When I was 12 years old my Mom bought a home in NE Portland. It was a really big step for us as a family and I can’t really think of growing up without thinking of the house itself. Back before the term “man cave” was invented I had already discovered the joys of having a subterranean space all to myself. Model trains, dioramas, model airplanes, computers, stereos and drum sets – I would have been out of mind without that space and without the hobbies that were possible because of it. True, it smelled a little funny at times but it stayed cool in the summer and a lot of my best memories are of time spent there. I think my Mom started to worry I might become a mole but according to her I turned out alright in the end.
For the first few summers of living in the house I really looked forward to the 4th of July, but more on that in a bit. As a kid, the 4th represents the zenith of the summer – school is still fresh in the memory but the new school year is still a couple of months away. Activities are starting to get interesting, friends are establishing who they want to hang out with, plans are made and all seems right in the world. The weather is starting to get really nice but it’s still a bit of a novelty after having dealt with yet another rainy Rose Festival week. On a side note, why do we have Rose Festival during the worst time for weather in the summer? I know there is a lot of tradition but it just seems really strange to choose a week that is more often than not a complete rainy, miserable mess. No wonder people outside of Portland think that all it ever does here is rain.
During one of the early years that my family lived in that house in NE Portland, we had a man move into the neighborhood named Joseph. Joseph was a mysterious guy that kept to himself for the most part and I wasn’t really too sad about it – he creeped me out a bit. He was basically a hippie living in the early 1980s. He looked like Mike Myers in “The Love Guru” which I understand is one of the worst movies of all time. I honestly didn’t know what to make of the guy and even though it really wasn’t necessary, I more or less avoided him. But then the boxes arrived.
It was probably late in June when Joseph started getting boxes delivered to his house. They were nondescript and I only saw them from a distance in any case. But there were quite a lot of them and I started to wonder what was going on. Even though I didn’t necessarily want to have anything to do with our mysterious neighbor my curiosity was getting the better of me. And then the 4th of July happened.
It turned out that our neighbor was getting a huge supply of fireworks. I have no idea where he ordered them from or how much he paid for them but the 4th of July from that point on was a real event on our block. He had so many fireworks that it took over an hour to set them all off. Amidst all the sulfur, the bottle rockets, the roman candles, the lady fingers, the firecrackers, the M-80s and such, he no longer seemed like such a bad guy. Here he was, a little kid like the rest of us, running around setting off fireworks everywhere. It all ended with him lighting about 4 bricks of firecrackers on fire on a manhole, causing a temporary bonfire that took quite a while to go out. Amidst all this recklessness, he seemed somehow more trustworthy. It makes no sense but after that point I was no longer afraid of him.
This year we’ll buy our normal batch of legal items and “ooh” and “ah” at what equates to a bunch of shrill-sounding, smoking, cardboard, inept and embarrassing examples of the fireworks trade. Joseph, wherever you are, I hope you are having fun this 4th.