Maria and I recently visited Susan and Mark, old friends of ours who live in North Carolina, and we were at a loss for something to fill a Saturday afternoon. The women wanted to go to shopping for drapes to match the cushions, or vice versa, which to me seemed only marginally less painful than having a root canal. Mark agreed, and as he flipped through the local paper we found the answer: a gun and knife show.
Neither of us owns guns or non-kitchen knives, so we figured we’d get an education.
The show was held in a cavernous building that must have been two hundred yards on a side. The admission fee was ten bucks, and there were two lines to get in: one for unarmed customers, and one for those “carrying.” It was perfectly okay to bring a gun. They just wanted to be sure it wasn’t loaded when you walked through the door.
However, they didn’t frisk anyone to see if they had a pocketful of bullets. And there were a dozen vendors inside eagerly selling every variety of ammunition, clips, autoloaders, silencers, scopes, and other deadly accessories, so if someone had come to the gun show with mayhem in mind, there wasn’t much to stop them. Except, I suppose, the deterrent effect of the other 200 gun-loving patrons, surrounded by weaponry, who presumably would turn the shooter into a multi-ventilated shadow of his or her former self before too many shots had been fired.
The first table we visited was a knife display. These weren’t your grandma’s knives – there were razor-sharp mini-scimitars, Bowie knives longer than David Bowie’s list of hit songs, and tiny purse-friendly switchblades in designer neon colors. They even had a medieval-looking hand weapon that consisted of a leather-wrapped stick with one, two, or three spiked metal balls dangling from the end on an eight-inch chain.
I wanted a picture, and was positioning my smartphone over the table to snap a shot when a grizzled guy chomping an unlit cigar appeared on the other side of the table.
“No pictures of the flails,” he rumbled. Feeling foolish, I pocketed my phone and picked up the two-ball model, as if testing its heft.
“Pretty nice,” I said, clueless as to what to look for in a quality flail. “How much?”
“Single ball twenty bucks, two for thirty, three for forty. Stainless steel balls, genuine leather grip. Handle’s hardwood.”
He awaited my reply. In my khaki shorts, New Balance walking shoes, and gray cotton golf sweater, I didn’t fit his usual customer profile. We moved on.
A guy walked by with a rifle slung over his shoulder, and I realized why people brought weapons: sticking out of the barrel was a wooden dowel with a paper sign taped onto it reading: “FOR SALE OR TRADE.” It reminded me of the popgun rifle Wile E Coyote points at the Roadrunner that shoots out a flag reading “BANG” when he pulls the trigger.
The next table was arrayed with 50 rifles in a row, each chained to the next so you couldn’t raise them much above table height. Their burnished wooden stocks and oiled barrels gleamed in the harsh fluorescent lights. Similarly, the handgun tables had hundreds of sinister-looking weapons, from petite two-shot ladies’ pistols (the vendor’s description, not mine) to hulking hand cannons that would terrify Dirty Harry.
The sheer number and variety was staggering. We approached a rifle vendor and I picked up a small-bore shotgun. At a loss for words, and inspired perhaps by the walking FOR SALE gun signs, I asked, in my best Elmer Fudd voice:
“Excuse me – would this be good for hunting the wascally wabbit?”
The guy behind the table smiled thinly and turned away, clearly not interested in such nonsense.
I actually considered buying a self-defense baton. These are metal sticks that, when you flick your wrist, telescope in length from one foot to nearly three feet. Tapering to a dull point, it locks open and will only collapse again if you strike the tip solidly on a hard floor.
“Say you’re in a parking lot, and some guy’s comin’ at you with a broken beer bottle,” the seller proudly explained.”You can whip that open and give him a hot rap on the head or arm or leg or whatever, make him feel some real pain, from a couple feet away.”
He jabbed the end of the extended stick at my midsection and chuckled.
“And a poke with this here into some soft tissue can be very persuasive.”
I resented the insuinuation that my abs constituted “soft tissue,” or rather, that he could so readily discern that. But he was right: that hard metal stick created a well-defined, non-negotiable boundary between us.It seemed like a bargain for only 25 bucks. But then, I’ve been around for sixty years and haven’t yet found myself in need of a “soft tissue persuader” or head rapper.
So why would I need one now? I’ll just avoid honky tonk bars at closing time and save myself the money. I passed on the deceptively innocuous-sounding baton. But I couldn’t resist asking the vendor before I left:
“Could I use this to whack a wascally wabbit?”