When I was a kid, summer meant saving up my paperboy money for two things: Fireworks and video games.

Both necessities converged in 1985 - which staggers me to realize it was 25 years ago. Growing up in a newspaper family, the big deal each July was the North Carolina Press Association's "Summer Institute." NCPA summer meetings were functional, but also a vestige of the salad days of family-owned newspapering, when the boss could take his wife and kids off to Asheville or Southern Pines for a five-day stay at a resort hotel, all of it completely tax deductible.


That year it was down at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, with its open fireworks market. By 1985, my brother Fletch and I were old hats at this convention business, and even had sets of friends defined by the summer visits. The bureau chief of the Raleigh AP had sons about our age. So did the press association's counsel. Within the first day we all had found the arcade on that island. And Fletch and I, with pockets full of quarters literally handed to us by our paper route customers, happily spent hours in there battling Kung Fu Master, Karate Champ, and Spy Hunter.

In the evenings, we'd slink off with our friends, either to a water hazard on the golf courses, or to the beach, carrying a grocery bag full of munitions - brown bag, now, plastic wasn't yet an option. The most important thing we could get from the fireworks stand wasn't a 16-shot roman candle or an M-80 (a quarter stick of dynamite, really, dammit!) but a set of punks, because there was no other way to reliably ignite fireworks on the beach unless you had a lit cigarette, and none of us had taken up smoking yet. Unlike a flickering Bic lighter, punks also gave you a pinpoint understanding of when the fuse was sparking on your cat-and-dog - a bottle rocket with the stick ripped off - so that you could jam it down a crabhole, exhaust-end first, and get the hell out of Dodge before losing a finger.

The next morning we were all back in the arcade, firing quarters down Discs of Tron or Sinistar or Zookeeper, like nothing happened. We were too old for the NCPA kiddie counselors and too young to be trusted. We had money we'd earned for ourselves and no necessities to buy. We could waste it all on Popeye and Punch-Out!! and Jumping Jacks and Black Cats. It was the summer of 1985, the greatest time in history to be an 11-year-old boy.

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