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Blam!

'Tis the season for mass murder, fa la la. Nuts and loons go on full auto with weaponry the Founders would not likely have approved of, particularly now that the Supreme Court has read the line "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state" out of the Constitution. The National Rifle Association, a consortium of paranoids and weapons manufacturers, scares Congress even more than the Israel lobby. They say that the solution to gun violence is more guns. Even some future mass slaughter at their own headquarters will not alter a cell in their cold, dead minds. Blam!

J. Biro thought his experience with guns was just about average for a white American male in his sixties. His first guns were toys, little plastic and pot metal flintlocks that came with the Davy Crockett outfit. Fake coonskin hat, fringed cotton buckskin pants and jacket, two kid sized replica old-timey muzzle loading pistols. As soon as he was old enough to run around the neighborhood, war was his favorite game. Biro pointed his weapons at his family, all the neighbors, all the people driving through, and pulled the triggers. Blam! There weren't any video games but there was plenty of TV. Davy Crockett wiped out the bad guys left and right. "Make sure you're right, then go ahead", Davy said. Blam! Westerns were the big thing on TV. Everything came down to gunfights. Blam! Blam! Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Marshall Dillon, Paladin, Bat Masterson, all problems were solved with bullets. The Rifleman strode across the screen, the camera centered on the lever-action saddle gun he held phallically against his hip bone. Didn't even have to aim! Blam! Blam! Blam!

Biro grew a few inches and they gave him a bigger gun, a full sized replica six-shooter with working action that fired off sticky-backed caps he had to load on the cartridges. He could fan this thing just like Wyatt Earp mowing them down with his Buntline Special. Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Biro shot everyone with the caps but the gun took too long to load so it fell out of favor. Biro graduated to semi-automatic pistols that fired cheaper roll caps. He and his friend Jonathan would run around shooting everything. Blam! They'd run along the parkway by the creek, "Shoot all the blue cars!" Blam! Blam! Startled drivers would glance over at the sprinting boys pointing weapons at them and accelerate. Blam! It was easy for Biro to blow his allowance on caps, so he was given a rifle with a lever action air piston that would pop when the trigger was pulled. Blam! This thing was indestructible and Biro killed people for years with it. He could dab the muzzle in the mud and shoot a mud bullet five feet. Blam!

J. Biro spent most of his time running around the neighborhood with his weapons, playing war. Sometimes whole bunches of kids would fight it out for hours, shooting each other, outdoing each other with theatrical deaths, tossing weapons in the air and crashing to the ground gasping and twitching, then jump up and get back to it. Blam! Then it was the height of the Cold War, and he lived near ground zero D.C., so they gave Biro an Atomic Cannon. This was a plastic replica of a huge railroad gun the Army trucked around with big tractors fore and aft. The real atomic cannon shot nuclear bomb artillery. Biro made buildings of blocks and Lincoln Logs and knocked them down with the plastic shells. Blam! Later when he graduated to real explosives he bored out the barrel so it could shoot CO2 cartridges filled with black powder he stole from his father's friend who had a drainpipe cannon that shot sand-weighted beer cans. Blam!

The first real firearm J. Biro handled was at the Glen Echo Amusement Park down by the C&O Canal on the Potomac River. For 25 cents they'd hand any kid a semiautomatic rifle loaded with 10 or 15 .22 short-shorts. A chain connected the rifle to the counter so you couldn't run off with it. The shooting gallery targets of metal ducks and so on moved along a chain drive. Blam! Blam! Biro loved shooting the weapon and smelling the powder smoke. But when de jure segregation ended in Maryland, the local good old boys closed the park, the movie theater in town, and the community swimming pool rather than let black people in, so now nobody got in. Biro went back to running around with his pop gun. They gave his brother Smiro Biro a carbide cannon that was deafening so they bothered the neighbors with this too. Then his father had a party where his drunk friend handed Biro a 12 gauge shotgun and told him to go outside at midnight and fire it into the air. Blam! That got everyone's attention!

