This was the last year we went there. Castro had taken over, and the island was awash with giddy, nervous enthusiasm. Banners hung in the plazas emblazoned with slogans like "Yankee go home" and "¡Cuba sí, yanqui no!" There were well-armed men in olive-drab fatigues on the street corners of the city, smiling and relaxed in the way that well-armed men frequently are after a victory. On this particular day, bright and sunny, my father and I were at La Concha savoring the tail end of our vacation. I romped in the surf as he watched from a nearby table, enjoying a local brew with some friends and no doubt discussing the implications of Castro's takeover.
Apparently the discussion caused him to lose track of my activity for a few minutes, and, as he tells it, his scrotal sac clenched and retracted when he looked up from his beer and saw me holding a fully loaded Thompson submachine gun, grinning ominously as one of Castro's soldiers stood laughing heartily at the sight of the tiny blond gringo struggling with all his might to shoulder the heavy weapon. My father leaped up and very calmly and politely requested that the man please relieve me of the gun.
Shortly thereafter, we headed for the showers to wash off and call it a day. I was somewhat peeved at having the gun taken away, as I had gotten it into my head that it was a gift of some sort and therefore mine. It was close to my birthday. A couple of dozen bees were swarming around a nook in the arched sandstone entrance to the showers. In a fit of pique, I slapped one of the insects. In its final moment of life, the bee imparted a valuable lesson to me by inserting its stinger firmly into the flesh between the middle fingers of my right hand. Some time after we left, the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, and we never returned.
This incident popped into my head as I cruised down the New Jersey Turnpike in a rented black 1998 Ford Escort on a beautiful day two weeks ago, here in Year Zero Minus One, making my way to Louisville, KY, to attend the semiannual machine gun shoot at the Knob Creek Gun Range. Like I said, that Thompson was the first real gun I'd ever laid my hands on. Luckily for the disposition of my soul and the well-being of humanity, I got swept up into the antiwar movement and embraced pacifism early on in my teen years. I remained a pacifist until Nov. 11, 1981, when I was stomped into a severe concussion and very nearly killed by a band of juvenile delinquents of the Irish persuasion who were operating under the delusion that I was a homosexual. These poisonous leprechauns were fixtures in the neighborhood, and upon my recovery, I duly reported the incident to the local police precinct. I was told by the officer on duty that "all we can do is JD them," followed by the advice, "Why don't you get some of your friends together and deal with it yourself?"
At that point I acquired a .22-caliber Ruger automatic and parted company with Gandhi, et al., once and for all. Gandhi was a big admirer of Hitler anyway. The little punks continued their verbal harassment and I kept my cool until one night in early spring 1982. I was walking home with a small bag of groceries, and three of them peeled off from their pack and began to follow me through the park I had to traverse to get home. When it became apparent that they were stalking me, I calmly laid down the grocery bag, discreetly removed the weapon from my pocket and, out of sight of my would-be victims, clicked off the safety and chambered a shell.
Apparently they were familiar with the sound. They backed off with a few nervous whispers and I had no further trouble from them or their associates. One of them was subsequently shot at point-blank range through the heart in that park by an off-duty TA cop whose money the idiot thug had lifted from the bar of a local tap room. I continued to pack heat until 1992, when an incident with agents of the federal government convinced me to shift to more exotic and less regulated weapons.
I've never been a fighter, and I'm disinclined toward the martial arts owing to my general aversion to any kind of touchy-feely crap. I need weapons to feel safe out among people who could be nuts: That guy taking a piss next to me at the truck stop could be a serial killer, this one in line at McDonald's could go postal. This shit happens, and people die because they aren't armed. The cops can't be everywhere. If gun control is such a great idea, why is the crime rate so high in the most severely restrictive cities? It most certainly isn't race. It's a well-armed criminal population preying upon a disarmed body of honest citizens. I've managed to feel quite secure without a gun, but I'd prefer to be carrying one. I want full responsibility for my own life.
