I didn't know what the other guys planned for themselves. Me: I planted myself on the roof of my house, figuring to watch the fireworks from all around. Even before the sun set, folks were popping off rounds all over the neighborhood. If it wasn't one direction it was another -- amateur pyrophiliacs coloring the sky one explosion at a time. I'd hear a hiss then pop-BOOM!, my chest rattling as sixty bucks burned up in the night sky. Three seconds of purple spread out in a sphere. If the launch was close enough to my house I sometimes heard kids going, "Aw Cool!" which meant, whatever
the expense, it was totally worth it.
It went on like that till about nine. Sometimes I missed the full effect, only catching the last flicker. For the most part, I laid back on the roof, a bottle of whiskey beside me, smoking with my headphones in. Seemed smarter to recline on the roof than try to keep my head on a swivel. Sure, I missed a few bangers that sounded like they were worth witnessing, but I saw enough to feel satisfied. Around nine, however, I stood up to make sure I could turn at will, hoping to watch two or three displays at once.
Sid and I figured this out when we were fifteen. Our folks used to take us to the Morton Grove fireworks show when we were younger. However, one year we got left behind for being "bitchy shits" like most teenagers are. We were sitting in Sid's backyard when we heard the first round of bangers going off from Niles West High School. Sid got it in mind, "Ya know what? If we got up high enough we could probably see that." We were both stoned at the time, so the idea of climbing onto Sid's slanted roof didn't sound too stupid. The two of us clambered out Sid's bedroom window, pulling ourselves up by the gutter, onto the roof. We sat with the peak of the house driving into our crotches, but from up there we caught four fireworks displays going off all at the same time. Next year we stayed home on purpose, though the same accusation recurred -- my Pops said, "Stay home if you like, ya bitchy little shits. I don't need you to have fun." That year we went up on my roof. The slant is less severe than Sid's, and we were able to relax more and enjoy the show. Though I have to admit, nothing will ever be as fine as that first performance.
It was a clear night, the first time. Not a cloud for miles. At one point, I swear we saw Navy Pier lighting up, though it wasn't close enough to see anything more than colorful flares -- nothing more than a tight pocket of colors flickering near the city's silhouette. But the local pyrotechnics, neighbors' and professionals', went up all around us in one brilliant display. It almost seemed like everyone had unintentionally decided to set off their finger killers at the same time.
The roof shook beneath us as a hundred concussive colors blossomed everywhere at once. The night turned into a flickering rainbow; and it was more proof things could work out better doing what I wanted instead of what my folks wanted.
People can say, "You two were just stoned. It wasn't that grand." But fuck all: I prefer the way I remember it.
Over the years our buddies started to join us on my roof. Eventually my Pops caught on, but he didn't mind. Told us, "Just don't break ya fucking neck. I ain't cleaning up that mess, ya shit yourself after..." Me and my buddies hanging out on the roof gave him, in a way, a night off where he and Mom could go to the Morton Grove show alone. They didn't get much time for themselves back then. Mom was still working part time, and Pops was putting in all kinds of hours. That's the thing about days like the Fourth: it's one of the few times of the year just about everyone is guaranteed some time off. I always quit a job that won't give the Fourth off (or at least overtime for making you work that day). It doesn't have to be a patriotic affirmation, when all is said and done. It just has to be a day a person can kick back and say, "I'm free to do as I please." Though I guess that's maybe the same thing. Fuck all.
Back in the day, me and the guys would smoke weed, drink Shitty Liquor (our term for whatever cheap gut poison we could get our hands on), and just zone out to the show. It always felt like our own private fireworks. Afterward, we'd climb back down to the lawn and bullshit till my parents got home. Sometimes we'd disperse or wander the neighbor for a few hours more, slinking down alleys to toss whole packets of fireworks into backyards... on occasion having to run into said backyards having forgotten to light those same packets and getting chased out by dogs or drunk neighbors or both. When we got older we started heading over to the Village to close off the evening. Although, we never gave up the alley assaults.
Anyway, this time around I found myself alone on the roof. About half way through my bottle, nine o'clock tocking past, the sky started popping. I stood up, pulled out my headphones, and soaked in the concussion and colors. Purples, greens, reds, blues, all sizzling, crackling, snapping, banging, pa-BOOM!
It was nice. Just not the same. So in the middle of things, I got down off the roof and started wandering. The explosions lit the way, though I didn't really think about where I was going till I got there. The fireworks were just dying down when I strolled into the Village.
Sid sat at the bar flanked by Pete and Toby. They waved me over. I bought a round of shots, and we all raised glasses.
The rest of the night went like that: rounds and cheers. I guess, in the end, good times or bad, our way is best together; we split apart just to reunite because being alone is fine for a while, but eventually, you realize life is better with others; the best times are the ones shared.