Politicians and government officials often get a bad rap for having little to no sense of humor. I suppose their day to day work of sitting through endless government meetings is enough to make anyone cranky.
Once in a while a government official surprises me, though, and I would like to commend Washington State Fire Marshal Charles Duffy for giving me quite a chuckle recently.
Marshal Duffy, (or at least someone in his office) issued a press release early this week that read, in part:
"State Fire Marshal Charles Duffy is reminding Washingtonians that the purchase of fireworks over the internet is illegal. In Washington State, fireworks must be purchased from a licensed retail stand during the legal period. Orders for fireworks cannot be placed over the internet or posted on websites such as Craig's List. Residents should talk with family members and guests about the fireworks laws for their area.
"Independence Day is a time to celebrate our freedoms ...."
Ha ha, those folks down at the Marshal Duffy's office have quite the sense of humor. I felt bad for falling out of my chair laughing, because freedom is nothing to laugh at, as Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk, both Australian swimmers, found out recently.
The pair, who have been in the U.S. while training for the London Olympics, were banned from using social media by the Australian Olympic Committee after they went to an American gun shop and posed for photos with American guns.
I find this appalling. Here are two unsuspecting foreigners who were lured into experiencing American freedoms, only to wind up in trouble back home. I know how they must be feeling.
While in college I went to Spain to try to learn Spanish. When I returned to the U.S. I was able to communicate in broken Castilian Spanish, which made me sound like a pretentious moron to Spanish speaking residents of the U.S.
The trip wasn't a total waste, however, since I didn't actually spend that much time in class. I spent most of my time smoking cheap American cigarettes (made by an English company as it turns out) and trying to order food by pointing.
I also sampled the local night life. In Spain, or at least the part of Spain I was in, nightclubs open Friday night, and close Monday morning. Over the weekend, Spanish youth flood the clubs, covering the floors in something I can only describe as "Something."
Walking into a youth-infested nightclub is like walking into a sauna with a flypaper floor. It is on these floors, no doubt teeming with advanced microbial civilizations, that I believe the next breakthrough in cancer research will be found.
I didn't actually mind, however, because I was allowed to smoke in the nightclubs. In fact, everyone was allowed to smoke, which meant I didn't actually have to see what I was stepping in.
Smoking is a freedom held very dear by the Spanish people, and is allowed pretty much everywhere, except in restaurants, where smoking was required by law. I wasn't a heavy smoker when I went to Spain, but I made up for lost time. The first (and only) time I ever smoked indoors was in my small Spanish apartment.
Aside from the fact that Spaniards put tuna on pizza, this was the biggest culture shock I faced, and it made returning to the United States of America kind of weird.
My readjustment began the moment I boarded the plane bound for home. After a 26 hour non-smoking flight from Madrid to Seattle, I was more than a little tense. I raced through the check-in counter and bolted for the outside doors, where I was greeted by a woman's voice informing me via loudspeaker that the sidewalks were a "no-smoking zone."
In Spain, the sidewalks are just a holding zone for smokers until they get indoors, where it's air conditioned. Luckily, my friend Mike arrived to pick me up before I could do any serious damage.
"So, how does it feel to taste the sweet air of Freedom?" he asked as I piled into his car while attempting to light three cigarettes at once.
I didn't hold this against Mike. I wasn't very happy that he made me stick my head out the window to smoke, however.
I've since given up cigarettes, because a.) they're bad for me and b.) my wife has even stricter no smoking policies than Sea-Tac Airport.
This year, I may just celebrate my freedoms by sitting quietly in a dark place, because I don't want to tempt any nearby foreigners with my freedoms. I'll have to start now, though, because until Marshal Duffy mentioned it, I wasn't aware that fireworks were even available online and I really want to see what's out there.
Luke Hegdal can be reached at 509-526-8326 or firstname.lastname@example.org