Guillotines & Kulaks

I don’t know how to process last week’s New Yorker article by Evan Osnos, The Haves and Have-Yachts. In my day, the well-to-do were satisfied sharing nautical space with a handful of their social inferiors on the most basic of three-hour tours. Although, it is true, they were just millionaires, and the wife.

Now it’s all about billionaires, their Pomeranians and superyachts. Continue reading

Gun Clubbing

While it should hardly be surprising to anyone following along that somebody at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke eventually became a gun nut hobbyist, it’s probably something of a shocker which one of us it was. Urban Sophisticat. Yeah. Him.

Now wintering in southern Florida, somewhere north of Fort Lauderdale, he has fully embraced what he calls ‘The Fear’.

“It’s a fearful world we live in,” he rationalizes. “Why not go where they do fear the best? Learn how to deal with it.”

Surely there are more fearful places on the globe than Florida, even some within the United States itself but none so beautifully overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s call it fear with a to-die-for view.

And apparently, with an ease of access to guns.

“Gentleman. You’re down here, bearing witness to the reaction to Obama’s re-election. These people aren’t going to take it lying down. A working knowledge of firearm use will be necessary. Mark my words.”

I’d grown used to such hyperbole coming from the mouth of our colleague Acaphlegmic. Biblical in its proportions, with a wide-eyed strain of Revelations. But this was new terrain for Urban Sophisticat. Unhinged almost. Especially accompanying the cache of weaponry he now proudly touted. All legally purchased with the appropriate paperwork to prove it. You want a concealed gun permit? I’ll show you a conceal gun permit.

“Why do you need to carry a concealed weapon?” Acaphlegmic asked him.

“Because you never know,” came the response. “You never know.”

Acaphlegmic stepped back, keeping his distance. I must confess, I’ve never seen him do that before. He eyed me, stroking his chin like it might be some sort of signal that I’d missed. Was he ready to bolt and wanted to give me the heads-up?

We were down crashing with Urban Sophisticat to celebrate a milestone birthday of his. At the moment however, the plethora of booze we brought seemed like something of a liability, what with his arsenal in arms reach. Things could get real ugly, real fast.

Our obvious concern was waved off impatiently as the result of an inherent anti-gun bias we as visitors from Canada possessed.

“It’s not like I just went out and bought all these, willy-nilly. I took lessons. I am a trained… firearm enthusiast. Nothing to fear here.”

“Is that an uzi?” Acaphlegmic asked.

Again, Urban Sophisticat waved him off like he’d just asked the most ridiculous question an adult could ever ask in the situation. Following where Acaphlegmic was pointing, the killing apparatus looked pretty much like an uzi to me. But I really only had the movies and TV to go by.

“I’m not insane,” Urban Sophisticat assured us. “An uzi would be overkill at this point. But that little sweetheart would do the trick in a pinch.” He began gathering up the various fire arms.

“Come on. Let’s go. Let me show you how it’s done.”

At this point? What on earth could he mean by that? In a pinch?!

*  *  *

The shooting range was something of a disappointment, mostly because Urban Sophisticat’s behaviour had heightened our expectations for a hepped-up, Tarantino, bring out the gimp kind of experience. We’d pulled into the parking lot of a nondescript, side street unit on the other side of a southeast Florida interstate, mixed in with no-name auto parts stores, lawn furniture outlets and ubiquitous gentlemen’s clubs. A strip mall’s poor cousin; its anchor coffee shop, Dunkin Donuts, a couple blocks away.

The staff was very friendly. Clearly Urban Sophisticat had become something of a regular. No one was put out by us novices in their midst although the rules of the place were cited as if we were grade schoolers. That was OK since we were both too intimidated to take any umbrage. Results of not adhering to the rules around here could be fatal.

Not only was the place a shooting range but also a gun shop. There were lots of guns. Machine guns hung up on the walls behind one of the counters. Shotgun teepees positioned in a couple places on the floor. Cabinet after cabinet of hand guns, ranging from the tiniest of pistols favoured by riverboat gamblers to Dirty Harry’s very own Magnum opus. (Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? More ill-informed gun references generated from the movies.) Firearm accessories filled much of the remaining floor space.

