The Big Bang Boom

The Big Bang Boom
September 11, 1990

WEEDSPORT, NEW YORK — I’m here at the Weedsport Speedway waiting for something to blow. Who knows where it’ll come from? Who knows what it’ll be. There are guys behind concrete Georgia barriers darting around with lit flares. There are women at the far end of the track wiring rocket fuses. There’s a motorized digger drilling holes in the hardpack for mortar emplacements. It’s griddle hot, and shadeless as Arabia, out on the big tan oval of jigsawed dirt. Across the street is the Rainbow Lanes. Down the road is a True Gospel Church of Christ tent. Six miles west of the cornfields around the raceway is the century-old maximum-secu­rity prison where the electric chair made its debut.

From out on the speedway comes the madhouse whine of fuse ignition and a guy cackling, “We’re going to be shooting a lot of shit today!” I hear a boom and turn. Then the rockets began to fly.

It sounds like war, but these are just rec­reational missiles that seem to be skimming my scalp — fun rockets, the very best kind! That big boom? A beautiful shell going off. And this is the Pyrotechnics Guild Interna­tional, Inc.’s 18th Annual Convention, a gathering of 1000 people who’re never hap­pier than when they’re putting match to fuse.

It’s a strange place to find oneself on a hot summer afternoon, given the current state of the world, watching strangers play with gunpowder and ornamental warheads. Let’s just say I came with a friend, a ratio­nal urban professional whose life reaches a pitch of ecstatic unreason every Fourth of July. He’s a pyro, to use the lingua franca. At the moment he’s off buying fast-acting fuse called quickmatch to blast some rock­ets he’s got stockpiled at home.

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It’s important you know that this is not a group of George Meteskys. Not at all the sort of folks who smithereen cats with M-80s. This is not your Soldier of Fortune target group, either. Put them in fezzes, and you’d have a lot of Shriners: peaceable bourgeois folks in their comfortable middle years. They’ve come from all over the coun­try, even Europe, driving vans and semis and flying on commercial carriers with con­traband stowed in their bags. They don’t look like outlaw types. And in their own minds they’re not. Fireworks may be illegal in 37 states, but to a pyro the right to blow things up is as inalienable as an NEA grant.

“You here to write about us?” asks a plump sunburned woman from Colorado. “That’s fine. But just don’t use the B word. That’s very bad press.”

The B word, of course, is … Well, as I said these are hobbyists we’re talking about — rational, fun loving, pacific. As hobbyists go they’ve got an edge on, say, stamp collectors because the stuff they trade is dangerous and highly controlled. Some of it’s toxic enough to rot the brain. Some of it, when used in certain combina­tions, has what you might call volatile po­tential. Some of it, injudiciously used, could take your average Joe and send him jetting through space without benefit of a capsule.

These facts are not incidental to the gov­ernment’s fascination with pyros as a group. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms hovers over a pyro gathering like a grim shadow — worse yet, like rain. The feds know that most of the attendees are on hand for five perfectly legal days of seminars, a banquet, and schmoozing, five nights of the newest innovations, the latest “flitter” and stroboscopic effects, and a grand finale that includes ignition of the world’s longest string of firecrackers. They’re also aware that an awful lot of pyros have the chemical know-how to build rockets and shells in basement workshops, and ready access to controlled items like blasting caps, quickmatch, and black­powder. It’s perfectly obvious, even to me, that if you know how to build a rocket you also know how to make a B word.

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The blue bucket seats clamped to the bleachers have bolts in the center that come at you like a rectal thermometer. In the parking lot I pass a couple walking to the grandstand with their daughter. “Imo put her lady’s Smith & Wesson away until she’s old enough and gets out of college,” the wife says. The kid, a junior pyro, shoots her a Squeaky Fromme glare.

There’s one other spectator on hand for this afternoon’s session of “free shooting,” an hour when interested pyros can shoot off the stuff they’ve brought. Behind the grand­stand there’s a fenced area for Class C ex­plosives, light shells, and noisy backyard stuff. Out on the track is a separate area for Class B, the ballistics-level fireworks grad­ed, on a hazard scale, just below army mu­nitions and dynamite. “It’s gonna be a fine day,” says the man holding a Camel in a three-fingered hand. He lights up, drags hard, and exhales luxuriantly as someone shoots off a smoke bomb in the distance. Acid-yellow clouds waft our way and blend with the hot-dog aroma from the weenie shack. The man reads my creepy fascina­tion with his missing digits and nonchalant­ly says, “Lawnmower.”

