Guns & Doors
by Flynn Washburne, August 2, 2017
Every time I knock politely on a door, the traditional and accepted manner of requesting ingress, consultation, or succor from whomever is behind it, and am greeted with a firearm — and it's happened enough times that I should, if not expect it, at least include it among a list of possibilities — the effect is the same. I freeze and go into pre-panic fight-or-flight mode. This probably stems from the first time it happened, when I stumbled into a drug robbery and was tied up, held hostage, and threatened with murder and mayhem for several hours, all the while under the influence of a powerful hallucinogen. An experience like that tends to color one's opinion of guns and doors. Still, I know that behind a lot of the doors I knock on are folks who need to assert right at the outset to any visitors that no monkey business will be tolerated here, and find the visible presence of a firearm the most succinct and effective way of doing so.
No malice is intended, they are just setting the tone and establishing dominance. Even knowing this, I still lock onto the weapon like a circus animal monitoring the electric prod, struck dumb and coursing with adrenaline.
I don't like guns and never have, except from an engineering and design standpoint. Perhaps if I'd been raised in a sporting household where they were used to fill the freezer or shatter clay pigeons — but my experience of them has been exclusively negative, usually either someone being forced to do something they don't want to do or extreme and deadly violence being visited on them. That's the way it is for me and millions of other people raised in certain circumstances: when the guns come out, bad things happen. They're not kept in locked safes or gun-specific cabinets; they're tucked into waistbands or stashed under mattresses or in kitchen drawers, loaded and ready for action, action that is generally precipitated by alcohol use.
Whenever one finds its way into my hands, and it's happened more than a few times, I don't load it or carry it but immediately find someone who values guns over drugs and swap it. It's not that I fear I'll shoot someone, I just have no interest in wielding that kind of power. A gun has a way of commanding attention and controlling the narrative that completely obviates all other previously relevant factors in a given situation. In any kind of hostile confrontation or fraught encounter there are many elements, both subtle and overt, that define the dynamic and which are both interesting to observe or, if you're more directly involved, essential to understanding.
Who's right? Who's afraid? Who knows who’s afraid? What are the motivations? Who has someone to impress? Who has more to lose, or to gain? Let a gun come out, though, and all these considerations go out the window. Now it's all and only about the gun. The balance of power has violently and irrevocably shifted, subtlety and human factors be damned. I would go so far as to say the brandisher has temporarily ceased to be human and become a weapon, so pervasive is the influence of the gun. The only way the situation can get worse is if another, opposing gun is pulled out, the very scenario for which the term "all hell broke loose" was coined.
Responsible gun owners and lobbyists are fond of referring to guns as “tools.” I suppose, in the broader sense of the word, one could justify that definition, but what they're a tool for is putting holes in living things, and here's the thing about that: living organisms cannot really sustain any extra holes.
Although holes do play a vital role in the general human constitution — pores, ears, nostrils, bungholes, and such — those caused by the rapid passage of bullets through the corpus are singularly injurious and not at all supportive of general wellness, thereby contraindicating what I consider to be the essential nature of a tool: the ability to fix things. Shoot someone, and all you've fixed is their wagon, and probably also your own.
Consider the recent spate of shootings arising from neighborly disputes. Whatever differences neighbors may have, be they disagreements over property lines, noise, easements, creeping vegetation, parties, what have you — the introduction of firearms is an utterly irrational and inappropriate response, as if the United States responded to a Quebecois maple-syrup company undercutting Vermont syrupers via the exportation of a cheap, inferior variety across the border by aiming ballistic missiles at them.
Wrong. You call them up and politely explain: what we have here is a syrup economy, you're upsetting the balance, and we'd appreciate it if you'd cease and desist. And if your neighbor irritates you, you don't shoot him.
And so it happened that, having had a bellyful of Wildwood and bolstered by the restorative effects of magenta paint, I found myself on a stoop facing a pistol-packing Garret Matson, a man who has been, if not charged, at least accused of murder, and was recently embroiled in a shooting dispute with my friend Danbud. These considerations, and of course the gun itself, immediately imparted an ominous tone to the situation. But Garrett only waved it toward the inside and said, "Oh, hey, Flynn. Come on in."
Garrett and I are friendly, if not friends. He was keeping company with the house's owner, my friend and former co-worker Gina, erstwhile consort of the aforementioned Danbud and catalyst of the above unpleasantness. Gina was behind Garrett, looking like she might expect and appreciate a little gunplay. The best way to describe her is to share the indelible impression I had on first making her acquaintance: Brooklyn Bad Girl, Italianate variety, circa 1963. Put a beehive on her and she might've stepped out of a Richard Price novel, doo-wop soundtrack and all.
