Awesome! Awesomer! Awesomest! (or, "My Mom Would Be Mad If She Saw Me Now")

They were throwing fireballs at each other and I was trying to take pictures of them throwing fireballs at each other, because I'm insipid. That's the same as intrepid, I am pretty sure. Taking pictures of flaming dodgeball seemed like a good idea at the beginning, the same way that, after you watched The Matrix and saw Neo and Trinity walk up those one walls and then do that mid-air cartwheel thing while firing automatic weapons, it seemed like a good idea to try it yourself, but then, gravity and head trauma and your hamster and ceiling fan got shot.

Assured of my looming death by fire, I decided why not just take a bunch of photos to document my final moments. (Nejapa, El Salvador; Aug 2016)

Before I go any further, here's the background: There's a little town called Nejapa, maybe ten or fifteen miles from San Salvador. In 1658, the nearby volcano exploded and showered the village with balls of flaming rock and lava. The villagers imbued the event with religious significance, believing that the raining fireballs were being thrown at the devil by their patron village saint. It's not clear why the patron saint didn't throw the fireballs away from the village rather than at it. Anyhow, rather than be all upset about the whole volcanic-eruption-destroying-your-village thing, the villagers relocated the town and concocted a festival -- "Las Bolas de Fuego" -- which they celebrate every year on August 31st by selecting about 20 townsmen and dividing them into two teams which then chuck flaming, kerosine-soaked rag balls at each other in the middle of main street while everyone watches.

I wanted to watch too. Just from a closer place. Because you only live once, and you don't get a lot of chances to take close-ups of guys throwing fire at each other. I guess I didn't think it all through very well, which is a weakness of mine, I admit. Like that time when me and Shannon had kids and then, after they were born, I was like, "Man, they just keep staying and staying." So I positioned myself on the sidewalk between the two teams as they prowled their respective ends of the narrow cobblestone street, waiting for someone to decide to start things up.

These guys are like, "You can run if you want to, but we'll find you. And then our grandmas will feed you pupusas." (Nejapa, El Salvador; Aug 2016)

Then one team picked up their balls of fire and charged up the street toward me. Awesome! Then the other team charged down the street with their fireballs toward me. Awesomer! Then the flaming balls flew, arcing through the night like little comets with their fiery tails burning in the black night sky . Awesomest! Then the two teams met up right in front of me, and suddenly I looked up and down the sidewalk and it was empty and I was the only dummy standing there a few feet from the crossfire, and then a flaming ball whizzed past my head and I heard the horrible hiss and whoosh of flying fire and felt the searing heat, and the reality switch in my head flipped on and I thought, I am doing something really stupid mom would be mad if she saw me now. So I screamed like a little girl and ran away, and a stray fireball fell out of the sky with a hot roar and into a barrel of water as I ran past, splashing me with water and kerosine and I loudly whimpered for my mommy again and slumped against the wall of a butcher shop and sucked my thumb, smelling like a gas station attendant after a 36-hour shift. That's all true, except the thumb-sucking part. My thumb was too flammable to suck.

I suppose that, by American sensibilities, a festival in which people chuck burning, kerosine-soaked rags at each other is really weird and stupid. But I think it's really just a matter of viewpoint. If you take a step back, boxing is pretty dumb, and ultimate fighting is dumber. Two guys just beating each other up in what amounts to a cage, with a bunch of paying customers watching. We tsk at the old Roman custom of gladiator matches, but we're getting there ourselves. A little fireball throwing fits right in.