Lileks: Dogs don’t get a bang out of the Fourth


On the night of June 22, we had the first example of the seasonal puzzler: Fireworks or gunfire?

The dog didn’t bother with the distinction. His ears went up, his eyes widened and his tail turned into a metronome for a performance of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” The dog, being a dog, had forgotten all about fireworks, but now he was instantly reminded of the ancient terror.

They’re confused by our inability to be alarmed. What’s wrong with you? I understand you can’t smell a dead squirrel six blocks away, but I know you have ears, because you hear me when I’m thinking of stealing something from the kitchen counter.

When July 4th struck, our first dog used to go to the garage and try to dig a hole in the concrete. Failing that, he tried to claw his way into a car. I think if we lit fireworks every night for five years, dogs would evolve the ability to open the car door and start the engine to get away, and that would be bad because it would take them longer to figure out the garage door remote.

“Bad dog! You put it in reverse without opening the door?”

Dog looks away, as if nothing bad will happen if he doesn’t make eye contact, and maybe the door will be OK, and maybe none of this is happening.

“You do know you can’t just whine and the door opens, like it does for the backyard?”

By now the dog has forgotten everything that has happened and is thinking someone might be eating something soon and maybe there will be floor food. How about it?

(Big boom from 20 blocks away.) Dog hits the gas, car shoots across the street and rams a pole.

Anyway. Birch was unnerved by the sound, and I consoled him. It might not be fireworks. Could be gunplay! Let me check the Nextdoor page for the neighborhood, see if anyone heard it. Loading posts. …

• URGENT Did anyone see that man who was walking at 4 pm with a bag of Zucchinis to give away?

• Looking for baby

• Sorry looking for baby crib, hit enter too soon.

• Recommendations for best laser earwax removal studio???

Nothing there. The Crime App on the phone, which used to send me alerts until I told it to shut up when someone fell in the river a mile from my daughter’s apartment on the East Coast, had nothing. Because the sound wasn’t followed by sirens or the vroom of someone doing 165 down the nearest gut, fireworks seemed the most likely explanation.

As the days went on, the noises increased. There were different types of sounds.

1. The mystifying single bang. Usually around 10:30 pm You imagine a fellow who’s watching TV or reading a book in bed suddenly realizes: “Oh, right, I was going to disturb the peace for no reason at all.” He gets up, goes outside, lights a single M-80, tosses it in the backyard like it’s a down payment on the patriotic racket he’ll unleash in a fortnight. “Well, that’s that. Done my part.”

2. The crackling string. This one is less confusing, because it’s clear someone just wanted to get a jump on the festivities. It makes me think of years past, when I’d set off a string.

You peel away the thin red paper, a type of paper you never encounter anywhere else. Delicate, but strong. You tease out the thick fuse connected to the spine, inhale the alluring scent of gunpowder, touch the tip of the glowing punk to the fuse and dance backwards as the packet erupts.

Lasts four seconds. Annoys everyone. Pointless, since we are not at the moment commemorating the separation of powers or other constitutional values.

3. The rare rocket. Few people do rockets before the 4th. They reserve those for the 4th, because the day has to have some meaning. I mean, you don’t have turkey and pumpkin pie on the second Thursday of November. The people who blow off stuff before the 4th might be antisocial boors with no impulse control, but even their rude hearts are fenced by a recognition of what is right and good and true.

Or, they just haven’t gone to Wisconsin yet for the heavy artillery.

It’ll be a rough night for Birch, but we have some remedies. You can give a dog a little Dramamine, and it settles them down. Supposedly. I think the amount required to calm him down would render him boneless, and he would slide down the stairs like a Slinky.

We have a thunder jacket, a tight-fitting vest that’s supposed to comfort dogs by reminding them of when they were puppies and their mother made them wear a shirt that was too small, or something. I’m not sure how it works. I know that when I’m nervous, I don’t put on jeans fresh from the dryer.

Maybe we’ll sit in the car and listen to the radio. “Hey, Birch, it’s the end of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture! This is great stuff. Oh, right. Sorry.”

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks

Leave a Comment