Sunday, June 26, 2005


In Which I Get All the Gun Stories Out of My System...

Today I'll take my cue from my brother, who called a short while ago and said, "Hell, as long as you've gone off the deep end and told them all that teary, dramatic shit, you might as well tell the other gun story."

So I think I will.

Hang this on your irony peg: My brother and I were brought up by the same father, and so had roughly the same exposure to guns and booze. I grew to hate guns, but still take a drink now and then. My brother doesn't drink at all, but he has owned more guns than the New Hampshire National Guard.

He's always had an unhealthy fascination with firearms, and adulthood didn't seem to temper that in any way. When he got out of college and had his first steady, paying job, guess what the bulk of his paycheck went to? For most of us, it would be mundane things: rent, student loans, a down payment on a car, groceries. My brother went straight to the gun shop and bought a massive nickel-plated .357 revolver. Over the years, the armory grew to include a 9mm pistol, two .38 police-type revolvers, a .44 magnum handgun straight out of the Dirty Harry prop room, and an assortment of .22 and .25 caliber handguns.

Let's not forget the rifles, a collection of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, some of which I think have now been banned in this country. Plus a shotgun, a pump-action .22 squirrel gun, and a riot gun.

Like me, though, my brother wasn't much of a hunter (too much walking, and my brother, who dressed out at around 320, was walking-averse). He just liked shooting things. Targets, cans. Like that. The last time I lived at home, just before I went away to graduate school, I was alarmed and then more or less amused (honestly, in my house, you had a choice of only one or the other) by the morning routine that evolved since my brother had returned home himself.

In the manner of some great bird, my brother exhibited a predictable migratory pattern for many years: he would scrape together a security deposit and someone even less fiscally responsible than himself to be a roommate and together they would find themselves the most godawful, low-rent place northern New England had to offer (and that could be pretty bad, I'm here to tell you). This would last for a year, months, and once, memorably, four days. After that, something would happen to drive him back to the nest: My brother would inexplicably find himself $700 overdrawn on his bank account, the roommate would inexplicably find himself detained indefinitely by police in another state. Once--and on this we had to give him points for originality--my brother had to leave his job and apartment and move home because he feel asleep on the beach and developed such severe sunburn that blisters the size and consistency of egg yolks formed from his insteps to his scrotum. He couldn't walk without the aid of family members or large, stable furniture. And naturally he had no health insurance, so the medical bills (the price of gauze wrap alone was staggering) not only forced him home, but kept him there until just after I had graduated college in 1989 and found my own self migrating homeward owing to that meteorological phenomenon known as a recession.

So there we were. My brother and I both worked late-shift jobs, but I was nearly always up first. I'd be in the kitchen, reading the paper, eating something, when I'd hear the muttering and stirring of my brother upstairs. He would emerge a moment later, wearing nothing but a Lincoln green bathrobe and a pair of unlaced combat boots. He'd trudge down the stairs and fish a ring of keys out of his pocket.

The jingle of those keys had a positively Pavlovian effect on my parents' pets. The two dogs we had then would go scurrying for the back bedroom, where they buried themselves under a pile of afghans. The cats fled for the upstairs loft, where they would pace from rafter to rafter, watching my brother warily.

And with good reason. My brother would stare into the darkness of the gun cabinet, like a sommelier might scrutinize a wine cellar. At length, he'd select his weapons. Each pistol had its own gunbelt and he’d pick one or two, looping the belts over his shoulder desperado style. For a rifle, although he favored the riot gun, he sometimes chose the Kalashnikov. Or, if he was feeling dainty, the .22.

He'd lumber out to the porch. In the chill, late fall air, he'd gaze across the pristine valley of unspoiled New England wilderness.

Then he'd light a cigarette, draw his guns and blast the shit out of anything that moved.

At first, he took pot-shots at birds and rabbits. Once he caught sight of a raccoon and spent a good chunk of the morning--and his ammunition--trying to hit it. But to the best of my knowledge he never killed anything. And eventually, I think any wildlife within a 5-mile radius gave our place a wide berth. There were always plenty of trees around, though, so my brother eventually settled for banging away at branches, leaves, knotholes, like that. Whenever my mom would see him engaged in his morning ritual, she'd look him up and down and tartly ask, "Off to quell the tree rebellion, are we?"

I couldn't get out of that house fast enough.

The next summer, I did escape: I got into grad school and moved to Chicago. My brother, meanwhile, became even more obsessed with guns, despite the disapproval of my mother and the best efforts of my dad, who had only those guns he had grown up with and used for hunting.

Part of what fueled my brother's growing obsession may have been his change of career. After several years or studying and working in the culinary arts, my brother suddenly decided he hated cooking. What he really wanted to go into law enforcement.

"Oh, that's a logical career move, food services to law enforcement," I said, when he told me. "Why, I bet if you worked your way up through the ranks, one day you might even be chef of police."

Well, I thought it was funny.

Unfortunately, when you weigh 320 pounds and have type-II diabetes and smoke 4 packs a day and have asthma besides, most recruiting police departments tend to view your ability to meet the physical demands of the job with what I can only call a healthy amount of skepticism. In short order, my brother found that the only enforcement agency who seemed willing to take him one was in the private security industry. In other words, my brother became a rent-a-cop. First, on the campus of a local women's college, and later at the remote warehouse compound of a large local lumber mill. Although both jobs enabled him to wear spiffy hats and key rings that jangled with importance, neither one required the use of a firearm. In fact, both jobs expressly forbade him from carrying weapons.

That didn't stop him from keeping a pump-action shotgun in the trunk. Nor from keeping a holstered .45 automatic pistol in his glove compartment.

I was completely nonplussed. "Why do you need all this firepower?" I asked him one day, not too long before I left for Chicago. He lived in New Hampshire, for crissakes. Not what you'd call a hotbed of criminal activity. Not exactly the landing zone for invaders.

"Why do I need my weapons?" he asked. "Why? Why? I'll tell you why." He paused, then said. "Bears, that's why."


"Some used to come onto the campus when I worked there. And they're all over the hills near the lumber mill."

My brother patrolled a lot about a square-mile wide, occupied by seven large buildings, mostly millworks and lumber storage. But it was all fenced in. The only way to enter the compound was through a card-controlled front gate. Any bear who wanted to get in would need a pick-up truck and a security card.

"How--?" I began.

"Oh, they can get in if they want, ass-wipe. Trust me, they can get in!"

(No bear ever penetrated the security of the lumber mill.)

Sometimes there was just no arguing with my brother. After all, I'm sure he couldn't bring himself to admit the real reasons he kept guns: The main one being that they were a form of security for him. He has always hated the dark (by hated, I mean sobbed and cried and insisted on nightlights when we were kids). Working nights on campus must have been tough enough. Working in a dark, creepy, empty mill in the middle of the wilderness must have been even more disconcerting.

(The other reason? Why, his small penis, of course.)

Whatever his motivation, it boiled down to the fact that he liked having his guns around. Consequently, I avoided being around my brother (although when I was, I was in the habit of unloading his pistol and his shotgun and hiding the ammunition. It was kind of a thing with me. And it had the added advantage of driving him ape-shit).

Eventually, it was a non-issue. I moved to Chicago and my brother kept on massing his weapons. I was talking to my dad pretty regularly at the time, and would get his take on it. My dad was actually fairly worried about my brother. "He's getting way too comfortable with them goddamn things. It's a big mistake to get complacent around guns," he said (and my God, if anyone would know that by now, it would be my dad, huh?). Unfortunately, my dad was just a couple of years into his sobriety, and running his life according to the precepts of AA. He felt that my brother definitely had a problem, but he wasn't going to be able to accept help until he asked for it.

Which made sense to me if we were talking about, say, booze or drugs. But guns? "So wait," I said. "You mean, you're just gonna stand by and do nothing?" Well of course, my dad was doing more than that. It's just that my brother wasn't listening.

In the winter, I came home for Christmas, and that's worth an interesting digression.

For starters, there was no place for me to really, um, sleep. In late summer, my parents had purchased an 18th century Cape Cod home on the edge of town and set about the monumental task of gutting it and renovating it. I spent my final days of summer helping them tear out all the old plaster and paneling. But by fall, when the lease was up on the old place (where my brother had quelled so many tree rebellions), my parents had managed very little progress. All the wiring and plumbing was done, but the heating was far from complete and the upstairs--where I was expected to sleep--was still an alarming combination of sub-floor and open rafters--not the place to put guests prone to sleep-walking (which thankfully, I am not. Although I do have a tendency to speak French in my sleep). Also, one entire side of the house was still exposed to the elements. I spent a hurried first evening home stringing Tyvek across a gaping hole in an upstairs wall, while my dad hastily soldered pipe to run a heating connection from the furnace directly to the room I would be sleeping in. My parents, and the cats, and the dogs, meanwhile, were all out in our old Airstream, which was heated by seven tiny ceramic heaters. My mom's prediction of living like high-brow white trash had at last come true.

