“Are you ready,” Joey flexes his arm and kisses his bulging bicep, “For the gun show?!” I heave my backpack on my back kind of chuckling at him while kind of thinking I might just take a nap in the car while the boys go look at guns.
As a proud Massachusetts liberal I can honestly say that I had never seen a real gun until I met Joey’s family. They all go hunting during deer season and once when I was up at their hunting cabin I saw several real rifles. Joey let me aim one - I didn’t shoot it, just aimed it, and it was kind of like looking through a monocular with crosshairs.
The three of us found our rodeo tickets from the night before to get a dollar off at the door and headed down to the same area for the gun show. We pulled up and parked in a huge lot and walked in a small door in a strip mall looking section of shops. Outside the door was a sign that read “No loaded weapons. No exceptions.” And in smaller letters at the bottom it said, “Guns will be checked on the way in and out.” We walked inside and the place turned into a full warehouse complete with plain cement floor and walls, and every inch of available space was filled with a booth showcasing all kinds of guns. We were told by the attendant at the door that we couldn’t bring cameras in so Tom ran his and mine out to the car. He jogged back in and we made our way onto the main floor. I noticed a booth off to our left with red, white and blue Christmas lights and a light up sign that said “National Rifle Association.” The first thing after that which caught my eye was a picture of President Obama. Curious, I thought, and leaned over to see what was written below his picture. “Gun Salesman of the Year. Number One NRA Recruiter.” Hmmm, aren’t you clever Texas, I smirked and slipped through the crowd towards the boys.
“Joey, did you see this?” Tom was pointing at a poster with three pictures on it, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and Harry Reid. Below their unfavorable mug shots read “The New Axis of Evil.” I rolled my eyes, but kept my head down so no one noticed my disapproval. There were a couple of shirts on the same table with snide remarks about the proposed health care changes printed on them, for example, one had a picture of a needle on it and said something to the effect that the new health care proposal would just be lethal injection for Americans. I had a quick flash of memory back to my home state and the town next to mine-Northampton, Mass. This is the most highly concentrated area of liberals you will find anywhere in the country. Two years ago I walked into a fun store called Faces where the entire back half of the first floor was devoted to any number of anti-Bush paraphernalia from playing cards where his head was superimposed onto bodies in dresses or bikinis to posters with Bush-isms in small letters across the entire page. So this is the other side… I thought to myself as I weaved my way through large men with mountain man beards and guns the size of their leg. I was wading through a sea of people who until recently had only been fictional characters on the news and who I was sure weren’t actually real. Well, they’re real. And they’re large. And they have big guns.
We wandered up and down each row; I marveled at people carrying around their own guns or aiming the unloaded models they picked up off the tables. A man walked by with a rifle hanging from a strap on his shoulder. The barrel of the gun was facing straight up and had a wooden dowel fed down the shaft with a small paper flag sticking off the end of the dowel. It read “$300 or best offer.” You can do that? I tried to reconcile my previous knowledge of background checks to have this yard sale gun swapping make sense. I quietly looked around at all the weapons. Joey pointed at the guy with the gun for sale.
“This is just like an electronics expo.” He smiled at me. “People walk around with antennas attached to their helmets to get a better frequency and talk to people - they have things sticking out of their helmets like how that guy has a for sale sign in his gun.”
“Back up. People wear helmets with antennas on them at electronics expos?” I eyed him up, carefully trying not to imagine him with one on.
“Not everyone, but it’s like at a Star Wars convention where people dress up like Boba Fett, people just get into it at these kinds of places.”
I nodded, thinking of the RV expo we had gone to before this trip. We were thinking we would find useful road trip items and we did find a small frying pan that plugs into the cigarette lighter. No one was dressed up like a camper, but I guess that would be taking it a little too far. I compared this gun show experience to that RV experience and tried to fit in the only other expo experience I think I’ve had. In Massachusetts every year we have a fair called The Big E. Maybe E stands for Expo, maybe it stands for Excellent, maybe it doesn’t stand for anything, I don’t know, I never asked. Regardless they have rabbits, sheep and cows there and most states are represented in their given building, Vermont sells cheese and maple candy, Maine has a line out the door every year for their baked potatoes, that kind of thing. The people at the RV show and the Big E are large people too. Those people know their way around a farm and so when they look at sheep and cows they don’t just see sheep and cows like I do, they see what sex the animal is, what age the animal is, how strong it is and everything else I have no idea about. The people at the gun show started looking like just Texans who knew about guns and I began to take the experience in stride.
