Six things I won’t live to see

As I am now some months into my fifty ninth ride around The Star, I find myself now, more than ever, soberly aware of my role of passenger on this ride, and try as I might, I know that I shall never be the Captain of the ship. With this realization I have not become cynical (as many of my fellow passengers have), but I have become more pragmatic. I have come to realize that there are some things that I shall never see within my lifetime. I have compiled a short list of them here:

 1. Sub-$3.00 per gallon gas – Last week, as I was driving to work, a newscaster on the Miami radio station that I was listening to said that the price of gasoline in our area had dropped 2 -3 cents gallon. The newscaster went on to attribute this drop in price to the fact that local fuel distributors had switched to their ‘winter-blend’, which is (apparently) somewhat cheaper than the ‘summer-blend’. Well, I thought to myself – it’s high time. Since it is mid-September and temps are already plummeting into the mid-70s overnight, I damn well want that winter blend in my old truck. In this part of the country, where summer runs until – well – New Years Eve, having winter-blend fuel in your vehicle is essential. My point in this short, cynical, rant being that the price of gasoline is, and always has been, manipulated by a few. We are now headed for the days of $4 per gallon fuel, and nothing that we passengers can do (or are likely to do) can change that.

2. Return of the electric car – Back in 1888, when the world’s first electric vehicle, the German Flocken Elektrogwagen took to the street, inventor Andreas Flocken probably felt that he was looking at the future of personal transport. He probably dreamed of a traffic jam of electrically powered carriages rattling across Europe on a cobblestone, 19th century, Autobahn. Actually, by the early years of the 20th century, electric vehicles had become very popular in both Europe and the U.S. Early models were easier to start, ran cleaner and were so popular with women that they became known as ‘women’s vehicles’ – so much so that manufacturers had to install fake radiators on the cars to attract male customers. In any case, we have made little progress in the past 125 years in making electrically powered vehicles available to the general public.

Oh I know all the arguments against electric vehicles: the batteries don’t last, charging stations are expensive to maintain, the power-plants needed to generate electricity dump tons of emissions into the atmosphere too…I have heard all of it, and I don’t buy into it. Each day I watch literally hundreds of gasoline powered postal vehicles take to the streets of my city, puttering from mailbox to mailbox, all of them spewing carbon emissions into the air. Later a UPS truck pulls up to my house in a cloud of diesel smoke. The mission: to pick up an envelope at my house for overnight delivery…see my point. Even if we had encouraged development of electric vehicles for commercial purposes (as they did in Europe for many years), we might well be on our way to breaking the stranglehold that the oil companies have on us all.

Without going into greater detail, the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” does a much better job describing “what the hell happened” than I can. If you want the short version, see item 1 above in my list.

3. Who killed JFK –   I am convinced I shall never know exactly who killed John F. Kennedy. No, I don’t buy into every conspiracy theory that comes along, but I have never bought into the Warren Commission report either. I do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy in Dallas back in November of 1963. There…I said it. A few days after the assassination, when I was nine years old, I watched (on black and white TV of course), Jack Ruby step from a crowd in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters, pull a pistol, and kill Oswald on national television. I smelled a rat then, and I still smell one fifty years later. But, I am certain that we will never know exactly what happened. Too many of the principals have passed away and barring a deathbed confession from Fidel Castro, or the resurrection of Jimmy Hoffa from whatever block of concrete he is encased in, the truth has already gone to someone’s grave and the paper trail shredded and cold.

4. The truth about Area 51 – Note those readers who know where I live: Do not send the padded van. Also, no need to call to ask if I am feeling okay, I’m fine. I just think that denying the existence of a super secret, military testing installation, for sixty years, and then suddenly announcing its existence is suspicious. Nothing to see here…keep it moving. Of course it was there all along…That’s what our government is telling us now.

Area 51 was, and still is, a top-secret military installation located in the Groom Lake area in the desert north of Las Vegas, Nevada. It was never a real secret. I mean you could drive out there — until they stopped you. For years we’ve heard about the plain white passenger jet that left each morning from McCarran airport, returning each evening – the Area 51 shuttle.

Those of us who have studied the area for decades have no doubt that the area is a super secret seedbed for advanced avionics programs. Programs that were born out of competition with the Soviets during the Cold War. But in the wake of a very suspicious crash of an airborne vehicle in Roswell, New Mexico in July of 1947, it is small wonder that rumors soon spread that the U.S. Government was involved in the secret back-engineering project of a craft that might have come from another world. Some people, like airline pilots, U.S. astronauts, scientists and thousands of others around the world, myself included, have seen things in the night sky that we know are not errant weather balloons or swamp gas. We also know that the same government that has purposefully denied the existence of Area 51 knows more about this phenomenon than they are saying, and they are likely to maintain this silence in the foreseeable future.