J. Biro liked shooting things so now he wanted to blow things up too. Firecrackers and cherry bombs and M-80s were hard to come by and highly valued. You had to go south where the laws were easier so when the Biro family took a winter vacation to the Georgia coast he was ready. The fun began at Pedro's South of the Border on the Virginia-North Carolina line. This place could not be avoided and was advertised with huge billboards a hundred miles away, one after the other. Pedro's Arsenal sold bricks of firecrackers so Biro bought a brick and hid it in his suitcase. In South Carolina things were even more liberal so there were boxes of M-80s and trash cans full of cherry bombs. Biro and his brother would go out on the beach and throw M-80s at each other. Blam! Another fun thing about the Deeper South was you had to be sure which door or drinking fountain or toilet was yours. The gas stations had four bathrooms in the back. Be sure to pick the right one or Blam! You damn Yankee!

Biro took the firecrackers home and shot a bunch of them off under a railroad bridge in the woods. This was kind of dumb because a bum had murdered a kid nearby several years earlier, so Biro and his brother got arrested. This caused a major stink on the home front so Biro was grounded for awhile and spent the time making black powder bombs out of empty CO2 cartridges. This was also kind of dumb because these things could take your hand off and there were frequent newspaper articles about kids like Biro who blew themselves and their friends up making bombs in their basements and garages. Blam! Biro made a lot of these things, clamping the cartridge in a vise, boring out the top, filling it with black powder through a glass thistle tube and capping it with Play-Dough. He had a coil of red fuse that smelled like bananas he got from a mail-order catalog. When he wanted to blow something up he would cut the fuse to length and stick it through the Play-Dough. Whenever Biro went hiking with his friends he would carry all this ordnance in an Army medic's satchel he got at the surplus store. Snake in the water? Blam! Build a dam across the creek, let the water back up, then Blam! Biro would even carry his satchel of bombs on airplanes. Try that today! Biro flew to Texas with his bombs to visit his friend whose father had been a Congressman representing the district along the Rio Grande and Gulf coast. This man had survived piloting bombers over Germany and they had plenty of guns and ammunition. He took his son and Biro to a big ranch outside of San Antonio where they could shoot up everything and blow up fire ant nests. Blam! Blam! There was a dump full of old toilets. Paradise! Blam!

Reality just had to start creeping in. They went hunting at night, a bunch of kids with weapons in a pickup truck with a spotlight. Every animal with half a brain got the hell out but they finally treed a poor little terrified red squirrel. Six boys surrounded the tree and shot the creature to pieces. Blam! Biro looked at the bloody gobbet of fur and bones laying in the grass and felt lower than a snake's anus. When he got home his brother asked him to load a thick paper tube with friction powder he had collected by meticulously cutting open roll caps with a razor. Biro thought he should improve his procedure with a lab coat, goggles and gloves. He poured the cap powder down the thistle tube into the bomb and the thing blew up in his face, knocking him backwards onto the floor. He couldn't hear anything and his face and chest were bleeding from a hundred little glass fragment holes. Blam! Biro's father had to take him to the hospital. "You just cost me $100", he said. So that was about it for the bomb aspect of things. Later, Biro tried to put a length of fuse into a CO2 cartridge but couldn't get his hands to move. He threw the bombs out.

More reality showed up. Biro was at his friend's house looking at Evergreen magazines and Wonder Wart-Hog comics when LBJ came on the TV. "We gotta stop the Commies in Vietnam so I'm sending the Army there and increasing the draft calls." Biro and his friend looked at each other. They had a year of high school left and the "Greatest" Generation had arranged a war for their Boomer brats. Johnny get your gun, gonna make you a man! Blam! PDQ, the war got up to speed. Biro loved playing war but the prospect of the real thing scared the crap out of him. He's seen enough war movies to know that they weren't really fiction despite all the Hollywood tough guy posers in them. Biro instinctively identified with the basic poor slob who jumped up the ladder when the whistle blew and took a slug in the brain before he got to the first coil of barbed wire. Blam! Fall right over, face in the mud, lights out, end of the line, dead for real. Blam!

