Fire sales

Thursday, June 28, is circled on many nonprofit groups’ calendars as the beginning of a major fundraising push in fireworks sales. It’s also the beginning of a busy week for TNT Fireworks area manager Aaron Crawford. The third-generation salesman is TNT’s liaison to groups from northern Sacramento County all the way to Oroville. The season is not all whistles and crackles for Crawford, however. He spends his Fourth of July holidays on the road, making sure everything is running smoothly through a large swath of the Sacramento Valley.

How did you get here?

I’m third-generation at this. My grandfather started as a nonprofit stand manager in 1958. Four years later he started as a sales rep in the Bay Area. My father followed after him working during the summers in high school and became a sales associate. I started as a little kid working a little bit, but I started working more summers, went to college, stayed on when I graduated and moved up.

What are some of the big changes in fireworks you’ve seen?

There are different chemicals now and different colors. [They’re] a lot more vibrant than they were 10 to 15 years ago when everything was a lot of silver, gold and white light. Now you’ve got reds and yellows. We’re starting to see more blues and some pinks. … There’s been a shift away from whistles and toward crackles, but I’m sure that will come back around in a couple of years.

Mostly you’re working with nonprofits?

We work 51 weeks a year working with our groups, working with local and state agencies. … With a high-school booster group, the kids graduate and the parents move on, and you train a new set of volunteers … and ensure that it will be a smooth and easy transition for them.

What do you do on the Fourth of July?

On a normal Fourth of July, I’ll be at work at 6 a.m., travel to six or seven counties making sure my nonprofit organizations are finishing up well and head home at about 1 or 2 in the morning. On those normal years I don’t usually get to light off fireworks because my neighbors really don’t appreciate me lighting fireworks when I get home.

Last year, for the first time in about 15 years, I actually shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. I got off work at about 6 p.m. and had my little stash and went with a bunch of neighborhood families and friends and celebrated for about three hours. It was absolutely fantastic.

What is the most dangerous fireworks situation you can recall?

This is going to sound really boring, because there hasn’t been much of anything. I shoot probably 3,000 to 5,000 pieces of fireworks each year, and every once in a while you’ll get an item … you wait and make sure it’s out, and you walk up to it, and you go, “Whoop, I gotta step back.”

I’ve heard people suggesting ways to modify fireworks. My favorite is pinching off a Piccolo Petes to make it explode.

You know that doesn’t work anymore? We hear the stories like everyone else, and we do background to mitigate anybody modifying our product. I’d suggest if you try to do it, you’ll split the sides of the fountain, making it improbable to get them to go off incorrectly. There’s another thing where they’ve tried to pour out composition to make a bigger item, but there is composition in there besides the pyrotechnics—basically a silica—to make sure it doesn’t do that.

There’s something in there to keep you from doubling your pleasure?

Yeah, crimping doesn’t work, and modifying by pouring out the composition doesn’t work anymore. … You never really want to modify anything. It’s a felony. You’re breaking the law the moment you take it out of its intended packaging. The state fire marshal really doesn’t like that, and they’re very good at prosecuting those folks. A lot of times though, it just doesn’t work.

Have you noticed an impact from the recession?

We’re noticing a lot of the government organizations we work with—state and local—have been stripped to the absolute bone. They have no way to help the nonprofit groups like they had in the past. The nonprofit groups have had funding from communities dwindle, so they’ve had to be very creative with how they fundraise and how they use their money. They are definitely in need. It’s across the board. These nonprofits are the ones that are out there at the frontlines helping our communities get back on their feet, and they are struggling themselves. Any dollar we can help them raise, we’d love to do it.

Tell me about Senate Bill 1468.

It’s a fantastic Senate bill. It passed the Senate 37-0, and it’s sitting in the Assembly the last time I heard about it. We’re hoping they see their way through to passing it, and in 2014, we’ll be able to sell fireworks in the New Year’s season and give the community the ability to celebrate legally with fireworks. It’s exciting.

