What June’s Never-Ending Fireworks Say About This Country

I’m sleep-deprived. You’re selfish. Whoever’s behind this is playing us both.

Photo: Stephen Mature/Getty Images

Dear every single soul responsible for the fireworks display that has gone on for weeks in New York and other major cities nationwide: Why do you hate me?

It’s not as if I’m not used to bored people passing the time with fireworks. This is the time of year when in many parts of this nation, cheap fireworks become readily available — theoretically to mark the Fourth of July, but usually just to make a bunch of noise. It’s not so much about national pride as it is simply blowing shit up because you have the means to do so. (The perfect metaphor for this nation.)

Being used to an annoying habit, though, doesn’t mean you want to start weeks earlier in the year than usual and at a much higher frequency than normal. And no, none of you are wrong for noticing an uptick in this annoying practice: A spokesperson for the National Fireworks Association confirmed in an interview with Slate that the organization “is hearing reports of increased sales from across the industry.” In fact, they’re having “‘a banner year’ for consumer sales.” I would applaud if I didn’t want to curse all of them out.

I tend to leave the conspiracy theories to YouTube, Facebook, and the goofies I switch to “Do Not Disturb” for my mental health. But something feels awry.

As Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, explained to Slate, “the general public, due to Covid, is just itching to do something.” Itching to do something? To quote Bun B, go read a book.

Or stream something.

Or, like so many of us want to but can’t through no fault of our own, go to fucking bed.

I don’t want to steal anyone’s joy — certainly not during a global medical crisis, a financial crisis, and a race war — but I also want to sleep for several hours at a time without interruption. And you firecracker-popping fools are making that very, very difficult.

I know Americans of all backgrounds are keeping folks up, but around my way, they are mostly young Black kids — and while I ain’t one to count someone else’s money, I share the suspicions others have had about this ongoing national headache.

I tend to leave the conspiracy theories to YouTube, Facebook, and the goofies I switch to “Do Not Disturb” for my mental health. But something feels awry. Folks have been thoughtful and detailed about their suspicions of foul play, and from where I sit — grouchy, tired, and worried about my back because I’m 36 — it’s hard to believe there isn’t some entity orchestrating all of this nonsense.

First, there’s a noticeable schedule to it. In Harlem, where I’m presently not sleeping, the show begins around 9 p.m. on weekdays. (I know this because I’m either thinking, “I wish I could enjoy Rachel Maddow scaring the shit out of me in peace.”) On weekends, the pyrotechnics start even earlier: This past weekend, they started at 8 each night and lasted until around 4 a.m.

Second, the fireworks display reflects a budget few broke-ass teens could afford. As others have commented across social media, many of these displays look professional. Last weekend, I saw so many colors that I thought I was being awakened by the UniverSoul Circus.

Since last weekend’s chaos, we’ve seen footage of New York firefighters setting off illegal fireworks in Brooklyn, but as far as where to directly aim our scorn — the CIA? White supremacists? Police unions? — that riddle has yet to be solved.

Unfortunately, while I personally have opted not to involve the police given their treatment of Black people generally, New York’s court jester and mayor has decided to do just that. Presumably vexed about protests at Gracie Mansion calling on him to stop the noise, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday that New York City would crack down on the illegal use and distribution of fireworks.

“We’re going to start a huge sting operation to go and get these illegal fireworks at the base, meaning everywhere they’re being sold,” de Blasio declared in a press conference. The “huge sting operation” in question will consist of a task force of 42 members from the NYPD, the FDNY, and the sheriff’s bureau.

So the folks who recently got caught lying about being poisoned at Shake Shake are teaming with the folks who are themselves popping illegal fireworks to end the problem? I know that we will never completely rid ourselves of folks popping fireworks at all hours of the night, but at the same time, I don’t want Black and Latinx kids harassed and potentially killed over pyrotechnics that still seem hard for them to come by without assistance.

It’s as if no one can be bothered to exercise any chill.

What actually made last weekend all the more insufferable was that in addition to the illegal fireworks shows, there were people just screaming in the street during the same what-the-hell-are-y’all-even-doing-up time window. Some were arguing, but most of them were being loud for the sake of it. It just reminded me that those fireworks are a symptom of a broader collective selfishness among so many people.

In one way, at least, these outbursts make sense. As Mihir Zaveri writes in the New York Times, for many, “setting off fireworks has been a form of catharsis in the pandemic, and a means of defying and protesting against what they see as a flawed criminal justice system.”

Then again, I’ve always known about righteous indignation, but there is something to be said about time and place. More than anything, it’s also about consideration. For autistic children. For pets. For the elderly. For the people sick in their homes, trying to get as much peace as possible even if y’all are acting like there’s no such thing as Covid-19. And for the Black folks of all backgrounds who share the burdens of White supremacy, but still want to fucking go to sleep.

Some people need a way to express themselves and seek out their frustration, but many of us simply need rest. I am not Mister Rogers, but I suddenly want to convince everyone to be a better neighbor. And if not, maybe shoot yourself into the sky rather than a firework.

Sorry. I really need to get more sleep.

Author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

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