5. Travel to the moon – We are not going back to the moon. When Eugene Cernan departed the moon at 5:40 GMT on December 14, 1972, it marked the last time that man will set foot on that celestial rock for many, many more years to come. We shall continue to make noise about returning to the moon, spouting nonsense about man’s inherent need to explore the unknown, citing perhaps Magellan’s desire to circumnavigate the earth, or Columbus’ drive to find a passage to the East – but these guys had air to breathe and they were motivated by the dream of great wealth in undiscovered lands. Plus they didn’t know how heavily the odds were stacked against them. We will not return to the moon in my lifetime because: a) It is simply too dangerous to send a human there, and b) there is nothing there. Unless we discover oil on the moon, we will never travel there in the foreseeable future (notice I keep using the word ‘forseeable’. I am not a big believer in the word ‘never’).

Similarly, we will not send a human to Mars, even if we could actually find sane people willing to give up a decade of their lives to a cause that will likely result in their deaths. We will not go to Mars because: a) It is simply too dangerous to send a human there, and b) there is nothing there. Unless we discover oil on Mars, we will never travel there in the foreseeable future.

6. Rational gun control in the United States – We will not institute any significant gun control legislation in the United States for a very, very, long time – if ever. Today, as I watch members of the Florida Chapter of the Armed Citizens Project offer up free shotguns to Florida citizens as a way to protect themselves against crime (this in the wake of the D.C. Navy Yard massacre by a demented young man armed with a shotgun), I am now more than ever convinced that we are too far gone. We are destined to go from one shootout to the next, with the same scenario playing out each time. We shall see the innocent brutally gunned down by the deranged. The NRA will remain respectfully silent for a few days. After that, the cry will go out to arm the citizenry in greater numbers so as to reduce the risk of the innocent being brutally gunned down by the deranged. The way to ‘stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’…blah, blah, we blather on.

And so we shall continue – sitting in class with our bullet proof backpacks at the ready, casting a wary eye over our shoulder as we shop at the mall, planning an escape route as we sit at out desks at work, and hoping that the terror that we experience at the movie theatre occurs only on-screen.

But we shall go on.

So that’s it…I gotta go…

My tinfoil hat is smoking…

Mahalo,

–Ed

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Driving fast with guns

I don’t get a lot of satisfaction in seeing people fall, even people who I think deserve to fall. For some reason, I’d rather see people redeem themselves in some small way, but almost always I am let down. One person who I was certain was NOT going to redeem himself in any way was George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman seems to have taken his place as Florida celebrity du-jour when it comes to extending his middle finger to the world after beating a murder rap in an Orlando courtroom last July. Believe me, I use the word celebrity loosely here. A man whose only claim to fame is shooting an unarmed teenager to death is hardly a celebrity, but as our own adopted O.J. Simpson cools his heels in a Nevada pen, and Casey Anthony seems to have faded into deserved obscurity, all eyes are on faux-celebrity Mr. Zimmerman, and apparently there is much to watch.

Since being found innocent back on July 17th, Mr. Zimmerman has assisted at a traffic accident (a good thing, if we believe it really went down the way it was reported, although it seemed as if he went from ‘assisting’ as first reported, to  ‘rescuing’ people as later reported), and he has been stopped for speeding twice – once in Texas while on a cross-country trip, and once in his home state of Florida (doing 60 in a 45 – okay, not death penalty stuff, but you’d think he’d show more respect for the law) .  More recently, he has been accused of attacking his father in law (although evidence seems to say otherwise), and threatening his estranged wife, ostensibly with a gun.  So, does the man brandish a pistol at the slightest provocation? Is he as trigger happy as he seems to be? Is he a lose cannon waiting to go off when it’s least expected? The answers to such questions appear murky at best. Even the police seem to be at odds with initial reports from his wife.

I’m certainly not an expert on marital discord. Within any marriage, my own included, there are only two people who know exactly what is going on. But when a person seems to have repeated contact with the law, one has to look toward a common denominator. I see guns.

I am thinking of the days immediately after Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal when an absurd call went out for money to help Mr. Zimmerman purchase replacement weapons. Insanity once again trumping prudence.

This is all I can say today on this important topic. I will close here by saying that I am certain that we have not heard the last of Mr. Zimmerman. I only hope that I am not describing the fate of an innocent victim the next time I mention his name.

Mahalo,

–Ed

My final gun control post…Adolphus Busch IV dumps on the NRA

The last time that I blogged about gun control, I told myself that it was the absolute last time that I was going down that rabbit hole, there being so many topics out there that interest me more than the stupidity going on in Washington, D.C. For that reason, along with a few other reasons that I shall not go into here, I felt that pouring yet more frustrated rhetoric, out into the blogosphere would be, simply put, pointless.  But here I go again…

Personally, I do not have strong feelings about gun ownership or gun owners, per se, as I am not anti-gun. I do not, however, as of this writing, own any weaponry as there is nothing that I care to shoot. I gave up hunting animals at an early age when I discovered that I got little joy from killing them, and my fear of the human species has not yet ‘red-lined’ at a level that I feel the need to arm-up to protect myself and my family (naivety being akin to bliss).

I am well aware that many people hunt legally for sport, and people in remote areas often keep guns for protection from four footed vermin as well as two. Still others in urban areas feel the need for guns, for a variety of reasons, some of them valid, and others not so much. I have no quarrel with any of them. I would hope never to see the day that I could not legally purchase a gun in the U.S., should I want to own one. And I am not a gun illiterate. I know the difference between a pistol and a revolver, a breech loaded shotgun vs. a pump model, and I know that .40 caliber ammo is not as easily obtained as .45 caliber. But I also know one other thing about guns…they are damned dangerous.

In the hands of the homicidal, the suicidal, and the genocidal, guns are capable of inflicting great harm quickly. You need to know what you are doing when it comes to guns, so making certain that only the right people get to own them is really important. It is also really important that once the right people own them, they hang onto them, and they don’t peddle them to just anybody with a wad of cash. So it goes without saying that I was more than a little disappointed last week, when the gun control bill, proposed by President Obama (and backed by lots of other people , Democrats and Republicans alike), floundered like a sick panfish on the floor of the United States Senate.

“Well, I expected that to happen,” I said to my wife when I heard the news. “No blogging about gun control for me.”

“Why not,” she asked.

“Because the gun thing is a dead horse,” I said, “and nobody wants to continue to beat one of those. Then I read about Adolphus Busch IV.

Adolphus Busch IV, the brewing company heir, recently rescinded his membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA), thus inspiring me to write here again about guns and their control, or lack thereof. I mean, if a brewing company magnate has the moxy (not the word I really wanted to use, but you get the impression), to stand up to the National Rifle Association, then I owe the issue one more blog.

Mr. Busch recently renounced his NRA membership with a scathing letter to that organization that read, in part:

“I fail to see how the NRA can disregard the overwhelming will of its members who see background checks as reasonable.”

Perhaps if we had more gun owners of Mr. Busch’s mettle, some sanity might one day settle upon our Nation. Mr. Busch further noted that today’s NRA is quite unlike the NRA that he had joined back in 1975, an organization that was formed to protect the interests of hunters and gun owners. Today’s NRA, according to Mr. Busch, looks nothing like that, and has instead morphed into a special interest lobbying group for arms and ammunition manufacturers. His observation mirrors my own. As I recall the NRA of the late seventies, it did not wield the power it has today, and seemed to be primarily concerned with gun safety issues, like keeping hunters from accidentally shooting each other on hunting excursions. Or so it seemed.

This is all I have to say on this issue for now, and I will remain silent on gun issues henceforth. There are other BIG issues to address: more poetry in honor of National Poetry Month, giant snails are invading Broward County Florida, and Obama is hijacking an asteroid. Not to mention that I have found an issue upon which I completely agree with Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida…need I drone on…

Mahalo,

-Ed

Thoughts on the Camel’s nose…gun control…and a proposed dog ban in Broward County

Awhile back, I came across an old Arab proverb. I didn’t know what to do with it at the time, but I liked it, so I wrote it down in my blog-notebook for future reference. I filed it under the heading “Camel’s nose proverb”. It goes like this:

“If the camel gets his nose in your tent, his body will soon follow.”

The gist of this quote, of course, being the old saying,”give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Gun control opponents are quite familiar with this chain of thought. It goes like this: “If they outlaw my AR-15 with its 55 round clip, then next they’ll come for my AK-47 with its 30 round clip, then they’ll want my Remington 12 gauge goose gun, and then they’ll want the .22 single shot, and after that Granddad’s antique muzzle loader…soon we’ll be left with a slingshot and a sharpened spoon to defend ourselves against the marauding gangs that will be roaming the streets in the wake of the inevitable upcoming  economic collapse…, and since marauding gangs will be armed to the teeth with illegally hoarded guns, the shit will have truly hit the proverbial fan…”

This is the oh-so-familiar ‘slippery slope’ argument. Once you begin to slide, there is no turning back. You have to tumble all the way to the bottom.

Personally, I have never (until recently) bought into the slippery slope line, at least when it comes to gun control. I have always thought that certain types of firearms, especially those that can be fired very rapidly and without reloading are too dangerous for the general public. Maybe we don’t really need armor piercing ammunition either – at least not in the hands of anyone with a wad of cash or a few bucks of credit left on their MasterCard. I have always held that the law and the legitimate ownership of guns could coexist. I mean…can’t we all just get along?

Obama’s proposed ban on ammunition clips in excess of 10 rounds sounds sensible to me, but who the  hell am I? I’m not a really big gun guy. But should this become law, and somewhere down the line you could ask the eleventh potential victim in a crazed maniac’s line of fire what they think of such a law, he or she will probably say that it was a very good law indeed. But now we are going down the road of why a crazed maniac has access to any weapon, and that is not where I want to go here.

What I want to say is this. I was perfectly comfortable with my opposition to slippery slope arguments, then that camel pushed its nose into my home turf, Broward County, Florida.

We have a big problem down here with dogs. Not just any dogs, but specifically the pit-bull breed. In the past 2 years, there have been 225 pit-bull attacks in Broward County. That is a lot of dog attacks. Couple that with the 269 calls to the county authorities (over the same 2 year period), to report pit-bulls roaming ‘at large’, then you can see why some people around here are upset. That’s why today, February 26, a hearing is being conducted at County Hall in Ft. Lauderdale to consider a ban on the pit-bull breed in Broward County. Don’t think folks are taking this lying down. Nothing gets the public more politically engaged that issues related to animals. Emotions are running high on both sides of this proposed pit-bull ban. A Facebook page has been set up to help save the breed, and a crowd of people on both sides of the pit-bull issue are expected to descend upon County Hall to make themselves heard in the democratic process — as they should.

So I was discussing this pit-bull issue yesterday, with my friend Patrick who works at the same place I do, the place where I go to write stuff and get paid for it. Patrick knows that I am a huge dog lover, and dog owner. He also knows that I am not the biggest fan of the pit-bull breed. He cornered me at the water cooler yesterday.

“Where do you come down on this pit-bull ban,” he asked. Then before I could answer, he went on to say, “it’s high time if you’d ask me.”

“Well,” I said after thinking a bit. “I’m opposed to it. It makes absolutely no sense to ban a breed of dog, just because some owners are irresponsible. I mean, people who are going to abuse animals and teach them to fight aren’t going to be deterred by the law. What we need are laws to hit irresponsible dog owners where it hurts – in the wallet. If we ban pit-bulls, then next it’s going to be Rottweilers, then German Shepards, and maybe Labrador Retrievers – who knows where it could end. Wait until they ban your Yorkie, Patrick.”

“I see,” said Patrick. “It’s kind of like the slippery slope argument. Once you ban one breed, then it becomes easier to ban another breed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s sort of like that.”

“It sounds a bit hypocritical,” he said, “especially after you said that the slippery-slope argument made no sense when it came to gun control, remember?”

I did remember saying that…I confess to some hypocrisy. But nobody is perfect. I still believe that guns can be effectively regulated with well thought out legislation, and I still believe that pit-bulls should not be banned in Broward County, Florida.

If you believe that the President’s gun control proposal is sound policy, then contact your Congressional representative and make your voice heard. If you believe pit-bulls should not be banned in Broward County, then make your way down to County Hall at 11:30 AM today and join the fray

I sell the gun…and have some misgivings…

Note to my readers: This is part 4, the last part of a ‘serial-blog’.  A serial-blog is something I wanted to try, but might not attempt again. But you never know. Without reading the first three parts, it probably won’t make too much sense, so if you are new here (or just showing up late), please scroll down to Part 1 and read the blog posts in order. In a nutshell, this is a short story that is intended as a personal commentary on gun control. The experience is true, or as best I remember it. All names and some inconsequential details have been changed, so if a character sounds like you my friend, there is a good chance it is.

PART 4

…I continue…

Dean White had it made. Or so I thought back then. If there was ever a guy who was truly his own man it was Dean.

About fifty years old at the time, he looked older. He had a long salt and pepper beard almost to mid-chest, and long grey hair almost to mid-back. His hair was always pulled back in a pony tail, held in place with one of those turquoise Navaho hair clasps. He also wore a turquoise ring on his little finger and always wore a turquoise bedecked belt buckle on a hand tooled belt. Dean hadn’t an ounce of Native American blood in his veins but he apparently liked the jewelry.

Dean made his living with a small printing business that he ran out of the basement of his house. He printed labels for catalogs and fliers and usually worked all night. This left him free all day to hunt and fish. Dean was married to a girl named Suzie, who was at least twenty years his junior. Suzy had platinum blonde hair and had worked as a stripper at a club in Kansas City before she left that world behind to marry Dean (or so I heard).

In addition to his printing business, Dean also was an accomplished gunsmith. He was known to buy and sell guns too, so he wasn’t surprised when I showed up at his house one morning with the .22 High Standard, wrapped in cheese cloth, and stowed in a shoe box. Someone had told me that as long as a pistol was contained in a box, any box, that it wasn’t considered a concealed weapon and you could carry it on the car seat beside you (sounds like hooey to me now that I think about it).

Dean was coming off of an ‘all nighter’, having just finished a big print run for an Omaha department store, and he still had 250 bulletins for the First Presbyterian church to run off before services next day, so he was a little grumpy. Suzy was pleasant though and brought us both steaming mugs of hot coffee.

Dean unwrapped the pistol, and inspected it like he knew what he was doing. While he was looking at it I gave him the condensed version of how Lenny and I had tried the gun out on a firing range, conveniently leaving out the fact that the range was on Earl Hackelman’s farm, and not only had we trespassed, but we’d almost been run down (or gunned down) by Hackelman himself. I told Dean that the gun shot right and high.

Dean laughed at me. “This ain’t no target pistol, son,” he said. “Now if it’s targets you want to shoot…” He got up and went into another room. He came back with a long oak box with a fancy inscription carved into the lid above a carving of an eagle with outstretched wings. He sat the box in front of me.

I opened the box. Inside was a true .22 caliber target pistol. I handled it carefully. It was perfectly balanced and the difference between it and the gun I had purchased from Harry was as pronounced as the difference between my 1969 Plymouth and a racing Ferrari.

“How much?” I asked Dean, momentarily seeing myself entering professional shooting competitions.

“Three seventy five,” said Dean, “but I could allow you fifty for your gun, so make it three twenty five and it’s yours.”

“Kinda out of my price range,” I said, as I laid the target pistol back in its ornate cradle. “What can you give me outside of trade.”

“Thirty bucks,” he said without hesitation.

“Thirty bucks,” I said, “wow, I paid fifty.”

“You got screwed,” said Dean.

“How about forty then?”

Dean smiled and pulled a turquoise money clip from the front pocket of his jeans. He counted out thirty five dollars. “Take it or leave it,” he said.

I took it.

*

A few days after I sold the pistol to Dean, I ran into Lenny’s brother Rick at the County Line Tap. I hadn’t spoken to Lenny since the day he approached me with the offer to buy the gun. Lenny had left town for California without saying goodbye to anyone.

I walked over and asked Rick if there was any word from Lenny.

“Didn’t you hear,” he said.

“Hear what?”

“Lenny got robbed, that’s what.”

“Where…when?” I asked.

“Modesto, California,” he said. Then he told me that Lenny had stopped at a burger joint to get a bite to eat, and when he came out his car was gone.

“They stole everything he had,” said Rick.

“Everything?”

“Yeah, everything. All he had left were the clothes on his back. They found the car the next day stripped and burned.”

Careless Lenny…I thought of the gun that I almost sold to him.  Would I have put a weapon into the hands of a criminal, had I sold the gun to Lenny? Could the gun – my gun – have been used to rob, intimidate, or even kill?!?!. The answer was an unequivocal yes.

I was haunted by my ‘almost sale’ for some time afterward, and in my mind’s eye, I could  see the look on the face of  the happy car thief, after finding the loaded .22 pistol carelessly left in the glove compartment of Lenny’s unlocked vehicle. I could see the evil glee in the man’s eyes as he slid the piece into the waistband of his jeans. Later I could see the look of terror on the face of the liquor store clerk as the gun brandishing robber demanded the cash drawer. Maybe she would resist, or perhaps a feigned gesture would be misinterpreted as resistance. Maybe the thief would panic, pressing the trigger just a bit too hard…this target would be much closer than the one in Hackleman’s cow pasture. At two or three feet it wouldn’t matter if the gun shot right, or high. I would hear the sharp crack of the .22, and then I’d see blood on the face of the store clerk, and on the thief, and then on myself…after that I would awake covered in sweat.

THE END

We flee the scene…I receive an offer to buy my pistol

PART 3

Note to my readers: Into the seemingly endless stream of blather regarding gun control in the United States, I have contributed even more blather, in the form of excerpts from a short story that I wrote. Since it runs long, I have broken it down into 4 parts. It is best read in order, starting with Part 1. It is (for the most part) factual, however, names and some inconsequential details have been changed to protect the innocent.

