Brian Shea: Fireworks

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On the Fourth of July alone, fireworks sparked scores of wildfires. Dogs hate them, and a lot of people, too. People like Brian Shea.

East Oakland, my home, is many things. It’s raucous and colorful. It’s delicious. It’s a mélange of languages and traditions. Rap and mariachis, harmonicas and barbecue and vegan wraps. It’s a family of neighborhoods. And it’s full of contradictions.

To me, no contradiction is more clear than the fireworks this summer. Down both ends of my street. On the block slightly uphill, as well as the one closer to the Bay. All day, random fizzes and pops. All night, bangs and booms. City festivities are canceled. Stir into that the out-of-work frustrations from COVID-19. Now, light a match and shake.

Dusk falls, and the holiday descends into a swirl of kerosene, cordite, cannabis and explosions with concussive force.

It’s a war zone. You can’t just look away, choose not to be a part of it. Mortars bounce doors in frames. Windows bow and shake, and despite being closed, they don’t deter the ricocheting decibels. For anyone with PTSD including my rescue dog and the many, many people with mental health issues here it is life-threateningly terrifying. Part of me was tempted to call the police. But I’d heard a woman say she, too, wanted to call for law enforcement, but feared an encounter might escalate into tragedy, so she didn’t.


I hunker down next to my quaking dog. We’re tucked into blankets and swathed in ineffective white noise.

Are the local pyromaniacs really championing Washington, Jefferson and empire? In this month of George Floyd, this year of Black Lives Matter, this year of Dreamers denied?

That contradiction makes me sad, but more mad. A holiday as social control. The ooh-ah of fireworks that displace meaningful reflection. Spectacle over substance. The shininess of immediate gratification kicking social justice further down the road.

I say, “woof.”

With a Perspective, this is Brian Shea.

Brian Shea is a retired photographer and graphic designer, and just completed a mystery about Native American art.