"You need to consider your military obligation", his father said. Biro hadn't given it a moment's thought, but it was an easy decision. He didn't care about school but he did care about not getting drafted. His parents could afford to send him to college so he didn't think twice. The college had compulsory ROTC and Biro still imagined he would become an officer. He picked the Army over the Air Force and they gave him a uniform and shoes and badges and a cap. He had to clean and polish all this stuff and learn to march and salute and take M-1s apart at the college armory and put them back together. For the first time, serious weapons. Blam! Real Army guys came back from Vietnam and gave slide shows of their tours. Lookit that napalm fry them gooks! Blam! For the real fire-eaters the college had a junior Green Beret outfit called the Ranger Raiders. They'd get up at dawn to practice hand combat and martial arts in the freezing mud. They wore little black berets and camouflage ascots and stuffed their trousers into their boots. They'd stand outside the girls' dorms in formation and shout "Good morning, girls!" They'd run around together chanting things like: "We are Ranger Raiders! Raiders in the night! We're dirty sons of bitches who's rather fuck than fight! We circumcised our captain with a broken piece of glass and shoved a rusty bayonet up the fucker's ass! Holy shit! Jesus Christ! Who the fuck are we? We're dirty sons of bitches from the Raider company!", etc. Blam! J. Biro has always wondered what happened to these guys when the curtain finally went up for real. Blam!

The war went on and on and got uglier and the home front got meaner. Biro's military fantasies deflated slowly. What did he really know about anything? Not a hell of a lot. Maybe we really do have to stop those Commies before they invade California. He didn't know, but he did know that he didn't want to have to do the stopping. Was he just a slimy coward after all? Maybe so. He didn't really know. His friend Harry got married in New Jersey and Biro was asked to be an usher. The other usher was Harry's high school friend, now finishing up at West Point. Biro wore an ill-fitting black suit and the cadet wore an immaculate white dress uniform with a long tasseled magenta sash around his waist. Harry tried to talk his friend into dropping out of West Point. He thought about it for awhile, out of respect for Harry's opinions, but finally said that he would see it through so that he could "Try to change the Army from the inside". He graduated, got his commission as a Lieutenant, was sent to Vietnam and was killed the first day. Much later, Biro went down to the Wall to find his name. There it is--1970--about seven feet off the ground at the apex of the Memorial. Blam!

J. Biro quit playing war and handling weapons and dropped out and got an immediate draft notice. He was broke, sleeping in leaky sheds or back rooms, was always hungry, and had to borrow underwear to go to his pre-induction physical in Oakland. He had taken enough weird drugs to have some insight into insanity so he chose that route to dodge the draft. Everyone laughed about the fabled guys who would go ape and shit on the Army shrink's desk but Biro opted for the catatonic route. "Look at me! Look at me!" the shrink shouted. Biro drooled on the floor and ignored him. The shrink didn't have time for this. There were hundreds of Biros waiting outside his door. "I don't know how much of this is bullshit," he said, "But I don't think you're going to make it in the Army" Biro got his 1-Y that was later improved to a 4-F, and was free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last! As the war limped down to its dismal end, Biro had the same conversation with every veteran he met. "What did you do?" "I pretended to be crazy" "That's what I shoulda done"

Biro moved to some remote gold mines in the Southern Sierra with a bunch of other hippies and Vietnam veterans. None of them had weapons and they didn't want any, but guns kept following them around. Blam! There was a big clan of rednecks from a west slope ranch who took offense at these weirdos moving into their mountains. They would show up a couple times a year in a convoy of pickups, park right above the cabin, unlimber their weapons, and blast away at the trees, thousands of rounds, hour after hour. Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, all the uncles and aunts and kids, all firing at once. Blam! Blam! Blam! There wasn't much Biro and his friends had to say to these people. No one wanted to confront a gang of armed idiots clearly bent on intimidation. There was nothing to do but wait them out. Finally after a few years they gave up. One of Biro's associates had broken into a dead miner's cabin and stolen an old lever action rifle that fired a huge shell. As the rednecks disappeared down the road he put a round into the air over their heads. Blam! They fired a round in return but never came back. Blam!

