Why you should celebrate democracy through the edge-of-your-seat excitement of a fiery near death experience:

America was birthed on an explosion of pure Democratic will, has liberated and protected through the awesome power of fire and combustion, and will more than likely see its end at the icy death-grip of mutually assured destruction. Turn on the History Channel sometime and count the explosions per hour ratio. If it's not at least 10 to 1 then you're watching a marathon showing of some lame documentary about King Tut's tomb that you've probably already seen and should have turned off 45 minutes ago.

It's only logical that our nation's independence be celebrated with the most dangerous explosive devices created by human (or, for that matter, robot, dwarf, or alien) hands, and for the mainstream civilian population, this means fireworks. The more dangerous the better. Unfortunately, that's becoming less and less of an option every time someone blows off a finger with an M-80. Fireworks bans are becoming more commonplace each year, and states that still allow the sale of fireworks increasingly limit what's available. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a part of the Center for Disease Control, fireworks-related injuries most frequently involve "class C" fireworks, which are, ironically, the most common and least expensive ones. These includes sparklers (which burn at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit), bottle rockets (which have a tendency to fly into the nearest human face), etc.

I'm trying not to be insensitive to the victims of firework-related injuries, but the fact of the matter is that they're a huge minority. If a 15 year old kid knocks on my door with a donation bucket and shows me where he lost his tongue from where a friend paid him 20 bucks and a porn magazine to swallow a lit cherry bomb, I'm going to drop at least 9 cents in that bucket. In 2001, according to the same CDC stats, there were roughly 9,000 cases that required medical attention. While that sounds like an intimidating number, remember the number of people that set off fireworks every year, and it'll seem like a drop in an ocean. Cigarettes kill 440,000 people each year, and are they banned in ten states? According to Waffle House waitress that served me my hash browns last night while breathing a thick, grey cloud of toxins into my face, "Hell no. I can smoke these wherever the hell I want." I tipped her extra for that info.

The CDC doesn't seem to like explosions. However, the CDC does have this to say:

Homemade fireworks (e.g., ones made of the powder from several firecrackers) can lead to dangerous explosions.

"Dangerous" above ought to read "awesome." A stupid charcoal snake that grows in a half-assed fashion on my driveway is a shameful celebration of American freedom. If you're like me, being a real patriot doesn't mean supporting wars or voting for the candidate you believe in -- what it means is that you feel an urge deep inside to construct a massive homemade firework display so potentially destructive that it accurately reflects your love for living in a nation where such explosives are readily available over the counter of a retail chain or a folding table inside a tent on the side of an Alabama highway. Huge homemade explosives don't blindside you like tiny ones do. When you set off a monstrosity like the one I'm about to teach you to make, you know to stay a mile away and to keep your kids in kevlar vests. There's none of this running around with sparklers and waiting for an emergency trip to the hospital.

How to Celebrate the Fourth of July for Real:

Establishing the theme.

Firstly, you're going to want to know what your firework is all about. This isn't just going to be a bunch of rockets strapped together and tossed in your yard. It's an artful expression. An example: this past Fourth, we constructed a model of Miami and Cuba. Downtown Miami was represented by a large plastic goblin plastic playset obtained from Target. John F. Kennedy was present in the form of a doll that looked nothing like him (in fact, it was a young girl; we argued that he was in disguise), as was a wormhole represented by a bright orange Slinky. The premise: Miami is a warzone! Ninja, masters of the killing arts, have taken over the city and the civilians are rising up to take it back. Meanwhile, in the future, John F. Kennedy has been resurrected and jumps in a portal back in time to warn Past JFK not to get in the car. Unexpectedly, through some crazy mix-up, JFK has landed in Miami. The wild catch is that it's during the Cuban Missile Crisis! Lines of rockets litter our fake Cuba, pointed at our Miami, which is covered in action figures of ninjas and firemen. Dinosaurs are everywhere, apparently having come through the rip in time-space as well.

Obtain Supplies and a Proper Arsenal.

