Every summer, fireworks stands blossom like mushrooms after a spring rain. Where do they come from? Where do they go? Can the people who work in them really live all year on the proceeds from two weeks of sparklers and magic snakes?—Lexington N. Concord

Going into this question, I hoped to find a subculture of permanent holiday workers—folks who sell fireworks in July, set up haunted houses in October, run Christmas tree lots in December, and dip live, screaming baby rabbits in boiling chocolate for Easter. (Incidentally, I just found out my 5-year-old nephew reads this column. Hi, Todd!)

Unfortunately, the truth about fireworks stands is a bit less romantic: In spite of their broken-down, homespun appearance, most fireworks stands are run by the same faceless megacorporations that have already leached the joy out of every other fun thing in America.

OK, not exactly the same ones—technically, each holiday gets its own faceless megacorporation. And really, they're more like kilocorporations. But you know what I'm getting at—it's not just Leroy from the bait shop selling homemade napalm to schoolkids anymore.

Anyway, companies like Phantom and TNT are responsible for stands in multiple states, including quite a few in Portland. They spend all year preparing for this week, ordering fireworks, hiring temporary help and carefully massaging the stands themselves to create that impression of ramshackle flammability, or "flamshackability," that we've all come to treasure.

To be fair, both companies mentioned do allow local clubs and high-school groups to run stands as fundraisers, giving volunteers a cut of the proceeds. But that's about as amateur as it gets, which is a shame, since it's well-known the fewer fingers you have, the more you love your country.