Sunday, June 19, 2011

Good rockets make bad neighbors

The instructions on the side of the rockets clearly stated that you were supposed to put them in a hole before lighting the fuse.

“Meh, whatever,” Mr. Gartner must have said before flicking his lighter, setting into motion a series of events that my young brain wasn’t quite prepared to handle, much like the first sex ed filmstrip I ever saw. Incidentally, there should be a similar filmstrip that guys have to watch just before turning 30, one that gives us another heads-up about hair that will soon be growing in new places, like our shoulders and ears.

As Mr. Gartner stepped back from the sizzling fuse, the crowd of assembled neighbors watched as the twenty-five red mini-rockets, each about the size of a crayon, began shooting of their box, screaming into the air and leaving fiery trails behind them.

After about the tenth rocket, it became clear that the instructions had been offering some pretty decent, if unheeded, advice. The box flipped onto its side and started firing rockets indiscriminately toward the spectators.

The “oooohs” and “aaaaahs” turned to “AAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!s” as people ran for their lives.

My mom has no recollection of these events, probably because they happened more than twenty years ago, back when ordering a small soda at a fast food place yielded an actual small soda, rather than a popcorn tub. But I, for one, remember with clarity all the times in my life I’ve had rockets fired at me, and that night at the Gartner’s house ranks among my top ten closest calls with Mike-seeking rockets.

As our neighbors scattered, I froze, stuck to Mr. Gartner’s front steps, because cowardice is sticky. I’m not entirely clear what happened next, since it’s hard to collect data while you’re performing whatever version of duck-and-cover your instincts pick out for you. When the rockets stopped screaming and so did I, though, we found that one of them had whizzed between me and another spectator, landing harmlessly on the front porch.

It wasn’t until I thought about the incident maybe ten years later that I realized that a direct hit from the rocket probably wouldn’t have done much damage. I just always assumed that it was a brush with death that I was fortunate to survive, a made-up fact that I shared at every cafeteria table in a twenty-mile radius. In my version, though, I dodged the rockets in real time, perhaps inspiring at least one Matrix movie.

I was reminded of all of that yesterday, as I mowed over the husk of a recreational mortar that a neighbor had fired into our yard a few weeks ago. I’d have found it sooner, but I like our yard to have that unkempt, Brad-Pitt-between-movies look.

I knew exactly when that Moonbeam Missile landed in our yard, because that was the night that one of our neighbors had apparently said, “Hey, it’s 9:00! Let’s wake up all the babies and terrify all the dogs in the neighborhood.”

“I’m going to call the cops,” my wife Kara said as another crack-sizzle sent our dog under the reclining part of the couch, and we braced for the sound of crying from the baby’s room.

“Are you sure we want to get on their bad side? We already know they have explosives,” I said.

With the exception of the Fourth of July, we’re not the biggest fans of amateur fireworks displays. Even if you didn’t have rockets fired at you in your youth, you automatically become less fond of booming nocturnal noises once you have a sleeping baby in the house. The single solace is that fireworks are kind of expensive, so every boom is the sound of self-absorbed people getting poorer.

Of course, in a few years, our toddler will appreciate the free fireworks shows coming from up the street, or at least what he can see of them from inside his chainmail suit.

You can show Mike Todd the rocket’s red glare at


  1. lol - love the visual of the box falling on it's side and everyone running for their lives.

    You better buy some earplugs for the 4th!

  2. Yo, Sheri! Maybe I'll be too busy chasing kids off my lawn to notice.