We passed by a table full of handguns.
“Now these wouldn’t be for hunting, right?” I asked Joey.
“No probably not, you would probably use a rifle."
"So, these are like self-defense guns, right?"
"Yeah, most likely."
That you would own a gun for self defense makes sense to me, but since I don’t know how to shoot one I have always been more afraid of owning a gun for any reason than ever seeing them as a mode of protection. I’ll just jump on a treadmill and learn to run really fast and that’s all the self defense I think I’ll need.
We passed a table with brass knuckles and a throwing star shaped like a swastika. This stuff is just to hurt people - there is no other purpose behind having this stuff. I gave a closer look to the brass knuckles - the sign by them read, “belt buckles.” I don’t believe you, I softly breathed. I left that table behind putting it out of my thoughts. Chalk that throwing star up to a bad sense of taste, I told myself and slid between two men back to back looking at different table’s guns.
I keep talking about men, but there were women here too. I couldn’t stop myself from chuckling at an older woman in a pink dress that just looked like an ankle length polo shirt. She was wearing pink Crocs and was eyeing over a table of hand guns. You’re too old and sweet to want a gun! Why aren’t you baking cookies for your grandchildren?” But even older ladies, head to toe in pink, need a sense of protection I suppose.
We headed toward the Snack Shop and ordered a much more massive lunch than we expected. We each got “baskets” that came with fries and a drink. I got chicken strips, Tom had a cheeseburger and Joey got fried catfish. We tried fried pickles with ranch dressing too and they were delicious but with all that food we barely managed to finish half of our meals. You will not leave hungry when you eat at any kind of restaurant in America. And if there’s anywhere that sees itself as the embodiment of America - it’s Texas. While we were mid-meal I noticed a group of five kids off to the side in matching uniforms. The three boys had buzz cuts and the two little girls had their hair pulled back into tight buns.
“Do you see those kids?” I asked Joey, “What do you think their uniform is for? It’s not the Boy Scouts, I can tell that much.”
“I’ll go ask,” Joey jumped up and walked over to the kids. He came back to the table and told me, “They said, ‘the young Marines, sir.’”
“They said ‘the young Marines, sir’” I repeated, and Joey nodded. These kids were at most twelve years old. Now that’s impressive. Last night in the hotel we caught G.I. Jane on TBS. I looked at the smallest girl in the group with her green skirt, flat black shoes, tight pulled back bun and light brown shirt with stripes on the sleeve.
“Do you think they know what’s going to happen to them?” I asked the boys, my eyebrows raised in concern.
“Well they don’t have to become Marines,” Joey assured me. “They’re just a youth club like the Boy Scouts.”
“Yeah, but like the super intense Boy Scouts,” I said.
He chuckled and we moved on. We were about ready to go so we just wandered up and down the last few rows we hadn’t seen yet. Tom and I got a big kick out of small guns with pink and purple handles; I guess girly-girls need all kinds of accessories to match their outfits. We walked by a table and I did a halting double take. On the table was a bazooka. Really?!? Next to the bazooka was a missile. Holy God, are you kidding me? Joey saw me bug-eyed and staring, “It’s not live ammunition, I mean I guess you could fill that shell with gun powder and fire it off, but, you probably wouldn’t.”
We made our way past a few beef jerky stands and some stands with huge knives and then, right as we were about to leave I saw the thing I least expected to see at a gun show. Muffins. Yeah. Homemade muffins for sale. There are some things in life that I just can’t explain.
We left the gun show and headed on down the highway towards Houston. Texas is going to be full of new experiences for us so stay tuned, America; this state is going to provide a lot of interesting stories for us to tell you.
Until next time,