Category Archives: creative writing

Fireworks

When I was growing up, we always spent Fourth of July with my father’s Aunt and Uncle, at their fabulous house in Toluca Lake.
It was always a grand affair, and I looked forward to spending each Independence Day listening to Sousa marches, swimming in their enormous pool, and watching a fireworks show on the back patio.
This fireworks display was always exciting because we were in the middle of LA County, where even the most banal of fireworks –the glow worms– are highly illegal, and carried severe fines and the threat of imprisonment, should we be discovered by LA’s finest. The excitement of watching the beautiful cascade of sparks and color pouring out of a Happy Flower With Report was always enhanced by the knowledge that we were doing something forbidden and subversive.
Yes, even as a child I was already on my way to being a dangerous subversive. Feel free to talk to any of my middle school teachers if you doubt me.
Each year, the older children, usually teenagers and college-aged, would be chosen to light the fireworks, and create the display for the rest of the family.
I was Chosen in 1987, when I was 14.
The younger cousins, with whom I’d sat for so many years, would now watch me the way we’d watched Tommy, Bobby, Richard, and Crazy Cousin Bruce, who always brought highly-illegal firecrackers up from Mexico.
I was going to be a man in the eyes of my family.
This particular 4th of July was also memorable because it was the first 4th that was celebrated post-Stand By Me, and at the time I had become something of a mini-celebrity around the family. Uncles who had never talked to me before were asking me to sign autographs for people at work, older cousins who had bullied me for years were proclaiming me “cool,” and I was the recipient of a lot of unexpected attention.
I was initially excited to get all this newfound attention, because I’d always wanted to impress my dad’s family, and make my dad proud, but deep down I felt like it was all a sham. I was the same awkward kid I’d always been, and they were treating me differently because of celebrity, which I had already realized was fleeting and bullshit.
Looking back on it now, I think the invitation to light fireworks may have had less to do with my age than it had to do with my growing fame…but I didn’t care. Fame is fleeting…but it can get a guy some cool stuff from time to time, you know? I allowed myself to believe that it was just a coincidence.
The day passed as it always did. There were sack races, basket ball games, and water balloon tosses, all of which I participated in, but with a certain impatience. These yearly events were always fun, to be sure, but they were standing directly between me and the glorious excitement of pyrotechnic bliss.
Finally, the sun began to set. Lawn chairs were arranged around the patio, clothes were changed, and I bid my brother and sister farewell as I joined my fellow firework lighters near the corner of the house.
As the sun sank lower and lower, sparklers were passed out to everyone, even the younger children. I politely declined, my mind absolutely focused on the coming display. I wanted to make a big impression on the family. I was going to start out with something amazing, which would really grab their attention. I’d start with some groundflowers, then a Picolo Pete, and a sparkling cone. From then on, I’d just improvise with the older cousins, following their lead as we worked together to weave a spectacular tapestry of burning phosphor and gunpowder for 5 generations of family.
The sun finally set, the family was finally seated, and the great display was to begin. Some of the veteran fireworks lighters went first, setting off some cascading fountains and a pinwheel. The assembled audience cheered and gasped its collective approval, and it was my turn.
I steeled myself, and walked to the center of the large patio, casually kicking aside the still-hot remains of just-fired fountains. Casually, like someone who had done this hundreds of times before.
My hands trembled slightly, as I picked up three ground flowers that I’d wound together. My thumb struck flint and released flaming butane. I lit the fuse and became a man. The sparkling fire raced towards the ignition point, and rather than following the directions to “LIGHT FUSE, PUT ON GROUND AND GET AWAY,” I did something incredibly stupid: I tossed it on the ground.
