June 27, 1992
I had that nightmare again last night. I'm in a parking lot. It's twilight, just at that moment when the rods and cones are changing shifts and colors murk toward grays. I'm sneaking around a Buick, crouched down low, my heart hammering with fear about something. Although I can't name the source of my dread, I know that I know where it comes from--like having a word on the tip of your tongue.
I edge around the rear fender of the Buick and there, across a row of parked cars ahead of me, is Tong.
His back is to me and he's doing something with a heavy machine gun mounted on a tripod on the trunk of the car in front of him. The machine gun is pointed up at the second-floor windows of an anonymous three-story building, a building just like any of the thousands of identical buildings that clutter the South Bay's industrial parks. I can't see through the blank, silvered windows, but, somehow, I know that Pith is behind one of them, just as I know that Pith doesn't know Tong is about to rake them with machine gun fire.
All of this is clear to me in the moment I first see Tong and, at that same moment, Tong turns around and looks directly at me. I freeze, not bringing up the submachine gun I only now realize I'm carrying, as Tong reaches down and casually, deliberately, swings a bazooka up on his shoulder and, pointing its muzzle directly at me, he reaches out to focus its scope. I run, panicked, stooping and weaving between the lines of parked cars, away from the menacing Tong and his terrible bazooka, knowing all the time that my cowardice means that Pith will die, that Tong will kill him unless I go back and face the bazooka and use the submachine gun and somewhere during my hysterical flight I wake up bathed in sweat to the realization that it was all just a nightmare.
The same nightmare I've been having all week.
. . .
Tong and Blandy showed up for our Tuesday afternoon meeting each carrying a beat-up golf bag full of gloved clubs over his shoulder and giggling like a couple of junior high school students.
"We got us a secret weapon ta reduce our handicap, you know what I mean, Wildman?"
That sent the two of them into gales of laughter.
"Yah, dude..we're like, ready to shoot another nine holes!"
"Nine holes! He-he! Boo-yaa! Nine muthafuckin' holes, you dig?"
That broke them up all over again. They spent the next few minutes laughing, punching each other in the arm, high-fiving, gut-butting and generally carrying on in the highest of spirits.
Oh, it was hysterical. To them. Every time I asked them to share the joke, I got a new cryptic reference to their golf game and a fresh wave of hilarity in response.
Truthfully, it kind of pissed me off. I don't like being made the butt of somebody else's in-jokes, especially not when those "sombody elses" are standing in my living room. Short of asking them to leave, though, there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it.
At least when the others started to show up I began to feel less picked-on, especially since the giggling golfers were no more forthcoming with them than they'd been with me. That is, until Pith showed up, 20 minutes late, to complete our little gathering.
"Pith, dude! Do you, like, spend any time on the shooting range?"
Tong, unsuccessfully trying to smother a snicker, elbowed Blandy in the ribs.
Pith looked pleasantly disinterested.
"Golfin's not my dance."
The two delinquents glanced at one another, grinning like hyenas.
"Yo..you be diggin' these sticks, Pith my man. Check it out!"
Tong pulled the head glove off of one of the "clubs" in his bag and drew the thing itself out of his bag, tossing it to Pith.
Pith easily caught it in mid-air, heavy as it seemed to be.
"It" was an ugly, steel assault rifle, sans clip.
Pith held it at arms length for a quick examination, flipped it over to scrutinize the other side, then expertly spun it to sight down the barrel. After a few seconds' inspection, he hoisted it to his shoulder, right hand on the pistol grip, left hand supporting the barrel, right index finger wrapped around the trigger. He stood stock-still, aiming the deadly thing past the golfers' heads, as his finger tightened on the trigger.
A long moment passed. Then his shoulders relaxed and he swung the weapon down to ground the butt, kicked it back up to order arms, spun it to port arms and, finally, thrust it back at Tong.
"AKM knockoff. P'rolly Chinese. Chrome bore, RPK extended barrel. Looks like .223 caliber. Nice gun."
Two words I do not associate with each other.