Urban Sophisticat led us — now tricked out in protective eye and ear wear — through a set of double doors into what I’d call the shooting gallery. We were the early birds but were quickly joined by a surprising number of fellow marksmen, what with it being a Tuesday morning and all. Aside from that, nothing out of the ordinary or overly cinema-esque.

There was an older couple, three lanes to the right of us both of whom smiled kindly in our direction when they entered. The man twice giving me an encouraging thumbs up in a sort of, ain’t this a whole lot of fun kind of way. Another older woman soon occupied the lane beside them. Beyond her, a suspendered business man type popped in for a few rounds.

On the other side of us, there were a couple dudes you might find in a movie version of this. Deadly serious about the business of shooting, if I were to guess, I’d say they conducted an IT consulting business out of their respective basements or maybe ran a comic book store. A young guy further along seemed to be having a lot of trouble sorting things out. He had to go out for assistance a number of times during our stay. The last one ended with the staff member, mildly irritated, stating he had no idea what was wrong with the kid’s gun and suggesting he take it back to where he bought it for a refund.

No one else seemed too concerned over the fact there was someone within (a-hem.. a-hem) shooting range who wasn’t expertly handling what might be a faulty hand gun. So I tried to push the thought from my mind.

For his part, Urban Sophisticat was the model of patience and cool-headedness. Nothing like the wild-eyed, Ted Nugent zealot we thought he might be. We had a go with four guns he’d brought, a couple Ruger 22s, a magnum and a charger, and two handguns, a Ruger 22 Take Down and a Smith & Wesson 22.

Shooting with my first ever, non-air rifle I’d like to say I had some sort of epiphany about gun use. That I’d clicked into understanding the appeal and rabid devotion many have to the past time. But no. No, I did not.

I’ll take most of the blame for that. I’m just not relaxed or calm enough to ready, take a breath, follow the little red dot, aim, exhale, fire. My main concern was keeping all my digits away from any moving parts and not sustaining any injuries from, what did they call it again?, the kickback.

Acaphlegmic turned out to be much more sanguine about our outing, taking to the long guns like a natural. “His archery training,” he later claimed. He and Urban Sophisticat conversed about the ins-and-outs of proper technique, if the thing was drawing left and how to compensate, etc., etc.

At least I think that’s what they were talking about. It was hard to follow along, what will all the noise around us and my searing lack of interest. But mostly, the noise.

That was the main take away from my morning with guns. It was loud. Fucking loud. I gave up trying to talk much as to really hear anything, you needed to lift one of the protectors from your ear. If someone anywhere on the range pulled the trigger while you did so, it was deafening. Fucking deafening.

It all left me very jumpy. I couldn’t wait to finish up. In fact, I left the other two behind to empty their cartridges in order to head out to try and relax in the sunshine.

When we were all in the car, heading back to Urban Sophisticat’s place, I asked him how many times a week did this.

“A couple. Three times maybe. It’s an expensive habit to develop.”

“And fucking loud, too,” I added. “Aren’t you jittery all the time after doing it? Startling at any loud sound?”

Urban Sophisticat smiled, nodded his head for a bit. In the backseat, Acaphlegmic took aim at passing cars with a pretend rifle.

“You got to get used to being jumpy, my friend,” Urban Sophisticat finally answered. “We’re living in jittery times.”


I decided not to pursue the conversation and settled into the passenger seat to watch the passing scenery. Hopefully, this was just another phase Urban Sophisticat was prone to go through. Like that time he took up smoking a pipe. I far preferred him smoking a pipe.

gun shyly submitted by Cityslikr

The Age of Ralph Kramden

A wise person (with a tendency for using somewhat salty language) once said to me: If you want people to stop calling you a dick, stop being a dick and stop saying dickish things. Ahhh, granny. Never one to pull her punches.

Seems straightforward enough but I guess some people can’t help themselves. Being a dick is just part of who they are, it’s in their DNA. Dickish by nature.

