Some of the great traumatic experiences of my kid life were with my father’s failures, often with fireworks. Fireworks are sneaky. You know, they have Roman candles that come in various sizes. Some of them have four or five shots, some of them will have ten, some of them will have fifteen and then you get the big bazooka-style Roman candle. These are the big ones. They use them for cannonading the next mountain.
We usually had about fifteen of these in stock, and by about midnight of the Fourth of July we would have sold maybe ten and we’d be left with five of these fantastic, five-dollar Roman candles. They were about five feet tall, about three inches around. They have straps and you hold this son of a gun behind you, and there’s a technique in shooting Roman candles.
My old man was a pure showoff. The kind of guy who was noted at the party for a thing he called “the snake dance.” Just a wiggle. He wore a lampshade. He was one of that kind. So, everything he did, he always said, “there’s a style to it.” He would play pool and do the shots behind his back. “Watch this!” He was a real pool shark. He would hold a bowling ball in one hand, turn around and throw it behind him—boom—right in the pocket. He was always tossing baseballs over his shoulder and catching them behind his back.
When he had Roman candles, this is the way he would do it. He’d light it, he would hold it down low, he would count to himself, and as soon as the fuse was about gone, he would start moving it around in a circle, he would feel that ball coming up, he would sort of move forward, bump his fanny to the left and down again like he was helping them, putting body English on them as they went up! He was pitching with the Roman candles.
Well, the whole neighborhood would gather around to watch him shoot his fireworks, because nobody had anything like the amount of money’s worth of fireworks he had. He had, in retail, maybe two or three-hundred dollars worth of fireworks left. A gigantic box. About midnight he’d start firing out in the alley back of our house. Nobody ever thought of even going into a field to do this kind of thing in those days. There were houses around and the windows, the people, the wash hanging out, and he’s shooting off this heavy artillery.
So he is standing out back there this night. One of the great, absolutely unparalleled moments of my life. And also, one of those things you feel so terrible about because your old man has really flubbed. Really done an awful thing.
Everything has been going fine. Big pinwheels he’s got. He’s got great American flags that fly up in the air and come down on parachutes. Everything’s going. Finally he takes out the Roman candle, which he always loved more than any other kind. He lights it. Everybody’s waiting. Choooo! Off goes the first one, a big green ball goes up and everybody goes “Oooooooooooh!” At the third ball, just as my old man is winding up, that Roman candle shoots backward—right out the back end of this thing comes a ball—Woooooops! like that, right up his sleeve and right out the back of his shirt! He spins around, another ball goes out the front and then quickly two of them come out the back! He is going on like he is insane. He throws the damn thing, it flies up and goes into Flick’s backyard, right in the middle of the geraniums. Boom! Boom! Out both ends. He turns around and he screams bloody murder— his pongee shirt is on fire. “My shirt! Oh no, my shirt!”
He runs up the alley and we can see him trailing smoke and flames. He runs down in our basement and turns on the hose. People are pouring water on him and then rubbing goose grease on him. What has to be pointed out is that nobody worries, it’s just natural in the fireworks world. That attitude toward infernal destruction.
Five minutes later he’s out in the backyard shooting off rockets, shirt hanging out, shirttail tattered, one sleeve missing. That is a picture of an American celebrating something—but who knows what?
[End of Part 7]
People kill animals on the endangered species list and sell parts of the cadavers to people who don’t care if the animals go extinct, as long as they have some piece of them that gives an illusion of their own importance. The federal government, when it finds such stuff, confiscates it at the port of entry, stores it securely, and eventually destroys it.
In 1982, I was assigned the design job of putting some of this confiscated material on display. The parameters were: no available exhibit spaces to put the temporary exhibit, so it would need to be installed (inappropriately and awkwardly) in the bare center of one of the Museum’s permanent halls–Oceanic Birds; and the material on display would have to be absolutely secure from theft.
The norm would have been many exhibit cases with plexiglas bonnets built to house the artifacts, creating a crowded grouping of boxes with no effect except a jumble with inadequate space for the public to move around (with a potential for pilfering). Always looking to incorporate an appropriate sense of environmental ambience in my temporary exhibits, I chose to create one massive enclosure exemplifying the security area one might find at a port of entry’s stash of confiscated materials–chain-link fencing, including a chain-link top.
Entranceway to Exhibit– Teaser
For access during installation, a sliding chain-link entrance door, with the largest padlock I could find for it at a local hardware store, also suggested high-security. (Nothing was stolen.) As pedestals for artifacts, I used the large wooden shipping containers in which the materials had arrived at the museum. Big black and white photos of endangered animals provided some backdrops. The chain link and shipping crates provided a stark/ironic contrast to some of the items such as the fur coats.
Our museum director (who was frequently generous with his praise for my designs), at first apparently taken aback by my unusual approach, wrote:
Congratulations on the “Confiscated” installation. It worked out very well, and produces a substantially more interesting and striking show than the one I saw in Cleveland….
The concept you chose as the basis for the design, while simple, was also elegant.
While readying my “Confiscated!” essay, I noted that the Tuesday, 7/11/2017 New York Times Science Times presented three full pages of color images of animal remains confiscated by the U. S. government in its unceasing effort to stop illegal trafficking: