Gay Marriage

At the risk of severely alienating some of my readers, I’m going to take a swing at this horribly controversial issue. A rough head count shows that about forty of my FaceBook friends have changed their profile picture to show their support for equal marriage rights. I’ve seen a lot of these:

gay equals

…as well as the gun/freedom bent varieties:

gay freedom

gay rifles 1

gay rifles 2

gay mags

…cullinary variations, of course:

gay bacon

gay butter

…disturbingly this:

gay penis

…and for the ultimate in head-scratching hilarity, the kittens flying over The Grand Canyon variation:

gay kitties

About half of those have switched to something else at this point. One of my friends even shared this video in which the young man speaking makes a very excellent argument for gay marriage as viewed through biblical scripture:

Of roughly 1,400* friends, this represents less than a 3% showing in the first place which has tapered off to just under 1.5%. I do not for one instant believe that support for gay marriage rights is this abysmally low. As much of a stupid cliche as it is, I have friends that are gay. I’m not going to call them out as examples, as I feel that would be rude. I do feel that they have as much right to pursue happiness as the straight among us. I am of the opinion that the government has no place in my bedroom, and therefore it has no place in yours. I am not wholly convinced that a homosexual lifestyle is morally acceptable**, but I don’t believe that it should be legislated out, nor do I think that my moral convictions or leanings should come into account in a consensual act between adults when I’m not included. I have told as much to some of my gay friends at one time or another, and they’ve taken it quite well.

I also have some friends who despite feeling homosexual attractions, practice relationships with people of the opposite sex. Through conversation, I have learned that this can be due to them having moral convictions concerning their lifestyle choices. I don’t know whether this is true for all of them, but it is for at least some.

You can’t help who you are attracted to, but you can choose what to do with that.

I’ve heard critics of this stance point out that these people are merely denying their own nature and pushing down the desires of their heart and body, but I don’t see it that way. If I did everything my body told me to without concern for my personal convictions as to what is right and wrong, my wife would have left me by now! Many people stifle dark desires that would land them in jail or get them killed. We are creatures of choice and free will. I will not say that this is the right lifestyle choice for everyone who has an alternative attraction going on, but I do believe that it is a valid choice for some, whose convictions dictate it. In being sensitive to the lifestyle choices of others, let’s be careful not to step on the toes of those who have made even more difficult lifestyle choices.

The older I get, I’m becoming more and more fiscally conservative and libertarian, which manifests in the form of social liberalism at times. I do not believe that my marriage certificate grants justification to my committed relationship to Jennifer, but I will admit that it does make taxes and a will easier, and I understand why homosexuals want the same benefits. So, despite my uncertainty, I do believe that they should have that as a choice. I do not believe that a church should be required to grant a wedding between members of the same sex if that goes against their beliefs. There are plenty of churches that would gladly opt in though, so I don’t anticipate that would be a problem. I don’t know what has or has not happened in the courts this week, because I haven’t been following that closely. But, I do hope that they’ll make the right choice.

*The actual number is 1,398. It was higher last week. I must have pissed someone off. LOL!

**And, that may have more to do with the fact that I personally find two dudes kissing to be gross, but then again, I’ve seen a lot of straight couples that I would not want to watch making out either.

Shotgunning

As many of you know, this past weekend was our second annual Central Oklahoma Gunblogger Schutenfest. A splendid time was had by all. the turnout was smaller than anticipated, which I blame on the current ammo shortage combined with less than perfect weather. I literally had people straight up tell me that they weren’t coming because they couldn’t afford the ammo. Yes, I could have used less wind and another ten degrees of warmth, but it was still a lot of fun. Shortly after we arrived at the range on Saturday morning, with a glitter in his eye, Teen Bot asked me if I packed some 20-gauge shot shells.

Several years ago, I had bought a beautiful little Winchester 1300 in 20-gauge with the coolest youth furniture on it. This was a pawn shop find, barely used (if at all), with a vent rib and winchokes. This was one of those deals where I’d seen the gun previously, and we were going into the shop for another purpose. On the way, I commented, “if they’ll take $xxx for that gun, I’m going to buy it. Then when at the store, the owner offered to sell it for a price significantly lower than my proposed price.

The youth stock and fore end make this gun ideal for smaller statured people and children, which makes it an awesome new shooter trainer for our arsenal. When I bought it, Teen Bot was still small enough that I thought he’d get a lot of use out of it. But for whatever reason, the boy was completely frightened of any shotguns bigger than a .410. He would practice stance at home, and even mount up the empty gun, but he didn’t want to have anything to do with it on the range. Often he’d claim that he’d screwed up the courage to try it today, only to chicken out when we actually got in the open air.

This went on until one day, the three of us showed up on the property with nothing in the car but shotguns, bird shot, and a case of clays. I had Teen Bot operate the thrower for me for a bit, and then he said that he’d like to try that 20-gauge. And then, he was totally hooked. In short order, he was busting clays like a pro. Sadly, this timed poorly with his major growth spurt. He’s now nearly as tall as me, and the youth sized 20-gauge is a little on the small side for him anymore, after him putting a paltry 100 or so shells through it.