I'd allowed myself an extra day on the car rental so as to spend some quality time with my father at his condo in a semirural town in South Jersey. We hadn't seen each other in two years, and he's getting on. I'd been thinking about his futile efforts to mold me into a regular guy, and how that related to the kind of folks I anticipated meeting at Knob Creek. My parents separated almost immediately after my adoption, and things being what they were in the 50s, my wildly psychotic mother got custody. I saw my father on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend. We spent a week in Wildwood, NJ, every summer, and a week or two in Cuba every December until that became impossible.
While my mother seemed to be intent upon crafting me into Norman Bates in an unpredictable and haphazard sort of way, my dad made every effort to get me on the straight and narrow. He taught me to read at age four, using comic books. He exposed me to scouting and got me a subscription to Boys' Life. I had an aversion to uniforms but I loved the magazine and the various scouting events we'd attend. He enrolled me in the National Geographic Society. We took long hikes in the woods together, and he attempted, in vain, to instruct me in the proper maintenance of an automobile. He taught me manners and courtesy, and reverence for animal life. No one could imbue me with reverence for human life. I am a born misanthrope. I have my reasons.
I spent a very pleasant day in the company of my father, strolling the grounds of the unassuming and serene condominium complex where he and his wife spend their days. I got the impression that if he were a little bit younger and in slightly better health he'd be more than happy to join me on my trip to Knob Creek. It's the sort of thing we did together when I was a kid.
The Schuykill Expressway in Philadelphia embodies everything I hate about that town. It is stupid, plain and simple, a stretch of highway designed to kill people, known throughout the region as "The Sure-Kill Expressway." The corrupt despots responsible for this transportation fiasco should be tried and summarily hung for crimes against the people. The government of Philadelphia is and always has been hopelessly infected with criminal stupidity, the kind of criminal stupidity that would bomb an entire neighborhood to get quit of a handful of filthy garbage-eating political cultoids.
Between the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 1700s and the Waco Holocaust there are numerous incidents of serious and lethal abuse of government power against the citizens of this so-called republic of ours. There's no point in preaching to the affluent mandarins of the limousine liberal gun-control crowd or any of their vapid stooges about the real intent of the Second Amendment. These people think they know what's good for the rest of us: unlimited immigration to keep them in cheap housekeepers and nannies, abortion "on demand and without apology" right up to the onset of labor, draconian antismoking regulations, publicly funded brainwash treatments administered by an army of psychiatric drudges, welfare dependency for the uneducated, childproof butane lighters and prescription bottles, and gun control. It's been suggested that in the fullness of time they will push for legislation requiring us to wear safety goggles while trimming our fingernails.
I hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike headed west with the Beach Boys blasting out of the cassette player, the windows down, the wind in my hair, chainsmoking and gulping truckstop coffee, alone and happy for it. I stopped for donuts at a rest stop just east of Exit 11, where I sat with a black truckdriver by the name of Vernon Howell and watched Ted Koppel present a simulated anthrax attack on Atlanta. We chatted briefly, and Mr. Howell observed that you can tell a politician is lying if his lips are moving.
There was an horrific stretch of highway where the Turnpike narrowed to one lane, a concrete abutment to my left and an epileptiform arrangement of reflectors mounted on orange barrels to my right. Art Bell was on the AM radio playing "These Boots Were Made For Walking" and commenting on the significance that it was that song the FBI chose to blast at top volume over and over again at the Mt. Carmel compound during the Waco siege. I got goosebumps when she sang, "I just got me a brand-new pack of matches..."
I was getting paranoid. I decided to take a cheap room for the night, to get Art Bell and Ted Koppel and the doom-obsessed preachers I'd been listening to as I grazed the AM dial out of my head. I checked into a dive owned by a bunch of Jains called The Midway at Exit 11. I registered as "Alex Hidell" and stacked two chairs against the door as a precaution against intruders before falling into a deep sleep. I got up at 9 a.m., checked out and hit the road.