Within an hour of my arrival, several people have delivered elaborate spiels on safety. From what I can gather, shooting off fireworks is no more treacherous than knit­ting socks, possibly less so since you can get a nasty rope bum skeining yam. Fireworks just get worse press. The all-time downer was a New York Times front page that tor­tured logic with the claim that fireworks killed more people between one January and December than botulism had. They never said how many people died as a re­sult of eating fireworks, but they did men­tion that there’d been two food poisoning fatalities that year and three firecracker deaths. “Lousy journalism, is what I say,” is the opinion of the woman who recounts the tale. “The worst that usually happens is a finger, at most an eye.”

As I sit in the bleachers on Wednesday afternoon reading from the Pyrotechnic Guild, Inc., rule book, which came with every conventioneer’s impressive registra­tion kit, I happen on article 6, part 20 of the Official Fireworks Safety Guidelines. This section, covering rules on Public Dis­play, is especially interesting. “At no time shall any person place any part of his or her body over the mouth of a mortar,” it says. I really have to give that one thought.

A white flash comes from the direction of the tree line at the north end of the speed­way, followed by a molar-jangling report. “Must have been a four-incher,” says the Camel man. Lighting his second butt, he blows out the match, then touches the tip to his tongue. “Can’t be too careful,” he grins.

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At this point I should declare my preju­dices and mention that, when I was 10, a man in a fast-moving Buick tossed a half-­mat of lit Black Cats at my feet. It didn’t seem like karma and it didn’t hurt me a bit, but the effect was nerve-racking — like be­ing machine-gunned, without the holes. Since then I’ve tended to prefer fireworks at a nice distance: the Macy’s display did me fine until the year I went to the East River and found the upper deck of the FDR Drive reserved for “special” depart­ment store guests. What are fireworks, I ask you, if not populist?

My buddy, however, is fanatic. He be­longs to that choice company that charts its Independence Day activities to coincide with the best displays. He whiles away the idle hours sussing out catalogue bargains, charting trips to scuzzy New Hampshire towns where the border is marked by ply­wood fireworks shacks. He can dilate on the differences in quality between shells called Overlord in Sky, and Double Drag­ons, and Autumn Drizzle. He’s on a first nickname basis with some of the finest Ma­fia steerers on Elizabeth Street, and has visited tenement apartments with enough fireworks inside to take out a city block.

He never thinks one Roman candle when he can think 10, fused together on an arma­ture to spurt in goofy orgasmic sequence. So for him, and folks like him, this conven­tion represents not just a once-yearly hud­dle of seminars on “energetics,” on new developments in “spin-stabilized rockets,” or “parlong stars,” or “go-getters,” but the rare, legalized chance to blow shit up.

The salesroom helps in that regard. Set up in an old, gray-painted Quonset hut be­hind the bleachers, the heavily guarded Class C shed opens each night at six. You can’t get in without your official badge, the one with tiny firecrackers imprinted on it fuse to tail. And there’s good reason. Inside the shed are folding tables thick with fire­works — both the finished products import­ed from Japan, China, South Carolina, and Macao, and the hard-to-get component parts. At a roped-off discount area, stacks of shopping baskets are provided for your “popping convenience.”

“The possibilities for mayhem are out­standing,” says one shopper amiably, mull­ing the purchase of several smoke bombs, each capable of releasing 40,000 cubic feet of smoke in 60 seconds. His hat reads “Support Fireworks, a Glorious American Freedom” and his arms are crammed with Twinkling Stars, Colorful Birds, Happiness Fountains, and Space Warrior Wheels. Checking out a 16-inch bazooka called Ae­rial Crossfire that looks impressive to me, he speaks like a highly discerning shopper. “Piece of shit,” he says. “Probably just Au­tumn Drizzle in a tube.”

Near the wall by the exit are several ta­bles covered with Ziploc bags. For pyros who roll their own, these ready stocks of zinc powder, aluminum, antimony, and sul­phur are reason enough to come. Frame wire and potassium perchlorate may not be hard to buy on the open market, but you don’t find good quickmatch at K Mart or Ames. And it isn’t every hardware store that carries smoke dye at just $8 a pound. “It makes a kind of muffled boomf” the saleswoman explains.