The narrative continues:

We panicked…

I don’t remember which one of us was in the car first – I don’t even remember taking any special precautions with the revolver, but later I found it tossed under the front seat, still loaded with seven live cartridges and two spent ones. There wasn’t time to do anything but run. Earl Hackleman’s big Dodge 4 by 4 was bearing down hard on us. By the time I put the car in gear, and hit the gas, he wasn’t more than a hundred yards distant. I slammed the Plymouth into first gear and we lurched away down the rutted cow pasture path toward the gravel road. I hit second gear and we nose dived into a washout that almost twisted the steering wheel from my grip.

“Ya want me to drive?” yelled Lenny, “Jeez, what’s the matter with you, get a move on.”

“We won’t be going anywhere if I bust an axle out here,” I shouted back.

I drove as fast as I could, over the rough terrain, but I knew that the low slung car was no match for a souped-up off the road vehicle like Hackelman’s. My only hope was that I could beat him to the gravel road. There I knew I could out distance him. I glanced into the rearview mirror, and for a second I couldn’t believe our luck. It looked as if the headlights behind me had stopped closing in.

Hackleman had apparently stopped at his firing range to make sure everything was okay – like we might have messed with his sandbag or maybe he thought we’d dropped off a platoon of commie commandos, I don’t know, but I saw a flashlight beam shoot from the window of the stopped truck and sweep across the firing range. That lasted for only a few seconds, before the truck was on the move again, chasing us down on the rutted path. Stopping had been his mistake, if he had any hope of running us down. It was all the time I needed to make it to the gravel road ahead of him.

We rolled over the cattle crossing with Hackleman’s headlights close behind, but not close enough. Safely on the gravel road, I dropped the Plymouth into fourth gear, dumped the clutch and punched the gas pedal to the floor. We roared forward with tires spinning, leaving a hailstorm of gravel and dust in our wake. Behind us I could see Hackleman’s headlights turning onto the gravel road from the cow path, and for a moment it looked like he might be following us, but a few seconds later he dropped back, and then the lights were gone. I kept the pedal down until we reached the highway, half expecting Hackleman’s truck to appear out of nowhere, right on my bumper with headlights blazing, but it didn’t happen. We were on the blacktop headed back toward town before either Lenny or I spoke. It was Lenny:

“I think Harry ripped you off on that pistol.”

I didn’t answer him.

 *

The next morning I took the revolver from the car and emptied the shells from the chamber and threw away the two spend casings. Then I wrapped the gun carefully in cheese cloth and put it, and the box of Remington cartridges, in the bottom of an old tackle box that I kept under the workbench in my garage. Then, I once again forgot about the gun, until…

…one morning, two or three weeks after the incident out at Heckleman’s farm, Lenny came into the café where I was eating breakfast. He sat down across from me and we made small talk for a bit, even laughing about that night we’d outrun Heckelman.  Then he told me that he was leaving town. It seems Lenny had grown dissatisfied working in the family business with his father and two brothers and had decided to move to California. He had an uncle in Fresno who had offered to put him up for awhile, until he could find a job, and he’d decided to leave the next day.

“Say,” he said to me finally. “You wouldn’t want to sell that pistol, would you?”

“Why would you want it,” I said, “you told me Harry ripped me off.”

Lenny shrugged. “Maybe he did. But I need a gun for the road, and I don’t have a lot of time to shop around.” Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. Lenny was suddenly flush with cash, having sold his share of the business to his father and brothers. He pushed a fifty dollar bill across the table toward me.

I looked at the fifty – it wasn’t a denomination that I saw every day. At the time it was nearly half a weeks pay. It was also more cash than I was likely to ever get for the pistol, so I gave the transaction serious thought.

I had known Lenny for years, and he was a good and honest friend. But I hesitated to sell him the gun – not that I feared Lenny would use the pistol for any criminal purpose, but he was reckless and careless. If I have ever heard an inner voice (and listened to it) it was that day in the café sitting across from Lenny with that fifty dollar bill on the table.

“Naw,” I said,  “I better keep it around.” I pushed the bill back across the table. “A guy never knows when he’s going to need a gun.”

The next day I sold the pistol.

To be continued.

Night target practice and I commit my first gun crime

PART 2 (best if read after PART 1 – see previous blog)

…back to the story about my first (and probably last) handgun…

I wrapped the revolver in a towel and I stashed it in the trunk of my Plymouth, and it stayed there for several weeks. I forgot about it. Then one day I told my friend Lenny about the gun.