I made the outskirts of Louisville in just over 10 hours of driving time. I had a reservation at the cheapest motel I could find in proximity to the Knob Creek event, The Thrifty Dutchman, known locally as "The Dirty Dutchman," although I found no justification for this appellation.
At this point in our history, cash transactions are actively discouraged; because, no doubt, of the difficulty in monitoring them. FinCEN likes to know where you are and what you are doing. FinCEN is the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a leisure service of the War Against Drugs. They have at hand the computers of the Sandia National Laboratories in Los Alamos for the purpose of monitoring every financial transaction in the United States in real time.
I work exclusively in cash. This is why I prefer not to fly. I am a former collection agency manager and once had a reputation as one of the top skip tracers in the business. If you know how to find people, you know how to get lost. I have an innate aversion to being monitored or surveilled, and make every effort to elude or confuse any entity that might be watching.
The consequence of my cash arrangement with the motel was a certain fixed deadline on my arrival to keep my reservation. This could have led to some difficulty, as the local motels were packed due to the convergence of the Knob Creek event with an extremely popular NASCAR truck race and an Alabama concert scheduled for Sunday night. My hellion driving skills got me to the motel on time, and I checked in and strolled over to a local convenience store where I acquired a 12-pack of Bud in bottles for a mere $7.29 and a carton of Marlboros for $20. It was Oliver North's birthday. I got undressed, took a long, hot shower, left a 5 a.m. wakeup call with the front desk so I could make the 7 a.m. breakfast at the range, and watched Bulworth on cable as I drank myself to sleep.
2. Land of the Free, Home of the Well-Armed Five a.m. is actively painful after such time on the road. I got up, took another shower, availed myself of a cup of weak, tepid coffee from the brewer in my room, and lit out for the Knob Creek Gun Range. I passed over a rickety little one-lane bridge and parked the car on a grassy knoll. As I debarked the black Escort I encountered two men and a boy unloading a monstrous weapon from a Georgia-tagged vehicle. This thing looked like a short, fat bazooka. The boy was arguing strenuously for the privilege of handling the weapon. I inquired about its nature, and was informed that it was a PI-AT.
A grizzled old ex-Marine named Doc Longus greeted me and led me in to meet Kenny Sumner, the proprietor of Knob Creek and host to the event. Doc was toting a pair of "Toys For Tots" cans and bitching about his diminished status in the Marine Corps Reserve. He's a certified medic, a former DI and a veteran of Vietnam and the Gulf War. Reupping into the Marine Reserve, he is being compelled to take a clerical position despite his combat experience because female clerical staffers are now empowered to be Drill Instructors, despite their lack of combat experience, in the name of sexual equality. The result of this is that guys like Doc have to accept clerical positions in order to make way for the women.
I ambled about the grounds, checking things out and mixing it up in a casual way with the crowd as I awaited the 9 a.m. opening of the machine gun shoot. I checked out some of the astonishing range of guns for sale and bought some earplugs. Then I went and watched as the Knob Creek staff placed great wooden spools, cars, washing machines and refrigerators into the field of fire.
The rules of the range were posted prominently at every turn:
1. ALL shooters must have their shooting badge visible.
2. HEARING AND EYE PROTECTION ARE MANDATORY.
3. NO drugs, alcohol, or horseplay!
4. Youngsters must be accompanied by an adult.
5. Any SAFE and functional full-auto firearm is allowed.
6. Firearms carried to and from firing line must be empty of ammo.
7. Firearms will be discharged from the firing line only, not from the shooting tables.
8. Firearms will be pointed in a safe direction at all times (DOWN RANGE).
9. Firearms not being used must be pointed down range with magazines removed and bolts open.
10. Know all aspects of your gun and how to shoot it safely.
11. In case of a misfire, keep action closed for 30 seconds, a cooling period for the round.
12. NO shooting any closer than 25 yards in front of firing line.
13. Do not pick up brass that is not yours.
14. The range officer will call "cease fire". All shooters must empty their guns of ammo, open their bolts, and remove the magazines or belts of ammo, whichever you might have.