The most dangerous day of the year at the mines was the first day of deer season. Truckloads of happy drunken gun nuts drove up from Bakersfield and shot at everything all day. The ranchers had prudently run their herds off the range weeks earlier. The bucks hunkered down in the woods and waited for sunset. Biro's tradition was to invite what neighbors there were to his cabin to play cards all day while World War 3 went on outside. Blam! Blam! Blam! Most of these guys couldn't hunt their own feet. They just wanted to get away from their wives for a few days. The serious hunters used bow and arrows for two weeks preceding gun season. Biro never saw any vehicle exiting the forest with a deer in it. It was all just a big jackoff. Blam!

Everyone else moved up to the Emerald Triangle to get rich in organic gardening. Biro hung on grimly for a couple years. All the dogs had left so the ground squirrels came back like the Taliban. They wrecked the gardens, tunneled around the house, chirped all day, and locally were supposed to be vectors for bubonic plague. Biro borrowed a flat-shooting .22 bolt action rifle from a rancher and thinned out the squirrels. Blam! Blam! The surprising thing was how the innate hunting instincts, buried deep God knows where, returned fresh and clear. With the rifle at his shoulder, Biro would slowly and quietly sneak up on a ground squirrel chirping at his hole until he had a clear shot, then bit by bit trim the position, aim and fire. Blam! He didn't enjoy shooting the squirrels but there was a strong atavistic thrill all the same. There were hundreds of them and he wanted his space back. The carcasses became a problem. He'd lay them on stumps for the crows that would stuff themselves and flap up to the closest limb, too fat to fly. Then Biro worried about lead poisoning which was an issue with the condors at the time, so he buried the squirrels, but the coyotes just dug them up. After firing off a few boxes of ammo, Biro gave up. Blam!

By this time a long series of indiscretions had roused the attention of the Forest Service, which imported its ace claim-buster from his recent successes around Denny, a remote mining community in the Klamath Mountains. After ten years Biro was obliged to leave. Biro moved back to the swine country of Granola County and found a tiny rental shack in the Mayacamas Mountains near the Napa line. One summer Biro took his brother Smiro and their nephew Smiles on a big loop around central California, showing them his favorite campsites. Most of the sheeple like to camp where everyone else did, where there was water. Biro hated campgrounds, particularly the low, muddy, shady, buggy, smoky, pissed-on beat-down sites of the mob. It was much better to carry water some place high with a big view. There was a knoll east of Sonora Pass with an expansive vista of the West Walker River and the Sweetwater Mountains. This was a part of the forest that the Marine Corps took over every winter for cold-weather training. The range was littered with stuff the Marines had dumped or lost, tents, skis, lots of ration cans and bags and first aid things and plenty of ammunition. Most of the ammo was spent .223 blanks but there were a lot of unfired blanks and a surprising amount of live .30 caliber machine gun rounds, some in clips and some loose. There were little rifle pits fronted with field stone. Biro made fake IEDs out of ration cans and live ammo with wires looping around and set them into the crevices of the rifle pits with little notes inside that read "Bang! You're dead! Courtesy, Army Rangers" Of course, Biro hadn't been an Army Ranger or even in the Army except for ROTC which didn't count, but he liked to play a joke on the Marines and maybe give them a lesson not to touch things that look funny, maybe saving their asses down the line somewhere, who knew? Blam! Biro and his rellies rolled down the Wolf Creek road and entered the Marine base from the rear. There wasn't a guard house at this point, much less a guard. A truckload of suicidal Al-Qilya terrists could just walk in and do the Marines serious damage for a bit, Biro thought. The Marines at the front gate were unconcerned. "Request permission to leave," Biro asked, and they were waved onto the highway.

