Riding Shotgun in the Wasteland

Little desert town in California, hardware store, stopping to look at the gun counter, the guns, the guns, the tintinnabulation of the guns, guns, guns, guns. So many guns, and this just in a teeny podunk hardware store — the Canadian mind reels. Pistols. Rifles. Automatics. Revolvers. The old guy wanders over, asks us in archetypal drawl: “can I help you boys?” And there’s something about the ‘boys’ that lets us know he’s marked us — it’s not ‘boys’ as in ‘good old boys’ or ‘one of the boys’ — it’s ‘boys’ as in boys, as in, “you boys ain’t got no business looking at guns now, do ya?” Both of us on the slide toward 40, and he’s calling us boys. But maybe he’s right. He knows we’re gun tourists, slumming. And guns are for men. But he’s nice enough about it. Helps us find the non-weapons-related item we’d actually entered the store to purchase. And answers questions when we, on our way to the checkout, pause again before the massive gun display case.

The fascination is sick, but persistent, and being in the desert makes it almost appealing. Something Hunter S. Thompson-ish takes over us, a fever to shoot, to blast away with constructs of destruction in some twisted salute to the blazing desolation surrounding us. There is an empty timelessness to the desert, an unforgiving and arid nihilism that somehow lends a legitimacy to guns, and for the briefest of moments, staring through my desert-heat-induced reverie at all those guns arranged so carefully within the glass counter, I think I can glimpse the logic of what drove the good doctor to his occasional acts of madness.

And then I spy a giant pistol. Some kind of massive, silver magnum, ludicrously long barrel, the ultimate Dirty Harry penile surrogate, and I wonder with a sudden lucidity whether it might even be the same model with which Thompson chose to blow off his head. The spell is broken. The boys depart, leaving the guns for the men who are incapable of resisting them.

A black and white photograph of the inside of a abandoned car windshield, the glass of which has been shattered by several shotgun blasts

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