The man behind the puppet

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

If you have kids, or know someone with kids, you know Elmo; the bright-red puppet who brings joy to children’s lives on Sesame Street. But without puppeteer Kevin Clash, Elmo would have been just another discarded piece of fabric. This documentary explores the roots of Clash and his passion for puppeteering that was born out of his Baltimore childhood. It’s like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, except with Jim Henson instead of Gene Wilder and years of hard work and sacrifice on public-access TV instead of a golden ticket in a chocolate

Forget The Cabin the Woods; try this vacation home instead

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Disappointed by The Cabin in the Woods? Rather than going on another Firefly binge to remember what Joss Whedon is capable of, watch Tucker and Dale vs. Evil instead. A pair of rednecks, Tucker (Alan Tudyk, a.k.a. Wash from Firefly) and Dale (Tyler Labine) try to enjoy their new vacation home in the woods. Through a series of unfortunate coincidences, the two friends are hunted by a group of preppy, horror-film-victim caricatures who channel their fear into a series of painful, mostly unintentional deaths. It’s available on Netflix and a great way to wash that terrible-horror-movie taste out of your mouth.

Find life’s random milestones

Versaries app

Keeping track of birthdays is what a calendar is for. Keeping track of random numbers and numerical coincidences is what Versaries is for. The 99-cent iPhone app keeps track of the years, days and even seconds of your life with a steampunk feel. Add in when you started dating your significant other, and you’ll be reminded of more than just your regular anniversary; recently Versaries pointed out I’d been dating my girlfriend for 80 million seconds. Time seems to fly faster when you’re not counting by years.

March rat-ness

I never saw myself as a rat person, until my girlfriend brought home a snail. I certainly didn’t see myself spending a weekend watching basketball with a trio of rodents.

Lacey, the ever-caring animal lover that she is, couldn’t stand to let a snail, whose shell she pulled off trying to move it out of harm’s way, suffer. This meant an urgent trip to Petco to find all of the supplies to repair its shell.

On our way around the store, we found ourselves in front of the rat cages. On top of her expertise with snails, Lacey also knows a lot about rat care. It was pretty obvious with all of the adorable eyeballs on me that we weren’t walking out of here without a new pet.

Even as we were gathering the cage, the treats and anything adorable we could bribe them with, I was having second thoughts. All of the pets I’ve ever had were rescues from the SPCA. I’d rather adopt an animal than buy one stocked on a store shelf.

As if reading my mind, the cashier at Petco mentioned they had three female rats that had been abandoned together. We weren’t walking out of there without three new pets: Olive, the skittish brown-and-white one; Abby, the black-and-white food finder; and Rosie, the tan little ball of adorable.
The early going was rough. They didn’t know who we were, we didn’t know who they were. The only way to fix this was with a weekend bonding together inside watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The terrible punishments I’m willing to go through for the care of animals.

Fascinating thing about college basketball: There’s a whole lot of sneaker squeaking. Fascinating thing about rats: They love squeaking. At least these three do.

After a game or two, the girls were sneaking out of their nest to look around their cage for the noise. Rosie gave up first, going to sleep in their second home—a graham-cracker box. Olive gave up the second she realized I was paying attention to her and hid in the main nest.

Then there was Abby. She was the one brave enough to come to the edge of the cage and see what was going on. She stood up watching the second half a foul fest between Michigan State and St. Louis. Thirty-five fouls kept her on her hind legs and glued to the TV.

Sadly, with the Final Four this weekend, I’m running out of regular basketball content that doesn’t require a cable subscription. But Abby doesn’t seem to mind. She’s adapted to catching up on The Walking Dead with me—outside of the cage now. I’m a little worried how fascinated she is whensomeone gets mauled by a zombie, though. Might have to put on The Waltons to take the edge off.

Green desktop geekery

N64 controller desk caddy

Some people put pictures of their family on their desks. Some people have cute calendars. Some people have reminders of days destroying their thumbs playing Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart 64. Etsy user GreenCub encapsulates those agonizing memories in a green way by turning broken Nintendo 64 controllers into handy desk caddies. Instead of some meh mesh piece of junk from Staples boring up your desk, you can choose from five different-colored controllers designed to stash your pens and even act as an USB extension cord. That God-awful thumb stick? It’s now a rare-earth magnet to for paper-clip collecting.