Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sometimes, opportunities arise, and one seizes them, and achieves the intended result. This is about one such time.Sam and I were invited to join what is a recurring trip to the desert to shoot guns. I have discharged one rifle, on one occasion, when I was 12 or so, probably without my parents’ prior permission. I was , I think, naturally concerned about taking a nearly 10 year-old boy to do this. Assured (with photos) that this was not the equivalent of giving him heroin and sending him into a life of crime, we agreed to go. It was only going to be one night, and it was a chance to see some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. It was a chance to use our camping gear. To see the stars. All that stuff. And something else that I’ll get to in a bit.

We arrived just before dusk, in a perfect desert setting for discharging firearms – spot to camp, and a nice bluff about a quarter-mile away to catch the bullets. Greetings all around, and a glimpse of the hardware awaiting us. I got the tent up, beds out, mattresses inflated, etc. We both got to pop off some rounds with a .22 rifle and an M-1. Sam was already somewhat familiar with the M-1 from some PC video games – it was a particular thrill to make the association. A clear evening, chili dogs, a campfire, it was a nice, relaxing time. Chad proved that, just as the instructions predict, Jiffy-Pop cannot be popped on a campfire. Brad burned some strips of Magnesium – white hot. You know, stupid stuff guys do in the middle of nowhere when there’s no Moms around. Mmkay? The photographers set up, and took pictures of us firing the big scary Semi-Automatic German rifle that went ”GerBoomen.” Soon, it was time to tuck in. Took a while to get to sleep with no electronics to lull us, but I’m told that I was snoring loud enough, soon enough.

One of the realities of middle-aged ‘male-dom’ is the requirement, shall we say (in this venue), to answer the call of nature sometime between bedtime and the dawn. It is not customary for us city folk to be outside, out in the open, moonlight the only source of illumination. It was magical and monochromatic, the desert under a clear sky and half-moon. I turned my flashlight on and off, mostly for a momentary sense of security and control, but it seemed a sort of insult to the fact that I could see just fine without it. I stood under the stars for a little while, pondering things like those who spent months under these stars heading across this desert, a long time ago. I wanted to wake Sam up, but I realized that, by the time I got him fully awake enough to try and explain the concept, and gain some appreciation from him, he’d probably be more annoyed than inspired. Some serendipities are not so easily shared.

Saturday was donuts and coffee (no one else drank coffee?), and then taking turns shooting one of the oh, 15 or so guns that were offered – pistols, Deer rifles; Sam even shot the 12-gauge shotgun once. Your humble author managed to shoot a couple of clay pigeons, himself. I learned that there is a purpose for those AOL and Earthlink CD’s, after all. Our host is a police officer, a training officer, and a rangemaster. Most of the ammunition had been collected for disposal; we were actually performing a public service, too.

I think we ran out of ammo at about the right time – I know that, although I’d had fun, had had enough of this kind of fun, by then. We picked up, said our thanks and goodbyes, and headed back over the mountains for home. I do so enjoy indoor plumbing. We’d unpacked, showered, and were pooped out in the Family Room watching TV, when Sam turned to me and said, “Well, I’ll never look at guns the same way, again.” That was the payoff I’d been hoping for, and I didn’t even have to ask for it. “How so?”, I asked. “They’re loud and they, they’re . . .” his voice trailed off. “Really destructive?” “Yeah.” There’d been a short discussion during the magnesium burning the night before, amidst the guy talk about how hot it had to be to burn, and how it’d burn through other metal and stuff - you know, the usual – including some remarks about how some military shells had magnesium in them so that, after they penetrated (no need to elaborate, is there?), they’d keep burning. Sam and I talked, just for a little while, about both the cruelty and necessity for these weapons – this time particularly in the context of why a policeman carries and would ever discharge a weapon.

This was my hidden agenda, and I was really pleased by the whole weekend – the way the guns were presented, the proper respect taught for these weapons and those who were responsible for them, and the subsequent damage and power they have demonstrated to my impressionable boy. I am grateful for the opportunity to have enabled these first impressions to be the right ones. I’m pretty confident that he won’t be someone who shoots up a school – of course, for reasons beyond just this – but it’s all part of it. He lives in a world that includes a lot of virtual, unreal representations of history, today, and the future. I really want him to be fully aware and engaged in the one he needs to be engaged in. I think this worked just the way I wanted it to.