Thursday, October 2, 2008

Buying A Gun: Missoula 1988

Actually Fru and I lived in the Bitterroot Valley--in the fall/winter of 1988--in a blond-wood cabin just up the mountain outside of Stevensville, Montana (or Stevi, as it was known). And actually, it was not me who bought the gun (though officially it was, in my name, because I was a Montana resident), it was Mike (Chicago, Iowa City, Los Angeles Mike, that is). It happened in late October--Fru and I were students at the University of Montana in Missoula--when Mike decided to come up from L.A. to visit.
Fru and I were essentially settled--were in classes, had the drive up and down Highway 93 down pat, life in the cabin serene and pretty and isolated. The weather was cooling. Leaves turning, crisp nights, patterns of snow in the high elevations. And then Mike flew in and I picked him up at the airport in Missoula. He stayed with us, of course. I can't recall if it was the first time he'd met Fru or not, think maybe it was. But we hit the bars, of course, drinking beer at Reds and Charlie B's in Missoula, drinking beer at the Sportsman Lounge and the Stevi Bar in Stevensville, drinking beer in the cabin too. But after that, what else was there to do? Walk in the woods? Check. Go up the Rattlesnake? Check. Drink more beer? Check. . . That's when Mike decided to buy a gun.
We lived in the woods on three acres, only a scattering of neighbors on their own acres, we were in Montana and in the mountains, so why not buy a gun? So into Missoula we went, to a gun shop on First Street, up near the Northern Pacific tracks. We walked in, asked to see the guns, asked to see used guns, Mike chose an old Browning rifle, he was from out of state so I signed for it, bought it, bought some ammo, and we walked out with the gun. . . In a lot of towns, it would be strange to walk down the street carrying a rifle, but not in Missoula. Not in most mountain state towns or small cities. So, we walked back to the car, got in, drove all the way back to the cabin in the Bitterroot, loaded it and shot some trees. We shot trees, then we shot potatoes placed in trees, then shot our many beer cans, then I shot my truck.
I had a red Chevy Custom Deluxe (Kurt's old work truck from Champaign, IL) pickup and it sat in the gravel drive near the cabin and it was an easy target. It was a beat-up pickup, but I liked it and thought a bullet hole or two would only add to it's dilapidated beauty. So, I sighted up its tailgate--from an angle--and Mike stepped back (just in case I hit the gas tank) and squeezed off a shot. Ping. The bullet hit and ricocheted away, leaving a thin groove. That wasn't good enough (the rifle--what, a 22?--wasn't powerful enough) so I aimed again, this time straight on, no angle. Ping-pow. It left a neat little splintered-paint hole in the back of my truck. Nowadays, I see all these bullet-hole decals on trucks. Fake silver splinters on the gates or sides. But I had the real thing, Baby.
So, Mike was there and then Brock decided to come to town from Seattle. Not just Brock but also Margaret, who was in Seattle visiting Brock (they married years later). They decided to take the train over from Washington, but the closest station was in Whitefish, a ways north of Missoula. So Mike and I got in the bullet-hole red Chevy and we made the drive up to Whitefish. It's a long drive by most standards--Missoula to Whitefish--but by Montana ones (where long distance drives are de rigeur) it was like going to pick up a loaf of bread. But we were picking up Brock and Margaret at the Amtrak station. And there they were on a sunny not-yet-afternoon in funny-cool Whitefish. We ate, hit the road, bought some beer and drove (another Montana tradition) and only stopped for outdoor piss-breaks (poor Maragret could not take those breaks) came down out of the last pass and into Missoula and a stop at Reds for more beer. Then we drove to the university and picked up Fru and drove--my truck full, full, full of friends and one lover--to the pretty cabin in the Bitterroot. Where we shot more potatoes with Mike's gun.
But it was a great visit. Good to have old friends, even if Fru and I were not lonely by ourselves. It snowed that night. A big puffy snow like you see in picture books and we walked up the rarely-used forrest service roads among the white-laden pines and frosted rocks. Mike, Brock and I went into Stevensville, got drunk at the Sportsman, attacked each other with a plunger and were the talk of the small town for a few days. I had a paper that was due and maybe a test, so I had to curtail some activities. Mike went home to L.A. and he could not take his gun with him, so I kept it. Brock and Margaret also went away and it was just Fru and I. But come Thanksgiving, we had a dinner with newly minted pals and I got out the gun and we shot more potatoes out of simple malice and boredom.
Yes, I kept the gun. Until 1990. In 1990 I took the bus down to L.A. on my way to Mexico and I brought the 22 Browning rifle--packed it in my duffel, surrounded by clothes and whatnot. Gave it to Mike. . . I own an old shotgun now. A Parker Brothers. It was my grandfather's from my dad's side--a man I never ever met. It's an antique and worth a thousand or more, I guess. I got it after my own father died some seven years ago (has it really been seven years?). I'm not a gun guy. Never was, doubt I ever will be. But I'll hang on to the old shotgun. I think Mike still has that Browning, too. My truck? I sold that, when we returned to Champaign.

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