Fast forward to Saturday morning. I dug around in the trunk for the 20-gauge with no success. I asked Jennifer if she had packed the gun, and she confirmed that she had not. She’d meant to, but she specifically remembers not packing that case. So, I asked Teen Bot if he’d like to try 12-gauge instead, assuring him that the recoil was not much worse. He tentatively agreed to give it a go. We don’t have a 12-gauge in the house that most people would consider an acceptable clay gun, and the first gun I grabbed was Jennifer’s Defender. Teen Bot shoved seven shells in the magazine and I started throwing clays for him. Again, he was busting clays and having a great time.

The boy is going to need a shotgun of his own. I knew this day was coming eventually. When I bought the 20-gauge, a big reason was so that he could start learning to use a shotgun, but it’s not a gun that I really saw him taking into adulthood as his. So, now I’m thinking about the economics of a decent, multipurpose shotgun. Remington 870s are fairly easy to source for around $400. You can get a brand new Mossberg for $200 or less if you are looking right. And, I still see like new Winchester 1300s between $250 and $350 on occasion. No, I’m not buying him a Kel Tec KSG with an EOTech mounted on it. His birthday is long past, so I’m going to have to figure out some occasion that will be appropriate for gift giving.

On Saturday, as I was handling clay targets, my life-long friend, Rob asked me how much a box of clays costs. I told him that I thought I usually paid around $10. He commented that shooting was an expensive hobby. I didn’t say much to that at the time. Shooting can get really expensive really fast. But, about $10 for a case of ~100 clays, and around $30 for a case of shot shells will keep a family entertained for a day. That’s cheaper than going to a theme park or even the theater, and it’s far better for exercising the body and mind, and bonding between participants. In the grand scheme of things, it probably one of the cheaper forms of entertainment, especially if you consider the benefits! And now, I wish that I was outside shooting clays instead of here at my laptop. Well, there really aren’t enough hours of work time before the weekend anyway.

The Becoming – Part 4

Part 1, Part 3, Part 5

Part 4

Shelby led us back through the main hall and to the glass doors and staircase that Havoc had pointed out before. When the doors opened, the noise was nearly overpowering. It reminded me of stepping onto a factory floor. There were booms and crashes and a general rumble that sounded like a combination of machines working, fans blowing, and water running.

Shouting over the cacophony, Shelby warned us, “Just stay on the foot path as we go past The Playground. Get ready to see some weird stuff.”

“We’ve already seen a lot of weird stuff so far,” I quipped.

Get ready, Reid,” she reiterated.

As we walked down the stone path, we passed more odd creatures. One was not only covered with feathers, but she had a beak and wings. I say ‘she’ because her overall shape was far closer to that of a woman’s figure than a bird. Even her scaled legs and four-toed feet didn’t much take away from the fact that she looked as humanoid as she did bird. There were “people” with fur. Then, we saw creatures that looked nothing like anything else I’d seen. A cross between a snake and a millipede. There was a frog-like creature crawling on the stone ceiling of the cavern. Upon closer look, it was a group of at least a half dozen, but they were changing colors to blend in. Each one had to weigh at least 300-pounds. There was a lake in the cavern and there appeared to be platforms or floating stones sticking up out of the water. On two of these platforms were two figures facing each other, with giant balls of fire swirling around, as though they were sparring – fencing with weapons that were so completely alien to me that I couldn’t categorize them. As I watched them, I saw a great dark form ripple up out of the water. Its eyes were huge like basketballs and its teeth were like thousands of needles protruding from its bony mouth. I thought I saw an angler fish type lure, but couldn’t be sure before it disappeared back into the dark waters. Creatures flew, crawled, climbed, and they were all alien. I felt like a cave man on the Vegas Strip.

“…Reid!” I finally heard Shelby calling my name and realized that it was not the first time she’d called me just now. As I turned she said, “you weren’t ready. Anyway, we’re here. Don’t forget to listen. This is going to go pretty quick as most of the other students have had a head start on you and they need to go to The Playground for a while.”

I had been staring out onto the lake in The Playground and the bizarre wonders there to be seen, and I had completely missed the wall of glass behind me that was the classroom. We went into the classroom and found a table to sit down. There were other people in the classroom, and I recognized a few of them from the first room – the one with the projector and shuttered booths. But, they all looked different now. It was hard to identify what the difference was. Many of them were now wearing uniforms and sat a little straighter, as though they had boosted their confidence. I didn’t think that we’d been here more than a few hours, but these people looked like they’d been training for weeks. Just exactly how much time had passed? General Havoc came in with an assistant and they basically explained the same things over again from his original speech to us.

