Red, White, and Blown Up

Jeffrey Cohen
6 min readJul 10, 2022

Just as July 5 follows the Fourth of July, the latter date is reliably accompanied by a slew of articles recounting adults who accidentally blew themselves up lighting illegal fireworks.

During my college days, I began hosting a July 4 celebration on Long Island in my family’s backyard. The year my younger brother Don graduated from high school, he and his friends joined the party. Our mother had forbade the use of fireworks. However, one of Don’s buddies brought a supermarket bag stuffed with bottle rockets and rolls and bricks of firecrackers.

As Don’s crew sat in the backyard drinking beer in the darkness, they started tossing individual firecrackers at each other and laughing. That morphed into lighting entire packs and throwing them into the air. At that point, my friends and I decamped into the house. We flipped on the stereo and closed the windows, to prevent the house from stinking of gun powder.

The next morning, the entire backyard was littered with the remains of the previous evening’s debauchery. Beer bottles, unexploded firecrackers, and burnt patches of grass told an obvious story. Don frantically attempted to minimize the mess, but our mother banned him from hosting his friends for the rest of the year.

When we lived in New Jersey, our neighbor Stan was notorious for an elaborate display he would set off every July 4 right after sunset. Stan traveled frequently out of state, so he would stockpile rare and exotic explosives for several months leading up to his annual extravaganza.

People still talked about the year when Stan leaned in too close and a Roman candle ignited his shirt. Only the quick-thinking action of his wife, who doused him with a bucket of water, kept Stan from going up in a ball of flames.

I wondered why the fire or police departments didn’t shut Stan down. Word must have gone through the grapevine. They should have received one phone call alerting them to 10 minutes of detonations, bright lights, and smoke on Spring Street.

By the time I was old enough to witness and view these pyrotechnic displays, Stan’s teenage son Barry had joined the family business, waving traffic around the various and sundry powder kegs.

Jeffrey Cohen

Longtime writer and crank. Articles come from more than 30 years in journalism and corporate communications. Follow my podcast at