I'm back slingin' fireworks. Good times. I'm sure I'll write about my exciting new adventures spending 11 plus hours a day in a a shipping container in a strip mall parking lot soon, but for the sake of intellectual honesty (and lack of time) I'll repost the thing I wrote about my 2006 gig from my old Myspace blog, in case you haven't read it.
I recently had the rare opportunity to spend 233 hours within 25 days inside of a large yellow container, selling fireworks. In a Big K parking lot. On the outskirts of Baltimore.
I know, a million questions abound. The most common I ran into: do you sell firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, mortars, m-80s, stuff that goes in the air, stuff that goes boom, cherry bombs, quarter-sticks, and C4. The answer to all: no. Maryland law doesn’t allow it. Most likely follow-up question received: Do you sell (name any aforementioned item again, generally a derivative of the first question, only worse, i.e. “do you sell firecrackers? No. “Then do you guys got M-80s? Still no.)
Of course, you may ask, what the hell am I, a college graduate that made good money in 2005 and went to Europe earlier this year doing selling fireworks? And what’s with my hair these days? Well, fireworks is a better gig than you think, and is likely far better than I will make it out to be here, plus, you just don’t get any interesting stories by being low-rung middle class and slinging phones.
On my first day selling fireworks, I believed I had, in fact, made a mistake. It was June 14, long before any sort of rush to buy began, and also a 12 hour day. I woke up at 7:30 a.m. to beat traffic and pack a lunch (which is how one eats in a fireworks stand that one cannot leave) and I was hung-over and a half. I had no recourse but to get soused the night before, in order to pass out early and shatter my lovely unemployed sleeping schedule that involved waking up at 1 p.m.
I had to drive to a distant suburb for “training,” which took 20 minutes and then head to my own stand. At the Big K. For whatever reason, the first day was chock full of crazy motherfuckers. For those of you who have worked at bars, coffee shops, convenience stores, and the like, you are well familiar with the nutcase that comes into your establishment and starts talking to you. No interest in your actual place of business, but clearly with nothing at all to do and no place to be. Well, in each of these establishments, you have the luxury of kicking out said people after a while, especially if they aren’t buying anything. At a fireworks stand, I’m already on a parking lot, so there’s no “out” to kick anybody.
I spoke with my first redneck arms-dealer type early on. “You guys got any M-80’s?”
“No. I wish. They aren’t legal in Maryland though.”
“Oh. Okay. Do you have any quarter-sticks, then?”
“Ah, no man, I’m pretty sure that’s not legal anywhere.”
“Oh, sure they are, I bought them in Florida.”
The one compliment I will ever give Florida is the following: backwoods though it is, even Florida doesn’t see quarter sticks.
Later that day, I met Mr. Quarter Stick’s cultural opposite. Two kids get out of a black Mercedes SUV with New York tags.
“Hey man, you smoke?
“I’m running kinda low,” I say, expecting a cig bum.
“No, not cigarettes. You need anything? I got weed, coke, whatever you want.”
“Well, I’m actually broke right now.”
“Oh, cool man. I check you out later.”
Ah, the friendly local neighborhood drug dealer.
Later, I met a retarded Asian kid who wanted to know my name an where I’m from and how old I am and how many miles were on my car and my favorite brand of gum, really anything he could think of, none of it fireworks-related.
No shortage of people asked if my fireworks were legal. “no,” I thought, “the cops will never find me in a large, stationary, canary yellow container with a giant eagle sign with 111 stars (I counted them the first day) on it.”
As the day wound down and I thought I had gotten through the heart of the crazy, Wild Bill (how he introduced himself) came along. Wild Bill also wanted to know where I was from, what brought me here, what my opinion on this and that are. I honestly don’t ask my doctor (like I have one) for this much background. I had no clue how much people would want to know about the guy selling fireworks. Wild Bill hung around for close to half an hour. “I can read people.” he said. He didn’t buy anything, just talked crazy. He said to watch out, this part of town can be rough. He finally left. I grabbed my box cutter, and kept it in my pocket for pretty much the next 24 days.
The second day, and subsequent days, were far better. I started an hour later, I wasn’t hung-over, I brought some books and a chair, better times all around. The comedy highlight of the first week involved me sitting on my chair near the door, reading, and a square, yuppie, beamer guy in his 50s (can we call them yuppies anymore? Yuppie is young urban professional. I propose we change the tag for these former watchers of thirtysomething to ospies: old suburban professionals) drove up next to my door, rolled down his window, and said, “do you have any em-eighties?” It might be a you had to be there thing, but he said M-80 like he was spelling it out, if that makes sense.
Others would drive by and yell “Hey, you got any Roman Candles?”
“No, nothing that goes in the air.”
“Oh, okay. You have any rockets?”
One guy, who also stayed for 20 minutes and bought nothing, with his wife in the car the whole time, looked almost exactly like James Hetfield, post-haircut. Insisted on shaking my hand, and gives one of these “I’m going to break every bone in your hand” shakes. He ultimately left, upset that I did not carry any C-4. Which, I am pretty sure, is military grade.
