Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Stereotypes and other lies

I attended my first gun show last Saturday. It was held in Dripping Springs, a once quaint little town that’s now being swallowed whole by Home Depot, Inc.
I went with a dear friend, Henry Robles — now a Los Angeles television screenwriter by way of Eldorado High School, UT and Stanford Law School. He worked for me as an undergraduate and remains one of my favorite people alive. He needed to see and hear and feel the vibe of a Texas gun show because he’s working on a script that involves one, and he chose Dripping Springs because it’s only 22 miles west of Austin, where he has friends and family and the W Hotel.
I picked him up at the airport, and we met my wife at Matt’s El Rancho for lunch. I ordered a beef chilé relleno, as I always do, and he ordered a fajita omelet. Since I was driving and saving him the cost of rental, he paid, and we set off for Dripping Springs and the Saxet (that’s “Texas” spelled backwards) Gun Show, which was being held in what looked to be a giant aluminum tool shed, a couple of miles west of 290 on Highway 12 West — about four miles from the local Dairy Queen and right across the road from the elementary school.
I tagged along because I wanted to catch up with Henry and because I figured a gun show would be an interesting learning experience. It was all that and more.
This is what I learned:

 Hillary lies.
That’s according to the 3x6-inch bumper stickers that were plastered everywhere, including the admission booth.
“About what?” I asked the crinkled woman working the ticket table.
“About what what?" she replied.
“Hillary. She lies. About what?” I asked.
“About everthing,” she replied in a flat, Marlboro huff.
“Such as?” I asked.
She slit her eyes and looked me over and said, “Ben. Gazi," like it was two words.
She then pointed to a sign: No loaded weapons. No cameras.
“Understood? she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, and she stamped my right hand.
I thanked her and ambled into what constituted the foyer, where earnest PaPa-types in overalls and suspenders peddled the non-lethal bric-a-brac, such as Bibles (old and new), Civil War and World War II memorabilia, vintage porcelain dolls, turquoise jewelry, and assorted other garage sale junk. The guns and bullets were in the main hall, next door — row after row of military pistols, police revolvers, assault rifles, antique shotguns, cammo, Kevlar vests, knives, tasers, holsters and belts, all stacked up and on display. 
It was what Spec's would be if Spec's sold carbines and chardonnay.

 Stereotypes exist for a reason.
In preparing for my first gun show, I googled “What to expect at a Texas gun shows?” and was generally admonished not to stereotype. “Expect to see young and old, all colors and races, mothers and fathers, businessmen and homemakers who have a common interest in things that go bang.”
Young and old? Yes.
All colors and races? No.
Mostly, I saw white dudes fingering fancy firearms they very likely couldn’t afford without stiffing their landlord on next month’s rent. I saw a few Hispanics, fewer blacks and no Asians. I saw three or four young couples with young children, but mostly, I saw white dudes.
Not to stereotype, but the white dudes would have done well to spend more on their wardrobes and less on their guns and ammo. I saw a lot of beat-up sneakers and dingy T-shirts and saggy-ass Wrangler jeans. I didn’t see much in the way of designer labels, but then, I didn’t see a lot of Confederate flags either, so we'll call that a draw.
I wore tan khakis, a pressed white shirt, a pair of Timberland hiking shoes and a Stetson Open Road straw hat, what we used to call an LBJ hat. I thought the Stetson might help me blend in with the local ranchers in attendance, but I apparently the local ranchers were at home or Home Depot or home on the range, and so, I looked like Ben Cartwright on the set of Swamp People.
Generally, it was a rangy, scruffy crowd, and, frankly, Henry could have remained in LA and written his script pool-side, relying entirely on lazy stereotypes involving unconventional grooming habits, grammatical havoc, tea party proclivities and all-you-can-eat buffet lines. He wouldn’t have missed it by that much, and if that sounds snarky or snide, well, duh. Admonish me.