A week later they were delayed for awhile at the main gate of Fort Hunter-Liggett. The guards didn't want to let them pass but also didn't have a good reason not to, being as how there were no maneuvers going on and they were otherwise obliged to let the public use the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that wound over the Santa Lucia range to Kirk Creek on the coast south of Big Sur. Several years earlier on a bicycle trip Biro had entered the military reservation from the west side where there was no guard at all, so no one stopped him from pedaling up to the firing range where a company of tanks were lined up abreast, firing live ammunition from their main armament. Blam! Blam! These things were loud as hell and Biro watched the shells arc over the field and explode miles away near the big distance markers. Blam! That was then, but on this day with his relatives they were finally allowed to pass with written orders to be offsite by sunset, and now there was a guard at the west side to check their compliance. They entered the forest and drove uphill to Nacimiento summit and turned south on the Coast Ridge Road to Prewitt Ridge, a dry camp on the end of a hill, 3300 feet directly above the ocean with a tremendous view. People liked to drive up here and fire weapons over the ocean and the ground was littered with spent shells of all sizes. A couple roughnecks were hanging out by a battered pickup truck with the license plate 308CLUB. They sat around drinking and every five or ten minutes would slide a shell into the chamber and fire it off. Blam! Smiro Biro lived in D.C. and hated guns and gun nuts. J. Biro carved his tag DREAD CTHULHU in stylized cthonic lettering into the picnic table. Smiro resisted temptation for a day but before they left he just had to carve Gun Nuts Are Fags into the other side of the table. Blam! "You just murdered that table," J. Biro said. He had no doubt that the next time he visited Prewitt Ridge, the picnic table would be long gone, chopped to bits.

Back home, Biro heard that his associates from the Sierra were raking it in up north and needed help so he headed up 101 to Blocksburg. The old-timers in this little village must have wondered what they had done wrong, to wake up and find themselves overrun by hordes of drunken longhairs puffing joints in the road and staggering about with little mirrors of chopped up cocaine in their palms. Every day something completely insane would happen, much of it centering around weapons. Blam! Uncle Dred, the most ambitious of Biro's associates, ditched the hippie peace and love pose for his new incarnation as a gangster. To this end he acquired weapons, pit bulls, and a crew of toadies. Big fat plants of sacred medicine reached for the sun in every little clearing. At sunset, everyone for miles around would fire their weapons into the air as a warning. Blam! Blam! Everybody was paranoid. Little white airplanes high out of range slowly flew back and forth in grid patterns. The whup-whup of distant helicopters would come and go as they hauled tarp loads of plants down to sandbars on the Eel River where they'd be doused with accelerants and burned. At sunrise, the air was orange and hazy with dark clouds of smoke laying in the valleys. Biro was hired to guard a trimming site. He wasn't offered a weapon and didn't want one. He already knew how to run. One morning it was perfectly clear to him that today was the day so he wasn't surprised when a station wagon pulling a storage trailer sped down the road and a helicopter popped over the ridgeline. From his dominant position between two box canyons Biro heard all the yelling and commotion as his associates were cuffed and hauled away while the other cops fanned out into the hills with loppers and saws and tarps, guided by the aerial maps they had made. "Wow! This is the good stuff!" Biro heard one exclaim. He had a job to do so he grabbed armloads of plants off the drying lines and ran across a meadow to a little gulch choked with young firs to hide them. The trim site wasn't a priority for the police, even if they knew about it, so Biro went back and forth with the armloads of plants. Returning the eighth time, Biro almost ran into an old deputy with a Mac-10 slung across his chest coming up the trail. They stared at each other and Biro turned to run. "Halt!" shouted the officer. Biro ran for the sole reason that he trusted the cop not to shoot him. Unlike the groovy growers, the police had real weapons training and a disciplined protocol to follow regarding their use. Biro ran off to a pre-selected hiding place, curled himself around a tree trunk and tossed leaves and sticks over his clothing. The helicopter circled overhead looking for him but Biro knew better than to move a muscle. The cops went back to their main task of bagging the plants and flying them down to the river. After a few hours it was quiet again so Biro walked carefully back to the trim site, alert for an ambush, but the cops were long gone.