"You know your weapons, dude."
"Yeah, you droppin' science, cuz."
"Did time at Khe San. Upcountry, too. Saw a few a' those from the narrow end."
"Yah. Excellent, dude!"
Pith shook his head.
His quiet, diffident tone spoke volumes.
Eventually, Tong responded, "I'm down wi' dat."
Blandy nodded agreement, and that was the end of the golf jokes. He and Tong did pull two more guns and a number of banana-shaped clips for them out of their golf bags, but Pith showed only a minimum of interest in them. He spent most of the meeting looking out my back window and I could tell he was remembering 'Nam and that the memories were not pleasant ones.
. . .
I tried to argue my way out of it.
"Look, Blandy, I'm not interested in any guns, regardless of whether they go 'bang!' or 'pfft!' Killing things is your job, not mine. My job is protection and getting you guys up and down rocks in one piece. You want more guns? Go ahead and buy more guns. Just leave me out of it, okay?"
"Dude, you, like, need this kind of protection, too."
Stubbornly, I crossed my arms and shook my head.
"He's right, Drew."
"He's wrong, Bill."
"Look, Drewmeister, be, like, reasonable, dude. What happens if you, like, get lost or something?"
"Consider, Drew: what if you encounter a tacht?"
"I'll run away."
"In my experience, bears run considerably faster than do humans. What persuades you that you are capable of outrunning a tacht?"
"Tachts are running faster than Vomisa."
"I'll climb a tree, then."
"Dude, bears climb trees. Duh!"
"Tachts are climbing trees, Mister Drew."
"I don't care. I'm not carrying a gun. Any gun."
"What if we confront bandits, Drew?"
"Yah, dude. What if they don't, like, take prisoners, huh? What then, huh?"
"I'm not killing anyone, under any circumstances. Understand?"
Blandy shook his head in disgust.
"Drew, at least do us the courtesy of coming along for the ride. After all, if you absolutely refuse to purchase an airgun, we can't very well force you to do so, now can we?"
So, what the hell, I let them argue me into going with them to their little toy store and looking at all the pretty guns.
I walked out with a .22 caliber Webley Tempest--two pounds of wicked-looking black metal that fit my hand as if made for it. I also bought a combat grip, custom-made for the Tempest and 200 Silver Ace and 200 Crow Magnum pellets. Not to mention a 4X Skylight scope and mount, a cleaning kit, various kinds of oil, a holster and a set of targets.
Basically, I went completely nuts. I spent nearly $700 on that gun and the stuff that went with it.
I have no idea what got into me.
I hate guns. Rifles, pistols, squirt guns, you name it. As far as I'm concerned, the NRA is a tool of the same devil I stopped believing in when I was 12 years old. It makes me nervous just to know there's a gun in the same building with me.
I don't know why I feel that way. I just do.
I also can't begin to explain why I bought the Tempest. It just felt right to me from the moment that Blandy put it in my hand. I fell in love with the damned thing, even though I hate everything it stands for.
I feel like..I don't know..like I got caught with a stack of dirty magazines under my bed. Hypocritical, yet excited. I don't want to be a gun-fancier. But, in a limited way, I guess now I am.
Of course, I keep the safety on when I'm not plinking away in my pitiful excuse for a back yard. It's never loaded or cocked unless I'm ready to shoot at a target, either. I may have gone a little gun-crazy, but all my other marbles are intact.
In just the past three days, I've gotten pretty good with the Tempest. I can pretty reliably manage a 1-inch group at 10 meters, now. (I achieve a 10-meter distance by standing with my back against the fence at the bottom of my back yard and aiming through the back door at a target hung on the inside of my front door.)
I'm downright proud of my new-found marksmanship skills.
It's an uncomfortable notion. And yet, when I woke up out of that nightmare about Tong and the bazooka, just the sight of the Tempest on my nightstand made me feel better. I picked it up and the way the stock fit so perfectly into my hand comforted me, the cool metal against my chest calmed my fears and, eventually, its soothing weight let me drift back to sleep.
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)