Firework war gave new meaning to quot;rocket#039;s red glarequot;

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2000

For some reason, the first of a new year brings so many memories flooding back, but this one needs a disclaimer. "All information imparted below; the author assumes no liability for tanned rear ends, chewed ears, or perpetual grounding. I didn't say this was smart, just hopefully funny."

There. That said, one of the major memories of this time of year, especially from that time in durance vile with Marvin, Newton, and Elton Bainbridge III, is the sulfurous, smoky, hazy even?ngs spent locked in the mortal combat of bottle rocket wars.

Go ahead, I can take it. Yes, it was dangerous and loud and stupid and not very mature and fun and wonderful and frightening and what everybody needs to look back on and laugh. We even had rules for proper bottle rocket warfare: don't let your parents catch you.

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It all started with the ammunition run. There was something magical about standing in front of a fireworks stand, hard earned money in hand, haggling with some guy who looked like a refugee from Soldier of Fortune waxing rhapsodic about the flight capabilities of the Black Cat versus the Silver Horse brand of bottle rockets. You always had to get some roman candles: those were sort of the fireworks version of double-ought buckshot…great for hand-to-hand combat. I really liked those great big rockets: you could hide them somewhere, and when the tide of the battle turned aga?nst you, there was nothing like firing up one of those ballistic missles and clearing a path for retreat.

We all had our favorite launch vehicles. I preferred an old five-iron with the grip removed so you could stick the rocket down the shaft. I tied a rope around it so I could carry it at hip level and really wreak havoc. Newton had a slingshot and would loft cherry bombs off into the distance (it still amuses me that his nickname never became "Nub"). I think

Marvin was a purist and still used a "tall" Coke bottle.

The master of the bottle rocket war, however, was Elton Bainbridge III. He had that Special Forces mentality from birth, and when he took to a cut over a soybean field on a cold December evening, he became a cross between Georgie Patton, Baron von Clauswitz, and Sun Tzu. The boy could set an ambush, run a defilade, inspire his men, and scoot like the wind when cornered.

He also made a great target, since keeping his mouth shut was a genetic impossibility. Marvin, Newton, and I were trapped in a ditch as his troops kept up the onslaught. Elton's maniacal laugh made him easy to zero in, and Newton, Marvin and I let him have it with bottle rockets, cherry bombs, and one of those great big ICBM pyrotechnic thingies.

One rule that was inviolable was never carry your ammunition in your pockets. In a bag, or in a back pack, or anything that you could drop, but never in your coat pockets or anything else directly attached. Well, General Bainbridge forgot that rule, and Marvin lobbed a whole pack of Lady Fingers directly into the pocket of his old field jacket. The next thing we knew, there went Comet Elton dashing across the field, trailing sparks and flames like a re-entering Apollo spacecraft.

"And the rocket's red glare" took on a whole new meaning that evening.