15. DO NOT SHOOT OVER THE HILL! IF CAUGHT YOU WILL BE REMOVED FROM THE FIRING LINE PERMANENTLY.
16. If an unsafe condition exists, bring it to the attention of the range officer in your area.
17. Keep your finger off the trigger until you reach the firing line.
18. NO HOMEMADE BOMBS, EXPLOSIVES, OR FIREWORKS. This is in accordance with state regulations.
19. A dropped firearm, accidental discharge, or pointing a weapon in an unsafe direction will result in immediate removal from the firing line.
20. Only three shooters will be allowed per shooting position. Only one shooter is allowed on the shooting spot at a time, unless someone is shooting a weapon that requires assistance.
21. All shooters must sign range waiver form every time you enter the firing line.
22. Tracers will be allowed, weather permitting.
The waiver form includes this: "Knob Creek Gun Range will not be held responsible for self-inflicted wounds, ricochets, flying debris from various explosions, gun malfunctioning wounds, wounds inflicted by others, or any other injuries that might occur from failure to comply with these rules. You are responsible for any wounds you inflict on others. Noncompliance with any of the rules listed above will result in your immediate removal from the firing line. No second warnings and no exceptions made. These rules are for your safety as well as the safety of others. Additional rules may be added by the range officer. All shooters shoot at their own risk."
I have never felt safer in my life.
At 9 a.m. sharp I put my earplugs in. At 9:01, the loudest and most horrific roar I have ever heard in my life cut loose from the firing line of the Knob Creek Gun Range. I removed the earplugs as I walked behind the firing line, exhilarated with the raw sound of pure freedom. For years I've been slouching around New York City maintaining that rock 'n' roll is dead. Rock 'n' roll is in fact alive and well, a great wild roar emanating from the mud and gravel of this little outpost of men and women in the rolling hills of Kentucky, not far from the gold.
There was a hand-cranked, beautifully crafted Gatling gun, numerous belt-fed weapons, hand-held and mounted on tripods; there were Uzis, MACs, AK-47s, Thompsons, M-16s; various arcane weapons of the former Soviet bloc, antiques and state-of-the-art imports from Europe. The amazing electrically operated Mini-Gun, featured in the movie Predator, made the most unusual noise. It sounded like some kind of big awful machine stripping its gears. There were competitive exercises, including an assault weapons shoot and a "jungle walk," in which participants are graded on their speed and accuracy in the dispatch of a number of targets concealed in a carefully separated wooded area.
I saw men, women and teenagers, black and white, hammering away at dead cars and appliances with firearms of every shape, size and description, and I felt a weird sort of hope rise in my gut. This is America, love it or leave it. You want gun control? Try Germany. They control "hate speech" there, too. Mein Kampf is illegal, there, lest they get a clue as to whence the madness came. I bought a nice bumpersticker with a good quote: "This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future." That's Adolf Hitler, 1935. He was a real Caring Understanding 90s Type: a militant antismoker, a vegetarian animal-rights kind of guy, into gun control.
I caught up with Kenny Sumner in a rare moment of slack and got to ask him about the origins of the machine gun shoot. He told me that the Knob Creek Gun Range was originally a U.S. Navy weapons test ground. His grandfather, Winfred Sumner, bought the land at auction back in 1963. His dad came up with the idea of the machine gun shoot back in the early 70s. Then, it was just six or seven guys who'd get together and have some fun with these exotic and complicated weapons, swapping technical details and maintenance tips. Machine guns are not easy to maintain. It takes a certain amount of machining skill and finesse just to keep one of the things operable for any length of time. His dad ran the shoot for about eight years, and then Kenny took over. At the time Kenny took charge, there were maybe 30 or 40 shooters in attendance, and about 300 spectators.