The bundle of flowers rolled quickly across the patio, towards my captive and appreciative audience.
Two of the flowers ignited, and began their magical dance of colorful fire on the cement, while the third continued to roll, coming to rest in the grass beneath the chair of a particularly old and close-to-death great-great-great aunt.
The colored flame which was creating such a beautiful and harmless display on the patio was spraying directly at this particular matriarch, the jet of flame licking obscenely at the bottom of the chair.
The world was instantly reduced to a few sounds: My own heartbeat in my ears, the screams of the children seated near my great-great-great aunt, and the unmistakable zip of the now-dying flowers on the patio.
I don’t know what happened, but somehow my great-great-great aunt, who’d managed to survive every war of the 20th century, managed to also survive this great mistake of mine. She was helped to her feet, and she laughed.
Unfortunately, she was the only one who was laughing. One of my dad’s cousins, who was well into his twenties and never attended family gatherings accompanied by the same date, sternly ripped the lighter from my hand, and ordered me back to the lawn, to sit with the other children. Maybe I could try again next year, when I was “more responsible and not such a careless idiot.”
I was crushed. My moment in the family spotlight was over before it had even begun, and not even the glow of pseudo-celebrity could save me.
I carefully avoided eye contact, as I walked slowly, humiliated and embarrassed, back to the lawn, where I tried not to cry. I know the rest of the show unfolded before me, but I don’t remember it. All I could see was a mental replay of the bundle of ground flowers rolling across the patio. If that one rogue firework hadn’t split off from its brothers, I thought, I would still be up there for the finale, which always featured numerous pinwheels and a Chinese lantern.
When the show was over, I was too embarrassed to apologize, and I raced away before the patio lights could come on. I spent the rest of the evening in the front yard, waiting to go home.
The following year I was firmly within the grip of sullen teenage angst and spent most of the festivities with my face planted firmly in a book –Foundation, or something, most likely– and I watched the fireworks show with the calculated disinterest of a 15 year old.
That teenage angst held me in its grasp for the next few years, and I even skipped a year or two, opting to attend some parties where there were girls who I looked at, but never had the courage to talk to.
By the time I had achieved escape velocity from my petulant teenage years, Aunt Betty and Uncle Dick had sold the house, and 4th of July would never happen with them again.
The irony is not lost on me, that I wanted so badly to show them all how grown up I was, only to behave more childishly than ever the following years.
This Fourth of July, I sat on the roof of my friend Darin’s house with Anne and the boys, and watched fireworks from the high school. Nolan held my hand, and Ryan leaned against me as we watched the Chamber of Commerce create magic in the sky over La Crescenta.
I thought back to that day, 15 years ago, and once again I saw the groundflower roll under that chair and try to ignite great-great-great aunt whatever her name was.
Then I looked down at Nolan’s smiling face, illuminated in flashes of color.
“This is so cool, Wil!” He declared, “thanks for bringing us to watch this.”
“Just be glad you’re on a roof and not in a lawn chair,” I told him.
“Why?”
“Well…” I began to tell him the story, but we were distracted by a particularly spectacular aerial flower of light and sparks.
In that moment, I realized that no matter how hard I try, I will never get back that day in 1987, nor will I get to relive the sullen years afterwards…but I do get to sit on the roof with my wife and her boys now, and enjoy 4th of July as a step-dad…at least until the kids hit the sullen years themselves.
Then I’m going to sit them in lawnchairs and force them to watch me light groundflowers.