You're going to need whatever toys and random objects you can muster for the general layout. Finding a suitable base can be surprisingly difficult at times. If you can find some plywood, that's pretty solid. We were able to get some mysteriously perfect material from a billboard printing company last time around, but the time before that we used a G.I. Joe board game. Toys (particularly action figures and dolls) probably make the best pieces for the display. Then you'll need a great deal of your two most important ingredients:

Hellzapoppins are a cheap but surprisingly useful firework. There are many generic ripoffs (the most common one being the "Ground Blaster"), but all the variants look the same - they're green plastic balls. When lit, they crackle and burst open, releasing a bunch of sparks. Luckily for you and for America, you can crack those babies open and remove the little black balls of concentrated rocking power inside. Get as much of this stuff as you can afford, because you'll be using them as explosive filler for most of the things on your structure.

Rubber cement is arguably the most important item in your kit. Elmer's works best. You can buy it in big tin cans at most large chains (particularly Lowe's or Home Depot), which is about how much you'll be needing if you really want to reach your full potential. For a demo, drip a spot of the rubber cement on the ground the size of a quarter and light it up. Watch in pyrotechnic glee as you get an instant flame approximately six inches high that burns consistently for several minutes. The smoke may be highly toxic, but then again, you're using the stuff to build a huge flaming explosive, so you can't be too picky about safety.

As for specific fireworks, you don't need to worry about getting the expensive stuff. Rather, get lots of cheap stuff and combine it. Think of each firework you buy as a part of a larger Voltron - alone, it's pretty weak, but when you put it with the other parts, the team becomes an unstoppable force for the side of justice. Justice, remember, is the end goal here. Never lose sight of your ideals when building your display. If you forget why you're packing a Skeletor action figure's head full of gunpowder emptied out of firecrackers, you're probably not going to keep the right mindset. Do it for the children. Do it for the fallen. Do it to fight off the demons inside your own tortured soul. If you do it for nothing else, do it for America.

Some helpful hints: Remember those little cardboard tanks? You can buy them at any fireworks store anywhere (or department stores around holidays.) Packages of six cost something like twelve cents. Get some. They're pretty weak, but if you rip them up you can take the cannon off of the front and attach them to other things, like the arms of some of your toys. Try experimenting with dissecting other things as well. Some of the wussiest toys contain some of the most devastating guts, if you're woman enough to rip them out of there. Don't be afraid of the blatantly dangerous. Remember this lesson well: The likelihood of injury from explosion and the amount of coolness of your firework are directly proportionate.

Try thick rubbery plastic for delayed action. Example: If you can find some of those fake animals that are in every dollar store on the planet, stab a small hole in the bottom of one of them and pour in some of the Hellzapoppin powder balls. A few minutes into your explosion, in the chaos of burning carnage and random fireballs rocketing into the night, the fire will finally melt through the outside of the toy, hit the giant stash of gunpowder you've stuffed inside its body, and very simply explode. I have seen mushrooms clouds.


Detonating the firework can be easy or hard. Most newer explosion technicians are full of lofty dreams and think that they can arrange elaborate chain reactions between the different individual fireworks that are rubber cemented to the display. Guess what? You can't. You're probably thinking that you'll prove me wrong, that you'll be the young iconoclast that will succeed, the Jesus of the explosion world, saving us from our old and stagnant ways.

You won't be. Don't try to make a chain reaction.

Also, don't try to have multiple main fuses. Some people seem to like making the display in such a way that it must be simultaneously lit from multiple points in order for everything to go off at the right time. This usually ends in disaster.

Instead, hold on to that bucket of rubber cement from before, and right before detonation, drizzle the entire package with whatever is left in the bucket.Then, light it up. A layer of flame will instantly cover the entire display, lighting the fuses to each firework more or less at the same time. Take cover and watch as absolute havoc is unleashed.

Dealing with the Aftermath.

Cleaning up the wreckage is a serious task that may require a whole task force of specialists with gas masks and radiation suits. You may also be able to handle it with a shovel and some determination. Whatever. It's your call. Clean everything up, then call all of your neighbors and apologize, because most likely you took out three or four blocks of the surrounding area with the unstoppable power you released in the name of American independence.