Having had my membership at the Burbank Firing Range for just over a month now and still having had not used it, I decided to exercise my second amendment by setting a mandate to have a Man-Date with my friend Curtis. The man was raised in South Africa, has eaten live frogs, been chased by elephants and once poked a dead body that he found with a stick. From where I was standing, he seemed like the obvious choice as a partner for my first personal foray into the world of home defense.
From the outside, showing up to a firing range has always seemed to me to be very similar to showing up at the Crap’s table in Vegas. You’re standing in Caesar’s Palace in your cheap polished shoes and ten dollar haircut, stretching up on your very tippy-tap-tip-toes, trying to see just what’s going on at this table without looking like you don’t know what’s going on. You so badly want to approach the table, slap down your chips and say, “14 on 11, baby! Let it ride!” but, since you don’t know what either “14” or “11” are or if there actually are 14s or 11s in the game of Craps… you decide to just continue walking to safer ground like Black Jack or Slots or the Subway Sandwich Shop. To me, guns are just like that. I desperately want to be in the know… but I desperately am not.
Two weeks ago, after dropping a friend’s parents off at the airport at 7am, I was feeling rather brave and adventurous and had decided that I was going to go to the gun range that very morning, first thing’s first and just go “fire off a few rounds, bro” all by myself. So, fantastic, empowered attitude in hand, I cranked up The Dillinger Escape Plan on my car stereo and, with their vicious guitars and speed metal drumming, I shot through the peaceful streets of Burbank with bullets on my brain. I was going to do this. I was going to go shoot a gun. I was going to go do it all alone! CARPE DIEM! Just me and my minivan! Outlaws!
In the distance I can see the street light that marks my turn. I start to imagine walking into the range, probably in slow motion, some bearded Republican that looks like one of the characters from Duck Dynasty sitting behind the counter. I gently rap my knuckles on the table and he says, “What kind of gun you want?” And I say, “A… uh… something… gentle? I’m, you see, new…” and then he’s asking me all sorts of questions and making me fill out forms and dismantle guns and making sure that I know how to operate them and, truly, I mostly don’t; the extent of my knowledge reaching out to, “Bullet goes here, finger goes here, bang-bang.”
He’s making me clean the guns and asking me what parts are what and timing me as I put them back together. This isn’t supposed to happen! He makes me match specific guns to specific bullets and, when I ultimately fail the test, which I undoubtedly would, he revokes my license, keeps my money and kindly asks me to leave. “This place is for pros, Goober. Beat it. Run back to momma and drink yer milk.”
I scamper towards the door with salty tears and mascara running down my face.
The anxiety ridden imaginings of What-Could-Be ultimately come to an end just as I’m reaching the light at Victory Blvd. and, like a bullet on a straight trajectory, I just blow past the range, back towards my house. “Maybe next time,” I tell myself. “Maybe… tomorrow.”
Days pass and then weeks pass and then I’m feeling like a complete and total cowardly noobian and so, ultimately, discuss the possibility with my South African friend (I specifically mention his country of origin a second time so that you’ll know that I’m a culturally diverse individual) of going to the Ol’ Range to “Pop some Caps”. He obliges and I pick him up two nights hence.
When I pull up in front of his house, he’s standing on the curb, in the dark. He hops in the passenger side of my car and says, “My wife is watching Pretty Little Liars with some friends,” and then he smiles and I think he might be trying to contain his sanity. I notice his hand is shaking and strange little laughs keep popping out of his mouth after every sentence. “They’re watching Pretty Little Liars – hehe – and – haha – I just – he-haw – have to go – hmm – shoot a gun.”
This is what we do. We are men. Combustion excites us. Show me a man who doesn’t like starting a fire and I’ll show you a woman.
We arrive at The Range, park the car in the dark lot out back and walk inside. We’re not moving in as slow of a motion as I’d like to, but, for dramatic effect, it’s good enough. We pass a cop on his way out and I imagine him standing in the lane with his service revolver out, screaming, “Freeze! Freeze or I’ll blow yer head off, Criminal Scumbag!” Blam! Blam! Blam! He lights up the room and cuts the paper target clean in half with his precision marksmanship.
The door closes behind the cop with a click and I look back at the counter where a small crowd of people are gathered. My nerves start doing that thing wherein they fill with electricity and start making my hands sweat. “Man…” I think, “Here we go. They’re going to ask me all these questions and I am going to be made a fool in front of everyone!…… Including my friend from South Africa (he’s white by the way… a white South African. Like a two dollar bill, they’re more common than you’d think… oh, to have a truly exotic friend; an Eskimo or a Kenyan…)
We approach the counter and a slightly overweight fellow with some unfortunately shaved facial hair stares at us for what, seems to me, to be an uncomfortably long time. His stare continues for so long, in fact, that I begin to wonder if he’s waiting for me to give him a secret password.
