Sunday, March 29, 2009

Men, Men, Men. . .

It's a ship that's filled with men. You'll never have to lift the seat, there's no one here but men men men men. . .

We drove through the morning mist to the overlook east of the Indian Casino. Waiting for the remainder of the shooting party, the clouds rose up from the canyon to envelop us even as the sun rose in the East. A few handshakes, then speeding off down I-8 (I was following a police officer, honest!), eventually through downtown Ocotillo (1 store, 2 bars, and about 12 houses) and up the wash to our perfect shooting spot. It consists of a broad place, about an eighth of a mile across. A steep cliff on one side provides safety and crevices for targets like watermelons and bowling pins. Behind, enough scrub and gullies to relieve oneself in the privacy of the wilderness. Our vehicles, in between, laden with firearms, ammo, targets, handi-wipes and snacks. Quickly, but not so quickly that it's work; tables, shades, and chairs appear. Van (the aforementioned policeman and rangemaster) gives the safety lecture, and all pay heed. You listen carefully to each other when there are loaded guns around. Craig Ferguson says that that's why people are so polite in Texas - they're all armed. The safety zone is explained, and Dads are keenly aware of where their sons and daughters are at all times (yeah, there were some girls there, it's o.k. cause they're basically smothered by the testosterone in the air - I'm KIDDING - kinda).

We start with pistols. Load up the clips for the Glock, or grab a handful of .357 bullets for the six-shooter. Noobs and kids are accompanied to the line to make sure that the pointed guns stay pointed at the hill, hands are on the guns in the right manner, and that the gun is actually empty before it's returned to the table. We take our turns shooting above, below, around the targets and plastic bottles. The controlling of danger, explosions, and smell of gunpowder are of course deeply-rooted, endorphin-releasing experiences for most of us, and there can be the satisfaction of actually hitting what one is aiming at, but it is secondary. Earplugs both protect us from the cracking and unnecessary chit-chat. This is serious fun. Your senses are all functioning – straining your eyes at the target, finger on the trigger, arms extended, hold your breath, steady . . . the sting as the gun jumps – some a lot more than others – the zing of the brass casing ejecting, breathe again. The canyon wall provides a resounding crack! after each pop! - from the pfffts of the .22's to the pounding .45.

Rifles. More accurate. More powder. More power, uh uh uh. As someone who shoots virtual guns nearly every day, it is interesting to experience the physical. Particularly when the gun is an M-1, a staple of U.S. troops in WWII, or an AR15, from the Vietnam era.

         m1rifle                175px-Garand_clip

The M-1, when compared with modern guns, is a piece of furniture. As Van pointed out as he was helping me with it, "Can you imagine slogging M1Talkingthrough the jungles in the Pacific with this thing?" I can imagine it, but not for very long. It's heavy, but it's also steady. Above, you can see how a clip of eight shells is loaded into the gun. After the eighth shot, the metal clip is ejected with a very characteristic, almost chime-like sound. The stuff of legend. It's also, probably, the most accurate gun I shot, all day.




The AR-15 was another story. Lightweight, yes. Fully automatic on the battlefield, for sure. Handing off the M-1 for the AR-15 though, was like eventually giving up all of those aspirations of finding a girl who could cook just like Mom - life just wasn't going to be the same. It was still fun, sure, but somehow not as satisfying. It probably just means that I'm old enough for old school, now.

Shotguns. Some can hit the clay pigeons, some can't. Sam and I were too pooped to pop at that point; we were pretty sure that all we would get from that would be bruised shoulders.

Heading home, dusty, hands and arms sore, we finished off the bag of chips, wiping our grimy hands on our pants, burping Dr. Pepper into the falling sun. Home in plenty of time for dinner. A world away, if for only half a day. Thanks, guys!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

See ya, Monday.

My friend died, Sunday night. He was a co-worker of mine, since 1986. He's been a teacher, mentor, employee, but mostly a friend. He wasn't that easy to get to know; there is still a lot that I will never know about him. We've been to each other's homes, met each other's families. He's loaned me tools. He's given me rides to and from work; I stuck around and drove him home the day his truck got stolen. He read the paper, and we often talked about yesterday's news. We ate lunch and took our breaks together. It was an everyday thing, part of the ritual of the hourly worker. We reminded each other about stuff that needed to be done. He wouldn't like my use of the word, but it was an intimacy borne of time spent together. We griped. We talked about our kids, our wives, the DMV, the War (past and present), cars, work - of course.
We knew some things about each other that maybe no one else will - in those moments of frustration, talking through the day. There were days when we didn't talk much about anything; didn't need to.
His mother died in mid-December. He took time off, then got sick. He never came back, but about a month ago was admitted to the hospital. Our hospital. Upstairs. Those first few days, they had to put a sign up on the door asking you to check in with the front desk - he was inundated by visitors. He got steadily worse. The visitors dropped off. Our conversations became difficult - there's not a lot to talk about when you've been in the same bed for 3 weeks. I'd miss some days because he'd be out getting another procedure done. The last few days, he'd say hi, grumble a bit, then drop off. I'd sit there for a rew more minutes, then wander back to work. Friday, they moved him to the ICU. I went up there, and there were a couple of people working on him. He was talking back and gesturing; I didn't go in. See ya, Monday.
I know I wasn't his only friend. He was a friend to many, and he was a good Dad. He loved his girls. I know his life didn't turn out the way he wanted it to. He did good work, and he trained many. Like so many of us, his job changed drastically from what he was hired to do; he made the best of it. He did what needed to be done. As his boss, I knew that he knew more than I did about what needed to be done, even so, he did what I asked him to do when I proved it. Boss, or no boss, he treated me the same; it was easier for me not to be.

He was a good guy. He took care of his parents, and was taking care of his father when all of this hit him. He was the guy I could borrow five bucks from for lunch when the ATM was down.

He listened.
I miss you, Steve.