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Outdoors Outpost
Up In Smoke
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 • Posted July 9, 2008

Despite serious flooding in the Midwest, raging forest fires in California, and the danger every American faces of contracting athlete’s foot, the recent Independence Day celebration was a huge success. Bottle rockets were outlawed this year, for fear that someone might actually shoot a bottle rocket, but mortars were sold in abundance. The fact that mortars are far more dangerous than bottle rockets seems to have escaped the Surgeon General, who was busy pulling the wings off flies and declined comment.

The bottle rocket thing is really kind of confusing. Bottle rockets are little bitty compared to mortars, which are those things that shoot rockets way up in the sky that burst in spectacular displays designed, I think, to replicate ‘rockets’ red glare’ or something. By comparison, bottle rockets are the BB guns of the fireworks arsenal, whereas mortars are your .270’s and .308’s.

I guess our illustrious government has a hard time seeing how things really are way down here in Texas, since it sits up there in Washington D.C. and spends most of the summer having its wingtips polished to get ready to ridicule us again in October. This is the same government, more or less, that allowed me to buy shotgun shells when I was a kid, but wouldn’t let me buy .22 ammunition. The same government that says you have to wear a seatbelt while driving a two-ton car with air bags down a dirt road, but allows you to ride a 200-pound motorcycle on Houston’s freeways without a helmet. It’s like congress makes its decisions by watching which shrub Barney visits on the White House lawn. Our lawmakers are idiots.

As usual, my family and I spent the holiday at the Llano River with friends, in the firm belief that chiggers and mosquitoes deserve to eat, too. This is a classic American river camping spot, complete with an outhouse, a rope swing over the water, and poison ivy strategically placed in several locations for your convenience. I’ve never gotten third degree sunburns in a nicer place.

Everyone shows up at various times on the evening of 3 July and breaks out the lawn chairs. We sit around the campfire, choking on smoke or slapping bugs, depending on wind direction, while the kids swim in the river. We eat hot dogs and drink Dr Pepper and just visit until about dark, when the fireworks show starts.

Joe Don Draper is a young, unmarried male approximately 6 foot 2, 220 pounds. He grew up in Mason but now lives up north with the Yankees, in Dallas or Ft. Worth or somewhere. The only part of that description that is actually pertinent is the ‘unmarried’ part.

Joe Don always lays out some serious cash for fireworks, which would not be possible if he were married. This is not a criticism of women, per se, but the fact is that wives seldom allow their husbands to blow most of a week’s wages on cardboard tubes full of cheap flammable powder. When Joe Don gets married, assuming he ignores all the advice he’s heard from his father’s friends, I imagine the quality of the fireworks show at our annual July 4 campout will take a nosedive.

About dusk Joe Don ambles to his pickup, drops the tailgate, and starts dragging out boxes and bags. Everyone else starts picking up their lawn chairs and moving to appropriate places to watch. The kids run around looking for Bic lighters and throwing smoke bombs under the lawn chairs. The anticipation is so intense it usually keeps me awake.

Joe Don outdid himself this year. Even with lots of help from the younger kids, it took him about an hour to ignite half a week’s pay. The display was impressive, even without bottle rockets. Last year he stood 450 bottle rockets in some kind of holder things and set them off all at once with a lighter and a can of WD-40.

You can’t buy entertainment like that. Not if you’re married.

But blowing lots of money on fireworks is just one of Joe Don’s many talents. He once ate 23 hot dogs. Not in a contest or anything, just ate them. As far as I know, Joe Don has never been full.

By next year I’m hoping I can talk Joe Don into going to Coney Island to compete in the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. I see no reason why a Californian should be allowed to keep the title, when we have a perfectly good Texan who can take him.

I have to admit, however, that I’m proud of Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut, of San Jose, for taking the title away from Takeru ‘Tsunami’ Kobayashi last year. Tsunami had held the title for six years straight. He was disappointed last year when Joey beat him, and hoped to regain the championship this year. He failed.

The two tied at 59 dogs each in 10 minutes, and had a five-hot dog sudden death overtime eat-off to determine the winner. Joey edged Takeru for the victory. Makes you proud to be an American.

The problem is that if Joe Don goes to Coney Island to eat hot dogs, our fireworks show at the river will be pitiful. Everyone else who has money is married.

But even without fireworks, 4 July will still be one of the best days on the year. Especially if you’re a chigger . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who, as a teenager, bought bottle rockets by the gross. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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