Two days later everyone was bailed out and back at work cutting up the tens of thousands of dollars of buds Biro had saved from the police. "Hero of the day" they called him. They sat on logs and picked at the leaves with spring-loaded scissors. Blam! Blam! Large caliber rifle bullets clipped leaves and branches over their heads. "Everybody get down!" someone shouted. Everyone got down and hid except Biro who remained standing while bullets cut more vegetation overhead. "This guy's really cool. He must have gone to Vietnam", he heard one trimmer say to another, but the opposite was true. If Biro had gone to Vietnam, if he had any sense at all, he would have kissed the dirt at the first shot. Biro was actually dumb enough to think that the angle of fire was safe to ignore and wouldn't change. Blam! Whack! A slug from the rifle crushed itself against a smooth madrone branch five feet over his head and fell at his feet. This time, Biro got down. The thing was still hot, had its copper jacket peeled back over the lead core, and would have blown Biro's head open if it weren't for his dumb, accentuate the dumb, luck. The trimmer boss took the bullet to his 4-wheeler and bounced up to the house where the gunfire came from, then came back. "He said he was shooting at his fence posts. I said there were people down there and he could have killed someone. He said, 'How am I supposed to know where the bullets go?' " And that was just one example of the weapons discipline of the basic grower. Blam!

So the harvest was in and it was time to party. Biro sat across a long table from the kingpin, Uncle Dred. The table was covered with grocery sacks full of buds and little dishes of cocaine. Uncle had some flat ground that was long enough for an airplane, so the traders brought cocaine from L.A. and returned with buds. The cocaine guy, a skinny white-haired wraith, was the deadest living man J. Biro had ever seen. They looked at each other. There was nothing, nothing at all, behind his eyes. Zombies are real, Biro thought. The spook loaded the airplane and flew off. Uncle Dred fiddled with one of his weapons, a black .38 revolver. He propped his elbows on the table, held the gun in his hand, and pointed it at Biro's forehead a foot away. He and Biro stared at each other. Biro looked down the barrel past the rifling edges at the muzzle. "I'm dead if I move," he thought. All he could do was stare Uncle Dred down. A moment passed and Uncle laid the weapon on the table, and it was like it never happened. The other fifteen partying heads in the room hadn't noticed a thing, but Biro will never forget, or forgive, for that matter. Five minutes later, Blam! Uncle Dred, drunk and high on coke, had put a round through the floor next to his foot. That stopped the party. Uncle Dred's sidekick, Sy the Medic, glanced over. "I sewed up lotsa guys who did that," said Sy. Blam!

Uncle Dred had to admit that J. Biro had saved his ass during the bust, so Biro collected his money and got the hell out of there, happy to be alive. He returned to his mountain shack and resumed a quiet life and a legal business and never went back to the land of the crazy peace and love killers and their hundreds of unsolved murders. Who killed Larry Amsterdam? Who killed everyone else? Most likely we'll never know. Blam!

Jesus might have said, The gun nuts ye shall always have with you. They're still around where Biro lives today. Blam! Blam! America is awash in weapons and weapons mentality and there is no end in sight, no good end at all. More massacres are just over the horizon and nothing substantive will be done to stop them. Because America is reflexive, the NRA and Texas solutions will tend to prevail. "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," NRA President Wayne La Pierre said the other day. J. Biro has never been too interested in what should happen. He's interested in what will happen, and hopes to live what few years he has left peacefully, and is keeping his head down. Blam! ¥¥

 

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