that you could learn from our mistakes. And, besides, we used it all up so there's none left for you anyway.

Wisdom comes with maturity, and with that comes the vision to see that while we were lighting these fuses with a sense of high-spirited patriotic fun, the guys down the block who started bouncing rockets off my roof were complete louts who should be in jail, or at least Bakersfield.

So these days it's only safe and sane, CPA-approved fireworks for me, with names like "Happiness Pink Flower Fountain" and "Friendly Bird Shower." My advice is to avoid the big assortments and just buy the cheapest individual fireworks you can find. I like "Ground Bloom Flowers" which cost about a quarter and whiz about on the ground like flaming Tasmanian Devils.

If you need a big finale, instead of dropping $5 on a big fountain, spend that much on the cheap stuff, dump it in a galvanized trash can with a bit of kerosene and light it for a colorful surprise. It's hell on the trash can, but it has become something of a legend on my block. By way of disclaimer I should add: Don't you ever, EVER do this! Give me those matches right now! Hey, ouch!


Now on to our recommended summer reading, which is a 40-page magazine-sized effort called "Anaheim Arena . . . Share the Excitement," a book as fresh and exciting as the new arena itself and well worth the trouble it takes to get a copy, which basically entails having to get a job at the arena.

Ostensibly, this is a guidebook for new Ogden Services employees, referred to as "arena team members." But when, on Page 1, you come across phrases like "basic specialized cleaning," you realize there is a singular literary mind at work. Why, it's on the very next page that the anonymous author forces the reader to confront his true being, with the bold accusative sentence: "YOU ARE OGDEN!"

By presenting itself in handbook fashion, the book draws you into the action until you feel you are standing there uniformed in the new arena. Don't lean! Keep your hands out of your pockets! And don't cross your arms! These are "negative postures," says the book, and you're supposed to make the guests feel at home. I always stand rigidly at attention when guys play ice hockey in my living room.

As one wanders deeper into the book, it sets up a world where all things are taken literally. When it advises that no animals except Seeing Eye dogs are allowed in the building, it parenthetically adds, "except for those which are part of the event," as if you might otherwise take it on your own initiative to evict circus elephants, lions and Mickey Mouse from the hall.

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