"Hey, Gina," I said. "What's shakin'?"
"You're out late. What're you doing in this neck of the woods?" she said.
"Ah, been slumming it up at Wildwood for awhile, but I finally reached my limit of that. Guy can only take so much, right?"
"Ew, gross. Report to delousing."
I was led back into the pad's operational nexus where a bowl of the finest was sparked and put into rotation, and the three of us sat puffing and chatting of this and that while I considered how best to broach the delicate subject of my status as Mendo's Most Wanted.
Banks are notoriously vengeful institutions and even though the amount I stole roughly equaled the quarterly interest of a school janitor's Christmas Club account, I could see them putting up an entirely disproportionate sum to ensure I got my just desserts. I knew exactly one person in the region who I would absolutely trust to not be tempted by the promise of a reward, and it was not either of these people. I didn't blame them for it — I had voluntarily cast my lot with this most mercenary, avaricious, deceitful and conniving of tribes, but I was damned if I'd go down as a result of the machinations of this odd couple.
The good news was that the house had no cell service, wi-fi, or landline, and one of them would have to leave in order to get a message to authorities. I had to know what they knew, and I needed to know without them knowing that I knew that they knew, lest Garrett employ his persuader to fix me in position while Gina went to summon the po-pohs. It was an excellent example of how guns take the fun out of everything. Without it, I was in an interesting, if precarious, situation requiring subtlety and artfulness to navigate, but as it was I was playing against an opponent with an extra queen on the board.
"So," I said at one point. "You guys heard anything about me recently?"
"No, not me," Garrett said. "Like what?"
"Me neither," Gina chimed in.
"I don't know, anything. I've been out of the loop for awhile, wondered if my name had come up," I said.
They both repeated their ignorance of anything Flynn-related, and I considered the feasibility of their claim. I knew for a fact that the local radio stations were doing their very best to get me killed, posting regular dire warnings about the "armed and dangerous" desperado in their midst. Not only that, the sheriffs and P.D. had been calling on my known associates and reminding them of the perils of providing me aid and comfort. The likelihood of anyone not ensconced in the hermetic cesspool of Wildwood not hearing anything was pretty small, but then again, I knew tweakers who remained ignorant of anything amiss in New York City well into October 2001. Time to float a test balloon.
"I should probably be hitting the road pretty soon," I said.
"Ah, nah, stick around and I'll give you a ride into town in couple hours. Hang out, smoke up," Garret said.
This was definitely suspect. It wasn't inconceivable that they would be friendly to me, but insisting I stay was a little out of character. Even more telling and critical would be me passing up free dope and a ride at 3 a.m., which would absolutely tip my hand. The sitch called for delicacy, finesse, and if necessary, quick thinking and rapid acceleration — two of my particular gifts. My eel-ish elusiveness had extricated me from tighter spots than this, most notably the citywide net cast following my unauthorized withdrawal at the BofA, which was appreciatively commented on by detectives during my interrogation. "I was no more'n a block away when the call came in," one said. "I still can't figure out how you made it out of there.
"Aw, shucks — 't'warn't nothin'.”
By-and-by Garrett stood up, patted his pockets, and said, "Damn, babe. I'm outta smokes. I'm gonna run next door and see if Miguel has any."
This was it, I concluded. These "friends" were going to give me up for thirty pieces of silver, or whatever. Once Garrett and his gal had a few minutes to get clear, I stood up.
"Gina, I got to go," I said. "Thanks for the hospitality.”
"What? Don't go, I'm making cookies!"
"Sounds good, but time's a-wastin’. Early bird, you know. See ya."
I opened the door and she said, "Wait! We were going to invite you to have a threesome!"
"Flattered! Totally. But I gotta go."
I hit the afterburners and ran until I was out of juice, a half-mile or so down Highway 20. I found a likely place to secrete myself and await the imminent arrival of the fuzz. But when after 20 minutes nobody showed, I figured I'd either been excessively paranoid or something had foiled their plans. Either way, it seemed I was, for the nonce, free to go about my business and that business was getting back to town.
I did, and, in a classic frying pan/fire transition, a scant five hours later I was staring down the pipes of many, many guns as a phalanx of lawdogs screamed at me, in their glittering eyes a clear and fervent wish that I would try something funny.
It was a traumatic experience and thoroughly cemented my feelings about guns in general and ones pointed at me specifically, which is that I don't care for them and I don't care if I never see one again. I don't even want to see any squirt guns, glue guns, or pistol-grip hair dryers.