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In chemical terms, a fireworks explosion is a “highly exothermic redox reaction,” a phrase somehow inadequate to the beauty of smoke and flame in motion. I learn this during a crash course in the poetics of pyro­technica over three days in Weedsport, a snoozy, rundown farm town just west of Syracuse.

I learn many things, among them the fact that the aerial fireworks you see at public displays are called exploding bombshells; and that these are cylindrical or spherical containers made of paper and filled with pyrotechnic compositions propelled in a manner identical to a cannon ball being fired from a cannon. I learn that the typical bombshell casings are made of paper, that they are launched with an exploding charge of black powder called the “lift charge,” and that the cannon from which they are propelled is called a mortar.

Fireworks mortars were once commonly made of metal before the development of PVC tubing, the preferred tubing at the convention being “Pyro Pipe” from Mighty Mite. “Feel how smooth the inside is,” says a Connecticut man with Harpo hair, as he slips an arm elbow-deep into an eight-inch diameter tube. He encourages me to caress the tube, too. “Suitable for launching major rockets,” he says.

With nothing to impede a rocket as it exits the mortar, the launch goes smoothly and beautiful shapes soon appear in the sky. If burrs or other obstructions snag a rocket, a launch aborts, shells blow on the ground. This, in fact, happens one night during the three days I spend in Weedsport, when a six-inch shell blows up prematurely. Watching from the grandstand, I note sil­houetted shapes darting around in the dis­tance, see the red beacon of the flares they use in place of Bic lighters, and suddenly hear a gut-punch boom. The concrete barri­ers at the perimeter buck in place. The little flare figures scurry about. The announcer makes some clucking noises on the loud­speaker and people in the grandstand tense, waiting to hear an ambulance wail. But there is none. And seemingly no one is dead. Next morning when I wander out to check the blast site, I find a crater measur­ing fully six feet across.

“The term bombshell is used less fre­quently today amongst professionals be­cause of the negative connotations in the term bomb as an infernal machine or item of destruction,” reads a pamphlet written by Roger L. Schneider, Ph.D. From Schneider, a fireworks consultant with an admirably deadpan prose style, I glean much information: the devices called flash bombs are correctly termed “salutes,” for instance. Salutes explode in the air produc­ing a brilliant white flash and a deafening boom. The bursting of a single container to produce a colored pattern is called a break. Fireworks that explode and then shatter again to form new stars are the result of successive breaks.

Once airborne, timing fuses on each of the consecutively layered shells insure that they burst in rapid, distinct succession. According to Schneider, these multibreak shells are known as “sausages” but at the PGI convention people seem to call them multibreak shells.

Some shells have two breaks. Some have six. Some baroque numbers have as many as 10. Aerial shells at big public displays will often be packed in a larger shell whose diameter ranges from two to 12 inches or even larger. At the PGI convention there is a Japanese 24-incher, and another mam­moth, perhaps of world record size, that is 28 inches across.

The Japanese shell never lifts very far off the ground when they light it. And the second goes altogether unlit. An insurance company sent to check the situation de­cides at the last minute that Weedsport is too close to the New York State Thruway to permit detonation of an explosive device that huge: it might jerk a tractor-trailer full of Purdue chickens off the road.

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Arriving on Wednesday we have, by Thurs­day morning, already experienced more fireworks than most people see in a year. And I’m not talking sparklers and Bang Snaps.

After checking out a midday auction of fireworks paraphernalia in the Skaneateles Room of the Auburn Holiday Inn, I stop for a Coke at Sundaes ‘N’ Such in unscenic Weedsport. The college-aged waitress leans on the counter and mentions that she can see the nightly fireworks displays, not open to the public, from her bedroom window.

“You’re lucky,” I remark, adding, with newfound expertise, that the 100 cases of exhibition fireworks Hop Kee Pyrotech­nics, Ltd., is blasting were imported from mainland China especially for this show. “Not everyone gets to see this quality stuff,” I tell her.

“Not everyone gets five days of explo­sions all night long, either,” is her level reply.

Thursday evening begins with several hours of open firing, then a display by the amateurs of the Connecticut Pyrotechnic Association. There are two governing bod­ies in the fireworks trade. The American Pyrotechnical Association represents the industry and the big names like Grucci. The Pyrotechnic Guild International counts Grucci among its members but is mostly a guild of hobbyists.

