by Don

It’s important to do something dumb every once in a while.

4th of July (or maybe New Year’s?). Slingshot. M-80’s.

Well after sunset, the neighborhood was still exploding with the flashes of celebration brought on by the holiday. We may not have had an arsenal of various store parking lot purchased rockets and sparklers at our disposal but we had a slingshot and some moderately illegal explosives that dad had purchased some years back from the usual place that all longtime Washingtonians know of. I don’t recall what the siblings were doing at the time, but it seems like this event was just dad and I on the back porch being blissfully dumb. The plan was that he’d hold the M-80 in the stretched out slingshot and I’d light it. The reality went: streeeeeeeeeeetch. “okay.” flick. light. sparklesparklesparklesparklesparkle… SNAP!

As the rubber band of the slingshot failed to perform its required task and the notoriously dangerous explosive fell to the deck, I stepped back to marvel at the cat-like reflexes of the not-so-young and not-so-fit man in front of me as he scooped up the 1.5 inch dismemberment-dealer and flung it out into the yard. It exploded in mid-air near some young trees and I didn’t even bother to cover my ears. Amazing. Let’s do another one. We abandoned the slingshot and my dad risked losing digits several more times for the explosive delight of doing something moderately stupid.

You’d think we’d learn. However, the next explosive holiday rolled around and the slingshot was dug out and a few more M-80’s appeared. Back to the back porch for a second try. Unfortunately, the same results from that duplicitous slingshot and my father was forced to risk limbs to clear the danger. Much to our shared glee. A few more hand-held launches and another evening of risking a lot for a little fun came to a close.

I believe it was the next summer that our M-80 shenanigans continued. No, we’ll never learn. Dad was the scoutmaster and I a terrible and reluctant scout (Tenderfoot for life!). We were on some trip where we managed to camp by a lake. The rest of the motivated scouts went out on rafts or canoes into the small lake. It must have been pretty far east, because I remember the late afternoon sun lit up the floor of dried pine needles as it filtered through a pretty substantial forest. A couple of the other slackers were down the bank to my left working out how to use a sling to hurl rocks into the lake when my reliable father brought out the unreliable slingshot and the paper bag that carried a glorious selection of red cylinders with green wicks sticking out the side. I don’t know if you know this, but M-80’s are waterproof. If they land on the lake, they will sink until they explode. Glorious! Well, the slingshot cooperated (finally!) and the little cylinders sparkled in that late afternoon glow, landed with a satisfying ploop! and sunk a few inches before thoroughly frightening the good kids. I think it was just the scoutmaster’s way of teaching them how to row faster. There was no way we’d reach them with our artillery, but the crack of fright in their early teen voices was real and after two or three more salvos our minor guilt waded through our tears of joy and we called it a day.

Our shared exuberance for all things M and 80 continued as I aged. I may have have planted one in a backyard tree and scrambled down as it counted 5-4-3-2-1-BOOM! I might have blown something up with one. After a while, I learned how to buy my own (“Do you have anything bigger?” wink wink) and discovered they made things bigger than M-80s. Then, the feds cracked down and ruined all the fun. I believe it was after the supply ran out that I discovered or was gifted the paper bag and carefully rationed the last of the illicit supply. I don’t remember what we did with the last one, but I’m sure it was irresponsible and dumb.

And fun.