Foomp!

This story is absolutely true. It happened in about 1991, when I lived in Southern California. Two buddies were over: Rick (a network engineer for a large imported car company) and Steve (a young enlisted man in the U.S. Air Force).

Steve, being the young gung-ho military type he was, wanted nothing but to light everything in my small cache of fireworks. I have …er, had… a nice variety, from rockets to firecrackers to jumping jacks. It was still daylight, and I told Steve to go ahead and shoot some things off in the driveway, but to be quiet about it — fireworks are illegal in the city. He shot a few things off …under the disapproving glare from a neighbor a few doors up the street. One rocket really brought a lot of attention: it blew up about 20′ off the ground, right between us and the neighbor man, who was out watering his plants. I gave Steve “the look,” but it didn’t seem to sink in. As I said, he was young.

We went in to let the neighbor cool off a bit, but Steve started looking through my fireworks drawer some more and spotted something in the corner: a one-of-a-kind little device that I had made. I unfortunately cannot remember what all was in it, but it was one of those translucent 35mm film canisters filled about a third of the way with a nice fine powder. (Flash powder? Gunpowder? A nice mix of unknown proportions? shrug) The cap had a tiny hole in it, from which stuck about 4″ of heavy-duty fusing. Steve got a big smile on his face.

“Let’s blow this off!” he demanded.

“No way,” I said. “It’ll be heard for blocks and someone’ll call the cops for sure.”

Steve examined it skeptically with his military-trained eyes. “No way,” he proclaimed. “It’ll just go ‘Foomp’!”

“No, I think it’ll blow, and loud,” I said, and looked to Rick for his more mature sense of agreement.

“I think it’ll go ‘Foomp’! too,” Rick said.

Great: outvoted. Steve grabbed the device and we filed out into the driveway.

“Put it on the sidewalk,” I commanded — I didn’t want any black marks on the driveway. I looked up the street, but the neighbor wasn’t in sight. Good.

Steve lit the fuse and the three of us backed up — a big 10′ away. The fuse burnt slowly, the flame spitting out of it and, because the canister was translucent, after a moment we could actually see it burning inside the plastic film can!

Nothing happened.

“See?” Steve smirked — about a millisecond before it vaporized in a horrendous explosion. It was so loud that the three of us felt the shockwave as it slammed into our chests. A millisecond after that, the three of us all looked at each other. A millisecond after that, we all three did an in-unison about-face and quick-stepped shoulder-to-shoulder into the house without saying a word as the echo died down.

There was no use in my saying “I told you so!” — that was rather obvious.

Another toy I had was a police scanner. It was, of course, all set up for the local channels. Steve knew that and asked me for it so he could keep an ear out. Rick and I went into the living room to chat.

Not two minutes went by when Steve calls from the other room, “What’s the street number here?”

Uh huh. “What did you hear?” I called back.

“1374? It was this street,” he said. That was the right number, but I was still skeptical that he had actually heard the cops dispatched to the house — my house. But Steve had stepped into the living room with a pretty serious look on his face.

I looked out the window just in time to see the patrol car stop at the neighbor’s house …right where the guy had been watering his lawn, and saw him pointing the officer to my house. Damn: Steve had heard the cops dispatched! I told Rick and Steve to stay inside — Rick, because he was merely an innocent bystander, and Steve because I knew that if the cops wanted to be nasty, they’d call the Military Police out from the Air Force base and Steve would be in big, big trouble. And since I didn’t want the officer in the house in case there were any …um… “devices” left lying around, I stepped outside and met the nice officer at the end of the driveway.

“Evening,” I said in greeting. The officer wanted to know if I knew anything about fireworks being set off at my address. “Yeah, I’m not surprised you’re here,” I said, thinking fast. “A friend found an M-80 [the largest firecracker you can buy] that had gotten wet, and he lit it. We thought it would just fizzle — you know, since it was wet — but it went ‘bang’ all right.” After a dramatic pause, I thought of something to add — he had gotten here so quick, he may have actually heard it go off himself. “If anything,” I said helpfully, “it was louder than the usual M-80!” By this time, the sun was down and it was starting to get dark. The cop turned on his flashlight and looked at the sidewalk where I had indicated we had lit the “M-80”. Sure enough, there was a black mark right in the center of his flashlight beam.

But off to the edge of the beam, something else had caught my eye. The plastic film can was disintegrated by the explosion, but right there at the edge of the sidewalk was the lid! Oh, that damning lid, with the little hole in the top for the fuse, and the black mark from where that burning fuse went from the outside world to the inner chamber filled with just the right mixture of powder and air. The evidence that proved this was no firecracker, but an “explosive device” — and maybe this was the sort of leftover evidence that might make “probable cause” for an arrest.

“Huh… it made a mark,” I said, rubbing the burn on the middle of the sidewalk with my shoe to keep him focused on that spot. As I pulled my foot back I deftly kicked that little cap way away from the illuminated circle made by the officer’s flashlight. I could see him take note of just the perfect mix of calmness, self-assuredness and embarrassment on my face.

“Any more of those inside?” he asked. Well, I had only made one, so I was able to tell him “no” quite honestly. “You know fireworks are illegal in this city?” he asked. “Yep,” I said, just as honestly. “And there won’t be any more,” I assured him. He nodded, got in his car, and drove away. The moment he was around the corner I grabbed that cap from where I kicked it.

I went back inside to two very anxious people — and held up the cap to Rick and Steve’s wide eyes. They could hardly believe I had kept it out of the officer’s view, and that the officer didn’t come into the house to haul them away.

But I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I looked Steve right in his military-trained eyes and said in my still-self-assured tone, “I told you it wouldn’t go ‘Foomp’! you moron!”

(This original story copyright ©2001, 2016 Randy Cassingham, all rights reserved.)

Posted June 3, 2016

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