“This will show you what you can do with $700 in fireworks, or a half a million retail,” says the announcer before Allan Klumac Jr. puts his flare to the fuse of a 15-minute display that starts with a “fountain” of spark rockets on an armature turned upside down. The idea of using fire to cre­ate the impression of falling water is an­cient. The Chinese did it first. Yet, as visu­al alchemy, this effect is perennially refreshing and extreme. There are other fantastic illusions, among them a line of sparking horizontal wheels, a grid of whis­tling rockets, an armada of helicopters linked with an umbilicus of quickmatch to lift off at once. Steven Spielberg himself couldn’t top it.

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Afterward, there is an hour and a half of competition — a critical nightly feature of the convention — when individuals who’ve constructed their own fireworks face each other down. “The enjoyment of fire­works … ought to be an education in the enjoyment of all worldly splendor. You pay your money … and you get an absolutely momentary pleasure with no nonsense about it,” wrote Iris Murdoch, with perfect accuracy, in Under the Net, going on to gasp that a good shell is “a spurt of absolute beauty.”

There’s little doubt in the mind of any­one here that fireworks, which the Japanese call “burning flowers,” is art, and that great fireworks artists are alchemical gods. I say this confidently after meeting a 43-year-old machinist from Whitman, Massachusetts. This man, who asks to remain nameless (“If you print anything about me, I could go to jail,” he says) makes a specialty of multibreak missiles. With his own chemical formulas, and miniature tools customized for the purpose, he constructs rockets in a basement workshop. The rockets are craft­ed with the kind of meticulous care you associate with crazy obsessives: packed and taped in casings he makes himself and binds with Christmas paper. The crossette pellets themselves are immaculate. And more elegant still is the way they explode with something close to absolute symmetry, a tough feat when you’re dealing with pel­lets of chemical fire exploding midair.

For this year’s competitions the man brought along a series of single-break shells. Before the evening show, he shoots off some multibreak rockets just for kicks. From the rear of the track he fires them in the general direction of a gibbous moon, and we stand around watching them arch and explode, perfect, white glittering trails in their wake. The breaks are crisp. The shells blow and hold their incandescence in ways that seem to contradict Newton’s law. There’s no mistaking a shell made by this man for anything as banal as a highly exo­thermic redox reaction. It’s clear to anyone watching that these rockets are his signa­ture inscribed on the sky.

“The Fourth of July was always my Christmas,” he tells me later in the Owasco Room of the Holiday Inn. As waitresses break down a party, he gives me his history in brief. “I used to drive all over the place to see shows,” he says. “I’d go anywhere. I said to myself, ‘Someday I’m going to see what it’s like to light a rocket myself.’ Start­ing in 1980, I began following this guy who was in the business around obsessively, do­ing his scutwork just to be around fire­works. I dug mortar holes, lugged equip­ment. But he never let me even touch a fuse.

“After two years I gave up. I thought, ‘I’ve given it my best shot and I failed.’ By coincidence I met someone then who opened doors, helped me learn to load shells, taught me what flash powder was, and showed me the Pyrotechnica series of magazines, which is the Bible of the craft. I began to shoot some small shells in compe­tition. I entered them and when it was time for the awards part of the banquet, my name kept coming up.

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“As I got more experienced, I began to make small stars, then crossettes and tour­billions and colored stars with whistles. I’ve been doing machining since I was seven years old and it’s always been my nature to watch and work meticulously. If there’s anything different about my rockets, it’s that I pay exquisite attention to detail.

“I’ve thought about trying to do it for a living, but very few people can make it that way. The fact is I’m a toolmaker who makes rockets on the side. At night when I’m trying to go to sleep, I lie there and I dream about fireworks. I think up different effects, time sequences, and trajectories. It’s a crazy person’s hobby because of the ephemeral quality and all the hard work. To give you an idea, I had a shell entered in competition several years ago that I clocked at every minute of 40 hours to build. I went full-tilt on that one. I brought it to the show and it was beautiful. But the shell lasted 15 seconds in the air.”

On the evening that we talk, this man wins another competition for best individ­ual rocket in a field of five contenders. Then he heads for the stands with the other pyros to watch the show. By 9:10, the bleachers are filled with spectators for a demonstration of Hop Kee fireworks. The bleachers are also wreathed in rocket ex­haust, a pale gray smoke.

