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By Gary Atkinson

As the Fourth of July comes and goes, a young man’s mind turns to explosive devices. And “young” can be a relative term meaning youthful in age or simply immature, like yours truly.

With this in mind, I gathered up my brother-in-law Tony, my 17-year-old son Steve and for the first time this year, even included my 10-year-old daughter Kathleen. We piled into the truck and headed to the one place on earth that proudly commercializes everything that Massachusetts outlaws.

Of course, I refer to the great state of New Hampshire (new slogan, “Live Ordinance, or Die!”). In celebration of this second annual excursion, those of us over 12 removed our seat belts upon crossing the border and purchased a six pack of Pepsi without paying either sales tax or a bottle redemption fee.

It was a perfectly clear day, and our destination was a large fireworks store in Londonderry. Mindful of the fact that Massachusetts forbids nonprofessional detonation of fireworks, I feel compelled to clarify that it was our intention to fire these off over the water at my summer cottage in southwest New Hampshire.

We checked in at the desk, providing proof that we were over 21. There was no test for sanity, maturity or experience. And mercifully, no requirement of spousal approval for one’s wasteful spending of income on such frivolity.

Of the numerous alternatives offered in the Granite State, we selected this particular establishment simply because of their BOGO sale. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have a clue what this term meant if it weren’t for an unfortunate shopping experience with my wife. At that time I purchased a pillow during a Sears “Buy One, Get One Free” sale. Completing the transaction, I caught up to her and Kim asked where the other pillow was? I told her that I didn’t need a second one and immediately knew that this transgression would not go unpunished. “You never turn down free stuff, you Penelope!” So when Phantom Fireworks sent me a brochure offering BOGO… well, let’s just say I was smitten with the prospect of creating “Shock and Awe” over the normally placid waters of Highland Lake.

We pulled out two carts and started patrolling the aisles picking through ominous sounding packages. Honestly, we were in pursuit of those devices with the greatest potential for menacing any of our nearby cottages silly enough to challenge us with their own pitiful aerial display. At 17, Steve grasped the idea really well. But Kathleen kept choosing fireworks that had pictures of puppies on the wrappers.

Fortunately, the store help were very familiar with each item’s explosive nature and were soon directing us to the appropriate shelves. With this guidance, and a certain amount of intuition, our cart was soon locked and loaded with enough weaponry to fill two nights worth of entertainment.

Outside the sky had blackened and torrents of rain were drenching the parking lot. The young lady at the register was prattling on about another recent thunderstorm that knocked out power in the store. On that occasion, the lines backed up as the clerks were required to write down the number of every single firework purchased and calculate the bill by hand. I joked, “Well then speed it up a bit would you?”

She finished running our items through the scanner and let me know that my impressive total expense happened to qualify me for a free T-Shirt. Just as she was asking for my size we heard a tremendous crash and the lights went out. Seriously, if I spent $25 less, I’d have been out the door and on my way.

Instead, the entire ringing up exercise had been rendered moot. All of my fireworks were now going to have to go through the manual calculation. Of greater frustration, the power was knocked out of their credit card readers and such. Therefore, we were forced to leave the store, drive to a working ATM, and return with cash.

Tony began complaining about the enormous inconvenience to the extent that the store manager offered to give us a premiere firework for free. “Will that make you happy?” he asked. Tony responded, “I could be happier.” The manager added another large incendiary device, “How about now?” Tony prodded again, “Can I get even happier?” But at this point the store was putting up about $150 of free fireworks and the manager felt that there was, in fact, a price for happiness, and this price had been met.

Several hours after starting out, we got back with our unexpectedly large cache of fireworks. Our tardy return was not greeted amiably by my wife and the other members of her family situated around a table waiting for their overdue barbecue to commence. They were not softened by the story of the power failure and all the roadblocks that it entailed.

As a true shopper, she was impressed with Tony’s negotiating skills, and I simply tried to bask in his achievement. I knew that Kim would appreciate our efforts later when, to a deafening roar of the lakeside spectators, we released the aerial display… and after I finished feeding her hungry relatives!