On a completely unrelated note, what a past few days for Mayor Ford and Brother Doug, eh? The mayor driving around, talking on his cell phone, and may or may not have given another driver the finger when confronted about his illegal activity. Not to be outdone Councillor Ford continued his War on Books, slagging Margaret Atwood (who he may or may not know of), making up any old shit about the usefulness and numbers of libraries in his neck of the woods and just generally running neck-and-neck with his brother in a race to earn the biggest WTF?! headline.

Most people might be a bit, I don’t know, embarrassed by such glowing for the wrong reasons behaviour. But embarrassment doesn’t seem to be a particular Ford family trait unless it’s foisted upon them and then reluctantly mouthed because there is no other way to worm out of it. Enforced contrition, let’s call it, rarely worth the paper it’s printed out on.

Back in my day, such willful disregard of the truth, criticism and civility was greeted with a large degree of disdain and righteous mockery. I’ll even use a big word here. Opprobrium. In fact, such displays on my part might mean me, granny and a switch meeting behind the woodshed. People were not celebrated or esteemed for ignorance. Well thought out, well articulated ideas weren’t scorned as being elitist or out-of-touch egghead-y.

Or is that just me, looking back foggily through misty nostalgic eyes?

I don’t remember anyone arrogantly touting their know-nothingness. Except, of course, for the actual Know-Nothings, and they were a little before my time. We didn’t shy away from leaders who were smarter than we were. We didn’t resent them for their knowledge, education or erudition. Even the inveterate liar and all-round snake, Richard Nixon, knew stuff although it should be noted that he was a trailblazer in stirring up and appealing to the resentment that fueled his Silent Majority. Nixon was many things but a dummy was not one of them.

Not so, our current crop of politicians. They stumble over themselves to prove that they are as ill-informed, myopic and just-one-of-youse as the part of the electorate they successfully woo. We’re no politicians, they assure us, as they seek public office. Elect me and I’ll see to it that nothing smart, innovative or progressive is ever enacted while I’m in charge.

Let me confess at this point that I am not a Margaret Atwood reader, having never recovered from the imposition of Surfacing upon me against my will as a schoolboy. In fact, my fiction reading over the last few years has been in shockingly short supply. Neither do I attend the theatre much anymore. Atom Egoyan be leaning on my last nerve, yo. I’ve never been a fan of dance, modern or classic. And don’t get me started about opera.

I tell you this with no sense of pride or in boast. In fact, I consider it a serious character flaw on my part. Something I should try and rectify if only I could stop watching so much baseball on these sultry summer nights.

But I am not suspicious of those who are fiction fans or opera enthusiasts. On matters that I am interested in, I seek out those who know more about subject than I do. I want to learn from them to increase my own knowledge. To better myself as a thinker and citizen. Sure, it can be intimidating and you have to let go a little of the ego that keeps telling you you’re the smartest guy in the room. I’d like to think it’s worth it, though, in the long run. How can striving to be more intelligent or, at least, informed be a bad thing?

Or wanting that inclination in our elected officials? Where exactly does dumbing down get us? Into a litany of quagmire wars and occupations throughout the world. An economy teetering on the brink of insolvency. Anti-innovation. Antiquated urban development. Regression, regression, regression at every level of public policy.

This jonesing for anti-intellectualism is seemingly impenetrable too. Any questioning of it is seen as an attack from snobby elites. It’s not a debate or discussion. It’s denigration. You think you’re smarter than me? Yeah well, go fuck yourself. I knows what I knows and nobody’s going to convince me otherwise.

So being bull-headed and mentally intransigent is not a vice but a virtue. Honest deliberation and compromise is a weakness to be exploited. Gut beats brains, hands down. Dickish behaviour is now a proven winning formula. Girls swoon. Boys emulate. A Nation forms behind it.

Where once we succeeded in sending a man to the moon, we now endeavour only to send Alice to the moon. One of these days, Alice. One of these days.

gleasonly submitted by Cityslikr