Work was often very slow, sometimes no customers for hours. I managed to read five books (including Dante’s Inferno, finally,) a Maxim, 4 Sports Illustrateds, every daily Baltimore Sun, 3 Sunday Washington Posts, and also did many crosswords, Jumbles, and oh, the Sudoko. I became a Sudoko junkie, even bought a book of them because the puzzles in the paper got to be too easy. All this, plus at least 15 cigarette beaks a day. Thing is, I dug this. I don’t think too many people are as good at doing nothing than I am. I am the Ted Bundy of time. If you’ve seen my surveys, than you already know this.
I saw a truck drive by, with a sign for Bad Boy Bail Bonds painted on, along with a gangster looking guy as the logo. And yes, it was an Escalade. I also saw one guy drive by bumping, and I mean bumping, that “let the bodies hit the floor” song. I had no idea anybody was that into that song, especially now.
I thought about music a lot, of course. Had the pod there with me all the time. I’ve decided that 2006 is a surprisingly good music year, with many killer albums coming out this year, or late last year that I first heard this year. Offhand, I can name the new Chili Peppers, which I’ve been digging a lot, along with the new Pearl Jam, the new Tool, the new Mogwai, and the Danger Doom record, which is just sick. Perhaps my favorite; though it came out in 2005, is one I really hate to admit because I hated the band forever and it ended up on my pod because Daniel was burning it and I didn’t listen to it until it snuck out of the pod when I was all high in Austria in February – Plans. The Death Cab record. I really didn’t want to like it, but it has actually reached the status of record I can listen to twice in a row and never skip any song on it when it comes up in shuffle. Basically, I’m at the point where I might actually revisit their back catalog of songs that I once disliked.
Another scary thing on the music tip, and how fucking old I am: I had a staff on the Fourth of July, since it actually was busy, including a 16 year old kid. The kid was all over the Metalica and Guns N Roses on the pod, and I realized that Appetite For Destruction and …And Justice for All (no elegant way to write that, unless I put Justice first, which I should have) were records that I was into when they came out, and both came out before this kid was born. This was somehow much worse than when I met people born after Thriller, because, hell, I was five when Thriller came out.
Kids are amazingly fucking bratty these days, and parents amazingly weak. I don’t feel like going on about this anymore, but it’s bad.
Baltimore seems to be chock full of girls with really, really bad tattoos. Don’t get me wrong, I dig a tattooed punk rock chick as much as the next guy, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about shit you just don’t see in Chicago/Lawrence/Seattle/LA/wherever the hell else I’ve lived. I’m talking about chicks with their names tattooed on their necks, almost beyond prison style.
I’ve saved one of my last spots here for perhaps my strangest customer of all. Middle aged guy, certainly an ospie, kids in tow, wearing a baseball cap with “Heaven University” hand-written on it. He bought a couple of things, and started complaining about BGE (Baltimore Gas and Electric. For non-Baltimore readers; which is everyone I know, BGE is planning to raise their rates, like, a lot, and it’s pretty much the top political story in Baltimore right now. I will not bore you with what I know about this, which isn’t that much anyway.) Anyway, so we chatted about BGE, and the robber barons, and the politicians, and the apparent detriments to the notion of the for-profit utility company, and he said that our only hope at this point was to pray that the legislators can block BGE’s power grab and put the robber barons in their place. I agreed, assuming that he meant pray in the figurative sense, but he then explained that he meant it quite literally, and had created a website (which I will not promote here) and started a grass-roots organization to pray for energy price relief. I thought, of course, that this is a pretty ridiculous idea, but what the hell, it’s interesting to talk to somebody who is apparently a religious fundamentalist but a fiscal liberal, as generally the party line would be; I support prayer in school and am pro life, therefore I also support tax cuts for big business.
He left, then returned to buy more sparklers, and I realized I had misjudged his apparent quasi-leftiness. He brought literature, one promoting his website, the other proclaiming (through a doctor affiliated with The Life Foundation or Trinity Productions, or something along both those lines) that the pill causes cancer. He then talked to me about how we, as men, need to be knights in shining armor, to protect our women, from doctors if necessary, because without women, we won’t have any future generations, because they have the kids. And, you know, population is on the decline in Spain and Italy, he mentioned.
I’d had enough of this ass clown. I was tired at nodding at his outlandish claims to make him go away. I pointed out that the United States has gained 50 million people in population in my lifetime alone. He said that this was mostly immigration. Then, what of India, I asked him. India has gained some 300 million in population in my lifetime.
“But they worship cows. They’re pagans. Do you want to worship a cow?”
I didn’t bother mentioning that India is hugely multi-cultural with large Muslim and Christian minorities, nor did I bother to mention that there’s a lot more to Hinduism than “worshipping cows.” I just said, “Who are you to approve of what somebody else believes?” Sadly, I don’t remember what else I said, because I only wrote down what he said, but I swear, it was really cool, and I totally won the argument.
A final note – for some reason, when you are working in a fireworks stand, people often think that you are involved in some sort of traveling circus economy. “Where did you come from?” “Where do you guys go next?” Shit like that. As if though I’m waiting for the flatbed truck to load up my container to head to, say, Ohio, where for some reason Labor Day is the big fireworks holiday. Dude, I just work here.
So that’s selling fireworks, I guess. Would I do it again next year, should such circumstances present themselves (being in Baltimore, no real job at the time, desire to make money quick, etc)? Fuck yeah.