Some of the folks attending in those days were professional gunsmiths and gun dealers, and they'd set up booths to display and peddle their wares. By the early 80s, there were close to 30 exhibitors merchandising weapons, ammo, military surplus equipment and survival gear. Initially, Kenny stretched a bunch of blue tarps over the tables to protect them from the weather. This led to the acquisition of a number of GP medium military tents. Over time, it got to be 20 of them, which really became a bother to set up and tear down. Kenny and his friends built the present pole-barn structure in sections as the number of exhibitors swelled.
Some 150 exhibitors now attend, marketing everything from .50-caliber machine guns to portable water filtration systems. The machine gun shoot is held twice a year, in April and October. Over the past seven or eight years attendance had held pretty steady at about 8000.
It's a family event. Contrary to the "boys with toys" stereotype advanced by the antigun fanatics, there was quite a fair number of women in attendance. You have to have a certain amount of money to indulge in this activity, and the majority of the participants I met were professionals. Jesse Cole of Butte, MT, is a good example. Jesse's a radiologist with an interest in flamethrowers. I caught up with him at a booth he and his friends had set up by the side of the firing line. For $45, they'll suit you up in a flameproof silver safety suit and allow you to fire off a full-scale military flamethrower. This is a wonderful weapon, grand and breathtaking in its function. Jesse and I hung out for a while discussing the demographics of the crowd. He's been coming to Knob Creek for four years now.
"These are very complex weapons," he explained, "and this is the best place to network with people and expand your knowledge of these systems in a hands-on environment. This community is a very solid and diverse group. There are people here from all walks of life: doctors, computer professionals, schoolteachers, mechanics, you name it. The two things we all have in common are a love of complex weapons systems and a fierce loyalty to the American Constitution.
"Tell MUGGER I love his column."
I wandered over to a complex of tented merchants, where I met Rebecca, the absolute undisputed sweetheart of the rodeo, the prettiest girl at Knob Creek, a gorgeous blonde Aikido practitioner who works with her father in a company called Firestar, based out of Caledonia, MI, near Grand Rapids. They specialize in the sort of exotic weaponry I favor, largely unregulated stuff. I bought a few chemical stink bombs and got their catalog while flirting in a nervous sort of way with this strikingly beautiful, down-to-earth, all-American girl.
It got to be time for me to head back to the Thrifty Dutchman for a few beers and some sleep. In the parking lot, I got to talking with a fellow from Nashville, Paul Winters, an IT manager who was chowing down an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), the current version of military field food. These things are a far cry from the old C rations of previous generations. The MRE is a tasty 2500-calorie meal with a damn near infinite shelf life. He was curious about me, as I was the only Manhattan native in attendance. I told him a little bit about my background, mentioning in passing that while I could probably hold my own in a handgun competition, I'd never fired an automatic weapon. He invited me to join up with him on the assault rifle range the next morning to shoot some bowling pins. I agreed.
I was awakened the next morning well before my wakeup call by a torrential rainpour clattering down the drainpipe outside my room. I got my clothes on and walked past Hardee's and the convenience store to McDonald's, where I purchased an Egg McMuffin, four large coffees and a pancake platter and returned with them to my room to watch CNN. I was soaked. Donald Trump was talking about becoming president. I began flashing on The Dead Zone and lost my appetite. I took a shower and shaved and headed out to the range.
I got there at 10:45. If you'd thrown in some serious potholes and some kamikaze cabs, it could have been New York traffic getting the car parked. The place was jammed. I have the evolutionary advantage of being a New Yorker when it comes to being stuck in traffic, so I just kicked back and slipped in Joshua Rifkin's Piano Rags by Scott Joplin, Volume 2, out of the Nonesuch catalog. Scott Joplin is my favorite composer, and Rifkin's recordings are the best. The rain was coming down in great drenching sheets. I was soaked to the skin by the time I hooked up with Paul at the assault weapon range at about 11:30. I signed a waiver and stepped under a tent and onto the firing line.