The Big Goodbye

The time has come.
I’ve been putting it off over the weekend, attending my best friend’s wedding, going geocaching with my step-son.
But it is time. Money has changed hands, and I have an obligation to fulfill.
I pick him up from my desk, and avoid eye contact as I carry him into the dining room.
I gingerly put him down on my dining room table, and he looks like a patient about to undergo some sort of surgery. Strangely, I feel more like Doctor Giggles than Doctor Green.
He looks up at me and says, “Hey, Wheaton. What do you say you let me out of this box, and take me for a spin in your landspeeder?”
“Can’t do it, Wesley. First, you’re the wrong scale, and second, you don’t belong to me anymore.”
He doesn’t reply. He knows that I’m right.
I uncap a gold paint pen, and get ready. The familiar burn of acetone and paint hits me in the face, and a series of convention memories blurs through my mind, in hyper-real Hunter S. Thompson-o-vision: I sign a plate, a photo, a poster, field a question that I don’t know the answer to, politely decline the offer of a hug from a large woman in a “Spock Lives!” T-shirt. The memories race past, and I watch them with a certain amount of detachment, a spectator to my own life.
Although the places and people changed, there was little difference from one hotel convention hall to the next: The same questions, the same jokes, the same inescapable smell…the memories engulf me with a frightening and surprising lucidity. I think that I’ve allowed these events to drift into the distance of memory, but they come back, immediate and insisent, as if no time has passed.
He looks at me, daring me to give voice to these thoughts.
I realize that we are very interwoven, whether we like it or not, and as I open my mouth to speak, something I’d never thought of before comes into my mind: I can exist without him, but he could not, would not, does not exist without me.
Suddenly, I feel free.
I lift the pen up, and touch it to the plastic, and write what I’ve been asked to write:
“Vincent –
“I am sick of
following rules and regulations!
-Wil Wheaton”
It’s done.
I sit back, and regard him. He’s obscured by my writing, which casts a lattice-work of shadows across his face and body. The symbolism of this moment is not lost on me.
“You know, that was a cool line,” he says. “Remember how cool it was to stand up to Picard?”
“Yeah. It was fun being you back then,” I tell him. “I watched Code of Honor last night though. Jesus, you were a dork, man.”
“That wasn’t me, dude. That was Wesley Crusher, the doctor’s son. I’m Cadet Crusher, the bad ass. Wesley was a dork. Cadet Crusher was cool. Need I remind you who waxed Robin Lefler’s ass?”
“Why do you have to talk that way? People have a certain image of you, you know.”
“Hey, they can kiss my shiny plastic ass. I have never been responsible for the things I say. I can only say what someone tells me to say. As a matter of fact, I’m not even talking now. You’re putting all these words in my mouth.”
“So my Tyler Durden is a 5 inch action figure? That’s just perfect. At least you can’t force me into some sort of Project Mayhem.”
“Oh, I can’t?”
I can’t tell through the gold paint pen, but I think he’s sizing me up.
“You’re such a pussy, Wheaton. We were cool when we wore this spacesuit, and you know it. Fucking own that, boyo. If anyone has a problem with that, they can fuck all the way off. ”
I’m a bit shocked to hear this come out of us.
“Uh, Wesley, you really can’t talk like that.”
“I just told you, it’s not me. It’s you, cock-knocker. Now put me in the box, and find some other cool thing to auction. I think I saw a plate in the closet.”
“Why didn’t we ever talk like this before? I never realized that you were cool. Really. I mean, I hated you, man.”
“Yeah, you and every other insecure teenage boy. Listen, and listen good, because I’m not saying this again.
“You have always cared too fucking much what other people thought of us. Go read your stupid website, and listen to your own advice. You’ll be much happier. Now put me in the box and let’s get this over with.”
I look at him, and a touch of sadness passes over me.
“Wesley, I have always been, and I always will be –”
“Oh Jesus H. Christ! I can’t believe you were going to quote Star Trek. I am so embarrassed for you right now. Just close the fucking box and send me on my way.”
I do it. I put him in the box, drop in some packing stuff and a few stickers.
We drive to the post office in silence.
I walk to the mailbox, and open it.
I think to say goodbye, but I know that Wesley won’t be talking to me anymore.
I place the box on the edge, and lift it up. The box falls into darkness.
I am Wil’s freedom.

