We sit in the shade of a sycamore and I can see it in your eyes. Words are coming out of my mouth but you resent them. A father’s stumbling concern becomes an affront to individuality, to autonomous thought. The words are suddenly painful, unsolicited and sticking like barbs, and rejection is the shield behind which an adult ego grows. Even agreement is fraught with concern, micro-delineations of positions and caveats must be probed. Your head burning with ideas from university, books and voices, heroes, making my ideas seem small. I have exposed myself, the anatomy of a mere human being revealed, banal viscera, the mythical stripped away.
I look at your arrogance and I almost forget my own.
How many did I tear down and cannibalize in the construction of this self?
(Visions of empty robber trenches in ancient archaeological sites. One burgeoning civilization hacking away at the foundations of the monuments that precede it, hauling off someone else’s quarried stone to build anew, a dusty pit where a temple once stood.)
Hammer at the foundations, tear down your father.
I just ask that you be gentle, if and when you can. There may come a day when you are hurt and exhausted and you catch a sideways glimpse of my eyes peering back from your reflection. Looking down you realize that your thick legs resemble mine and that you no longer have to carry it all alone.
I will sit quietly and listen for you.
Years ago I sought out a local gunsmith to look into modifying the fixed full-choke barrel on a Winchester Model 12, my great-grandfather’s hunting gun. This change would make it potentially more useful to me, converting it from a duck hunting gun, something I do not do, to a tool more capable of hunting upland game. I found a small outfit that will remain nameless, located in an obscure industrial park outside of Los Angeles.
My wife rode along with me. For reference, my wife is Armenian and pretty dark-skinned. I am 6’2″, 225 lbs, white, and have a shaved head and tattoos. People used to mistake my wife for “the nanny” when she’d push our children down the block in a stroller…
We pull up to the storefront in an empty parking lot, it’s already dark outside. It’s relatively unmarked, save for two sets of security doors opening into what appears to be a machine shop behind a wall and a service counter. There is the company’s logo on a flag with some crosshairs hung in a small window behind bars, as well as a small Gadsden flag, an NRA badge, and a few gun manufacturer stickers.
Seeing these symbols, my wife knows how this sort of situation works. It’s the same reason I do the talking in gas stations in certain parts of the country.
“I’m going to wait in the car and let you handle this one…”
I ring a bell. An overweight, late middle-aged White man peers from inside and buzzes me through both security doors. My wife is in the car right outside and can hear our conversation through the bars and screen.
We hit it off immediately, talking about the shotgun, and I trust him as he talks me out of a modification, suggesting I keep it vintage to honor great-grandpa, ultimately urging me to just buy a cheap new hunting shotgun from someone else.
During the chit-chat, however, he tips his hand a bit.
“Where are you from?” he inquires.
I state my city.
“Kind of dark up there, isn’t it?”
Mmm. I’m caught off guard. I sort of deflect and change the subject.
I can’t help but notice there’s a tricked-out AR-15 pistol on the wall, a weapon breaking an untold number of CA laws, but I figure he’s an FFL and a gunsmith and who knows what else so maybe none of that applies…
He obviously likes me and we continue chatting about local hunting and the mountains. A few more dog whistles are thrown in, little jabs about how the neighborhoods have changed, about how much better “things” used to be.
We eventually wrap it up.
“If you need anything, let me know.”
“I appreciate that, thank you.”
“Really, anything you need, you come back and see me.”
As humans, most of us are keenly aware of body language, tone, and generally how to read people. It’s not what is said, it’s how it is said. I know exactly what he was telling me and what went down in our exchange.
Getting back in the car, my wife informs me she heard the entire conversation through the security doors.
“Kind of dark up there huh? Oh, he LOVED you with your bald head and tattoos…” she says with a smirk. “Aren’t you glad I know when to stay in the car?”
“Hey, now I know where to get a machine gun…”
And so it goes.
I’ve never been back there.
My wife is interesting to me. She’s got a very blunt realism about her, she easily blows things like this off. It’s not that she thinks it’s right or good or any of that…It’s just that she expects it. It’s like she’s over being shocked and angry and disappointed by people.
We were driving yesterday, stopped at an intersection where BLM protesters were gathered and waiving signs. I honked the car horn, got a few cheers, and immediately felt highly self-conscious that I was sitting in an air-conditioned car while people were yelling in the street.
My wife was quiet.
I noticed that behind her sunglasses she was crying.