Buying Fireworks

A friend on Facebook: “You can learn everything you need to know about someone just watching them purchase fireworks.”

One summer, my best friend and I were too poor to buy fireworks, but we loved window shopping at the firework stand. The dudebro attendants noticed us and offered us a deal: take stacks of their flyers, distribute them far and wide on our bikes, and they’d give us $100 worth of store credit. Deal! We took off and papered Anaheim with their ads going door-to-door.

Hours later, we returned. And were laughed at by the same guys: sorry, dudes, you should have gotten it in writing, sucks to be you!

My friend and I moped around my house, crushed. My father noticed and asked what’s going on.

He went to the fireworks stand and returned with $100 worth of fireworks.

I learned everything I needed to know about my dad from watching him “purchase” those fireworks.

For Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

I grew up watching Star Trek with my parents, and it played a particular role in bonding with my father. A 10th-grade dropout, a mechanic, a contractor and engineer with little regard for standards, measurements, or straight lines–nonetheless, my father was fascinated by the ideas in the show. Long after we’d watch a rerun of the original series, he’d want to talk about the Big Ideas coded into the adventure of the week. Working under a car, he’d muse how unlikely it was that we were alone in the universe, or urge that humanity needed to get out there, if only so we spread out and increased our chance of survival. The show made a philosopher out of a high school dropout who never read a book in his adult life.


This is Captain Christopher Pike, confined to a wheelchair after being horribly burned by radiation. He’s only able to communicate by beeping: once for ‘yes’, twice for ‘no’. (I know–oddly retarded technology for 300 years in the future, but whatever).

My father and I watched Pike, in the first-season episode The Menagerie, reduced to cryptic yes/no signals. Beep. Beeeep Beeeeeeep.

I clearly remember my father turning to me and saying, “If I ever get like that, if I can’t live without being plugged into a bunch of machines, pull the plug. Don’t hesitate. Pull the plug.”

Thirty years later, a doctor called to tell me they’d tried everything they could think of, but my father wasn’t coming out of the coma they’d induced. Ever. It should have been routine, like waking from sleep, I was told. Which is why I’d left his side. Which is why I was three thousand miles away when things went inexplicably and permanently bad.

The doctor wanted instructions. In the background, I heard the life support machines. Beep. Beeeep Beeeeeeep. I didn’t hesitate. The doctor was kind enough to put the phone to my father’s ear, and I spoke to him while the tones of the machinery lengthened, became steady, then were shut off.

Sometimes Star Trek gets things wrong. There *are* no-win scenarios. But because of the show and its ability to fire imagination, I knew exactly what to do, and was equipped with the resolve needed in that moment. I couldn’t turn death into a fighting chance to live, but I could honor a final request and do it without flinching.

Father’s Day

So it’s Father’s Day, and I’m feeling a little melancholy, which friends have picked up on. See, my dad had a case of bad timing, passing four years ago. Now, every Father’s Day ad takes me behind the curtain at Westmoreland Hospital to long hours sitting with dad’s comatose body, passing the time watching medicines worm their way through tubes. This was no big deal, I was told–they’d induced the coma for healing, and if I wanted I could go…they’d have him call when they brought him up, and all would be well. And I’d show him the photos of me mugging over his unconscious form, something for him to chuckle at when he was up & around, and proof to him that yes, I was there for him.

And of course, that’s not what happened. It was already over except for the breathing, and I brought back as souvenirs pictures of me with my arm around him, grinning at the joke that I was there and he didn’t know. We’d have a laugh about that later, I thought.

So I wish he’d passed near Arbor Day–or another holiday with little or no advertising budget.