“Each of you has special, unique talents,” he said, “you’ve been selected because of these talents. Your training will help bring out these talents.” And then, he said some interesting things that he hadn’t said before, “almost all of you have talents that you don’t even know you have. But, we know you have those talents and we’re going to show them to you.”

Wait. That’s weird. I hadn’t even ever heard of this place before those guys brought us here after the bus broke down when we were on our way to… Where were we going? And, why were we going there? I remember the bus broke down. It was probably the radiator or something. And then, we rode with two guys, and then we were here… Anyway, that’s not the point. If they sought us out before we had even heard of them, then it stands to reason that they’d been watching us for a while. And, if they were watching us because of ‘special, unique talents’ then the recruiter meant to be there to pick us up when the bus broke down. And, how about that coincidence that the bus just happened to break down when it did. Was this whole thing a setup? Had they been stalking us and sabotaged the bus with the sole purpose of bringing us to this place? And then, as quickly as that, I could no longer remember why I was the least bit upset or angry with Deep Hawk.

During the orientation, many of the students displayed their budding new talents that they had learned since we all arrived at the facility. Some of their actions would have seemed downright magical, had I not just been witness to all the weirdness going on around me. As Shelby promised, the orientation was short. The most advanced students went to The Playground or their own labs that were tucked away in deep corners of the facility. Havoc took Naomi and me into a small room that was off of the metal hall with the demonic wood burning stove. The room had a bar-height table with bar stools around it. Two tiny men were waiting for us there. They couldn’t have been much over two feet tall each and weren’t perfectly miniaturized, with obvious signs of dwarfism.

Havoc addressed these two directly and said, “Boys, I’m feeling like a little chemistry tonight. Would you please bring my equipment?” The two diminutive men scuttled out of the room. Havoc turned to Naomi next, “How do you feel about electronics?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “I like them just fine I guess.”

“I’m talking about control systems primarily,” he clarified.

“Well,” she responded, “I’ve done a little programming. Nothing too intense, but you know.”

“No,” he further clarified, “integrated circuits. Oh well, it doesn’t much matter if you have had any experience with them. The skill set we want you to learn is completely different, but it’s just the best starting point that you might have from life outside of here. I’d like you to meet Claire,” he indicated behind him.

“Hi,” Claire said, and they shook hands, “if you would like, I could show you the lab. Right now it’s closed so you could warm up to it at your own pace.”

Naomi looked at me for an opinion. We’d made it a point not to get separated so far at Deep Hawk. “Go on,” I encouraged, “I’ll catch up to you tonight in a little while. So she went to the new lab with Claire.

General Havoc stood next to me and said, “You’re a good man!” and gave a coach-like slap to the butt. But, it felt like he stuck a sticker there.

“Oh no,” I uttered as the sticker feeling melted into gut-lifting nausea and dizziness, “What did.. what did you do?” was all I could get out in my disorientation.

“Oh, you alright there?” he steadied me by putting his arm under mine and deflected my question.

The two miniature men came back in with a couple of aluminum briefcases at that moment. He helped me to a barstool and took the cases from his little helpers. He opened the cases and inside were vials and chemicals, and measuring vessels and test tubes and all kinds of things. “As I was saying earlier,” he said as he began to mix chemicals, “we all have special talents. Some are common between us, and some are singularly unique. Not all of these talents are particularly useful,” he placed a glass in front of me with a blue steaming liquid in it, “but even some of those are fun. Drink up. It will help clear your head.” He continued to mix and stir and add liquids to a large clear glass bowl as he talked, “I’m sure that by now you’ve realized that you will see things here that you have never seen before.” He produced some straight sticks that were spiral striped red and white. Candy canes? But they weren’t canes, just sticks. He dipped them into the blue liquid in the bowl and stirred them slowly and the liquid flashed and turned orange. He slowly withdrew the candy canes which were now being orbited by dozens of tiny glowing sparks. He handed these to his two tiny helpers, “Those look about right, don’t they, guys?” then he added a couple more fluids until the bowl went from orange back to blue. As he did so, he continued to talk to me, “I’m sure that right now, your lovely wife is learning that she is capable of some things that she’s never even thought of. Don’t be shocked if she’s so engrossed in her work that you don’t even see her for the next few days.”

As if on cue, I heard Naomi’s voice, “Look what I made!” I turned and she presented me with a little box about the size of an Altoids tin. Inside it were what looked like little charcoal boxes and cylinders. Upon closer inspection, the objects inside had particular light deflection, as though they had consistent surface textures.

“Is that…” I asked, unsure of my perception.

“It’s a microcomputer,” she announced with proud excitement, “it’s an extremely powerful one. With the right software, it might even be self-aware.”

“Seriously?” I asked incredulously.

Claire nodded, “She shows a lot of promise.”

As Naomi looked into her little boxful of computer, her eyes sparkled with a glossy sheen that I’d never seen there before. She thoughtfully poked at its components with her finger, and I saw a blue spark run from her finger into the microcircuitry and dance over the components. She looked so happy.

“I love you,Naomi,” I told her.