Paul finished loading the clip and handed it to me. He instructed me in the proper insertion of the clip into the weapon, and suggested that I lean into it somewhat more. I was anticipating a substantial kick, like a shotgun. The Thompson machine gun is actually very fluid, although it weighs quite a bit by contemporary standards. I actually prefer heavy guns; the weight tends to work for the shooter. I managed to knock down five out of eight bowling pins at a respectable distance on my first time out. I'd waited 40 years to fire that weapon.
After I finished my little initiatory venture into the full-auto world, a great bear of a black man by the name of Milton Barnes approached the firing line with a small zippered bag. He extracted a tiny little box of a machine gun and attached a barreled clip.
"What are you aiming to do, Milton?" asked Paul.
"I am aiming to do some serious abuse to those bowling pins," replied Milton, and he proceeded to knock down all eight bowling pins in a typhoon of slugs.
I asked him what type of weapon he was carrying. "It's a MAC 11/9," he replied, "1100 rounds per minute. I machine these drums for C&S Metall Werkes based out of St. Louis."
I hung out for a while with Mike Hendrix, a rock 'n' roller affiliated with a band called the Belmont Playboys. We talked about my stint writing for High Times, Amsterdam and Knob Creek. "These things are just fun," he said, "and these people are great. You should come to the one in the spring. It's a great place to meet women. The women here are really interesting." He mentioned that he and his band are due here in Manhattan soon to play the Rodeo Bar, and we made a tentative date for some serious drinking.
The rain was relentless, but it didn't deter the shooters on the firing line. Out on the range one of the cars was on fire. A refrigerator was slowly being whittled away by the nonstop hail of gunfire, and one of the big wooden cable spools collapsed as I watched, folding in on itself under the withering assault of a .50-caliber machine gun. A Civil War cannon was being fired at regular intervals. Its concussion rattles the bowels.
I strolled around inside the barn checking out the exhibits. I met Valerie Johnson, who owns her own custom firearms manufacturing company, Valkyrie Arms, Ltd., based out of Olympia, WA. She's a striking woman: strong, gorgeous and gentle in a way that only highly trained warriors can be. She manufactures very exotic automatics to order. Valkyrie's work is impressive. You can get a good look at some of it at their website, www.valkyriearms.com.
3. The Incident with The Spider I decided to split a little early. The rain was quite serious and the parking lot was apt to turn into a mud pit. I had to get the car back to Manhattan by Monday, and I find driving in a biblical downpour stressful. I made my farewells and thanked Kenny Sumner for his hospitality, assuring him that I will make every effort to return in the spring.
I didn't really want to leave. The car, the guns, the sense of space and freedom had gotten to some part of me that wants to be truly wild again. When I got to the interstate I pulled over onto the shoulder and seriously pondered heading west instead of east. I could steal the car and make for the border, drive to Venezuela, where they have no extradition treaty with the U.S. I could go north into Canada, make my way to Montreal and write poetry under an assumed name, pass myself off as a world-weary Wandering Jew.
My middle-aged burden of responsibility won out over my inner Peter Pan, for once, and I punched Procol Harum's Shine On Brightly into the cassette player and headed east. I had my route mapped out on the back of a box of Triscuits. I was down to $85, and what with the monsoon raging, I figured I'd need a room somewhere between Louisville and Manhattan.
I tore east on 64 to Lexington, setting the cruise control at 75 mph but hovering around 85 most of the way. Then I hopped onto 68, a winding mountain road that runs through the mountains of West Virginia, connecting with 81 North outside of Hagerstown, MD. 81 runs up through Pennsylvania and connects with 78 East through Jersey and into the Holland Tunnel. I aimed to make it at least as far as West Virginia before stopping.
