February 8, 2013
Field Notes from Gun Appreciation Day
19 January 2013—
Ventura Co., CA—
An old industrial building of sorts—an assembly plant or perhaps a warehouse. Drab, sun-blanched red-brick exterior. Indoors—high, cathedral ceilings and cool. Sturdy rafters. Rows of fluorescent lights buzzing in metal scaffolds. On the walls hang banners bearing logos from sponsors like the Second Amendment Foundation, Guns Across America, and Guns & Patriots—red-white-&-blue color palettes. Every table and stall in this wall-to-wall warren of tables and stalls is dressed in all manner of patriotic décor: little plastic American flags free for the taking, trim yellowed to resemble the Constitution, whose words have been scrupulously handwritten and laminated thereupon, timely pamphlets, campaign buttons for local candidates. Most merchants have laid out and arranged their wares in anticipation of the coming crowd. The parking lot just outside is not yet a third full.
Closed-circuit surveillance cameras from corner perches watch mingling clusters of earlybird firearm aficionados. Over the p.a. system, as Hank Williams, Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” fades out to applause from a handful of men in football jerseys, a pleasant voice announces the locations of restrooms, food stalls, the shooting range, and so on. The speakers crackle until “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,” also by Hank Williams, Jr., begins to play. Someone whoops.
In a stall near the emergency exits in the southwest corner of the building, two men set up a tattoo parlor. They both wear sleeveless t-shirts and medical-grade nitrile gloves. New, unused needles lay sheathed in sterilized pouches. Everything looks very clean. They only tattoo “barb wire armbands.”
The parking lot is very nearly to capacity and some visitors have already begun to park on the street. In the past half hour the floor has erupted in impenetrable chatter. Nebulous murmurs. Incorporeal discussion. Hamburgers and hotdogs sizzle on the grill. The pungency of the pulled-pork barbecue is an ode to the Carolinas. Many visitors—not only by the food stalls—wear holsters, from which the polished grips (stag horn, walnut, rosewood, mother-of-pearl) of their handguns peek out. Many are swathed in Stars-and-Bars or other more politically-inspired garments. Everyone here is an immediate threat to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
According to the dapper man selling cardboard cutouts of Yosemite Sam: “Well, we wanted to dig up Charlton [Heston] and reanimate him like they did that Tupac fella, but we couldn’t get up the budget. Then I was thinking, You know, for decades, Sam here has been this country’s moral compass. I really think it’s due time he’s gotten the proper recognition for all his contributions to our society.”
Temporary tattoos of bullet wounds.
Roughly in the center of the show floor, at a table of assorted glinting firearms and knives, a small television shows on repeat the scene from Full Metal Jacket in which Pvt. Pyle, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, menacingly cleans his gun, caresses it, sweet-talks it, coos.
Snippet of two women conversing over lunch:
“You mean Barack Hussein Obama?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
Ted Nugent’s Greatest Hits, an eighteen-minute-long E.P., has been playing over the p.a. system for the last forty minutes. “Stranglehold” is on its third go-round. No one seems the least bit fazed.
Update: for the last sixty minutes.
So far, there are two stalls—directly across from one another—dedicated solely to Rambo III memorabilia. The two proprietors, Davis (E-034) and Justin (F-017), seem to be selling the same merchandise at identical prices. While their styles of salesmanship differ (Davis says he relies on his “natural charisma,” Justin his “enthusiasm for the product”), they find common ground when Justin explains why he and so many others are drawn to the 1988 action film: “Oh, man, he just tears up so much shit. You got to love it.”
Snippet of a teenaged boy impressing a female peer:
“We should be friends on Facebook. I have a lot of gun-related images I post, like, all the time.”
In a heretofore unused stall near the far back corner of the building, darkened, a light film of dust has settled over a table, upon which twenty-six candles stand unlit. “Yeah,” one of the event coordinators says, stopping briefly to look, “we been meaning to get to that. You know how time is.”