She smiled at me, “I love you too, Reid!”

“Let’s get your project back to the lab for now,” said Claire.

My wife looked back at me and said, “I’ll catch up to you in our quarters later.”

When they had left, I asked General Havoc, “So, everyone has stuff going on and a direction to go, but I’m still in the dark here. What are you training me for?”

He sighed and said, “Walk with me, will you?” and he handed me one of his special candy canes.

I polished off my drink and hardly even remembered the slap on the butt and the subsequent unpleasantness. the sparks orbiting the candy cane had a very bright, sweet flavor. We were walking back up the white hall toward the front room with the dim mercury vapor lights. He was explaining to me again that we’re all different and have to work at our own paces. I was feeling warm and pleasant, and let him talk. He was hitting all the talking points that I’d heard him hit previously and I just didn’t care. When we got to the front room, it was even darker than I remembered. He sauntered over to the corner to the left of the stage and leaned against the shuttered window as he talked. As he talked, I stopped and looked up at him, and saw two of him. the one closest to me was talking and the one to his right was not. I looked closely at the second General Havoc and noticed what looked like a barrier of white fur between his legs. The one who was talking handed a candy cane to the other one who took it.

“He’s pretty good, isn’t he?” one Havoc addressed the other, who nodded in response. At that, the second Havoc seemed to melt down into another creature. It was standing upright, and was covered in fluffy white hair. Its face was nearly man-like but almost like an ape. the creature stood at less than five feet tall. At five foot six, it was pretty easy for me to gauge this creature’s height. At that point, the creature seemed to melt into the brick wall behind him, and then he was gone.

“What was that?” I asked.

“What was what?” Havoc responded.

“You know damned well what I’m talking about. What was that creature that mimicked you? Was that a Sasquatch?”

“Oh him,” Havoc chuckled, “Just another one of my helpers. He’s just a little Skunk Yeti.”

I had heard about the diminutive Skunk Ape myth from the southeast and I had heard of the Yeti of the Himalayas, but I had never heard of a cross between them. Then again, I had never paid too much attention to cryptids. Given the current circumstances, I wished that I had.

The Becoming – Part 3

Part 2 is here and part 4 is here. Part 1 is here, if you want to start at the beginning.

Part 3

So, we were finally led through those double doors, deeper into the building. There were the white painted walls and white vinyl floor that I had seen as others passed through the doors before me. the ceilings were white, industrial ceiling tiles with fluorescent lighting. The hall was long and stark, and there were unmarked doors here and there down its expanse. After about a hundred yards, the hall ended at yet another set of double doors.

“This is where most of the magic happens,” said General Havoc, as he swung open the doors. Behind them was a breathtaking amount of activity, full of color and motion. He pointed to the glass doors on the left that led down a staircase into a large, dark chamber, “That’s The Playground. That’s where we do the dangerous stuff. The classroom is down there too.”

This corridor was lined with metal framing and instruments of mysterious purposes, with dials and gauges that made whirs and ticks. There was what appeared to be a large furnace to the right. It looked almost like an old-fashioned wood burning stove, but the wicked, red glow that seeped from the cracks between the doors and hinges suggested that there was no mere wood fire within. On the left side of the hall there was a narrow counter top with small observation windows that overlooked parts of ‘The Playground’ and there were passages to other rooms to the right, past the furnace thing. All up and down this hall, there were at least a dozen or so… workers. They were almost like people. Most of them were bipedal creatures, but none of them looked quite human. Several of them looked anything but human, truth be told.

Havoc pointed out various creatures and introduced them, but my head swam with the unexpected sensory overload, and I missed most of the introductions, “Are you listening, Reid?” he asked. Introducing us to a woman severely dressed in red and black he announced, “this is Shelby. If you need anything, you’re best off addressing your questions to her. She knows more of what’s going on around here than I do, and she’ll take care of you.” Many of the creatures looked like mythical characters. There was a gorgon, and a minotaur, and a… I didn’t have any clue what that thing was, but he had scales and claws. And, that one had feathers. Some of the more human ones had eyes that were not quite the right shape, or orientation, or color even. Even those that looked the most normal wore strange uniforms that I had never seen before, such as flight suits from another race of creatures. To put it simply, it looked kind of like a costume party.

“So, you’re the new kids?” asked Shelby.

“That’s us,” Naomi smiled at her.

She smiled back, “Don’t worry. We’re all freaked out on the first day.” And then, she said to me, ” I will tell you that you might watch out for her.”

That’s when I felt the hand grab my butt. The woman who walked past wore a little white dress, and bright red lipstick – almost but not quite naughty nurse style. She gave a wink over her shoulder as she walked away. It felt as though she had stuck a bumper sticker across my buttocks. I reached back to feel for the offending sticker, which wasn’t there. The feeling of having something stuck on my seat melted into a gut feeling like I’d just fallen from someplace high up. I wasn’t sure what the woman in white had done, but it was something. It was something that was weird and unwelcome and I had never experienced anything like it before.

