Fireworks don’t give enough bang for the buck

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* Editor’s note: Debra is taking the weekend off. This column originally ran on June 28, 2004.

Ah, the memories. All these fireworks stands popping up in parking lots remind me of when my kids were little and I did my time in the fireworks booths, helping to raise funds for Little League and the summer swim team.

I use the word “helping” loosely. Truth be told, I might have been more helpful if I’d stayed home. I wasn’t the world’s best fireworks saleswoman.

It’s not as if I hadn’t spent a small fortune on fireworks over the years myself for my own kids. But when I was on the other side of the fireworks stand counter, something snapped.

I was handing one of those big shower fountains to a customer, and the price of the item sunk in. $14.95. About an hour’s worth of wages, up in smoke in 30 seconds. Appalling.

“Look,” I told the other volunteers, “This one firework is $15! Two would be $30! And three would be $45!”

They gave me a round of applause for my math skills and continued selling bagfuls of Piccolo Petes to eager customers.

“Don’t you see,” I persisted, “for what this one firework costs, you could take your kids to the movies. Or buy a pizza. Or a new CD.”

“Oh come on,” they responded. “It’s the Fourth of July. Get into the spirit.”

Somehow, I just can’t get into the spirit of throwing money away. I pointed out a few other items: The Raging Ghoul, a real steal at only $12.95, offering a “dazzling cascade of glittering red, green and silver crackling bursts with sonic screamers.” Sonic screamers? We get those for free from the back seat of the car every time we take a family vacation. No thanks.

Or the Rainbow Warrior, promising a “truly insane multi-colored extravaganza, a chaotic, loud, bursting high-shootin’ show.” Insanity, chaos, ear-splitting noise. Sounds like an average morning of getting the kids ready for school.

Each fountain promised some combination of glittering sparks and crackling bursts, but the fine print always said the same thing: “Emits shower of sparks.” It didn’t matter if it cost 75 cents or $13.95.

And calling it a “shower of sparks” was a stretch. That sounds a lot more magical than the reality: a 15-second burst of sparks followed by two minutes of leftover paper cone burning up in the street.

If there was any truth in marketing, they’d name at least one of these overpriced sparklers the Flaming Idiot, after all those melonheads who throw their money away on them. Like the guy who walked up to the stand and asked what was the best deal for $20. I told him the best deal was to put his $20 back in his pocket and drive home. But no, he was intent on spending his hard-earned cash.

OK, how about this one: It’s called Blowing Bucks. You light a little wallet on fire and flaming dollar bills shoot into the air, burning up and disappearing into the night.

“Cool,” he enthused. “I’ll take one.”

Some people really aren’t smart enough to be playing with fireworks.

One big spender walked up and asked for a mammoth-sized box of fireworks called “The Big One.” $200 worth of snapping, crackling, fiery fun. (Translation: Emits showers of sparks. Many times over.) I took his check, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

“Do you realize that you just spent $200 on nothing?” I asked him. “You might as well open up your wallet, take out dollar bills, light them on fire and throw them into the air! My God, that’s $200! A month’s worth of groceries! Half a car payment! School clothes for your children! Don’t do it, I tell you, don’t do it!”

The man’s only response was a dirty look when he snatched the box from my hands.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon griping about the lunacy of spending all this money on little tubes of colored gunpowder. Think of all the children we could feed with all this money. The blankets we could buy for the homeless. The trees and whales and baby fur seals we could save.

Thankfully for all concerned, my shift came to an end. For everyone’s sanity, as well as my own, that was the last time I “helped” sell fireworks. You know what they say: If you can’t take the heat, get out of the fireworks stand.

— Email Debra at See more of Debra’s work at, and

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