The life of Sadie the M80 came to an abrupt end at around 8:15 pm, when she exploded in front of the Heckman’s home, creating a spectacular noise and nearly causing Judge O'Hara to be cited for indecent exposure. At the time of the explosion, I was in the kitchen, foraging through the freezer for a Popsicle. Uh-oh, I thought to myself, upon hearing the noise. The “boom” set off an eruption of barking from the elderly schnauzer across the street.
I‘d never actually seen his reaction, but the sound of it was well known by the neighbors who lived near the O’Hara home. As Drew O'Hara would tell it, the sound of firecrackers would elicit such excitement and anxiety in Rudi that he would run directly to the dining room, where he would race frantically around the dining table, barking and defecating for 20 minutes. This in turn would send Drew’s father, Judge O’Hara racing out into the streets searching for the perpetrators of the crime. As Rudi became older, the O’Hara’s had to give him sedatives during the summer months, as there was concern that he would eventually fall dead at the sound of a car backfiring.
The noise created by the M80 seemed unbelievably loud for a firecracker, and sent me scurrying to the windows in hopes of seeing the explosion’s devastation. To my disappointment, there was no sign of an explosion, nor the culprit or culprits who set off the bomb.
The day had begun like any ordinary summer day on Long Island. Having eaten a bowl of Captain Crunch, and performed my morning ablutions to my mother’s satisfaction, the two of us hopped into the family’s station wagon and headed off to Manorhaven. Manorhaven was a public swimming pool which was located in the town next to ours. My friend Suzanne and her mother were going to meet us there and we would spend the afternoon hopefully wearing ourselves out swimming, while our mothers, stretched out on lounges, read Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and exchanged neighborhood gossip.
After roughly two hours in the pool, Suzanne and I were summoned from the water by our mothers. We stood before them, water dripping from the ends of our hair and skin, while displaying blue, oxygen-deprived lips. Upon the receipt of $2 each, we were sent to the snack bar, located outside of the enclosed pool, on a small strip of beach which was part of the Long Island Sound. Once there, we were expected to take a break, get a snack, and let the blood in our bodies resume its normal circulation.
Suzanne and I sat at a picnic table eating our French fries while watching the kids on the beach play in the sand. We wrapped ourselves in our towels, which constantly slid off of our shoulders. This made eating French fries somewhat of a challenge.
Standing in line at the snack bar, were two boys from our neighborhood, Bobby Mallory and Michael Flynn.
“Did you guys go to the market across the street and get cherries?” Suzanne asked excitedly. Having just graduated from the 8th grade, Bobby and Michael were old enough to cross Manorhaven Boulevard on their own. At ten years old, Susanne and I were not yet allowed to go across the street, where there sat a small fruit stand, known for its’ incredibly tart, black cherries.
Bobby lifted his gaze from the contents of the bag and looked at Suzanne. “Uh, yeah.”
“Oh my God, those cherries are sooooo good! My mom always takes me over there to get a bag for the ride home.” She said gushing, her skinny legs swinging back and forth under the picnic table bench.
Both boys stared at her for a moment and then went back to perusing their bag. Once their order was up, they proceeded to take their trays, towels, and paper bag down to the beach. Unfortunately, the bag had become wet, while brushing up against Bobby’s towel and a small tear had appeared on its side.
When we realized that they were not going to respond to Suzanne’s comment, I held up my hand and looked at my fingernails, which still contained a slight trace of blue. “Are my lips still blue?” I asked.
Suzanne leaned in and scrutinized the color of my mouth. “No, they’re good. How are mine?”
I nodded, “they’re good.”
“Let’s go back to the pool,” Suzanne stood up and wrapped her Pink Panther towel around her shoulders.
As I was getting up from the table, I noticed what looked like a fat, red battery with a short string attached to it, lying under the table.
“What’s that?” asked Suzanne.
“I don’t know it was under the table.” I handed it to Suzanne for her inspection. She held it up and turned it around.
“It’s a firecracker.”
“Really, I’ve never seen a firecracker this big. All of the ones that I’ve seen look like birthday candles.” I said taking the firecracker back. “Is it a cherry bomb?”
Suzanne shook her head, reaching around and pulling her towel back onto her shoulders “No, a cherry bomb looks like a cherry. I think that’s an M80.”
“Oh.” I nodded, pretending I knew exactly what she was talking about. “What’s an M80?” I asked.
“It’s like a bomb I think. They’re really loud, and illegal. You can go to jail if you get caught with one. It must be Sadie’s.”
“Who’s Sadie,” I asked.
“I don’t know, but she wrote her name on it.”