“What was that?” I gasped.

Naomi looked at me in confusion. Apparently, she’d missed the whole thing. I have to admit that it happened extremely fast, and the woman might have escaped my view as well, had Shelby not pointed her out to me.

“Don’t worry about that,” Shelby said with a little too much concern on her face for me to feel comfortable with her dismissal, “As I said, you might watch out for that one. She’s a mess.”

As the feeling faded it gave way to mild nausea and wooziness. I steadied myself with my hand on the door frame as I regained my head. “Duly noted,” I said.

She quickly changed the subject, “Let’s get you the keys to your quarters and settle you in so you can go to class. I know General Havoc wants to start you two on training as soon as possible, and there’s orientation and introductions to be made in the meantime.”

She led us down one of the side passages into an industrial carpet labyrinth of passages. The colors were a little softer than the stark white and metal that we had just seen, and the lighting was a little warmer than the sterile, cool fluorescents. Eventually we made it to a wood door that the keys unlocked. Inside was a queen-sized bed, a dresser, a small table and two chairs. There were lamps on both sides of the bed, and there was a night stand with a land line telephone. Everything was clean, but it looked like it had been furnished from a hotel supply. Upon noticing the phone, I had a suspicion and pulled out my cell phone. Sure enough, there was no signal.

“Yeah,” Shelby said, noticing my cell phone, “we’re so far underground that you’ll never get a signal down here.”

“Don’t you ever get lost in this place?” Naomi inquired.

“You’d be surprised,” Shelby said, “your training will… well, you’ll learn to remember the important stuff.” Before we could ask for clarification of her cryptic comments, she continued, “besides that, if you have any trouble, I’ll help you out until you know your way. Most anybody here will be glad to help you if you need it.”

“So what’s next,” Naomi asked.

“Well,” Shelby explained, “I need to take you to the classroom so you can do orientation, and then I think General havoc wants to meet with the two of you. It will be very informal; mostly just getting to know expectations in both directions.”

“What is with that guy, anyway?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Shelby seemed genuinely confused.

I read her face for a moment before responding, “Nothing. Nevermind.”

Guns & Ammo Panic

About a month ago, I wrote about my trip to the local Academy to pick up some ammunition. On Friday, I decided to swing by there again to pick up a little more. I’ve been trying to keep an inventory on what we have in stock, and bone up on everything in anticipation of Central Oklahoma Gunblogger Schutenfest, which is less than two weeks away now! Thanks to my friend Mark, I’m now very well stocked on .22lr. We have enough .45 to last us a bit. We’re good enough on rifle ammo right now. We don’t have much 9mm, but we don’t shoot much 9mm, so it doesn’t matter much. We are running a little low on our revolver calibers. Revolver ammunition has not been behind the counter like the higher-demand cartridges, but I figured that I’d pick up some .223 or 9mm while I was in the store, just for good measure. When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a line of people going in the front door. That was weird. When I stepped into the store, I saw a few people at the customer service counter buying ammo. It didn’t look as crowded as it had been on my previous visit in February, so I stepped toward it to see what ammo they had available.

ammoration

The pile looked a little slimmer than it had last time, but obviously, they did have a small selection of ammo for auto-loading rifles and pistols. Just then, a store employee addressed me and asked if I wanted to buy ammo. When I affirmed this, he motioned and instructed me to get to the back of the line.

ammoline03

I couldn’t get the front of the line in scope, but this is close to it. See the lady in the black heels toward the back there? She’s not at the back of the line. The line turns the corner there between the clothing section in the middle and the shelves on the other side. Please note the position of the heeled lady in this next shot:

ammoline02

She seemed like a nice enough lady when I spoke with her. She was after .38 Special for her carry gun, and she would not find any there. It was pretty obvious to me that there was not enough ammunition for everyone in line. I didn’t bother getting in line, but caught these pictures to share here.

ammoline01

I don’t know why that guy was wearing a support belt, but he didn’t look too thrilled about having his picture taken. A cute little blonde employee approached me and asked if I got some good pictures. I told her that I thought I did. I chatted with her for a few minutes and expressed that when I had been in only a few weeks earlier, that the situation was far better than this. She said that this was the worst that she has seen it and that it seems to be getting progressively worse all the time. Here’s a picture from the shelves where the line turned around the corner toward the front of the store, where the ammo was being doled out:

ammoline04

When I made it back to the regular ammo shelf, I found no .38 Special and no .357 Magnum. The nice lady in the black heels was there, searching for the same. There were also a couple of younger guys staring at the shelf in disbelief. They had 10mm, .38 Short Colt, and .41 Magnum on the shelf. There was one box of .44 Special in aluminum cases. There were several brands of .44 Magnum, but it was all the heavy hollow-points that sell for forty bucks for a box of twenty-five rounds – not exactly what you want to make into a day at the range. We discussed whether you could shoot .38 Colt out of a .38 Special or .357 Magnum. One of the guys assured me that it would work fine, but I decided not to chance it. I left the store without product, but not empty handed. I was glad to have been there ready with my camera to document the situation. On my way out of the store, I walked along a man in camouflaged pants and a beard who was inspecting the contents of his shopping bag. I recognized him as being one of the patrons at the front of the line.