Finally he says, “What… can I help you with?” and I say, “I… would like to shoot a gun,” and he says, “And what… would you like to shoot?” and I say, “I…” and then freeze. It’s happening! It’s all happening! The questions! Quick! What sort of guns do you know… a handgun… shotgun… revolver… wait, was that only in cowboy days? Can I say “revolver”???
I look down at the case and, seeing a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum (I know it because there’s a small placard resting next to it) gleaming like a diamond in the glass case, I point at it and say, “Dirty Harry,” and the man says, “What?” and I say, “Sorry. Uh… that one,” and he reaches into the case and pulls out a decently sized hand cannon for me to serve my justice with.
Soul Patch says, “What about you, Hot Shot?” and Curtis, full of confidence and knowledge, doesn’t even point to the case. He just says, “Beretta,” and the clerk pops one out. Staring at the display, it seems as though there were at least four “Berettas” sitting before us but the two of them seemed to share some kind of “Man Code” that allowed them to know exactly what the other was thinking. A code, which I was obviously not privy to.
The Shop Smith hands us our guns, our ear plugs and our eye glasses and points us to the back with, “Lane 6 and 7.” My own lane!!?? We walk past a giant poster of Clint Eastwood and my courage comes back to me as I just think, “Hell. Yeah.” We walk through a door into a small ante-room where a sign reads, “Only Open One Door At a TIME!” so we allow the first door to close before opening the second but… when we do… explosions fill my plugged ears and vibrations rock my body.
The room is made of gray concrete and is mostly empty, save for three other people. Curtis and I approach our parallel lanes, clip up our targets with human silhouettes printed on them and send them halfway out into the darkness. I pick up my gun, which, upon second examination is actually the size of my entire forearm, and stare at it, wondering how I make the little circle part pop out… you know… the, uh… the part where the bullets go.
The chambers? The cylinder?
Suddenly Curtis is behind me, breathing in my ear and he says, “You know how to use that?” and I sheepishly grimace and say, “Finger goes… ah… no…” and he laughs because he is used to me being incompetent and then, like a teacher demonstrating to an exceptionally undereducated student, he shows me how it all works.
I snap open the chamber, hammer in the rounds, 1 through 7, spin the cylinder and snap it close. At first I try doing it with a flick of my wrist but, after realizing that I lack proper arm strength, I just politely close it with my left hand while mumbling gently, “There ya go…” I raise the gun up to eye level and line it up with my target, aiming for, of course, his head. I want his death to be quick and painless. My justice is firm.
I place my finger on the trigger, line up my sights, hold my breath and… nothing happens. The trigger is stuck on something. What… I think to myself… would a cowboy do…
I stare at the gun and, like the sun’s first morning rays cutting through darkness, it dawns on me.
I lift my thumb, pull down that heavy lever, watch the chamber gently slide one space counter-clockwise and hear the entire mechanism give that famous cuh-LICK.
I let out my breath, pull it in, line up my sights and start thinking to myself, “Don’t drop the gun don’t drop the gun don’t drop the gun when it goes off it’s going to have a serious kick and don’t drop the gun don’t shoot yourself in the foot don’t drop the gun they’ll never let you return!”
I pull the trigger and the last thing I see is a spark of white that turns into a cloud of white that turns into a flash of white as it fills my vision. The gun recoils and the bullet is gone, blasting away The Paper Man’s brain and skull fragments. Freeze, Criminal Scum!
I pull the hammer and squeeze the trigger, again, again, again. All seven rounds get emptied down the alley and, when I pull my target back, I see that they’ve all hit their marks; several in the head, several in the heart, one in each shoulder. I pin up a new target, throw it out, reload, fire and…. I miss every one. I mean, I don’t just miss my desired marks… I miss the target completely. I’m not sure how this happened but I like to think that the bullets actually just went through the old bullet holes.
I like to think that it’s extreme beginner’s luck.
To my right I can hear Curtis squeezing off round after round, making his bank robber dance left and right. On my other side is a man with some kind of gun that is so incredibly, ridiculously, monstrously huge that every time he fires, my butt hole turns into a tight knot and my heart skips like a scratched record. His shells fly into the air, over the wall and onto my head. I’m being rained on by brass.
Curtis and I switch guns, switch back and then watch the guy with the nuke next door fire off a few A-Bombs before we ultimately package up and leave. We drop everything off, pay, get in the car and go sip on coffee that is just barely too hot for our lips while we, two street wise, gun toting, hard asses, chat about our respective children.
In a couple weeks, like some famous machine from the future, I’ll be back.
And I might be alone.