When we got home from the pool, I was surprised to see my neighbor Mary Ann home from camp. When she saw me getting out of the car, she came running over, waving a package of bubble gum cards. The cards that Mary Ann held in her hands were not just any “run of the mill” bubble gum cards. They didn’t depict the faces and stats of baseball or football players. Instead, each card reflected the packaging of a well-known product, with the illustration and product name slightly skewed – so Purina Cat Chow was changed to Putrid Cat Chow, showing three cats passed out in front of a food dish which was full of fish skeletons, etc. At the time, Wacky Packages were highly sought after and collected by kids all over the country, making them difficult to find.
The two of us sat on my front steps, absentmindedly swatting at mosquitoes while we looked at Mary Ann’s cards.
“Plus I‘ve got three more packages that I haven’t opened yet,” she said, blowing an enormous pink bubble.
“Wow, can I have one?” I asked, holding on to the “Crust” toothpaste card.
“Nope - mine! “
“Please, you have two other packs. Come on, I’ll trade you.”
Mary Ann looked dubious. “Trade what?”
I thought for a moment and then remembered Sadie the M80 lying at the bottom of my pool bag.
“Okay, I have something to trade, but if you don’t want to trade for it, you can’t tell anyone that I have it.” Mary Ann’s curiosity had clearly been piqued by my added warning.
“OK,” she said suspiciously.
Mary Ann nodded impatiently. “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” She sped through the pledge, showing little sincerity, while crossing her heart with the requisite X.
“OK. I’ll trade you this for a package of the cards.” I said, presenting to her the oversized firecracker.
Her eyes grew wide “Holy shit! Where did you get that?”
I shook my head. “Unh-uh, can’t tell. Do you want to trade?“
“Yeah, I’ll give you all three packages of Wackys for that.” Mary Ann was clearly impressed by my offering.
“Okay, go get ‘em.” I felt very pleased with myself, certain that I had bested a 13 year old.
The exchange having been made, Mary Ann pocketed the M80 and went home for her piano lesson.
While Mary Ann’s nimble fingers were making their way across the ivories, her younger brother Tom’s, had been busy rummaging through her desk, when he stumbled upon the M80. He took it out and turning it around in his hand, whistled to himself.
When Mary Ann had finished her lesson, she returned to her room only to find Tom sitting on her bed grinning from ear to ear while waving the firecracker at her.
“Tom what are you doing in here, and give me that please.”
“Nope, not a chance!” he said bouncing up and down on his sister’s bed.
“Tom, that thing is dangerous, now hand it over.”
“I’m not handing anything over. This is mine now.”
Mary Anne moved forward in an attempt to snatch the firecracker from her brother. She was no match for Tom, who easily flipped backward over the mattress, landing on his feet on the other side of the bed.
Mary Ann crossed her arms, “Fine then I’ll tell mom.”
“Go ahead, and I’ll tell her about how you got that hickie on your neck . . . that you’re trying to hide with your collar . . . it’s a little warm for a collared shirt, don’t you think?” He asked raising his eyebrows.
“You little shit! You are dead!”
“Nah I don’t think so.”
Not wanting her mother to know anything about a hickie which may or may not have been healing on her neck, Mary Ann gave in. And so the M80 passed hands from sister to brother, and young Tom knew exactly what he was going to do with it. He flew down the stairs and out the door, the shoelaces on his untied pro-keds whipping along, all the way to the Marshall’s house.
Taffy Marshall was a college dropout who spent his days living at home with his mother, smoking pot and playing the drums. Marshall was also known . . . for raising snakes.
Tom skidded to a stop on the front steps, rapped on the door and waited. A few seconds later, Taffy appeared wearing a pair of cut-offs and an Emerson, Lake and Palmer t-shirt, an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth. “What’s up Doc?”
Out of breath, Tom managed to huff out his request. “Hey Taffy, I want to buy a snake, but I don’t have any money, I have something better.”
Taffy took the cigarette out of his mouth and scowled at Tom “Something better than cash?”
Tom pulled the M80 out of the pocket of his camp shorts and held it up for Taffy to see.
“Whoa, not bad!” said Taffy, admiring the firecracker. “Who’s Sadie?”
Tom shrugged “I don’t know.”
Taffy studied the firecracker closely, “Okay young man, come on in and pick out a snake. They’re up in my room.” Taffy dropped the M80 on the table by the front door, and the two of them went upstairs so that Tom could pick out a snake.
A few moments later, Mrs. Marshall arrived home from work and was on her way inside when she noticed Bobby Mallory crossing the lawn with a box in his hands. Bobby had been in a bad mood, ever since he discovered that the M80 he had purchased that day, was gone – probably having fallen out of a hole in its bag.
“Is that for me?” She asked nodding at the box of Amway SA-8 Laundry detergent.
“Yep, my mom asked me to bring it over to you.” He answered.
“Come on in and I’ll give you a check to give to your mom.”