 Now and then, it's best to lie.
“What sort of gun you lookin’ for?” an old codger working a one-table booth asked me after I'd picked up and toyed with an automatic .410 shotgun that reminded me of my grandfather.
“I’m just looking,” I answered.
“Well, what sort of guns you already got?”
“Oh, I don’t own a gun,” I answered. “I'm just looking.”
“Well, happy hunting,” he said, and muttered something else and plopped down in his metal folding chair.
In retrospect, I should have lied. I should have said, “Oh, I thought I might stumble upon a good deal on a Krieghoff, not that I need one. I got two already. Thought I might pick up an extra one. Can't have too many, huh? Of course, I wouldn't mind another Remington. So, what do you think? A Krieghoff or a Remington?”
That would have given him something to mutter about.

  Never mention “the government.”
The government is evil and corrupt, and there’s only one thing standing between you and me and a forced march to the gulags, and that’s the Second Amendment, which protects our right to buy as many guns and as much ammo as we can afford and store in our underground bunker in preparation for the coming conflagration.
Take, for example, a used Beretta M9 that an excitable young man offered me for $699.
“It’s a steal?” he told me, then handed it to me.
“How does it feel?” he asked, and I had to admit, “Pretty sweet.”
“OK, I can let it go for $650,” he added.
He accepts credit cards but prefers cash, which I thought slightly odd, given his disdain for the government. I wanted to ask him if by “the government,” he meant all government — the  school board, the city council, the Parks and Wildlife Department — but I thought the better of it and chose instead to look as solemn as a undertaker as I fondled the pistol.
“Let me think about it,” I said to him very slowly, like I was pondering some arcane moral paradox, and then slipped away and disappeared into the scruffiness. Ten minutes or so later, I swung back by the table, and the excitable young guy was lecturing Henry on how any and all gun regulation is tantamount to fascism.
Of course, I knew where the conversation was headed.
“Take Obamacare, for example,” he spouted. “The government says I have to buy it, but I don’t want it because I can take care of myself. It’s the same like if the government tells you you gotta buy a car and it has to be a Kia, and maybe you want a car, but you don't want a Kia. See? That’s how it all begins. And the next thing you know, BOOM, we're  history. The Constitution. The Second Amendment. Freedom of religion. The whole damn thing, flushed down the drain. That’s where we’re headed.”
He put on quite a show — pistol porn to the dudes watching and listening and nodding in agreement.
“Damn right,” chimed in a lanky, raccoon-eyed 30-something wearing a faded maroon Aggie sweatshirt. If he ever attended Texas A&M, I doubt he majored in political science.

 When in doubt, blend in.
Maybe I should have chimed in too. It would have endeared me to the Aggie and the other bystanders. It would have been interesting, pretending to be one of them by blending in. I have enough East Texas still in me that I could have pulled it off. 
Besides, “The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.” Voltaire said that. 
Anyway, I'm not trying to be any more snarky than I typically am. I'm simply describing what I saw during my 45-minute stroll through what was a two-day event. I concede that it is entirely possible that the Polo and Louis Vuitton crowd attended earlier that morning or perhaps after church the next day. And I am not suggesting that people who attend gun shows are all angry, paranoid time bombs. If they're dangerous, it's only because they're so wildly misinformed. I mean, if Hillary is a liar, then what does that make Donald Trump?
Here's the deal: I wanted to attend that gun show because my younger brother is a lifetime double-patron NRA groupie. He owns dozens of guns and attends gun shows as often as you or I feed our cats. He and I have wildly divergent opinions on most everthing, but I know that if my car breaks down 100 miles east of Marfa, and I have just enough juice in my iPhone to call one person, I'm calling my brother because he will drive 600 miles from Longview, hitch me to his 2-ton pickup and haul me home.
All the way, we will debate Ted Cruz and Jerry Jones and illegal immigrants and climate change and stupid bumper stickers, like the two or three on the tailgate of his pick-up that say, “Hillary lies.”