This one’s a bit different from the others in that it describes something that actually happened. Considering the amount of hyperbole, exaggeration and outright lies in this, I’m not gonna say it’s Based On a True Story, like it’s ‘Gandhi’ or something. At best, it’s Inspired By Actual Events.
December 9, 1996
I could hardly contain my excitement. It was the fourth of July and there was a box of semi-legal fireworks in my Grandparent's den. We go to my Grandparents' house on all major holidays and watch them drink themselves to death.
Ha! OK, wait, that’s mean.
I ran into the pseudo-European house from the patio, happy as a clam. I excitedly asked my grandmother when we were going to light off the fireworks. She saw that my face was covered with deviled egg, so she spit on a napkin and wiped it off.
My grandmother never spit on a napkin and wiped my face. Nobody’s grandma did that. Only grandmas in PG movies and hack stand-up comedy do that.
I re-entered my grandparent's world of the drunk elderly on the patio. There was an outside bar set up with a real bartender, who had no problem serving me and my brother liquor, in spite of the fact that we were six and eight at the time.
This is the first thing in the story that actually happened. The bartender was this cool Jamaican dude, and not only tolerated me and my brother ordering drinks but actively encouraged it, like, ‘try this rum, you’ll love it’. We were probably closer to 10 and 12 though.
My brother's blood stream must have been at least ninety proof by the time we left. My parent's were the only one's not drunk, as usual. My mom and dad's idea of a party is listening to Yanni, singing "Michael Row your Boat Ashore", and going to bed early.
I didn’t even know what Yanni was at that age. I probably thought it was a board game. I had just heard Yanni used as shorthand for ‘lame’ on Conan O’Brien and appropriated it.
They were sitting away from all my Grandparents' elderly friends, mostly due to the fact that they are all PSYCHOS. These are not the nice elderly, the ones that give little kids money just for the hell of it; these are the semi-satanic elderly, the kind that like to wait until a biker is right in front of them while they're driving and then gun it.
Before they drank, they would occasionally wander up to me and tell me how much I'd grown, or how handsome I looked. After the drinking started, however, they got a little disturbed: one of them asked my mother for a lap dance, an eighty five year-old was having delusions of Whitney Houston and was screeching "And I will Always Love You" at the top of her lungs, and some poor jerk in a wheelchair would respond to any question by yelling "Shit Happens, Laddie!" and cackling.
What a robust imagination I had! Like a little JRR Tolkien!
I joined up with my brother, who was wobbling around and trying not to puke on the tulips. He had both hands down his pants, and was scratching as if he had the chicken pox down there. I was a little disjointed myself, mostly from the vodka and tonic the bartender had given me when I'd asked for a Mountain Dew. We passed the time by singing, farting, and laughing in an innocent stupor.
The last sentence is at least in the same hemisphere as the truth. Me and my brother did actually get a buzz on at this party, and killed time til dark making each other laugh. It’s still the only time we’ve ever been drunk together.
When the time finally came for fireworks, I was rapidly coming down, but my brother had been fueling up the entire evening, and was still quite tipsy. In fact, just about everyone was pretty damn tipsy by that point, and the alzeimers-ridden whackos saw the fireworks with the glee of a five year-old.
I loved all of them (the fireworks, not the old people), and so did my brother. I was highly disappointed when we lit off the last bottle rocket out of the box that had seemed so huge before it had gotten dark.
Just as I was getting up, my grandfather got a massive firework out of the cupboard.
"Grand Finale," he said in a voice not unlike Jack Nicholson in "The Shining", and set it up on the charred ground.
Stephen King reference! I was a proud little bookworm.
It was a huge thing, standing at least two feet tall. "Over 100 fireballs!" The box read. I could not wait to see all those projectiles lighting up the sky. I was also hoping a couple would peg the neighbors' dog, who had urinated on my Christmas present a couple of years back.
By what mechanism would someone else’s dog pee on my Christmas present? Am I trying to convince the reader that our Christmas tree was an actual, living tree, in the ground, in the backyard?
My father insisted on lighting the immense firework himself, I was too young, and my grandfather and brother were way too wasted. He lit the fuse and ran behind a tree as if our esteemed grand finale was going to rape him.
Harsh, dude. Gay, closeted teenagers should generally refrain from mocking their male role models for being effeminate.
The fuse traced up to the firework and. . . nothing. It fizzled. My dad, always the outstanding citizen, just said, "Well, that was disappointing. Time for bed." He started off in the direction of the house, but my grandfather saw my dismayed look, and took pity on me. His bright idea was to light a piece of newspaper and throw it on the firework. He did it with flair and laughed like a madman when nothing happened. My father was still itching to go to bed, but Grandpa had one last great idea.
"Gasoline!" He yelled with childish delight, and ran to the woodshed. He tripped over Aunt Elga's IV drip,
but he was not to be stopped. He rummaged around the shed, laughing the night away. He finally emerged with a can properly marked, "Gasoline". My father, of course, was protesting adamantly, but Gramps just told him to shut up and pushed him down.
I would have helped the disturbed man up, but I was rooting for my Grandfather by this point. I wanted to see that dog fry. By the time my dad got up, Grandpa was already soaking the grand finale in gasoline. He searched in his pockets for a moment, and then yelled "Jackpot!" and his hand came out with a pack of matches in it. My dad tried to stop my grandfather from lighting the match, but some loving old lady had pinned him down with her walker. I now noticed why he wanted it to stop. The firework had fallen over and the six barrels of fire-lovin' fun were now aimed at the crowd.
"Grandpa, No!" I yelled, but to no avail. He lit the match and dropped it. As soon as it got within a foot of the gasoline-soaked firework, the entire setup erupted into a huge ball of flame. I was burned by the intense heat from ten feet away. It was a light almost brighter than the sun, and out of it flew a single fireball.
The crowd erupted. Don’t ever let old people play frail with you. As soon as the first fireballs started flying at the patio, the elderlies darted like dolphins for cover. They were fighting for space behind the fireplace or a rhododendron. It was a crazy scene, My brother was laughing as he watched the elderly catch fire, my father was crying, my mother had hit the deck and was being trampled by the scampering old people, I was behind the tree, yelling, "Die you bastards, Die!" and my grandfather was watching it all like a god punishing his people.
Behind my grandfather, I saw the one thing I never wanted to see again. Behind the still-spitting firework, out of harm's way, sat the neighbor's dog. He seemed to be laughing at me. I have never forgotten that sick mutt's face, and my expectation for this Christmas is to go after it with the weedwhacker.
Oddly enough, the truth-to-bullshit ratio in that section is pretty favorable. There was no dog, obviously, and no proper screaming and crying, but my grandpa really did douse a firework in gasoline that year, and it did fall over and shoot fireballs at his friends.
Furthermore, the part about old people diving dextrously out of their lawn chairs is bible truth. I still remember that, these frail veterans popping vertical and twisting like Neo to avoid fireballs.
I don’t know if it was this incident, or the me-and-my-brother-drinking thing, but that was the last time we went to my grandparent’s for Independence Day. They continued to have that party for years, and to my knowledge no one lost an eye or anything. One day, their neighbor might even have bought a dog.