Tuesday, June 28, 2005


In Which There Is Much Unloading...

Dear reader, I'd like you to stand up and then squat for me, as if you were about to sit on a chair and suddenly discovered a puddle of soda in the seat. As if you were trying to use a toilet of dubious hygiene. That's more or less the position my brother was in when last we left him.

If you wish, feel free to make a gun of your thumb and forefinger, and stick your hand in the waistband of your pants. This is optional, of course, but it's the best way to reconstruct the moment the gun went off.

(And if it helps, you should know I'm doing that right now.)

By rights, at this angle, my brother should have pierced at least one of his ample cheeks, should have literally torn himself a new one. But no.

When the .45 went off, the bullet blew out the right back pocket of his sagging jeans, coming out of his pants, then going back in at the back of his knee. The slug hit his shin bone, just below the knee, and traveled all the way down the bone. When it stopped, it instantly increased his boot measurement by a half-size.

So no, he did not shoot himself in the ass. But he DID shoot himself in the foot.

And here we come to the first miracle of the night: At that range--often known as point-fucking-blank--the average slug from a .45 can blow off a limb, even one as hammy as my brother's leg. The fact that my brother had loaded the gun with hollow-point bullets (which mushroom on contact to maximize damage against, say, an attacking bear) should have assured a flying body part. But the hollow-point bullet malfunctioned. It did not mushroom on contact. It simply carved a groove along the length of my brother's lower leg, before causing his foot to balloon like an inner tube.

My brother sat down in surprise, missing the chair completely and landing on his ass. He looked at his right foot, at the boot whose laces were stretching before his eyes. He looked at the gun in surprise, then grabbed his walkie-talkie and turned it to the emergency channel monitored by the town police.

He didn't say, "Shit, like a dumb-ass I've just shot myself in the foot. Please send an ambulance over. And don't call my mom.”

No, all he said was, "I'm shot! I'm shot!"

In fairness, that's probably more than I could have managed in the way of verbal cohesion.

But try to imagine the impact of those words back at the police headquarters of the sleepy little town where we lived.

Oh hell, don't bother, you know I'm going to tell you: Those words mushroomed on impact, in exactly the way the bullet did not. The deputy on duty naturally assumed evildoers--possibly even bears in pick-ups--had raided the lumber mill and had attempted to kill my brother, a conclusion that causes one to formulate a different response than, say, merely sending an ambulance. He called the state police for back-up, the whole shots-fired, man-down extravaganza.

Within 7 minutes, 20 cars with sirens and flashing lights were ramming the security gate and roaring up and down the empty lanes of the lumber compound, shouting on megaphones to theoretical perps and to each other. It's a wonder someone didn't get shot.

Someone else, I mean.

And of course, since there's not much to do on winter nights in our sleepy town, there were plenty of volunteer fire fighter and game warden types monitoring the police scanner when my brother's call came in. Two of them arrived at our house at the same time, wanting to make sure my parents knew what had happened.

I was fast asleep in my Tyvek cocoon up in the rafters of the half-completed house when I heard the telltale sounds of someone coming up the ladder. My mom hissed my name. I was exhausted, from final exams, from driving halfway cross-country, from working with my dad to set up a makeshift shelter. So when my mom shook me awake, I responded, as I often did when exhausted, in pidgin French. "Qu'est-ce que fuck, Maman? Je suis tres fatigue, par consequent...piss off, s'il te plait!"

My mom shook me again, then said, "Your brother's shot himself. We're off to the hospital. We'll call you later." My mom was never one to bury the lede.

Then she was gone, and I muttered a sleepy. "D'accord. Bonsoir, Maman."

Forty seconds later, I sat up. WHAT?

I fumbled around in the dark until I found the ladder, then made my way downstairs. It was freezing in the rest of the house. I was wearing the only clean shirt I had--a mint-green Ben & Jerry's tank top, and my boxer shorts. I couldn't find my jacket or my boots (where the hell had mom put them?) All my clothes were in a giant duffel out in my car, and they all needed some serious laundering, so I made my way to a corner room that my parents had hastily set up as a storage closet. After rummaging around fruitlessly for several minutes, I would have gladly welcomed, say, a Lincoln-green bathrobe and a pair of combat boots. But instead I managed to find a pair of green-colored long thermal underpants that were two sizes too small. When I stuffed myself into them, I looked to be wearing a skintight, waffled leotard. Still, they were warm. So was the set of puffy green slippers I found. I put those on too. No jackets or sweaters of any kind, but I did find my mom's old rabbit-fur hat and donned it for warmth.

I'll just pause a moment and let the image sink in.

So attired, I made my way out of the house and across the frigid yard to the trailer. I noticed my parents' car was gone (ah, the Boy Detective never sleeps). I tried to open the trailer door and naturally it was locked (but I could clearly see my jacket and boots inside).