“How’s it shoot?” he asked me.

“Couldn’t say,” I said. “I haven’t shot it yet.”

“Whatddaya mean you haven’t shot it.” Lenny was astounded. We were having a few beers in a local tap, and it was late. He insisted that we go out to my car and get the gun and fire off a few rounds in the parking lot. Fearing the worst (alcohol and firearms), I put Lenny off, but I told him that we could go do a few target rounds the next day before I went to work. Lenny said he knew the perfect place to shoot.

The next day I picked up a box of Remington High Standard Long Rifle cartridges and a packet of cardboard targets from the Coast to Coast store in town before heading out to meet Lenny. I had to be at work at 10 PM and had arranged to meet up with him about 8…yeah, it was dark.

Okay, target shooting is not usually recommended after dark, but we knew what we were doing – sort of.

We drove to a remote spot that Lenny knew about. It was four or five miles off of the highway, down a twisting gravel road. Lenny directed me to a turnoff that I might have easily missed. It led off of the gravel road and up into a cow pasture. Ignoring a ‘No Trespassing’ sign we rumbled over a cattle crossing and then bounced along a dirt path for another half a mile or so.

Finally, Lenny told me to stop and turn off the lights. We got out of the car. There was a half moon, so we had enough light to see. There was a steep embankment rising directly in front of me. It was probably thirty feet high – maybe higher. Fifty yards or so from the embankment and directly in front of the car was a low bench made out of 2 by 4s. There was a burlap bag of sand on the table.

“Where the hell are we?” I asked Lenny.

“Fuckin’ cool, huh,” he said, striding away from me with our cardboard targets in hand.

“What is this place?” I asked as I followed along behind him, “some guy’s private shooting range? Jeez, you want to get us both arrested?”

“You worry too much,” he told me.

Downrange from the 2 by 4 shooting table and near the base of the embankment was a wooden target stand. The stand could be adjusted to accommodate a variety of targets. Ours were fairly small bulls eye targets – not like the elaborate human silhouette targets you see at shooting ranges. Lenny attached a cardboard target to a clip on top of the stand.

I looked around, still worried about the ‘No Trespassing” sign we had so conveniently ignored. We seemed to be alone, the only light came from a mercury vapor yard light from a farmstead a mile or so away. I could see the outline of a darkened farmhouse and barn.

“Hey,” I said to Lenny. “Isn’t that Old Man Hackelman’s place over there?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, he is one crazy s.o.b. that’s what.”

Everybody in the county knew Earl Hackelman. A card carrying member of the John Birch Society, Hackelman was indeed certifiably nuts. He thought that communists were poised to invade Nebraska and had once done a stint in the state mental institution after sending a threatening letter to a federal judge. In another locally high profile incident, he’d pulled a shotgun on power company workers who dared set foot on his property to repair a downed line. Now we were about to shoot targets on his private shooting range.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “If Hackelman catches us we’re dead – the guy said he was going to kill a friggin’ judge, what do you think he’ll do to us for trespassing.”

“Forget Hackelman,” said Lenny sounding annoyed. “He’ll never know we’re here – he’s half deaf, and he probably goes to bed at sundown.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s just pop off a few rounds and we’ll leave.”

I relented, and we paced off about twenty five yards back toward the car. I unlocked the trunk and brought out the pistol and loaded it with nine cartridges. When the gun was ready, I flipped on the headlights. The range was now beautifully illuminated.

I took the revolver first, and taking a stance perpendicular to the target (as I had seen shooters do in magazines), held the revolver in my right hand at arms length, and sighted down the barrel at the far away target. Then I squeezed off my first shot. The gun cracked and a smattering of dust flew from the embankment two or three feet to the right of the target. I had missed it completely.

“Pull it left,” said Lenny, obviously an accomplished shooter.

And so I did for the next shot. This time the gun shot high. There was a barely audible ‘zing’ sound as the bullet struck something a bit ‘north’ of the target and a trickle of dirt rained down the embankment a few feet above the cardboard target.

“Crap,” I said. “What’s wrong with this thing.”

“Looks like Harry took you for fifty bucks,” said Lenny laughing.

“Thirty nine,” I said. “I still owe him eleven bucks.”

The banter between Lenny and me might have gone on for some time if it were not interrupted by the far off roar of a fast approaching Dodge Ram Charger,  bucking across the cow pasture, its over-cab mounted, halogen headlights piercing the night. If not for that, Lenny and I might have pissed away half a dozen more rounds  at Earl Hackleman’s gun range. But our time had ran out.

“Jesus,” said Lenny. “It’s Hackelman.”

To be continued.

