On Fire

May 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last night I lay in bed waiting for N. to get home. My mother is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known and was therefore reading to me over Skype. The distant explosions don’t exist, I told myself. Don’t pretend you’re living in an alternate history. Don’t look out the window. People’s fears feed them tales that every tap-tap-tap is a burglar or bomb. Don’t be like that.

I broke down around the time I decided it was a volcano. From atop my mounded laundry I peered out, across the city from my latticed attic window. I knew losing my glasses that afternoon was a bad idea. Far from being restorative, afternoon napping had resulted in what I could only assume was a poor pun – glasses-napping. Or they had fallen on the mound, and I was crushing them trying to get a better look at the volcano. Through the green leaves and the blur, there were far-off sparks of orange and red. I watched them rise and fall, waiting, breath paused for another color, listening to my mother’s voice. In the dark, I knew she couldn’t see me pressed by the window, waiting for the colors to change. Half a minute later a burst of blue signaled, “you’re crazy,” and I curled back onto the bed. Maybe someone set a fireworks factory on fire. Why would they all go off at once like that, one endless, constant noise?

When I was younger and lived in Vermont, every Fourth of July we’d journey across the lake to see the fireworks. The water would be dotted with boats, as far off as I could see, crowded in to watch. It was the only time we’d go out on the lake at night, so I remember clearly the dark, and fleeces, and the bright red and green lights on the prow. My parents always told me what the colors meant, and I always forgot – I just knew that out in the blackness, they kept the other boats away.

Poised over the dark water, the fireworks were spectacular. You could hear cheering. In my memory each burst was a separate event. Everyone on land and lake was following the same teasing trail, and the unfurling explosion of color as it showed us briefly what it was meant to be. Then it would fade, and, still dazzled, we’d watch for the following trail, listen for the whistle. And again, and again. The spacing gave way to anticipation, and to appreciation for every blazing design. There was a moment to point, and say, that one! That’s my favorite kind.  Slowly, the whistles doubled. Color on color, they sped up, and then erupted into a full-volume spectacular. The finale was lavish, the fireworks undistinguishable as they exploded all together, letting us know that it was ok we were tired from clapping and it was about time to go home.

Friends often say the best fireworks they have seen are at Reed College. Several times a year, the college shells out for expensive, open-to-the-public displays of celebration. It’s wonderful.  Those who complain about undue noise are missing a little chunk of enjoyment in life, and I like to think they can turn that around at any moment. Reed College is giving back, in those loud evenings, to the community. And what they’re giving is a fireworks display that many say rivals or outdoes the city’s. I enjoy watching them, up-close on the lawn, huddled in with friends. They come with music, and they arc in meticulously planned pattens set off by a machine. Still, there’s no relationship with the fireworks of my childhood.  No pause to just listen for the whistle, for the clapping to fade to silence while we imagine what the next spark will bring. For me, there are too many fireworks.  I want to pause them, to slow them down and watch each one grace the sky. I want them to feel valuable again, unwasteable, fireworks so large your uncle couldn’t afford to smuggle them in from Canada.

I don’t really mind, though. I just rock and hear the hum of the boat in my ears.

I had some friends over for my birthday few days past, intent on doing the best thing I could think of, which happened to be sitting in the backyard roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. We were out there just long enough to find that burning old drawers will not make a good cooking fire before the rain came.  N. and I stood sadly, surveying his smokey little concoction, before pouring yellowed cans of year-old yard Pasbt across it.  Inside, a friend has brought fat sausages filled with Mongolian Beef and Gator*, and the marshmallows were forgotten.  I knew it was a good party because someone interrupted a boy asking me for a prop to make him look pregnant, to ask me for a tie to put on a girl.  We sat up til 3 AM, hooked on Cards Against Humanity.

This afternoon I was unsurprised to find the cupboards empty except for cheap hot dogs, marshmallows, graham crackers, and big bars of chocolate. Happy Memorial Day weekend. I checked to make sure no-one was home before sticking a couple of pudgy white globs onto a wooden meat skewer and cranking up the gas burner. Blue means extra-hot, right? Within seconds I discovered the secret: holding a marshmallow within about a half a foot of a burner would instantly set it aflame. Time and time again I blew it out and inched it forward again. WHOMPH! Darn.

Oh, whoops.

It's blurry because I'm panicing.

Somehow through repeated engulphments, the middle melted into a perfect s’more. I don’t know how there was enough between two marshmallows to coat my face, my hands, my phone, and still fill the graham-cracker crust, but it spread itself out. Which is why I am sitting here, sticky, happy, and reflecting on flame and explosives.

Enjoy Memorial Day Weekend, folks.

* fat sausages courtesy of Sheridan Fruit Co., which I have often passed wondering if they sell cheap fruit. They don’t, they sell expensive fruit. But their true strength lies in the most delicious sausages I’ve tasted in Portland, OR. I’m a loyal fan of Otto’s Sausage Kitchen, and the Eastmoreland Market has an unforgettable spicy italian with fennel – but these were unbeatable.

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