Monday, September 01, 2008


L.A. is an eerie place.

As soon as we left LAX we passed a gun range near Inglewood, I think, and decided to stop there. Let me tell you about the difference between gun ranges in New York and gun ranges in LA (based on the one time I've been to one in each city). In New York, they give you these light plastic rifles that could very well be BB guns, and the ammunition you fire is .22 bullets that are thin, tiny and look about as dangerous as a Frito. The gun--which is chained in place when you fire it--makes a little pop! noise, and you can't really see the hole in the target until you bring it back and look at it closely. Before you shoot, you take a half-hour class on how to use the gun safely.

In LA, they give you whatever gun you ask for--we got a .44 magnum ("Give us the most powerful handgun we can use") and some sort of powerful shotgun. Plus several of ammunition. And then we were ushered onto the range. There was no mention of safety, or of the safeties on the guns, or of how to load the guns. Apart from the NY .22 rifles, none of us had ever shot a gun before. The shotgun had two kinds of ammo, fierce and ferocious. When you fired the heavy duty ones, it made your teeth clank together and your body jerk back (shoulder soreness the next day) and, sometimes, the target go fluttering completely away in tatters.

That was pleasurable. The whole trip was pleasurable. It wasn't as pleasurable as the last one, which was just pure, almost unreal pleasure, but that was in part because everything was a first and weird, happy things just happened. Last time the purpose was 100% pleasure. This time it was 94% pleasure, 6% business. I wanted to do a lot of things (like go to a cemetery screening) that I didn't get a chance to do, but I did go to Venice, and I went to a party where I realized the person standing next to me smoking was, appropriately enough, MaryJane Watson, and I met and spent time with people whose company I enjoy. I also went to a 1920s themed party where people were dancing around in boas and drinking bathtub gin. By the very end, I started getting a little anxious.

On the plane home I managed to get an exit row seat. When I sat down there was this kid next to me who I kind of didn't want to sit next to because he looked like a stereotype of a football jock. And I wished I had picked the exit row seat behind mine since there were two pretty foreign students there. Then the football kid started talking to me and at first I smiled politely and didn't encourage him, but it seemed he really wanted to talk, so I got a little more engaged, and I learned that he was on his way home against Marine Corps orders because he wanted to see his pregnant girlfriend before he ships to Iraq in a week. Fucking scary. He said he was going to a place in Iraq called Korean Village where just a few nights ago a guard fell asleep and someone crept up and slit his throat. He was twenty years old and clearly scared, but also clearly, if not "smart" in the intellectual sense, pretty tough in a character sense--that is, capable of achieving significant things through sheer will that, for example, I would not be capable of. (Indeed, the contrast between what he was likely about to be doing--toting around and firing an assault rifle in defense of his life and his fellow soldiers' lives--and what I had so recently been doing--fucking around with a high-powered shotgun like it was a toy--was not lost on me, and didn't make me feel great.) He said he had been an honor graduate in the Marines, which 7 out of 750 soldiers get, and had turned down football scholarships all over the place to join the marines. I asked him about his political affiliations and he said he didn't care, and he liked doing what he was told, and he didn't plan to vote. I genuinely liked him as a person, I hope (as I told him) that he makes it through his seven month tour mentally and physically healthy, and I truly wish him the best. But man, on that last count, what a tool.


wb said...

I've been to the shooting range--I'm a member, in fact. It was about 5 years ago that I went and I still tell people the story. That place is amazing and terrifying and a bit of something else as well.

paula said...

"on that last count, what a tool?" Are you refering to not voting?

The first time I ever discussed not voting was when I was 16 and working and studying in DC. It was this "program"- you took courses at george mason, and they put you in summer jobs. the guy who ran the program (this was the reagan years) was a pentagon employee, a die hard conservative (and gay, wierdly) who had never voted in his life. He carefully and condescendingly explained to me that the public vote doesn't matter. The whole "electoral college" thing. I vote, don't get me wrong, but many people don't vote in this country for if not the same understanding of the process, than for the underlying sentiment. I envy other countries where more people are engaged in voting- think spain and their 95% turnout.

N A said...

Yes, I'm referring to not voting (and, I guess, to being happy doing what he was told, which, if we're parsing meanings, is basically the definition of being a tool--just doing something because you're told or because other people are doing it). He just remained willfully ignorant of the larger forces at work that will affect him and all his friends.