“Did you have to get here early to get in line?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he smiled, “well, I was actually a little late for me. I only got here at 7:25.”

The store opens at 8:00.

“Really?” I asked him, “What time do you usually get here then?”

“Well, I try to be here at about 4:30 or 5:00,” he explained.

“That early?” I inquired.

“Yup,” he confirmed, “There are a few people who get here at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Same ones every time. They’re the ones who get all the guns. Of course, the store has their seven-day limit thing, but other than that, you can count on seeing those same people.”

Chills down my spine. As we parted ways, I told him to take care. Teen Bot had a field trip at the museum that we all went on later that morning. That evening, Jennifer and I went to our favorite indoor gun range. We had their classic and delicious onion burgers at their cafe, and I stood at their ammo counter for a while. I picked up a box of .38 Special and a box of .357 Magnum, both in FMJ from Federal’s American Eagle label. I also picked up a box of .38 +p Gold Dots for Jennifer’s Nana. The three boxes cost me something in the way of $84.00 after tax. Five years ago, the same selection would have cost half of that. Not only is ammunition in high demand. The store section of the same range used to keep their handgun displays packed full. They have probably forty or so display cabinets that used to be filled with thirty or forty guns each. This i what they look like now:

guncases

What you see there is a selection of nine lonely handguns where there used to be a hundred, consistently. I thought that the insanity would be fading by now. I thought wrong. It just seems to be picking up pace. People are paying $50 for PMags that sold for less than $20 six months ago. They’re buying up $800 AR15s for $3,000 a pop. My sister-in-law is thinking of selling her XD9 Subcompact at current market value to put towards a defensive handgun and a race gun after the panic dies down. To be perfectly honest, if someone had some nice lever-actions in .22lr, .357 Magnum, and .30-30, I’d probably consider trading for my Star15 Dissipator, a few mags, and ammo. These are interesting times we live in, to be sure. We must remember that this is an unsustainable bubble. The AWB will not pass and the market will be flooded with excess guns and ammo, and then there will be a lovely recession in pricing on these goods as they flow out from where the hoarders currently have them. Keep your congresscritters on speed-dial and ride this thing out the best you can, and do be careful!

The Becoming – Part 2

It may be ill-advised, but I’m trying my hand at fiction after a 10+ year hiatus. This is the second installment in the retelling of a wacky dream I had one night. Click here for part 1. The next one will be found here.

Part 2

He said he was a General. General of what, I wondered. The few uniforms I had seen so far certainly didn’t look much like military uniforms. I had to wonder if it was a self-imposed title or if it actually meant something. I did get the distinct impression that he was supposed to the the guy in charge around here.

“Babe,” I said, “That man said his name was General what?”

“General Havoc,” Naomi answered.

“What a weird name,” I mused, “I mean, what were his parents thinking?” I was tempted to ask if that was a nickname or shortened form of something else, but I usually put my foot in my mouth when I ask that sort of thing. My thoughts were interrupted by another man who had taken the stage and was calling names off a list. We all listened carefully for our names, and then those whose names were called were instructed to file through the double doors to our left. Our names were not called, but we watched as those that were made their way deeper into the facility. I curiously craned my neck to see through the doors, but all I saw was a white-walled hallway with white vinyl flooring. When the group of people made it through the doorway, the doors were closed behind them. After we had waited for some time, I began to get bored and then to get drowsy. I laid down on one of the couches and closed my eyes. Then, I became aware of a presence nearby. I opened my eyes to a squint against the anemic but irritating mercury vapors to see a silhouette standing over me. It took me a second to realize that it was my ‘friend’ from before.

“It’s me, Mike,” he said, “we met earlier.”

“Yeah.” I sat up. I hadn’t realized it but I must have fallen asleep.

“So, I tried to talk to your wife but she didn’t want to talk to me. Is that rude or what? Anyway, are you excited for when they call you?”

I stared at Mike in disbelief, “You seriously just woke me up for that?”

He stammered a little bit, “Well, I mean, I’m not really too excited about it, but a lot of other people act like they are and I just didn’t know, I mean, I was curious if you were too…”

“Look guy,” I said, “I’m tired of this room, and I’m tired of being in the dark both figuratively and literally,” I rolled my eyes across the room as if to punctuate my annoyance at the low light, “I don’t know how they do things where you’re from, but it’s generally considered rude to wake someone from sleep to make small-talk.”

“Geez. Sorry. I didn’t mean to rub you the wrong way,” said Mike ineffectually as he shuffled away.

