Thursday, June 03, 2004

This weekend, I'm doing a table reading of my friends' script. They're planning to produce a feature, and they want me to cast me in one of the roles. I'm not an actor, but my fellow writers occasionally ask me to perform in their films. Last time I played a serial killer for a dark comedy short. This time I think I'm gonna be a bank robber. I don't what's weirder – having somewhat of an acting career despite any thespian aspirations, or the fact that I keep getting cast as a criminal, even though I'm really a law-abiding citizen. Hey, I won't even remove the tag on my mattress.

Maybe it has to do with my other plans for this weekend: Going to a shooting range at the LA Gun Club. Now, let me make it clear: I'm not into guns. I don't own one, don't read Soldier of Fortune, not really into Charlton Heston flicks. But I do like action movies and crime novels, and since I try to write them, too, it's good to research these things. I once went to a gun convention while I was out in Vegas. Fascinating, from an anthropological point of view. There sure are a lot of whackos out there.

Now, some gun enthusiasts I've met happen to be intelligent, responsible, well-spoken individuals. I've come to realize that there are normal arms-bearerers out there, people who do not fit the stereotype of the inbred ultra-right wing weapon-toting yokels.

And then there's Jeff. Jeff was a low-talking doofus I used to hang out with. Don't know why. Maybe it was my anthropological interest in the subculture of semi-Neanderthals.

Jeff owned guns. A .357 Magnum and a Glock 9. I asked why he bought 'em. "Protection," he said. Protection from what? "I dunno…" He thought for a long moment. At least I think he was thinking. With that vacant stare of his, it was hard to tell if there was anything going on upstairs. Finally he said, "Burglars, I guess."

Who the hell would burglarize Jeff's crappy studio? What would they want to steal? His ratty old futon? That piece of shit 12-inch black-and-white TV? Jeff rarely held down a job; he never seemed to have any money. The most expensive thing he owned were those friggin' guns.

I probably shouldn't make fun of him too much. I’m no one to talk. I stupidly ventured out with him to try out his new "toys". Maybe Jeff was the smart one here, getting me to use his sidearms. As Nelson from The Simpsons said, "Can't hurt to have a second set of prints on a gun…"

So did we go to a shooting range, a safe environment to test a lethal weapon? No. We did it total redneck style. Drove out on some rural road, went into an empty field and set up a target.

The target happened to be a cardboard cutout of some movie Danny DeVito was in. I got nothing against DeVito. He was funny on "Taxi" and I really enjoyed the movie "Get Shorty". So there was no meaning to taking aim at the diminutive dude; his standee was what was available at the time.

When it was my turn to shoot, I took the Magnum. I felt powerful with that hand-cannon. Like God must feel, when He's holding a gun (to quote the Simpsons again). Lined up Danny's face in my sights, pulled the trigger.

I realize now that it was stupid to do this without safety glasses or ear protection, especially considering how close to my own face I held the gun. Fortunately, I didn't go blind or deaf. Though it was loud – Magnums don't go pop or bang. They go BLAMMO! Another thing I learned about .357s – they've got a strong kickback. The barrel went upward, bonked me on the top of the head.

After I was done rubbing my forehead, I looked out at the target. Did I get Shorty? You betcha. Nailed him right between the eyes.

So I tried again, but this time held the gun out, my arms extended. That little bit of distance ruined it. I couldn't hit anything. I guess if I wanna have good aim, I'd have to hold the gun close and get a concussion each time I fire.

Or practice. Or try a lighter gun. (Of course, I mean a weapon that weighs less, not one of those novelty guns that's really a cigarette lighter.)

But Jeff had the lighter gun – the Glock 9. He guffawed at my inept marksmanship, then held out his piece, trying to look cool by holding it sideways.

What he didn't know is that semi-automatics use shell casings that pop out and off to the right side, out of the shooter's way. But if you're a schmuck holding the pistol gangsta-style, to-the-right becomes straight-up.

Jeff fired – pop – the shell arced upward toward him, and swish—right down his shirt.

I never found out if Jeff hit the target. I was too busy watching him dancing frantically to get the hot metal casing from burning the skin on his stomach. I'll never forget that sight. Nor the smell – gunpowder mixed with singed chest hair.

That was the end of my dealings with weapons of self-destruction. I figure it's gotta go better this weekend, though. Surely it's a smarter way to do research for writing about criminals, or portraying them. At the gun club, there will be a safety lecture, skilled and experienced supervision, and most of all, no Jeff.


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