“Shootin’ the blues away” was the subject line. The email was from D., a new acquaintance I met at an art opening a few months ago, a 70+ writer guy with Parkinson’s. His tremors had been calmed considerably by a brain implant, and I don’t think I would have even noticed anything amiss if he hadn’t told me.
D.'s 'shootin' the blues away' message was a response to having read my novel, Minyan, and asking me what I was currently working on. I wrote back that I was “mostly working on my depression.” Yes, after shooting my mouth off on these pages a few weeks ago about how antidepressants are largely bogus, placebos, and Big Pharma money-machines and marketing ploys (see You Are Not Chemically Imbalanced), I went off my meds and within about six weeks found my ordinary, baseline, daily misery index plummeting downward from run-of-the-mill joylessness into one of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell, the Fifth one where,
“The sullen lie gurgling beneath the water, withdrawn into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe.”
That’s it! Guess it’s good to give a name to it: I’m in a black sulkiness. There’s even something a little sexy about it when you put it that way. No wait, I’m thinking of sultriness.
The content of D.'s email was a single line:
Would you like to go out in the woods and shoot some beer bottles with a .22 single action six-shooter?
I considered the idea for about 20 seconds and sent my reply:
Never done it. Couldn't hurt. Sure.
I immediately dashed off a copy of his invitation to a group of close friends, including my wife Shari, knowing they’d find the concept of me shooting a gun both amusing and probably difficult to imagine, if not disturbing. Unlike our Israeli counterparts, most suburban, American Jews grow up without any exposure to firearms, except for those manufactured by Mattel. While my Gentile friends were on hunting expeditions in the wild, the best it got at our house was being allowed to set up a pup-tent in the living room and leaving the windows open all night to simulate being outdoors.
But my friends all responded enthusiastically, even asking if they could come along, as well as warning me to be safe and to remember to point the gun away from my head. One wrote:
Whew! Only Parkinson’s; good thing he's not also blind! Wear your vest, bro!
If you like it let me know. I can offer you a testosterone-filled day of shooting. We have an arsenal at the house that includes an entire pistol collection as well as a crossbow and a poisonous dart blower. If you'd like, I could chase you around in the backyard with the weapons—I'm not sure your 70-year-old pal is going to let you do that.
Commercial Break: The above was from Slash Coleman, a Jewish friend, so I was surprised that he knew anything about guns, but then remembered that although his Mom survived the Holocaust, his father is a non-Jewish, Southern good-old boy. The two of them make for an extremely unusual genetic combination, and thus produced a very unusual kid, Slash, who’s also a blogger on Psychology Today. Check out his Bohemian Love Diaries.) Back to our story:
Shari, meanwhile, sent this note to our email list:
Why is everyone encouraging El to start shooting shit? Is this really a good plan?
Scared for self, kitties, and geriatric parkinson’s guy in Richmond
Keep in mind where she is coming from: When a major branch fell in our yard last spring, I came in the door with my first-ever chain saw. Within 30 minutes, I was back at Home Depot, at the Returns desk. “Is anything wrong with it?” the woman asked. “No,” I replied sheepishly, “my wife won’t let me use it.”
Shari had a legitimate concern given that the day before I had sliced open my finger with a pair of scissors, because I had missed the paper, my attention elsewhere. And I have a tendency to knock into things a lot, taking fragile household objects down with me. More than once Shari has found me surrounded by broken glass and bleeding profusely from one or more body parts. So yes, she drew the line at chain saws and I didn’t resist. Those are actually very scary little machines, the way they can kick back and cut your face off.
But a little .22 calibre pistol? Kids’ stuff!
Two of my friends expressed ecological concerns about leaving broken glass on the forest floor, and one of them suggested we use fruit instead. I forwarded this idea to D., who responded:
So, we’ll shoot apples off your friend’s head. Sounds challenging.
(William Burroughs used to actually do this William Tell trick with his wife, Joan, down in Mexico, until the night he missed and shot her dead, right between the eyes. But it being Mexico, he got off with a warning. And became gay. I’m oversimplifying.)
D and I made arrangements to go shooting the following day, and he sent me these instructions:
Dress as if you are going to a chain saw convention —no Orvis Originals or anything acquired from a big box sporting goods store. Ear plugs are optional (you can always use two Hershey's kisses)—a .22 makes a POP, like the sound of a good-sized fart. We'll be working mostly on style tomorrow, i.e., how you walk and talk and turn with a six-shooter on your hip, how you roll a cigarette with one hand while reaching for your gun with the other, and how to spit, properly. I'll pick you up in my Green '92 Four Runner.
I forwarded the above to my friends, and one wrote back:
Don't tell me about your troubles, son. Answer truthfully or not, as it suits you. My jacket's old, there's some powder in the pockets, and I didn't get it at LL Bean. My religion—none of your business. You're probably thinking I'm a white dude, but you know beauty's only skin deep. You scared?? Maybe you should be. My daddy used to say if you don't walk it, don't talk it. But I'll take you under my wing, and you'll grow up a little. One thing, Mr. Bleedin' Heart Writer, I ain't no good, and you're no better…and leave your pansy-ass Marlboro's with the wife.
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, and yet it made sense somehow, the language a perfect fit in my unfolding narrative.
The next day, we got out to D.'s beautiful, hidden acreage in the woods, alongside a river. He brought out the .22 and showed me how to insert the cylinder and the pin and load it.
“You use this a lot?” I asked, figuring I was joining him in a regular ritual.
“Nah, haven’t touched the thing in over 20 years.,” he said. Hmm. Oh.
It actually looked and loaded exactly like my last gun, the Mattel Detective Pistol that I wore in a concealed shoulder holster until I was 12. I also carried around handmade business cards that I had typed myself, which simply stated, “The Detective,” with my contact info. But business was slow in those lean times.
We set up a plastic bottle about 100 yards away, and took turns missing it completely. We inched closer. Eventually we wound up less than 10 feet from our target, and still couldn’t hit the damn thing. Finally, with our last bullet, I managed to graze the top, but the bottle didn't even go down, and without the sound of shattering glass, it just wasn’t all that satisfying, very anti-climactic after all the build-up.
And alas, the next day I noticed my blues were still around. I had failed to shoot them away, by a long shot, so to speak. But I did believe D. was onto something. And rather than get my Paxil prescription refilled, I got on the web and investigated local shooting ranges. Then horse places. At 59, I have figured out what I want to be when I grow up: a cowboy. Tomorrow I'm looking for a hat store.
I sent this post to D. for his approval before publishing it, and got this back:
Aw, shucks, I thought we'd chased them ole blues back to the badlands when you plugged that old bottle with your very last shot—a sensational shot of blazing lead.