In the city you had access to many things you didn’t have access to elsewhere. When the Fourth of July rolled around you could buy things the military couldn’t get their hands on. The process was similar to the Agriculture Industry believe it or not. It’s simple “supply and demand,”that’s all.
In Iowa, farmers plow the field, plant the corn, water it, harvest it, and sell it. There’s an incredible amount of work involved in this and the politics are truly mind-boggling but the formula is as simple as making water from ice. Nailing down a solid position in the illegal fireworks industry is much simpler, involving a car, an empty trunk, a full tank of gas, a short drive due south and of course any available funds which will become rather handy in procuring cherry bombs, ash cans, half-inchers, inchers, black cats, gangbusters, bottle rockets, rainbow rockets, and that real crowd pleaser, the Roman candle. A weekend trip to Dixieland and back, you markup your product, and quicker than a water-proof cherry bomb fuse you’re in business.
Fireworks have the unique ability to bring out things in people that… well, maybe we should have left these things where they were, right? “Let sleeping dogs lie,” if you follow my drift. It wasn’t until later in life I learned about mental disorders that were seen as “quirks” back then, and the term “red flags” hadn’t been invented yet. The warning signs were there but nobody could see them. Looking back I can spot those who were afflicted with what we now refer to as a “death wish” or were a little too interested in how fires could actually grow and probably wondered how big they could get. It’s a miracle nobody lost any limbs or bodily functions. “What ?”
In 1965 thirteen people in the entire United States picked up after their dog. These thirteen people, who discovered new ways to use the common plastic bag, were considered by most to be dumber than bait while every dog in the world saw this as true genius. What could possibly be more valuable? Not one single television commercial told us this but once word got around…
When you look at the numbers it’s hard to ignore the statistics here. Considering the “exciting” and uniquely similar artistic elements the row house offered (zero), the success (if you could call it that) was staggering. Imagine thirty mirror image houses identical to its neighbor facing another thirty identical houses across the street. The same mechanics that applied to the sardine packing industry moved up the food chain to the housing industry and the rest is history. The numbers involved took redundancy to new levels and offered boredom to the common man.
Dogs, known by true hearts as “love, trust and friendship with four legs and a tail,” have been considered status symbols by the affluent, sophisticated masses messing things up. It wasn’t so much a case of “imitation being a sincere form of flattery” but was more of a “monkey see, monkey do” deal. We’re talking Philadelphia not Paris. Breed didn’t matter. Size was the issue and whether we’re talking about dogs or cars, bigger was better and there are no hidden innuendos here, folks. If you had a dog the size of a Volkswagen you automatically had the right of way and the other guy had to cross the street to avoid the snarls, bared teeth or worse. If someone came along with a dog as big as a Buick then the Volkswagen had to yield. The motorcycles, of course, were in no man’s land and had to make unplanned and sometimes remarkable maneuvers to avoid traffic. The big fish ate the little fish and so on.
Okay, the puzzle’s coming together: many dogs on one block, some of these with tails that could send vases flying and all them were housebroken but the people didn’t pick up after their pets. There was a menacing free for all going on here but nobody could connect the dots. Large dogs consume large quantities of dog food which works its way through the digestion tract and voila! There you go. The words “Wow. Did somebody step in something?” was a common phrase heard daily all along Bustleton Avenue and especially around the school yard where everybody walked their dog to avoid a nasty confrontation by a non-dog owner who’s ignorance of the canine digestive system was matched only by his, or her justified but inflated anger. Threats were made, fingers were pointed and the piles piled up. Piles of doggy diamonds and doggy watermelons and now we add to this, the wonderful world of fireworks, the exotic dynamics at play behind pyrotechnics along with good `ole Kentucky gunpowder and this could really raise a stink.
It was customary in Philly for the older, wiser gang members with clout to beat up and pick on the younger defenseless members who were still going through the initiation ritual that never really ends. Once you’d figure out how to operate a calendar you’d realize the younger members will always be in this predicament with no foreseeable “fix” in the immediate future. Revenge, while reviled by many, was not only accepted but actually encouraged in Hell’s Bagels. And I think it’s fair to say whoever coined the term “sweet revenge” knew the difference between dollars and donuts. There’s something to be said about standing up for one’s self and becoming a contender, or at least trying.
It was also common practice to congregate, loiter, smoke cigarettes and wear black leather jackets at the school yard corner where hundreds of dogs (small, medium, large and extra-large) had left their contribution to the cause. It was also during the customary display of the pecking order that the recruits got their first real taste of revenge by locating a steaming Canine Mount Olympus a few feet from the center of the crowd and nonchalantly, inserting and lighting a “gangbuster” firecracker in it. A light tap on a shoulder and a friendly gesture towards what the future held brought bedlam like you can’t imagine. You just couldn’t run fast enough.
Inevitably, somebody would trip and fall setting off the domino effect as all the clowns in the tent performed moves never seen on any dance or ballroom floor only to collapse in a heap. The mind moves quicker than the body in situations like this and we’d be forced to choose between the death crawl and risk flying dog dirt debris or the hit the dirt strategy and hope for the best. It was a “crap shoot” either way and like everything else in Philly there were always winners and there were always losers.