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Before I go any further, I need to put the disclaimer up. But, I’ll tease you with this. Jonny D. and I blew up the back yard.
Summertime was the best. No school, nowhere to be and for the most part, my parents let me alone and allowed me to run free. So, most days were spent out of the house and tearing around with my best friend, Jonny D. Both of his parents worked, so during the summer, if we were up to something nefarious, we’d go to Jonny’s. And if we wanted something to eat, we’d go to my place. Mom was always about and made a damn fine grilled cheese, which was just what we needed after almost blowing ourselves up. Which was more often than we would ever admit to our parents. Jonny and I would blow something up at least once a week, more if we had firecrackers.
Not long after we started our adventures in pyromania Jonny’s mom found herself a new beau. Naturally, we didn’t like him. Jonny’s dad was a bear of a man, all hair and spectacles. He followed boxing. He smoked cigars and drank gin straight. Jonny’s dad had more records than either of us had ever seen. He knew jazz inside and out and would tell us stories while the records played. This is a man who let us listen to “SuperNigger” and “Is It Something I Said” for Christ’s sake. Who’s going to compete with this guy ?
What was that ? New Guy hunts ? Big deal. Any animal with a bone can kill something. I’m sorry ? He hand loads his own shells and keeps a pound of gunpowder in the basement ? Sorry, cigar smoking-jazz man. You just lost out.
It didn’t take too terribly long for Jonny’s mom and her new boy to move in together and once they did, we immediately started the sucking up. We’d hang out and talk to him for a while after he got home from work. Asking him about the best way to gut a turkey and how to hang a deer before you dressed it. He’d have a few beers and take us down to the basement, where’d he’s show off his collection of guns and bows. And, after a few weeks, he showed us the hand loader and the gunpowder.
Let me be clear here. Jonny and I had no interest whatsoever in how to make a bullet. We just wanted to make a bigger bomb than we’d ever made before. We’d made several in the past, mostly film canister sized stuff, but we’d had to take apart what seemed like hundreds of firecrackers before we had enough gunpowder to even partially fill the canisters. Sitting out on the back porch with our little folding knives, carefully cutting each one apart and dumping the contents into an old mason jar. Which, when combined with a paper funnel, we’d use to fill the canisters. It was slow work, and we were kids. Our attention span was thirty minutes, tops, unless something blew up. But it still seemed like drudgery.
We’d done the research at the local library. Basic guides for almost anything were still available at the library when I was a kid. We didn’t have the Intarweb or The Anarchist’s Cookbook. But we had old bomb schematics and basic chemistry manuals. And stuff you’d find around the house. It’s kind of scary how easy it was. And we put together, in our heads at least, the makings of a decent bomb. Eight ounces of gunpowder, distributed evenly and tamped down across the bottom of a coffee can. Cotton wadding, to compress the gunpowder, comprised mostly of shredded cotton balls. A piece of twine, rolled in glue and then in gunpowder for a fuse. Melted candle wax would seal the whole thing tight. All we needed was the gunpowder. And there it was. Waiting for us.
Over the next few weeks, Jonny’d take a little bit of gunpowder and add it to the mason jar. And every day we’d weigh the mason jar on a food scale and subtract the weight of the jar. Hoping, that we’d finally hit the magical eight ounces. It took quite a bit longer than we’d originally anticipated. We were paranoid that he’d notice a fair amount of the gunpowder missing and bust us. So we moved slowly. And finally, a week after school started, we had enough.
After school, every day, we’d run like hell over to Jonny’s house and do a little more work on the bomb. And after a week, we were fairly satisfied with the job we’d done. All we needed was the opportunity. That weekend, Jonny’s dad was going away and since he and his brother were staying at his mother’s house... Well, you can see where this is heading. The night before, I stayed over at Jonny’s and we set the alarm for six. It’d take us a couple of hours to walk over to his dad’s place and get everything set up.
It was unusually cold that morning. Not that it mattered to me, but Jonny had a jacket. And the leaves were changing. The air was a little crisp and we could see our breath. This beautiful fall morning to spend and all we wanted to do was blow shit up. It was a good walk, but we got to Jonny’s dad’s place a little earlier than expected. We had a foldable shovel with us that we’d found at an Army Surplus store a few months before and we dug a small hole in the back yard to bury the bomb in. We lit the fuse, and ran like hell.
We figured, by the length of the fuse, that we had about fifteen seconds to get away. We had a little more (the twine burned kinda slow) but it was still tight. We ducked behind the big tree in his back yard just in time. “Boom” really doesn’t cover it. “Blam” isn’t even close. A roar unlike anything we’d heard erupted from the yard. Dirt and sticks and other debris flew into the air, just as the sound hit and bounced off the house. Jonny and I peeked from around the tree to see a gaping hole in the ground with smoke pouring out of it.
And that’s when we noticed the wadding. The cotton wadding that we’d used to pack the gunpowder down, that apparently wasn’t packed tight enough. Or maybe it was, and we’d just used entirely too much of it. But a whole lot of it had flown into the air, on fire, to gently drift to the ground. Onto the leaves that had fallen from the trees and a semi dry lawn. Within thirty seconds, there were a dozen small fires in Jonny’s back yard.
We barely got a chance appreciate our handiwork before we were running around and putting out the fires. Stamping on them in our ‘Chucks, watching the cheap rubber melt as we ran around, trying to keep the yard from fully going up. We were scared as hell that the lawn would catch fire and elated at what we’d created at the same time. After we were satisfied that they were all out and that our shoes hadn't caught fire as well, we covered them with whatever leaves hadn’t caught fire and prayed that Jonny’s dad wouldn’t rake the lawn. We’d left a hole about eight inches deep and about a foot wide right in the middle of the yard. It was still smoking a little and there was nothing left of the coffee can. We gaped at it, completely amazed that it’d worked. And it had nearly burned the house down.
We hung around the house for a little while, just to make sure that no one in the neighborhood called the cops. And after a few hours, we headed back to Jonny’s other house. As we were walking down the street, he pulled two cigarettes out of his bag. A celebratory measure. He handed one to me along with his pack of matches and grinned. You see, he had this idea for a bigger bomb….