Hop Kee is a father-and-son outfit run by Wilson and Alex Mao. They’ve brought some hefty artillery from factories through­out China: six-to-10-inch shells, huge rock­ets, big ground cakes, things with brand names that suggest nothing so much as the Tet offensive. Conventioneers are given ratings sheets to score the effects of Thun­der Bird, White Horse, Red Lantern, and Linked Triad shells.

For 20 minutes or so, Hop Kee fills the sky with Dragon Eggs, Giant Red Peonies, Malachite Peonies, Blue Peonies, Yellow Peonies, and Clustered Camellias. Shells break into retina-shattering plumes, then quickly give way to the first report of an­other lift-charge. A bunch of Red Lanterns go up on huge concussions, burst and eject parachutes which rock hellish red embers to earth. A Silvery Swallow Shuttle blasts off and breaks into dozens of smaller shells of different colors. A group of Fairy Maidens zooms up with a fizzy, nattering sound. A Flying Willow shell scatters glittering motes above the track like crazed hatchery spawn. Host of Dragon covers the speedway with frenzied incandescent sperm.

By the time Prosperous Spring Over Grassland explodes I’m in a state of deliri­ous surfeit. Also slightly blind and near deaf. But the show isn’t over. There’s still a 4000-shot Swarm of Charging Wasps, a Bumper Harvest, a Spring Thunder, some Green Meteors, and Hundred Birds. A 200-shot laser shell whose name I miss shoots magnesium plumes that resolve in icicles of smoke. Against the black of the sky, the ghostly afterimages have an evocative effect that is clearly a result of watching too many bad Vietnam movies. “Well, the colors were wonderful,” says a nearby pyro, in patently underwhelmed tones. “But, you know, the breaks really weren’t that great.”

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For three days I’ve been hearing people whisper about the Super String. Now the day is here. “There’s nothing like it,” says a woman named Bonnie Kosanke. “I don’t really want to say it’s like an atomic bomb, but there’s this amazing quantity of energy consumed in one explosion. It makes this rolling sound you won’t believe, just like roaring flame.”

In a shed near the raceway gate, they’ve been gathering firecrackers for the big mo­ment. Vendors and conventioneers are hus­tled for crackers throughout the week. “It’s July 3 all over again,” says Ken Lupoli of Dapkus Fireworks in Durham, Connecti­cut, when he lays eyes on the 40-foot strings stretched on the smooth concrete floor. Un­raveled from the fat wheels that string crackers come in, the explosives are being aligned and stacked.

“These firecrackers really go like mad,” says a man in a T-shirt that gives a tele­phone number for “A Good Bang.”

“They’ve got that nasty, nasty fuse,” says a woman talking to no one.

Kids and women lay out and neaten the long strings, then cinch them in layers with twine. A sexy brunette in a pink polka-dot minidress scooches along with the Super String between her legs, patting the crackers straight. It is, in fact, a scene of pure Americana.

In a far corner are thumb-thick Celebra­tion crackers heaped in messy stacks. They’ll be piled on last. So far there are 340,000 crackers. By nightfall a world rec­ord is achieved: 1,500,000. “Stand behind a jet engine and you’ll get some idea,” says a bearded pyro named Richard Owlett.

“Unless the heat gets to all of them at once, and then bloof, mass destruction,” says the man overseeing the Super String. Kneeling nearby, Norman Cornellier of Cornellier Fireworks cuts even lengths of wire to bind the long strings into mats two crackers wide and five deep. Cornellier, I notice, is missing the ring finger and part of the pinkie on his left hand.

By evening the wind’s tracking from the northeast and the sky has a sinister gray cast. Sheet lightning cracks in what one hopes is the distance. And the bleachers are jammed. At 8:15, five thousand locals stream in for the only public exhibition of the week. The announcer heralds the Super String and someone blasts the Triumphal March from Aida over the speakers. With a Vanna White look-alike conducting, three separate lines of bearers troop into the are­na heaving the massive snake segments of Super String in a scene that’s demented Cecil B. DeMille. I spot my reasonable friend at the head.

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There’s a cherry picker waiting to hoist and join the three strings to a scaffold con­structed for the purpose. There’s a hook-­and-ladder from the Town of Brutus fire­-house standing by to put the fire out.

Earlier in the day someone had slipped into the shed and dropped off a cluster of firecracker wrappers, arranged prayer­-wheel fashion, with blessings and messages written on each. “Pray for all the souls of those who were killed by fireworks and that we learn from their unhappy end,” read one, “including Orville Carlisle, a wonder­ful old snort.” Another asked the fire gods to “Bless the Big Bang Boom.”

