This is not a good time to be weary of irony. It’s unavoidable.
I’m standing in a pop-up explosives shop in Pahrump. My Spanish-speaking fellow shoppers are buying fireworks made in China to celebrate U.S. Independence Day as our nation tinkers with new waves of nationalism and isolationism.
To be honest, I dislike light-it-yourself fireworks—mostly because I dislike sudden, loud noises, random roof fires and the threat of losing a limb. And sad, scared dogs—especially sad, scared dogs. But my girlfriend and I are on a quest to more fully explore our rights in the waning days of Democracy and reason. So shortly after getting a speeding ticket for which I will need to go to court and/or pay a fine for illegally driving 41 in a 35, I took off to neighboring Nye County, where I can legally purchase thousands of dollars’ worth of gunpowder-packed mortars. For parties.
On our way to Pahrump, we saw a small fire in the desert of Lovell Canyon. A few people had gathered nearby to watch. “I wonder what started that?” I said to my girlfriend. We shrugged and drove on across the kindling-dry desert, and she tossed her cigarette butt out the window. … Not true! We don’t smoke! We just shook our heads and drove on, eager to find quickly assembled buildings full of colorful combustibles.
Soon we were overcome with billboards advertising everything a freedom-loving American might want: guns, ammo, beef jerky, prostitutes, liquor, church, land, Trump and a lot fireworks stores. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and while chatting about protecting our liberties from encroachers over enchiladas, a middle-aged white woman with a handgun tucked into the waistband of her jeggings entered the restaurant. No holster. Just a truly open carry, relying on the power of an elastic waistband—no doubt made in some country that knows nothing about wielding handguns—to keep her sidearm from falling on the ground and randomly shooting one of the Sunday diners, two of whom wore United States Veterans caps and sat in wheelchairs. My unease made me unable to fully concentrate on my carne asada, because I’m soft. So I wrapped up the conversation about protecting the borders and suggested we go shop for some Roman candles.
We’d selected four different stores based on proximity. The first was Area 51 Fireworks, a nod to the government’s alleged clandestine operations related to aliens, a thing I think plenty of Americans nod to every Independence Day.
In every store, happy people pushed shopping carts overflowing with incendiaries. And each shop seemed well-staffed with friendly greeters who explained the 2-for-1 and 3-for-1 stickers on packages of fireworks. One store even had a guy outside who greeted shoppers with the warning, “You don’t have any matches or lighters on you, do you?” but stopped short of a TSA pat-down. Deep down, we all trust that each of us is smart enough not to bring a lighter into a shed full of gunpowder. Right?
Aside from the pleasure of thwarting death, I was mostly enthralled with the marketing: fireworks with sociologically peculiar names like “Trailer Trash” and “Blond Joke.” Some seemed to be offering political commentary, such as “Loyal to None” and a package called “The Globe” from which you can blow up replicas of the Earth. Its label warned of the mini-apocalypses, “Emits showers of sparks!” Some were more practically named: “Rain of Fire” and “Deadliest Dozen” and the can’t-say-we-didn’t-warn-you “House on Fire.” But it was hard to beat “Shoot and Scoot” for practicality, especially with the instructions, “Face this side toward spectators.”
But my pick for favorite name went to “Tears From Heaven,” which evoked a deity shaking his/her/its head somewhere up there wondering WTF went wrong with mankind. While crying beautiful, burning fireworks.
At the end of our spree, I had bought exactly zero fireworks. It’s illegal to shoot off many of these types in Clark County, and deep down, we trust that each of us is smart enough not to do that. Right? As usual, I’ll enjoy the big shows set off by others not in my driveway. On the way home several hours later, the Lovell Canyon fire had spread, and was now burning some 250 acres of land. Many more onlookers had stopped their cars and trucks—no doubt some loaded with fireworks—to take pictures of the thick, black smoke, and the plane circling overhead dropping fire retardant.
It is not a good time to be weary of irony. Be careful out there.