I would have titled this column "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" except for the fact that since I write and coach for a living, my vacation is pretty much year-round. However, I did have a surprisingly enjoyable time during what was other people's summer vacation.
There's this young guy named Ian; I met him when he was a student at Green Fields, where I coached multiple sports. My son, Alexander, who had been a discus champion in high school, tried to turn Ian into a shot putter, a move that Ian resisted with every fiber of his thickly muscled torso.
I always liked Ian, even though he was a bit sideways. Actually, he was more like a perpendicular bisector to all that was normal for, and expected of, a high school student. He started a Young Republicans club, which basically meant that he got to be president, vice president, treasurer, recording secretary and sergeant-at-arms. He was a quorum unto himself.
He's now a student at Northern Arizona University, probably studying Marxist philosophy. (You know how those tightly wound kids go buck wild when they get away from home.) He and Alexander have remained friends, and this past summer Ian invited Alexander to go shooting with him. It would be to damn with faint praise to say that Ian is a gun nut; he's more like an entire gun grove.
One muggy summer evening, Alexander and I drove out to the Tucson Trap & Skeet Club. You take Ajo Way west of town to a point where civilization and subdivisions have yet to encroach and there it is. The parking lot is massive, with tons of parking spots for motorhomes driven by shooting enthusiasts who come in for weekend tournaments. The parking lot is also unpaved and consists of dirt and fine gravel. (It's like those places in Santa Fe, N.M., where the nouveau riche consider it a status symbol to have a dirt road by their house.)
So as not to disturb the shooters and/or the environment with clouds of dust, the speed limit in the parking lot is like 5 mph. You can just hear Sammy Hagar singing "I Can't Drive ... Five!" It has been my experience that most Tucsonans are incapable of slowing down to 15 when going through a school zone. This parking lot would be hell for them. You feel like you're in that scene from Austin Powers.
Anyway, Ian and his dad, Richard, were participating in a team competition called Five Stand. Contestants rotate through five stations and shoot skeet. For the uninitiated, as I was, skeet involves shooting at clay pigeons that travel from left to right (or vice versa) across one's field of vision at what is apparently just-sub-light speed. Trap involves targets that are launched straight ahead from the shooter's perspective. (If skeet go from 9:00 to 3:00, trap go out at 12:00 and just keep on going. Trap is much easier.)
It was really impressive watching proficient shooters do their thing. What was also impressive was that in that part of the world at that time of the year, there are bugs that sprang live from the darkest reaches of Tim Burton's mind.
Ian invited Alexander and me to go back on Sunday morning for some trap shooting. Ian's buddy from high school, Mandla, also joined us. Suffice it to say that being around guns is not what I would classify as my comfort zone. But Ian did a great job of explaining everything and went out of his way to stress safety first.
When it came to my turn, I called for the target to be launched and squeezed the trigger. I cannot tell you how ridiculously cool it felt to watch that thing explode. Richard Pryor used to do a bit about boxing. He'd dance around and around, afraid to throw a punch. But when he finally did and it landed ("Bip!"), he said to himself "Hey, hey!" I didn't really care what happened after that; I had hit my first one ever.
I ended up beating both Mandla and Ian, although Ian had been having some problems with his gun (for which I felt sorry for him not at all). Alexander turned out to be a freak. His reflexes and eye are outrageous. He quickly got to the point where he was shooting the things the instant they emerged from the bunker. It was like "PULL!BOOM!SPLOOSH!" all at once.
Everybody there was really cool. My friend Charles likes to say that an armed society is a polite society. That's mostly a load of hooey. I think that the people at the club are polite people who just happen to be armed.
While the others went walking around, I headed to the clubhouse for a soda. I looked around the room at the (mostly retirement-aged) people and thought to myself, "Damn! I've got to be the only person in this entire room who voted for Barack Obama." I did the math and figured that for the universe to be in balance, somewhere there was a Tea Party guy sitting in a room with 47 Democrats.
I struck up a conversation with a guy who recognized my name. Taken aback, he asked, "Aren't you a gun grabber?"
I said, "Naw, today, I'm more like a gun fondler."