Turnabout Intruder

When I come home late at night from E3, I toss my keys on the table, and say hello to Ferris.
I drop my fully-loaded “X-Box” bag-o-schwag on the floor, and sit down at my computer to check emails and make sure the website is running okay.
It’s late at night, and the rest of my house is asleep. The only sound other than my typing is that soft comforting hum of the fan in my computer. The room is dark, except for the light falling off of my monitor.
He’s sitting on my desk, just outside the monitor’s soft glow, staring at me.
“Hey, Wesley, I’ve got some good news.”
“You’ve had a change of heart, and you’re going to put me in a Jello mold with Counselor Troi and Princess Leah?”
“No. First of all, Princess Leah isn’t even the right scale for you –”
“Who said anything about scale? I’m articulated!”
“Do you want to hear the good news, or not?”
He sighs the perturbed yet insecure sigh of an 18 year-old. He strains his little plastic body against the twisty-tie which is holding him to his cardboard backing.
“Yes.”
“You’re way more popular that I thought. People have bid nearly 300 dollars for you on eBay! You’re a hit, Crusher! They love you!”
He stops straining and looks at me, incredulous.
“What?”
“Yeah! Take a look.”
I pick him up and turn him to face the monitor.
“Hey, slow down, jackass. You’re going to give me motion sickness.”
I wonder if this is the correct doll. I wonder if I’ve picked up the Evil Wesley Crusher, instead. I spin him around again, and look for the tell tale goatee, but it’s not there. I guess he’s just cranky.
“Dude! Take it easy!”
“Sorry.”
I slowly turn him back around, and point him at the monitor. I click the URL, and show him the bidding.
“See? Isn’t that cool? All this time we thought people hated us, but they like us, Wesley! They really like us!”
He is silent for a moment, and when he finally speaks, his voice is thick with emotion.
“Yeah. That’s….well….that’s really cool,” he says, and I swear I can feel the cardboard shudder a little bit in my hands.
“Hey, Wheaton,”
“Yeah?”
“Can you just put me down on the desk for awhile? I’ve…uh…I think I have something in my eye.”
“Are you crying, Wesley?”
“Shut up, Wheaton.”

Mirror, Mirror

I’m in my garage, digging through a box of stuff, trying to find my Awful Green Things From Outer Space game.
I’m on the cold concrete floor, looking through the open box. I move aside some books and find my game. As I lift it out of the box, it reveals this Cadet Wesley Crusher action figure, just sitting there in the bottom of the box.
I look at him, wondering whether I should just look away and pretend that I didn’t see him, or take him out and say hello.
After an awkward silence, I pick him up and say, “Hey, how you doin’?”
He just stares back at me, silent and stoic from within his plastic cell.
I consider him for a moment and tell him, “you know, you look sort of cool in this uniform. You should have stuck around a bit longer, so you could have worn it more.”
He gives no response, and I pause a moment to admire his perfect hair. I run my hand through my own unwashed hair, and my fingers get thick with yesterday’s water wax. I wonder if his perfect hair still smells like Sebastian Shaper hairspray.
His eyes burn into mine, his blank stare mocking me, and I can’t take it any longer.
I put him back into the box, and as I’m about to put an unopened box of 1990 Topps NHL trading cards on him he says, “Wait!”
I lift up the box of cards, and he’s looking up at me, his smug confidence replaced with sadness.
“Hey, I don’t want to stay in this box any more. You gotta let me out.” His green eyes implore me to release him.
“Sorry, Wesley, but if I take you off of that card, you’re worthless.”
“Well, at least let me come sit on a shelf in your house! This box is cold and dark, and since you took out the Ren and Stimpy plush toys in December, there isn’t even anyone to talk to!”
I think of the years he and I spent together. I think back to our falling out, and I can’t believe that someone I was so close to has become such a stranger, and I know what I must do.
“You’re right, Wesley. You can’t stay in this box any longer. It’s just not right. I’m going to find you a new home. Someplace where you will have lots of other action figures to talk to, and maybe even a collectible plate or two.”
“You mean…you’re going to put me on eBay?”
“Yep.”
“No! You suck, Wheaton!”
“Shut up, Wesley.”