Living in the age of deception

*hood-winked

To take in by deceptive means; deceive. See synonyms at deceive.

hood’wink’er n.

*  *  *

Many years ago, at New York’s famed Feast of San Gennaro, I was relieved of $20 by a fast talking street vendor in a shell game. I left the Feast a bit wiser, and years later when I confessed my ignorance of New York street games to a friend, he laughed and remarked that I had clearly been ‘hoodwinked’.

I liked that word. Much more playful sounding than its cousin ‘deceived’, and much less threatening than its drunken uncle counterpart, ‘ripped off’, hoodwinked seemed to fit nicely into the picture of what happened to me that day. Lately, I am starting to feel like we are living in an age of deception, where hoodwinkers of all types are ‘taking us all in’ just a little bit.

First came Lance Armstrong, the Tours de France super star. Since bicycle racing does not attract the huge following here in the U.S. as it does in Europe, it takes some doing for a cycler to gain national name recognition. Ask anyone here in the States to name a famous cycler, and nearly everyone will name Lance Armstrong. Ask them to name a second and your question will likely be met with a blank stare. Lance seemed to have it all. A stellar athlete, Lance was from the get-go, clearly on a path to celebrity, and if his athletic prowess were not enough to seal the deal, his inspirational triumph over cancer would be. Since most of us feel that we are probably just one diagnosis away from this dread disease, Lance’s high profile cancer beat-down left us all knowing that not only was there life after cancer, but athletic top-of-your-game, celebrity status life.

Of course doping charges followed Lance’s success and those who dared to cast a shadow of doubt upon his squeaky clean image were, by many accounts, castigated and intimidated into silence. So, for many years we turned a blind eye to the super-star cyclist, preferring to see him as he wanted us to see him. Not until his recent, and now famed coming out appearance on Oprah, were we forced to confront the fact, that Lance the man, was simply another athlete with sins long hidden from view. First he said he didn’t – now he says he did…I am majorly hoodwinked.

Next came Beyonce. Her now controversial appearance at last week’s Presidential inauguration is under fire, her performance marred by allegations of lip-syncing The Star Spangled Banner (in fairness to Beyonce, if there was ever a song to lip-sync it’s that one). For some reason this inaugural “mini-scandal” seems to linger, perhaps even eclipsing Michelle Obama’s eye-rolling at the luncheon incident.

To those who say Beyonce has hoodwinked us, I cry foul. Well, maybe a mini-teeny-weeny hoodwinking went on, but who could blame her. If she had been lip-syncing to say – Barbara Streisand, well then…MAJOR hoodwinking …but she didn’t do that.  Beyonce chose, apparently (or perhaps she was advised by her handlers), to sing what is arguably one of the most difficult (and often massacred) songs ever written, by lip syncing to her own voice. So what is really wrong with that? Let’s face it. That is a damn difficult venue that Inauguration. You’re on like never before with the world watching – the Prez himself is sitting right there, and baby it’s cold outside. Who would want to take a chance on failure…

…Apparently James Taylor, that’s who. Like J.T. or hate him, you have to give the guy credit, he’s got guts. Taylor went on bald, cold, and nervous, but he played the game straight up. After his performance he gave an interview in which he admitted that Inaugurals aren’t the best gigs in the world for singing guitar players:

“It’s always hard for a guitar player to play when it’s cold because your hands sort of stiffen up and you know nerves tend to do that to you anyway. So I was, you know, very relieved to have gotten to it without any major train wrecks.”

And so he did. J.T. made it through without any ‘trainwrecks’. But it leaves me wondering if an occasional trainwreck, or maybe just a slight derailing, would not have been better for the career of Lance Armstrong. Maybe the loss of a race or two would have simply humanized him…or maybe not, but it would have kept him off of Oprah’s show confessing to the masses that he was a liar and a cheat.

And as for Beyonce, while I don’t feel that she is in the same league of hoodwinkers as Lance, I am thinking that maybe an imperfection in her performance would not have sent her career down in flames either. After all – politicians certainly don’t concern themselves with embarrassment on the national stage, so why should we expect a performer to  be perfect?

That’s it for now…back to writing about ‘writing’  topics really soon…I mean it…

–Trop

*Definition courtesy of The Free Dictionary, by Farlex.

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

Thoughts on Winter Storm Caesar

I felt bad about the way I’d left things with Rita. The last time we talked, I found out that she’d taken a job at the Thief River Falls  ____ Mart, a place she’d vowed to never enter, let alone work — under any condition.