I laid there on the couch and fumed. There was precisely one other person in this place that I cared anything about, and that was Naomi. I was tired. But, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I sat up and looked around. The crowd had thinned out significantly; it was pretty obvious that I had slept through a couple of roll calls. A few couches down, I saw my wife reading a book. I turned and there was my case of parts at my feet. I stretched and yawned, and picked up the case, standing up to go and join her when I was jarred from behind.

“Oh sorry,” said Mike as my case crashed to the floor, scattering parts across the carpet as the lid sprung open. It was pretty obvious that he hadn’t bumped me on purpose, but was simply clumsy. Still he had hit me hard.

“What is your problem?” I blew up at him, “Would you watch where you are going? You know what? On second thought, just stay away from me. And my wife, and my stuff too!”

“I’m really sorry,” he persisted and crouched, “Here, let me help you.”

“No, I’ve got it. These things have their own little compartments.”

As I gathered the parts off the floor, a different voice asked, “you really don’t get it, do you, Reid?” This was a loud, smoke-seasoned voice. The ‘General.’

I put the last of the parts back into the case and stood up, “Look, Mr. Panic, he was…”

He interrupted me by slapping the case out of my hand. It violently hit the ground, the lid cracked off its hinge and every part inside the case went flying. “That’s General. Havoc.” he corrected.

In all fairness, I was never very good with names.

“You don’t get it do you? What good are those parts to you anymore? What value do the contents of that box have at this point? Would you like to be compensated for them? Do you understand that by the time you’re done here, you won’t even remember what was in that case? Do you want to be part of this program or not, Reid?”

Again, the little voice was telling me to leave. And again, I should have listened. But, you know what they say about curiosity and its effect on the cat. Yes, I wanted to see how far down the rabbit hole went.

“Fine,” I said, “You win. I don’t need those anymore. Do you want me to be more patient with Mike as well? Would that make you happy?”

“Ecstatic,” said Havoc, “That’s what we’ve been waiting for. Are you and Naomi ready to go in to start your training?”

I was flabbergasted, “That’s really all there was to it?”

He then turned to Mike, “good job. I’ll see you at your next briefing.” And then to me, “we needed to assure that you in particular could learn patience and how to let go of anger.”

That one really had me confused, “I have not historically had an anger problem, and what in the world gave you the idea that…”

“Calm. Remember. We have specific plans for you and it is imperative that you learn to go above and beyond what has ever been expected of you. Above and beyond what is ever expected of anyone else actually. In order to proceed with your training, I need you to be like Gandhi.”

I still didn’t trust him, but I found myself complying with his request, “Alright. I’m calm. What kind of training is this anyway? You may have to explain this to me a little further.”

“Understood and agreed,” he said, “I’ll tell you more a little later. Why don’t both of you come with me for now?” he addressed to Naomi and me. I motioned to the mess of parts and broken case on the floor. “Don’t worry about that,” he assured, “I’ll have one of my guys clean up that junk.

Irony In The Music Industry

When my commute to work included a drive in the car, I would often listen to the radio on my way in because I always forgot to change out the CD selection in the car. Of course, the stations that played any of the good indy stuff that I liked never made any money and so were always short-lived. There were two Christian stations in town, but the good one went belly up and the remaining one was a little koombayah for my taste. So, I wound up listening to NPR. Even though their ‘news’ broadcasts are a little slanted, their shows are entertaining. I especially liked their music reviews.

Radio is now dead. When I was a kid, there were multiple stations in town that gave a nice cross-section taste of what was out there. There were multiple CD stores in town that had nice selections of new and used CDs. They had single-disc CD players set up with headphones where one could pre-listen a used CD prior to buying it. The clerk didn’t care if I sat there and listened to the full 45-minute CD prior to spending my eight bucks to take the CD home with me in my little station wagon. There, I discovered Bjork. There, they’d recommend new CDs to me that they had just gotten in, based on my tastes. If I pointed out that it was wrapped in cellophane, they would roll their eyes and unwrap it so I could give it a listen. In those days, I’d hear something on the radio and go buy the CD locally.

Now that radio is dead, we have the internet. Youtube and Pandora have filled the space of FM. When I find something interesting on the internet, I seek it out at the stores. I see embedded videos and links to songs that are entertaining. When I go to a store that has a generous CD section, I scan interesting selections with my smart phone to compare prices on Amazon. This Johnny Cash CD is eight bucks here, and I can get it for five on Amazon Prime.

For at least a decade now, the artists and even more so, the record labels, have fought to keep music from being downloaded off the internet. And yet, the smarter artists have freely given their music in various forms. In listening to NPR, I was fascinated by Infected Mushroom when they were featured one afternoon. When I found their website, I found that their music is all streaming there. In working at my last place of traditional employment, and subsequently for myself, I have streamed Infected Mushroom for many hours for free.