So Bobby followed Mrs. Marshall into the house and waited in the front hall for her to return with a check. As he waited, he noticed the M80 lying on the table. He leaned over and grabbed the firecracker. He turned it over in his hand and nearly choked when he read the name on it.
“Oh man, this is just too fucking much!” he thought to himself, quickly sliding it into his navy and orange striped sweat sock. Mrs. Marshall returned with a check and Bobby was on his way.
Astounded by his luck, Bobby was anxious to set off the M80 but knew that for maximum results, he’d have to wait until about 8:00 pm when everyone was home and had finished their dinner. Having finished his own meal, he sat down in the den with his father, and watched Howard Cosell eviscerate the efforts put forth by the New York Yankees. Once the news was over, he got up and told his father that he was going over to Michael Flynn’s house to play pool.
Bobby went outside, hopped on his Schwinn and rode down the street to his friend’s house. The two boys headed downstairs to the basement where they proceeded to play pool for about 20 minutes, at which point, they decided that the time had come.
Instead of going back upstairs and out the front door, they used the outside cellar stairs so as to leave in secret.
They cut through the Anderson’s back yard, avoiding the carp pond and its swarms of mosquitoes. As they approached the house, they ducked down and ran very carefully so as not to attract the attention of Mr. Anderson who was sitting on his jalousie porch, watching an episode of “The Odd Couple.”
Once the boys reached the side of the house, they waited, making sure that no one was in the street or surrounding yards and driveways, who could see them.
As they looked around, Bobby ran his hand down his sock to reassure himself that he bomb was there. “Shit” said Bobby. “I don’t have it? It must have fallen out of my sock when were running through the yard.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Well we have to go back then and find it.”
The two boys crouched down again and ran as fast as they could, back the way they came, keeping their eyes on the ground. Unfortunately, in their absence, the Anderson’s had let their beagle out into the back yard. Daisy had been quietly patrolling the yard for squirrels, when sensing intruders, looked up and started a frenzy of barking. The boys, intent on finding the firecracker and remaining unseen, didn’t see her until it was too late. With no other choice, Bobby and Michael broke into a full sprint through the yard and the bushes that separated the houses. Just before they were to make a 90 degree turn at the Weavers house, Michael spotted the M80 in the grass, reached down, grabbed it and dashed out onto the street.
Having managed to cross the street without getting hit by a car, the boys sat down on the edge of Mrs. Taylor’s lawn and waited until they had caught their breath. Mrs. Taylor was an elderly widow who was subjected to endless rounds of Ding Dong Ditch once the weather became warm.
“Should we set it off at the pit?” asked Michael. The pit was an empty lot that had become a hang-out for neighborhood kids.
Bobby thought for a moment and shook his head. “No, ‘cause once we set if off, we’ll have to climb back up the hill. It’ll take too long for us to get out, and by then, we’ll be caught.”
“Why not just set it off here? We can light it and then just run back the way we came.”
“No, because once it goes off, everyone will look out their windows and see us running.”
“We’re fast. Come on, let’s just light it and run. No one will see us.”
Bobby sighed and said “Okay. Right here you think?”
Michael looked up and down the quiet street, nodded and said, ”It’s quiet, it’ll be cool.”
“Alright, which way are we running?”
Michael looked around the street and said “We should cross the street, go back through the Weavers, and around the side of the Anderson’s. No wait - Daisy’s probably still out.” He thought for a few seconds. “Okay, I know. We’ll cross the street, turn down Bellows Lane, and go through the Schnitzers. They’re always away in the summer.”
Bobby nodded and said “Okay, ready?” He took a matchbook from his pocket, tore off a match, and with a shaky hand, held it to the M80. When he heard the sound of the fuse hiss, he hurled the bomb as far down the street as he could, watching for a second as it landed in front of the Heckman’s house.
The two boys took off in the opposite direction. They had rounded the corner of Bellows Lane and were heading for the Schnitzer’s driveway, when they heard the explosion. They didn’t stop, but instead tore past the garage, dodged the Weber grill set out on the patio, took the stone steps two at a time, and charged through the trees dividing the Schnitzer’s house from the Smiths. They broke through the Ryan’s yard, ending up on Inness Place, just in time to see Judge O’Hara running down his front steps, wearing a Lacoste shirt, his boxer shorts and a pair of black Gucci loafers. Fortunately for the boys, the Judge turned left and was headed in the opposite direction, having no idea that the perpetrators he sought stood just a few yards behind him, standing paralyzed with fear.
And so it was, that after a few minutes, with a line of neighborhood children sitting on the edge of our lawn watching, the police arrived to investigate reports that firecrackers had been set off in the street. What they found, was Judge O’Hara standing outside his house in an agitated state wearing his boxer shorts. Saved by his reputation, and the corroborated accounts of many neighbors, he was ultimately spared the citation, and more importantly, Rudi the Schnauzer lived to see another summer come and go.