And I’ve come to feel the big bang boom could use the help. To hear pyros talk about it, fireworks stand every chance of going out of business, permanently, as part of the merry legislative trend to protect Ameri­cans from themselves and keep us available for Middle Eastern outings and Uzi target practice. “We don’t have the lobbying background like the NRA,” is how one PGI member explains it. “It’s cheap for the feds to win a big victory by wiping out fire­works, because it’s easy to do and it looks good.”

It wouldn’t look good to five-year-old Amy Powers and her four-year-old brother, Greg. Amy and Greg and their mom, Janet, snuck in from the public area and they’re sitting in a roped-off PGI section with a perfect view of the Super String. Amy and Greg and Janet are levitating with excite­ment. And their excitement is catching. Somehow the thought of this small family and the thousands around them riveted by the instinct to witness a big talking fire­-snake pumps my adrenaline to some state of atavistic thrill. The ghouls on Skull Is­land couldn’t have felt more primitive than I do.

A clutch of pyros who’ve paid for the privilege head for the fuses. They light the quickmatch bundles and run like hell. Then the Super String does something stupid. It refuses to start. It sputters, teases, jerks around. It’s an awkward situation, that ach­ing moment when you know the foreplay’s gone on too long.

At last a brave, foolhardy soul nips to­ward the fuse with a torch, and gives the thing a light. What happens next is simple enough. The Weedsport Speedway becomes a creditable imitation of a nuclear holo­caust, brain-searing noise and a wall of white flame so truly horrific that when it ends you are convinced that you have also. Then the last crackers sputter to silence. Firemen hose the ground. You pat yourself. It’s a wonderful feeling. You’re alive. ♦



“Fireworks” Is Like “Your Name,” But Lame

Success begets imitators, but the floodgates really open wide when a supernatural teenage romance becomes a blockbuster. The impact of Your Name becoming the highest-grossing anime film of all time is clear in Akiyuki Shinbô’s new anime, Fireworks. Based on a live-action 1993 television movie, Fireworks tells the story of the triangle between coquettish teenager Nazuna (voiced by Suzu Hirose) and the two schoolboys who both lust after her, shy Norimichi (Masaki Suda) and the more extroverted Yûsuke (Mamoru Miyano). Norimichi happens upon a magical glass sphere that can turn back the clock, and all manner of timey-wimey shenanigans ensue as he rewinds existence to find the right choices to win Nazuna’s favor.

Fireworks is essentially being promoted as “Remember how much you liked Your Name? Here’s something just like it from the same producer!” but it can’t help but suffer in comparison. Where Your Name’s star-crossed protagonists were fully formed characters who held equal weight in the narrative, Fireworks is very much told from the male point of view, and Nazuna seldom rises above “free-spirited object of desire.” The picture also rivals last year’s Napping Princess in terms of gratuitous upskirt shots, though it does finally address the age-old question of the best angle for viewing fireworks. The answer may not interest you.

Directed by Akiyuki Shinbô
G-Kids and Fathom Events
Playing July 3, 5, and 7, Regal Union Square, AMC Kips Bay 15, and AMC Empire 25


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Cash In This Weekend at the Brainfood Conference, Celebrate Red Hook, and a Texas Hold ‘Em Party

Spoon University’s Second Annual Brainfood Conference, Villain, 50 North 3rd Street, Brooklyn, Saturday, 10 a.m.

Wake up this weekend by treating your brain to breakfast and conversation with some of the city’s top food entrepreneurs. Guest speakers include food event guru Michael Cirino of A Razor, A Shiny Knife as well as Jack Algiere from Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture; topics include  entrepreneurial women in food, sustainability and food sourcing, and new food start-ups making waves. The event also includes food demos in addition to panel discussions, with lunch provided by The Meatball Shop, Sweetgreen, and Luke’s Lobster, among others. Tickets — $40 — include breakfast, lunch, snacks, and a gift bag to take home; reserve your all-access pass here.

Taste the World Botanical Brewfest, Queens Botanical Garden, 43-50 Main Street, Queens, Saturday, 12 to 7 p.m.

Spend the weekend taking in the World’s Fair Grounds with a cold beer in hand. From 12 to 3 p.m. or 4 to 7 p.m., guests can enjoy a large selection of domestic and international brews while strolling through the fairgrounds, with food and live music also part of the fun. The event will be held rain or shine. Guests can score a $35 ticket in advance here (tickets will also be available at the door for $50).