As I was picking my way back across the frozen ground to the house, I heard a car roll up and suddenly a spotlight was on me, in all my green, rabbit-furred glory.

A deputy patrolman stepped out, still training the light on me. For longer than he needed to, I thought.

"I'm looking for your parents," he said, after we awkwardly introduced ourselves. I explained that they were gone, that my mom had said something about my brother.

"Yep, he shot himself in the foot, all right. He's over at the hospital now. They're gonna get the bullet out, and the doctor says he can save the leg. He'll be fine." There was a pause and I sensed he was looking me up and down. "Are, uh, are YOU gonna be all right?"

I assured him I was, despite my appearance.

I took my own car to the hospital--yes, dressed like that--and the first person I saw was my dad, standing by the entrance, smoking (My dad had switched to smokes after giving up alcohol. Not ideal, but better than his previous addiction). He blinked several times at me. "You dress special to cheer me up?" he asked.

"How is he?" I asked, ignoring his question.

"Better'n he ought to be, I guess. Leg's fine. Hollow point malfunctioned. That was lucky. But he's got half a goddamn pocket worth of denim embedded in his leg. Goddamn bullet dragged the threads into the wound. They're cleaning it now. Middle of nowhere, world's most primitive ER, two days before Christmas. And who do you suppose they got on call?”

I shook my head.

"Fella used to work at a VA clinic. Started his career at a MASH unit in Vietnam. Bullet wounds his specialty, by Gorry. What are the odds?"

"Christmas is the time of miracles," I said, smiling.

"Ayuh," he said, stubbing out his cigarette.

We stood there a while.

"So," I said. "Do you think he's asked for help by now?"

"Mebbe so, mebbe so," he said. "I tell ya, I fucked you both around so much, my inclination has been to leave you and your brother the hell alone, not interfere. But that's enough of that I guess. We'll see if we can't get your brother to sell off some of the ordinance, maybe put the money towards something useful. Like a down payment on a new car. Or mebbe an ounce of common sense."

I still wasn't used to my dad's candor, at least not regarding his treatment of us growing up, so my response was to say nothing. Then my dad's hand shifted there in the dark, and I realized he was holding something. He brought his hand into the light.

It was my brother's pistol.

Despite myself, I tensed.

"It's all right," he said, sensing my reaction. "I made it safe." And I saw that the chamber was locked open, the magazine gone from the handgrip. He handed it to me butt end first. "I didn't want to bring it into the hospital and the cops may want to see it for some reason or other. Why don't you put it in your car for safe-keeping. 'Least you know what you're doing."

I did as I was told, then returned to the hospital. My dad waited for me, then we went in together.

As it turned out, my brother didn't need to save up to buy some common sense. The bullet seemed to do the job for him. He sold off most of his guns (he still owns the riot gun. Bears, you know!). During the winter of his painful recuperation, he also began to pay attention to his health, taking a little better care of his blood sugar, losing some weight. He even quit smoking, a feat my dad has not yet managed. He also gave up his ideas of becoming chef of police and parlayed his culinary arts skills into a management position where he designs kitchens for a certain large home improvement center up in Concord. This had a great impact on his financial life, and also on his social life, since it put him contact with people again, including female ones, some of whom have been crazy enough to date him.

I know that for most people, the phrase "shooting yourself in the foot" is used in relation to folks who do really stupid things that end up scuttling their chances for something better: a shot at romance, a career change, a new life.

In my family, it means just the opposite.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

You've found a decent remedy for shootings one's self in the foot. I wonder if you can come across a cure for sticking one's foot in there mouth.

Then again, politician's do get elected into power.
I would like to say that ...

Dude ... your life is a fucking novel.

If the porter kid gets 7 books, your should be near a dozen.

And I would own every single one of them.
I was roaring until I hit the part about your Dad handing you the gun, "I made it safe" and "Least you know what you're doing" - then I welled up. Profound moment.

But that visual of you looking like something out of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation will keep me chuckling all day. Kind of a cross between Eddie and Clark (in the attic).
Another classic! (Can't wait to see if he's going to make a comment on this one too.)

"Chef of police" is also great. :)

Were your ears burning this weekend? My sister-in-law and I talked a lot about blogs, and she could not stop saying how much she loved yours.
I've got to stop eating while reading your blog, my monitor looks horrible from all the food spit out in fits of laughter. This time I didn't even get past the first sentence!

Great story, great visual. Tell your brother thanks for telling you to tell this one.
I enjoyed the hell out of this yarn. You tell them so well!
Just happened across your blog and, unless you have e-mail notification, I don't suppose you'll ever know: But I just read the Bullets and Brandy arc and it was quite powerful. Thanks.
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