Just back from the City of Newburgh’s annual fireworks display. Since there’s an almost-full moon tonight, and since we had lovely, if breezy, weather today (as opposed to the past 45,800 days in a row, when we’ve had rain) — since all of this, i thought this would be a great show.
God knows we deserve it. Two years ago the weather stunk on the Fourth. It wasn’t raining, but: Bummer! We had extremely high humidity, cool temperatures and strong winds, all of which have a rotten effect on fireworks. (As in, they should be postponed.) But last year it was even worse. It might as well have been raining; it had rained all day, and the grass on the bluff was soaking wet and hadn’t been mowed in a while. Kids tried to run around before, during and after the show, but they kept tripping in the knee-deep grass. So did the grownups who were looking for a spot to plant their lawn-chairs. And the fireworks! The fireworks never got even as high as the bluff. It was probably the first time in history that spectators had to look down to see fireworks.
I live right on the bluff – the city’s southernmost street, overlooking the Hudson and Bannerman’s Island – so the whole city parades before my porch every year on the Fourth, on their way to the best viewing area. About 50 yards from my house, you can see the fireworks being launched from a boat in the middle of the river, close to the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. This year, with the weather so good, i took that walk with high hopes.
God did his part. Moonshine shimmered in a bold slash across the river; fireflies glimmered in force and the stars, like proud, older siblings, seemed to be cheering them on as they themselves prickled the black, cloudless sky. Yellowish sodium-lights on the bridge necklaced the Hudson to the north while dozens of fishing boats and sailboats sporting blue, yellow or red lights dotted the water below. And all the while small planes circled overhead, carrying, i suppose, rich people who’d paid to see the show from that unique perspective.
We Newburghers did our part. Fully equipped with marijuana, big cans of beer clad in paper bags, and hundreds of children waving Glo-sticks and sparklers, we thronged to the long curve of the bluff and staked out places to spread our picnic blankets, or just walked around greeting one another till the show began.
It was … passable. The fireworks rose higher than last year, but still not very high. The booms that accompany them were louder than last year, but still not very loud. The colors seemed fewer. Maybe green and yellow are less expensive than the other colors, but it seemed like most of the fireworks were in those two shades.
i recall reading in the Record last year that this Fourth would be a rather lame one, for both international-disaster reasons and Newburgh reasons. A huge fireworks factory in China — i think it said it was the biggest one in the world — had exploded with loss of life, and had set, like, a whole province on fire. And then Newburgh turned up practically totally broke, and wasn’t going to be able to afford a big fireworks show this year even if there were any fireworks to be had. But somehow, the city got hold of some, and God bless them for giving it a try.
It was kinda crummy. How can fireworks not be exciting? But i tell you, a lot of people were looking at their watches after about the first five minutes. Lots of people had brought their own fireworks and bottle rockets to the bluff, and they were getting as much attention as the show on the river.
The problem was, every launch from the boat seemed to fit one of four templates, rotating over and over again. I gave them little names:
1. “The Fountain,” a pretty display of yellow suds that shoots straight up and then explodes outward into a million bits of green twinkles. “The Fountain” was kinda small and low and never made that wonderful “boom” that you want to hear on the Fourth of July.
2. (New this year:) “A Thousand Sliver-Moons Flash On and Off as They Shimmy Down.” Again, quite beautiful and i’d never seen it before, but they replayed this one about 200 times too often tonight. Also, it produced no boom at all that we could hear on the bluff.
3. (My favorite:) “Sixteen Silver Penises Doing Synchronized Diving.” Problem: You see one, you’ve seen them all.
4. ”The Big White Chrysanthemum that Crumbles into Green.” Beautiful, but after the fifth or sixth explosion of this, a toddler near me whined, “We saw that one already!” Took the words right outta my mouth.
One other thought occurred to me tonight, amid all the illegal fireworks and drugs: Are there no cops in this town? Nary a one was in sight all night long, although i suppose some plainclothes guys could have been there.
Ah, well. As i strolled home through the haze of pot-, cigar-, and cigarette-smoke, watching for woodchuck holes, guy-wires from utility poles, and toddlers with sparklers, i heard a woman say, “That was the worst fireworks show ever!”
But no, it wasn’t. Last year’s was.
This year, i’d give God an A, and my poor, struggling city a rock-solid D-minus.