Celebrating Red Hook, Ikea, 1 Beard Street, Brooklyn, Saturday, 12 to 9 p.m.

Enjoy a view of Lady Liberty and the annual neighborhood fireworks show while sampling some of Red Hook’s local eateries and artisans. Guests can explore local artwork and goods while grabbing food from nearby restaurants including Fort Defiance and Red Hook Lobster Pound, which will be set up behind the massive furniture store at Erie Basin Park. Additional participant restaurants include The Good Fork and Hometown BBQ, with Red Hook Winery and Six Point Brewery providing plenty of liquid relief.

Village Block Party, Newark Avenue and Brunswick Street, Jersey City, Saturday, 12 to 10 p.m.

Supporting the Brunswick Community Garden, among other causes, families can head out to a Jersey City block party and find entertainment for all ages. In addition to wine, craft beer, and mixed drinks made with herbs from the garden available for purchase, there will also be free activities for the kids, including a young chefs cooking station. A selection of local Jersey City food trucks hawking meatballs, Puerto Rican dishes, and Mexican specialties will be on hand.

Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Party, Tanner Smith’s, 204 West 55th Street, Sunday, 8 p.m. until closing

When $5 pints are flowing, everyone is a winner, However, if you’re a gambler, you may as well throw your cards on the table. For $25 per person, guests who wish to play Texas hold ’em receive a stack of chips to play at tables set up throughout this new cocktail bar. Those who leave with more chips than others also receive a fine spirit-related prize, and a swing band and DJ will provide the entertainment while you stretch your good (or not so good) poker face.


This Weekend’s Five Best Food Events – 7/3/2014

Tropical storm or no, a long holiday weekend involving hot dogs and beer is still something to get excited about. Here are five food events that you should take into consideration if you’re sticking around.

Delaney BBQ to Go, Briskettown, 359 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, Thursday

If you’re in need of a last minute solution to an impromptu party, consider ribs and brisket by the pound. Daniel Delaney’s smokehouse is offering both via pre-order; food will be ready for pick-up at 11 a.m. on the 4th. Place your order today only on Briskettown’s website.

Jersey City’s Freedom and Fireworks Festival, Liberty State Park, 200 Morris Pesin Drive, Jersey City, NJ, Friday, noon

A long weekend is the perfect time to explore a new neighborhood, and Jersey City is rewarding visitors and residents with an all day festival that will culminate with the Grucci fireworks show surrounding Lady Liberty. Food trucks, carnival games, and a free concert are all part of the event; the fireworks show starts after 9 p.m.

Hot Dog Eating Contest After Party, Professor Thom’s, 219 Second Avenue, Friday, 7 p.m.

If you can’t make it to Coney Island, hot dog eating champ Joey Chestnut will be kicking back at this East Village bar. The bar is also celebrating the fireworks’ return to the east side with beer specials and is known to throw some pretty epic costume parties — so break out those American flag pants from college.

Oliver’s Astoria Summer Fundraiser — Inaugural Cornhole Tournament, Oliver’s, 37-19 Broadway, Queens, Saturday, noon

Loosen up the arm and be ready to flex some muscles — beer-drinking kind included — with a summer charity cornhole tournament. For $50, guests can play for cash prizes and attempt to claim the title of champion while enjoying happy hour specials like $4 brews and $5 appetizers. Don’t feel like playing? Stop by to cheer on or boo teams. Be sure to register in advance.

SingleCut Beersmith’s Independence Day Celebration, 19-33 37th Street, Queens, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Celebrate your post-holiday hangover with more beer and BBQ, as this Astoria brewery will be keeping the door open to anyone who wanders in looking in for a drink special. Eclectic East Village craft beer pairing expert Jimmy’s No. 43 is bringing its smoker to Queens for a grand cookout, and the brewery plans to run drink specials every hour until 5 p.m.


Fireworks Amnesty Day: People Actually Participated (Sigh)

As we noted last week, if you just walk into a police station and hand over your illegal fireworks during what NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and other local law-dogs dubbed “Fireworks Amnesty Day,” you’re a “f**king schmuck.”

That said, there apparently a few schmucks out there.

According to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement officials collected 1,735 explosives during this year’s annual free pass for fireworks possessors.

