Can you hear them?
The fireworks? The pows and the pops? The plaintive wails of unnerved dogs, frantic cats, fed-up humans?
Fireworks are the sound of freedom, don’t you know, if your version of freedom means repeatedly exploding loud, likely illegal, potentially limb-losing and incredibly irritating incendiary devices in the land of drought and wind.
Once again, we are enmeshed in the great American debate over how much freedom to fire off fireworks is too much. But this year’s debate seems more explosive.
Since June 1, Albuquerque has received about 1,630 calls, emails and contacts through the city’s website and One Albuquerque app concerning fireworks, according to the mayor’s office.
Social media is also bursting with the red glare of fireworks outrage.
“Dear jerk shooting fireworks during the late hours, every night, in my neighborhood,” Stephanie Chavez wrote on Facebook to her not-so-dear tormenter. “It’s giving my dogs a panic attack and it’s driving me nuts.”
It’s just after 11 p.m. when Chavez and I chat, and, as we do, fireworks are kabooming in her Parkwest neighborhood near Unser NW.
“Every single night,” she says.
But she has a warning for her mortar enemies.
“I will find you,” she wrote on her Facebook post. “AND I will pick one random inconvenient Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. to stand outside your house and SING the most annoying song I can find, at the top of my lungs, so loud and SO UGLY. So help me God.”
Chavez, by the way, is a member of the New Mexico National Guard and a former Miss New Mexico, so she isn’t playing.
In Rio Rancho, fireworks are so loud that windows rattle, Elizabeth Martinez wrote. In Santa Fe, a dog was so shaken by the fireworks blasts that he jumped through a window, the shards of glass cutting his hide, Dee Elle wrote. Illegal bottle rockets are flying. Business in the fireworks tents is booming.
Fireworks are going off even in the middle of the day in Gloria Graeber’s North Valley neighborhood.
“My dogs tremble and pile on me,” she writes. “What do our veterans do with PTSD? Why do they have to suffer year after year?”
Nationally, the fireworks industry is reporting record sales.
“Without reviewing specific numbers, the demand and the business we’ve seen so far has been the strongest early fireworks season I’ve seen in my years of involvement in the fireworks business,” Bill Weimer, vice president and general counsel at mega-fireworks retailer Phantom Fireworks, was quoted as saying in a recent CNN article.
That same article also reports that backyard fireworks use is expected to hit an all-time high on the Fourth of July, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
Why so much this year?
Experts like Weimer suggest that being pent up because of the pandemic and riled up because of the protests are likely factors in the fireworks frenzy.
Some people have a lot more time and a lot less to do because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
And some are so frustrated and so angry that they just need to blow off steam by blowing up stuff.
But surely there are better ways to expend that frustration and anger that don’t terrorize animals, threaten our parched environment, break our ordinances or frustrate and anger our neighbors, yes?
Need I remind you of the rules?
In Albuquerque, the sale and use of aerial fireworks and noisy “ground audible devices,” such as bottle rockets and firecrackers, can result in fines of up to $500 and 90 days in jail.
Aerial fireworks are banned in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County, as well, and the sale and use of all fireworks is banned in the county’s “wildlands,” which include the East Mountains, Sandia foothills and Rio Grande bosque. Violators can be fined up to $1,000 and less than a year in jail.
Other communities and counties have similar restrictions.
None of which appears to be silencing or stopping the noisy revelers – or the mysterious underground retailers selling the illegal high-flying, high-sparkle aerial shells.
And so, dear Americans, we have another polarizing situation to contend with. It is not enough, apparently, to fight over MAGA hats, face masks or which lives matter. No, we need to toss in a bombshell or two.
One fireworks aficionado explained that he has every right to blow up stuff, frightened pups and sleepless neighbors be damned, because it is as American as our national anthem.
“It’s the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” he wrote, citing Francis Scott Keys’ lyrics describing the British siege on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, when America fought to hold onto its fledgling independence.
We Americans are now fighting each other.
These nights, to folks like Stephanie Chavez, it sometimes sounds like the war of 2020 out there.
Maybe singing loudly one fine random inconvenient Sunday night isn’t such a bad idea.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.