The rain and the isolation started to put the zap on my head right around nightfall. I was listening to a preacher on the AM radio talking about 20,000 UN troops at some fort in Louisiana and a government plan to knock out the power grid in a staged Y2K event designed to enable martial law under UN troops. I recalled REX-84, the plan devised by Oliver North and Ed Meese to round up dissidents and place them in camps under the authority of FEMA. I was starting to get really paranoid when the truckstop coffee went off in my guts like a bomb blast. I had to get to a bathroom, fast. I pulled off the road into a little Mom & Pop truckstop restaurant and dashed past the hill people in the wood-paneled David Lynch dining area into the bathroom. It was hideously filthy, but my situation was too urgent for my usual hygiene obsessions to kick in.
I emerged from the men's room somewhat weak in the knees and searched the counter area for some Imodium. No such luck. I went outside to smoke a cigarette. A cowboy-looking kind of guy was hanging out with a girl in pajamas who must have been all of 13. She gave me a funny look and they went inside. I finished my smoke and went in to get a coffee. The little girl was at a payphone with her back to me. I overheard her saying, "...and he looks just like that guy that killed those girls, the one y'all are looking for. He's right outside..." Then she turned and saw me. She blanched and cupped her hand over the receiver, turning her back toward me. I looked up at the bulletin board above the phones and, sure enough, there was a sketch of some unidentified white male in his late 30s who looked just like me.
This was too much. Here I am traversing this unknown winding highway through the outback of West Virginia, on my way from an authentic free zone to the Soviet city of Manhattan, plowing through the pouring rain surrounded with big rigs, brain blasted by the effects of too much truckstop coffee, AM radio preachers gibbering about the New World Order, close to 1500 miles of driving in four days, and now this nubile little cherub is turning me in to the local sheriff as a wanted serial killer. I got my coffee and screeched out of there at 90 mph. I drove on in a weirdly detached sort of haze, trying to get straight with a Pavarotti tape until I got to a well-lit complex of motels, fast-food joints and gas stations. One of the motels was advertising rooms for $29.95. I went there, careful to make sure I wasn't being followed. I checked in with a cash payment, registering as "Randall P. Flagg." I parked the car well away from my room and pulled my beer stash out of the trunk.
The room was clean and serviceable. I turned on CNN and started the hot water for a bath. The handle came off in my hand, but after a little tinkering with the Leatherman tool, I got it back on. I got undressed and uncorked a beer. CNN was covering the Mexico flooding and a child apparently hauled away from a family hiking expedition by a mountain lion. I grabbed the Gideon Bible and started reading Revelation. I'd just gotten to Chapter 9, Charles Manson's favorite, the one where the angel of the bottomless pit opens it up to release the hideous hippie scorpions, when my guts seized up again. I grabbed my cigarettes and took the Bible with me as I dashed into the bathroom. As I resumed my reading of Revelation and lit a cigarette as I sat on the toilet, I observed an unwholesome movement out of the corner of my vision.
It was the biggest wolf spider I have ever seen, slipping out of a small crack in the molding. It was the size of the palm of my hand. It was strolling toward me in a casual way, clicking its fangs and lifting its legs occasionally in a blatantly threatening way. I closed the Bible and addressed the beast directly.
"Thank you for being a spider," I said. "I'm sorry I have to do this." I then swatted it firmly with the Gideon Bible, whereupon it curled up into an arachnid version of the fetal position and lay quite still. I tapped it with the end of an unlit cigarette to make sure it was dead. Then I picked it up, spread its legs out very carefully, and pressed it into the Book of Revelation, between the pages of Chapters 9 and 10.
I took a long hot bath and watched The Shawshank Redemption on cable as I drank my beers. The next morning I checked out and drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains and home to Manhattan without further incident.
My memories of the Knob Creek Gun Range are memories of decent and friendly people, free people and a weekend free of fear.
I was awakened in the middle of the night, my first night home, by a sharp burst of automatic weapons fire a few blocks away. There were no sirens afterward. You are on your own. We all are. Deal with it.
Tom LeGoff's photographs were taken in April '99.