-Trop

My first and last handgun

PART 1

In 1974, when I was 20 years old, I bought my first and last handgun. Not for any good reason did I buy it, and not for any good reason did I dispose of it, except maybe for the fact that I hadn’t any need for it.

I bought my pistol, technically a revolver, from a friend of mine named Harry. Harry was a long-haul truck driver who ran a route between the upper Midwest and the Gulf Coast. Harry spent time in the less-desirable parts of cities like Kansas City, Topeka, Fort Worth and Baton Rouge (no offense to the honest citizenry of these fine towns, but Harry spent lots of nights in freight yards and truck stops). He often slept in the cab of his Freightliner, and he since he carried lots of cash, he felt better having a gun in case of trouble.

One day he and I were shooting the breeze in a coffee shop in the town where we both lived. He was only in town for the weekend, having dropped off a load of irrigation pipe in Omaha, and he had ‘bobtailed’ back home (truck driver lingo for travelling without a trailer – a financially undesirable condition best avoided). He was back for his girlfriend’s birthday. Problem was, he’d had some sort of financial ‘emergency’ on the road and now he found himself between paydays and short on funds.

“Hey,” he said, “do you still want to buy my revolver?”

I didn’t recall ever wanting to buy it in the first place, but he had shown it to me once, and I remember remarking that it seemed like a fine piece and I didn’t blame him for carrying it in his line of work. But I don’t think I ever mentioned wanting to buy it.

Disclaimer…

Before continuing, I want to say that I have never had any particular fear of guns, nor have I ever had a particular love for them either. Where I grew up, a good many households had a gun stored away in the closet, or hanging over the doorway on the mud-porch, or over the mantle. For these people, a gun was like a tile-spade, or a pick-axe – simply a tool to be used when conditions warranted, such as when weasels threatened the chicken coop, or coyotes descended upon newborn farm animals, or a fat rattler slithered up under the cool leaves of a cucumber vine in the garden on a hot summer day.

Those kinds of conditions required an instrument of special dispatch.

Back to my story…

“I don’t know if I need a revolver,” I told him.

“Suit yourself,” he told me, “but you can have it for fifty bucks if you want it.”

I thought it over for a few seconds before asking to see the weapon.

We adjourned to the truck yard behind the coffee shop, where Harry produced the revolver from under the mattress in the sleeper cab of his Freightliner. I opened the cylinder to make certain it was unloaded – it was. I spun the cylinder like I knew what I was doing, before snapping it shut.

By today’s standards, the gun was a pea-shooter. It was a High Standard .22 caliber, 9 shot revolver, and it felt heavy in my hand – handguns are always heavier than you think they should be. Suddenly, I found myself wanting to buy it.

I checked my wallet, and found that it contained only thirty nine dollars – all I had left from last week’s pay at the packing plant.

“That’s okay,” said Harry, hurrying to close the deal. (You could still go on a pretty decent date for $39 then.) “You can pay me the rest next time I see you.”

So it was a deal. I walked away with a nine shot handgun, Harry walked away with $39 and an IOU for $11, and hopefully, the Birthday Girl was not disappointed.

…to be continued.

Thoughts on today’s tragedy in Connecticut

Earlier today, as I was having my first cup of coffee, I came across some inspiring words written by my favorite theologian, Huston Smith. Smith’s words appeared in the banner of my daily planner for today, December 14th, 2012. So inspired was I, by Smith’s uplifting words, that I abandoned the post I was currently working on, a post calling for federal government restrictions on certain types of firearms. So thinking this ‘gun post’ would keep for awhile, I began work on a post in which I intended to impart some  great words of wisdom from H. Smith…

…both posts now lie on the hard drive of my laptop, incomplete and unlikely to be finished any time soon. The tragic events of today have seen to that.

After the senseless shootings in Connecticut, even the most well crafted words of the world’s greatest theologian ring hollow, and any discussion of gun control would be akin to a discussion of life-boat safety in the wake of the Titanic sinking.

So, unable to post either, I will post this one:

In the upcoming days we will hear a call for change. If you attend movies, shop in a mall, send your children to schools, or drive on a freeway, you should listen closely to this call, because if you don’t you may not hear again for a very, very long time.

And don’t worry:

This call will not be a call for sportsmen to turn over their shotguns to jack-booted thugs. Nor will it involve any of you folks (who by the friggin’ gazillions), have applied for, and have received, concealed weapons permits – your weaponry is safe.

There will be a call for some common sense in what kind of weapons we allow people to possess.

And by the way, now that I think of it I think they did begin to discuss life-boat safety issues very soon after the Titanic sank.