Everybody loves a story about an aging veteran, almost 40 years out of the service, who picks up a weapon for the first time in years and finds he can still shoot with the surety and aplomb he had as a soldier. I love that story, and would love to tell it today. Unfortunately, I love the truth just a little bit more than I love a good story.
My friend, Gavin, is the kind of man I’d like to be if I thought I could ever be that kind of man. Gavin designed and built the Tiny White Box after I’d given him the mental equivalent of napkin scrawlings.
“Make it homey.” “Make it warm.” “Make it have a comfortable bed.” These are not so much construction notes as cries of emotional need. Gavin did all this and more. (Shameless plug: if you have any custom woodworking project that requires talent, intelligence, a sense of humor and a woodworker with a tattoo of Tinkerbell on his inner thigh—call Gavin Beland at (603)324-9223). Gavin is visiting Warriors@45North this week, to inspect his work, fish a little and help out with construction projects here.
Yesterday, Gavin and I went to a local sandpit/range to fire his pistol, a Glock. As you may know, I was in the Army from 1976 to 1980, with the 8th Infantry Division. Like all soldiers, whether in combat arms or not, I was required to qualify on an M-16 rifle. Annually, I would go out to a range and shoot well enough to keep a marksman badge attached to my uniform. I was never a great shot, but I was never the worst in my company either. As an enlisted man, I didn’t qualify with a sidearm, and don’t remember ever holding a pistol during my enlistment. In a story that should horrify parents everywhere, my only experience with a pistol took place when I was 10 or so and snuck a revolver and some bullets out of our garage and walked back into the woods behind my house to fire a single bullet at a tree. The explosion of sound terrified me so much, I shoved the still-loaded pistol into the green bookbag I’d carried it out in, and ran back home, sure law enforcement for 10 miles around would be conducting a manhunt for me. Instead, nothing happened. No cops. No tragedy. Apparently, I put the gun back and never picked it up again. I had, not for the first or last time, spun the natural-selection wheel of fortune and survived.
Yesterday, at the range, Gavin went through simple instructions—keep the weapon pointed downrange at all times, put in ear protection, wear glasses—designed to help me avoid natural selection again. I assumed, based on no evidence, my experience firing rifles almost 40 years ago would give me some natural advantage in shooting a pistol. I was wrong.
I fired about a hundred bullets. After 20 or so had avoided doing any damage to the bullseye on the targets Gavin had placed, I switched to shooting at bottles and cans, not because I thought they’d be easier to hit, but because the sand behind them covered up all the near misses. No paper record of futility could have its picture taken.
I play tennis regularly (or did when I lived south of the Iron Bridge at the south end of Pittsburg), with more enthusiasm than ability. Still, every time I play, I get off a few shots that make me think I could actually learn to play well, not just by the rules. Yesterday, with a Diet Coke can as my target, I fired off five or six rounds doing no damage at all. Suddenly, I spied to the left another target. Repositioning my body, I inhaled, relaxed and squeezed off a shot. To my joy, the new target exploded. I can now say with certainty, I’ve never missed a plastic 16-oz. Sprite bottle. If you are bedeviled by green bottles of lemon-lime-flavored sugar water, I’m your man. If you want real work done real well by a real man, call Gavin Beland.