That’s not to say 1,735 people actually handed their illegal fireworks over to police, that’s the number of individual explosives collected (the Brooklyn D.A.’s Office didn’t immediately get back to us when asked how many people participated).

As we reported last week, on Saturday,  authorities held “Fireworks Amnesty Day” at the NYPD’s 62nd Precinct in Brooklyn. For anyone dumb enough to give away their explosives, law enforcement officials promised that “No questions will be asked. No charges will be filed. No names or identification required. All fireworks will be accepted.”

As we explained last week, there is absolutely no reason to do this — fireworks are awesome, blowing shit up is fun, and simply possessing small amounts of explosives isn’t even a crime.

From our post last week:

According to New York State penal code, your run-of-the-mill (more on what constitutes as “run-of-the-mill” below) fireworks possessor is only guilty of a violation, which is essentially the same thing as a parking ticket. In other words, you can blow off your fireworks, get caught, pay a fine, promise to never do it again, blah, blah, blah. Then you can take a road trip to Virginia and stock up on explosives for next year.

Selling fireworks in the Empire State is a bit more serious — you could potentially get hit with a class-B misdemeanor if you get caught. If the fireworks you’re selling are worth more than $500, the charges could be increased to a class-A misdemeanor.

Here’s the kick in the balls: In New York, you can get charged with a misdemeanor if you get busted with fireworks worth more than $50 because (according to New York law) “possession of fireworks or dangerous  fireworks valued at fifty dollars or more shall be a presumption that such fireworks were intended to be offered or exposed for sale.”

Fifty dollars worth of fireworks isn’t a lot, so to presume that anything over that amount is for “sale” is a horseshit way for the man to charge you with a misdemeanor.

If you were one of the smart ones who didn’t fall for law enforcement’s ploy to get you to have no fun this Fourth of July, feel free to blow off fireworks to your heart’s content — just don’t get caught with more than $50 worth at any given time.

If you’re actually interested in learning more about the dangers of fireworks, Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes will be offering a (taxpayer
funded) tutorial this afternoon to explain how explosives can potentially lead to injuries.

As much as we’d love to be there to offer a stern “no shit — can you go convict criminals now?,” we will not be in attendance.


Ray Kelly Thinks We’ll Just Give Him Our Illegal Fireworks. Fat Chance, Pal — Here’s How To Not Get In Trouble

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, in an effort to prevent injuries (read: protect you from yourself) while New Yorkers are celebrating the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, wants you to just hand over any illegal fireworks you plan to blow off come Wednesday.

We’ve got news for Ray Kelly: if he wants our fireworks, he’ll have to pry them from our cold, dead hands (assuming we haven’t blown off our hands with illegal fireworks)!

Kelly, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, and several local lawmakers are sponsoring a “Fireworks Amnesty Day” at the NYPD’s 62nd Precinct. According to the law-dogs, if you drop off explosives, “No questions will be asked. No charges will be filed. No names or identification required. All fireworks will be accepted.”

If you actually run down to the police station and hand over your fireworks out of fear of possible prosecution, you’re a f**king schmuck — and here’s why…

According to New York State penal code, your run-of-the-mill (more on what constitutes as “run-of-the-mill” below) fireworks possessor is only guilty of a violation, which is essentially the same thing as a parking ticket. In other words, you can blow off your fireworks, get caught, pay a fine, promise to never do it again, blah, blah, blah. Then you can take a road trip to Virginia and stock up on explosives for next year.

Selling fireworks in the Empire State is a bit more serious — you could potentially get hit with a class-B misdemeanor if you get caught. If the fireworks you’re selling are worth more than $500, the charges could be increased to a class-A misdemeanor.

Here’s the kick in the balls: In New York, you can get charged with a misdemeanor if you get busted with fireworks worth more than $50 because (according to New York law) “possession of fireworks or dangerous fireworks valued at fifty dollars or more shall be a presumption that such fireworks were intended to be offered or exposed for sale.”

Fifty dollars worth of fireworks isn’t a lot, so to presume that anything over that amount is for “sale” is a horseshit way for the man to charge you with a misdemeanor.

So, if you plan on blowing off fireworks this Fourth of July, just don’t get caught with more than $50 worth at any given time. This means don’t pile them up to show your friends how many explosives you have — just leave them hidden in your house and only bring them outside as you plan on using them. Worst case scenario, you pay a fine (or blow off your fingers).