Cycling back from church today I saw a billboard advertising Magnum ice cream on a  stick.  The really expensive ones, which I’ve never bought, filled with all kinds of delicious chocolate goo and nuts and stuff.

I still feel guilty every time I see one of those.

Andrew and I were messing around with firecrackers.  In Brazil at the time they were readily available at the shops – even the big, dangerous variety.  Hanging out in the fenced-off construction and equipment yard of the campus where we lived, we were keeping ourselves busy by seeing how many bricks or other loose material we could lift with our explosives.  A lemon tree was in the yard and soon we started making holes in the lemons and blowing them up, right off the tree.

Poking around in the piles of rubble I came across a short length of 1 inch pipe, inexplicably imbedded at one end in a block of cement.  Some of the baby lemons could fit into the pipe, so before long we had a system going: Andrew would light a firecracker and drop it down the pipe, and I would quickly follow with a small, hard lemon.  A one second wait and the lemon would come blasting out, flying high into the air.  That was fun for awhile, but then we discovered something even more fun: splattering baby lemons against the sheet-metal door of the construction equipment hut.

I don’t remember if we went to fetch the marbles, or if we already had them with us in our pockets, but I remember the “Cool! Yeah, let’s try it!” when we hit on the idea of replacing the lemons with something a bit more substantial.

Firecracker lit and dropped down the tube; marble rolled in after; pipe aimed at the door and…..

The result was impressive in every sense of the word.  Impressive enough to get us into deep trouble with the management if we were ever discovered.  There in the door was a gaping hole at head height, almost an inch wide, surrounded by a dent a few inches wider than that.  We realized only then the power of the device we had created: basically a rustic gun firing very large caliber bullets.

We threw our contraption back in the junk pile and puzzled what to do about the hole in the door.  Andrew knew where to find the key, so before long we were on the inside inspecting the neat crown of shredded steel at the back of the hole.  Fortunately it was Sunday afternoon, so there was no imminent danger of being discovered by José, the regular handy-man whose domain this was.  We had time.

Slowly we hammered the shreds flat, as best we could, then covered both the front and the back of the hole with thick tape.  It looked awful.  Who would put a patch of tape on a door for no good reason?  It begged explanation.  We would never get away with this.  But then we discovered a can of grey paint in the shop, and we reckoned – correctly – that this was the original paint used for the door.  Carefully we painted over the tape.  Still obvious, but not nearly as bad as before.  Only José was likely to give it more than a passing glance.

For the next two years, until I left Brazil at the age of 17, I was a regular visitor of José’s.  Whether making a pilgrimage to his workshop, or searching him out and finding him fixing or cleaning something in one of the buildings, always my visits were brief and to the point.  I would hand over the most expensive and decadent ice cream that was available in the sweet shop: white chocolate coating covering vanilla ice cream with a syrupy strawberry core.  José told us he loved those ice creams, but could not afford to buy them on his meager income.

For our part, Andrew and I never heard anything about a large hole being discovered in the construction shed door.

One thought on “Firecracker

  1. I remember that! That construction shed was at the bottom of that tower that we used to climb up and hang out on that ledge. Didn’t that marble lodge into the brick wall on the other side of the shed!?! I also remember using a similar contraption with a lead pipe and a thermos, placing one end of the pipe into a pile of sand, dropping a firecracker (bomba) in the pipe, placing the thermos over the pipe (which was a snug fit), and launching that thermos way up into the air, must have been hundreds of feet.

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