I decided that I wanted to hear Infected Mushroom in better sound quality than is streamed online. For years, we had cut out all of our excess spending for the purpose of business building. I had asked about Infected Mushroom at several CD stores because I couldn’t find any of their CDs. I was usually met with, “No, I’ve had all my shots.” No, do you have any of their CDs? “Is that the new Garth Brooks album?” I kid, I kid. To all you who may be IM fans out there, do you download MP3s, or order CDs on the internet, or do you find them in stores?

I know that MP3s are the new thing, but they lack depth of sound definition and clarity. Personally, I prefer the warmth of vinyl, but I can certainly live with the resolution of modern CD tracks or WAV files. It’s also nice to get cover art and a physical, hard copy. I have ripped all of our CDs to the hard drive on our media server and stream that when I want to listen to our music library now. Hard drive space is cheap, and it keeps the wear and tear off the originals. This has pointed out some transfer speed weaknesses in the network, which has been interesting.

Anyway, having grown fond of Infected Mushroom, I placed a $45.00 order on Amazon for some of their CDs last night. I’m excited to receive them. I will rip the discs to the media server and listen to them from there, which will certainly be better sound quality than streaming from their website or YouTube. And, I will have put a little money in their pockets too. For all of the musical artists out there that don’t make their work more accessible, I don’t know of their work and have not placed an order for CDs. There is the difference.

Aging in a changing world is interesting. I try very hard to roll with the punches without blindly folding to whatever comes next. Shopping for music is vastly different than it used to be. I don’t hate all the new music in a generalized fashion, but MP3s aren’t worth the price of a physical disc that has superior sound quality and cover art. It benefits the artist to put their work out there to be heard prior to purchase. Just as I would spend hours pouring over used CDs on the player in the CD shop in town, I now spend hours listening to music on the internet to determine what I want to invest in. Where I used to adventurously put money down on a disc to add to the collection, now I see if I can have it delivered for a better price, but plenty of times I still buy on location.

I wish that the record shop was still a major industry, but I understand why it can’t be anymore. MP3s are inferior in sound quality, but they aren’t the sucking mistake that cassettes were. I keep hoping for an improvement over CDs, as this is now almost thirty-year-old technology on the consumer level, and it leaves sound resolution to be desired, but despite SACD, HDCD, and DVD Audio, nothing better has stuck. As Murphy’s Law dictates, once I settle into CDs as the defacto, common use, audiophile medium, the next great thing will happen and then all my stuff will be obsolete. And, it probably won’t even be played over conventional speakers.

*sigh.*

That’s Got to Be Bad Luck

Last year sometime, I received an email invitation to a beer tasting at the gun range closest to our house.

You read that right. The indoor climate-controlled gun range that is within stumbling distance of my home had several breweries come out, set up booths, and serve beer on the premises. But, don’t worry – they had the drinking section separated from the shooting section and they weren’t letting anyone shoot who had been drinking. They had taken names to draw for door prizes, and I had tasted Coop Ale Works‘ entire flight at least twice when they called my name. If you like beer, and you ever come through Oklahoma City, I highly recommend stopping in to give these guys a whirl, as they know their craft well, and brew some tasty refreshments. So, as they had just called my name, I went to retrieve my door prize. They handed me a handsome pint glass with the Coop logo silkscreened on one side and a list of their beers on the other. There was a matching, black t-shirt rolled up and stuffed in the glass. Oddly, I’ve wound up with quite a few beer t-shirts in circumstances not unlike this one. I did what any good beer fan would have in my circumstance, and took my glass to the Coop rep serving DNR, and showed him that my prize glass was defective.

“Because it’s empty?” he clarified. Ah! We have a quick one here, “I’m not filling that for you. You don’t want a full pint of DNR right now.” Oh well, you can’t blame a guy for trying. A good time was had by all, the alcohol may have influenced me to spend some money on Magpul accessories. I have no idea where the t-shirt wound up, but the glass took up residence on my kitchen counter and has been my go-to glass since then. Anytime I need a glass of filtered water, that’s the glass I grab. What if I want a glass of Hanson Key Lime soda? Coop glass, that’s what. I have had to make an actual effort to remember to cycle this thing through the dishwasher from time to time, as I’ve been in the habit of simply rinsing it and setting it by the espresso machine until I used it next. Until today, that is.

When Teen Bot and I were done with our Red Baron pizza, I walked into the dark kitchen and reached toward the sink to rinse my plate. The cuff on my O.G. caught on the lip of my Coop glass and it fell to its death upon the tile floor. It was almost like it fell in slow motion, with me reaching after it crying, “NNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!” But, it was too late.

As I swept up its remains, it called out to me, “Why? Why didn’t you save me? We had so many good times together!” And, I gave it a burial in File Thirteen in a coffin made from the Red Barron pizza box with the end folded shut. So, now I need a new go to cup. I was thinking maybe something like this:

skull goblet

Or this:

Battlestar Galactica

Or even this:

Rainbow Dash

Then again, something like this wouldn’t break if I dropped it:

Battle Mug

I put those on my Amazon wish list anyway. Maybe I’ll get lucky and someone will gift me one.