If there was a happy benefit to these slap-dash living arrangements, it was that my brother was at last forced to move out again. He was renting the loft of an old barn with another guy, and enjoying life to the fullest. In other words, he could keep as many guns as he wanted without having to listen to my mom bitch about them, or endure gently prodding lectures from my dad.

What we didn't know was that my brother had also taken to ignoring the express prohibition stated in the terms of his employment at the lumber mill, and had begun wearing his .45 automatic on the job.

He felt he could get away with this for two reasons. One, he was the only person in the compound from 8 to 8, especially during the holiday season. And two, to protect himself against those rare times that a supervisor or the mill foreman might come by to check on him, my brother had taken to wearing a concealed holster--what I came to call his "butt holster" since it clipped to the inside of the back of his jeans and allowed the pistol to nestle comfortably between the denim of his jeans and Marianas Trench that was the crack of his ass.

Considering his stated reasons for needing a gun ("Bears!") you'd think having a weapon close at, er, hand, would be comforting, but no. Evidently, my brother was worried not just about bears, and not just about that rare breed of truck-driving, security-card-swiping bears. He apparently was also concerned with the threat of bears attacking from ambush, one perhaps leaping down from a stack of 2x4s like a great ursine ninja, or tippy-toeing up behind him in size 18 sneakers. How else do you explain that, in addition to carrying his gun, he carried it with a bullet loaded in the chamber? The answer is obvious to any student of ambush-bear tactics: In such a fateful encounter, having a round chambered allows you to respond a few seconds faster, so that all that would be required to fire would be to cock the hammer and pull the trigger.

After freeing it from your ass-crack, that is.

Well, by now readers of my family chronicles must surely see all the signs of wacky disaster mounting.

Two days before Christmas, my brother was completing his rounds at the lumber compound. He was especially jumpy that night. Especially when he heard something land with a "whump" on top of one of the lumber storage barns. Then he heard a slow, deliberate sliding noise, much like the sound his intestines were no doubt making at that moment. Something was coming down off the roof. My brother to drew his weapon and cocked it. He was Locked and Loaded. He watched, training his gun on the edge of the roof.

And then he saw the snow--which had fallen from a tree high overheard--come flopping off the roof and land in a harmless pile in front of him.

He breathed a sigh of relief. If bears were going to mount an all pick-up attack on the fence, with their ninja brethren as back-up on the roof, they were evidently waiting for another day (or perhaps even til spring, bears having that tendency to hibernate in winter as they do).

My brother holstered his weapon and went to the break room, where the coffeemaker had just perked up a fresh pot. He poured himself a cup--more caffeine, just what he needed. He started to sit, but something stopped him. A submarine in the Marianas Trench. As discrete as the butt holster was, as comfortable as it was while walking, it could be quite the ass-poker if you tried to sit with it jammed down the back of your pants.

And so, in mid-squat above his chair, my brother reached behind him and pulled out the gun.

The gun that he had failed to uncock after his encounter with the pile of snow.

The gun whose safety he had failed to engage.

The gun that had a round in the chamber.

The gun that went BANG as soon as his finger brushed the trigger...


I would hate to say that I saw the outcome a mile away, but when I started reading about the .45 and later the "concealed" area.

All I can say is. I knew.

What would anyone expect other than another hole in that generic area.
Hole-y Shit!
See? Always gotta imbellish, don't you? Always gotta make the story sound goofier or funnier, even if you get it wrong!

In the first place, I was only $400 dollars overdrawn that one time. In the 2nd, the sunburn bilsters nevr reached my scrote. I was wearing shorts, you idiot!! The sunburn only went to my thighs.

Yr. Brother
Oh good, thanks for checking me on those facts.

Because, you know, THOSE were the details that were straining credibility in this narrative.

And I guess this means the small penis part is correct, then?
OMG! The comment section is just as good as the story! I wondered if your brother would have anything to say about your...embellishments. I gotta go lie down, my sides hurt from laughing so hard.
Dude - you're killing me. The two of you. I had to close the office door I was laughing so freakin' hard.

PS - Are you going to tell us what happened when you finally saw your Dad for the first time after 'the incident'?
since your brother is obviously alive and well it's okay to laugh, right??

god, your family makes mine seem so sane ..... (and that's saying something)
My mother forbade me to even have play guns in the house. She would even beat my ass if I pretended a STICK was a gun and went "bang bang!" - now I see why :) Great story. And great comments too ;-)
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