Anyway, I was a little abrupt with her the last time we spoke, because she had in fact, taken a job at the aforementioned super-store, at least until after the holidays, and later on, I felt bad about being so judgmental, so I wanted to apologize. Besides, earlier in the day, I’d gotten a tweet from The Weather Channel telling me that Winter Storm Caesar was bearing down on the Northern Plains, and I was worried about her and J.L.

When I called her cell, J.L. answered. “Rita leaves her phone at home now when she goes to work,” he told me. “She was getting into too much trouble for making calls on the job.”

“That’s a shame,” I said, “especially with Caesar heading your way?”

“Who?”

“Caesar…you know about Caesar don’t you.”

“Sure,” he said, “the pizza guy.”

“No, not Little Caesar – Winter Storm Caesar.”

I then had to explain to J.L that The Weather Channel is now naming winter storms in much the same way North American hurricanes are named. No wimpy names for these storms either – if you haven’t been paying attention, prior to Caesar we’ve had Winter Storm Athena and Winter Storm Brutus. And Winter Storm Draco is next (I think that’s the Latin word for ‘dragon’)…yikes…these winter storm names are intended to scare the bejeezus out of you.

So the first time I heard of winter storm naming, I thought it was just exactly that – scare tactics designed to alarm the public. Damn that National Weather Service I said to myself. Then I found out that the NWS wasn’t behind this at all. In fact, it was The Weather Channel (TWC) – that stalwart bastion of cable distributed meteorological information. It seems that in order to make things easier for us online geeks, TWC came up with the idea of naming winter storms to help make them easier for us to track. They know  that most of us are too consumed by our Twitter feed and our Facebook pages on our iPad or smart-phone to actually tune into a local weather broadcast to get the skinny on any upcoming disasters. Apparently notifying the general public that a blizzard is descending upon them from the northern reaches of Canada, and within 24 hours they may well be buried under 47 inches of snow, driven by blinding hurricane force winds is not dramatic enough content for the TWC.

From TWC website:

“The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.”

To this I can only add an emphatic: Huh?

Let us begin our search for the Truth, by taking a quick look at the assigned names for the remaining winter storms this season:

Euclid

Freyr

Gandolf

Helen

Iago

Jove

Khan

Luna

Magnus

Nemo

Orko

Plato

Q (yes, just plain Q)

Rocky

Saturn

Triton

Ukko

Virgil

Walda

Xerxes

Yogi

Zeus (My personal favorite – this one is destined to bury half of North American under a glacier)

Think about these names and what they imply when you hear them over the course of the next few weeks and months. Couple these threatening names with the fact that TWC embarked upon this winter storm naming program without consulting any other private or public weather forecasting organization and things begin to sound mighty fishy. This was evidenced by the fact that as the massive nor’easter, dubbed “Winter Storm Athena” threatened New England the National Weather Service issued a directive to all of its personnel to NOT use this name in any of its bulletins and broadcasts.

Now I know some of my more weather savvy readers will say, “ha, ha  Trop, don’t you know they’ve been naming winter storms in Europe for the past fifty years?”

And I’ll say right back, “Yes, I know that o’ Weather Savvy Reader. But this isn’t Europe. We do things kinda different over here in the U. S. of A.”

Normally, I am not one to jump on every conspiracy theory bandwagon,  but I think something is going on here with this storm naming business, and I don’t like it. Insurance companies are increasingly using the “named storm” clause in insurance policies for all kinds of things, including when new policies can be written and what damages are covered.

So a few years hence, when you’re speaking to your insurance agent regarding a claim you’d like to file, as on Friday of last, while on your way home from work in a blinding snowstorm, your classic 1953 Austin Healy roadster skidded off the roadway, cleanly shearing down to stumps, six poplar saplings and removing fifty yards of rail fencing, before both you and a piping hot cup of Starbucks cappuccino were propelled into the windscreen, doing calamitous damage to both classic vehicle, your dental work, and your finest Holland Cooper tweed jacket, don’t be surprised when your agent tells you:

“Tisk tisk. Sorry Dr. Gravestares, but I’m afraid you’re not covered.”

“Not covered,” you’ll retort, sitting bolt upright in your hospital bed.

“I’m afraid claims filed for accidents that occurred during Winter Storm Dracula are not covered under your policy. Good heavens man, didn’t you get the Tweet?”

Just sayin…

Mahalo

Trop