Shoot

Guns have a purpose,” Tom said. “And it isn’t shooting pieces of paper.” He had backed me into a corner at the Tick Tock Tap, and he was raising his voice. This was partly because people were shouting all around us- it was a noisy bar-- but he was also very annoyed with my (his word) contradictory behavior. I couldn’t help it, though. I had recently started college, out in the middle of the western plains, and I was pumped so full of ideas about everything from Buddhism to Marxism that sometimes it all got mixed together. Despite the fact that he liked to follow me around with a helpless dog-like ardor, it drove Tom crazy when I would start a sentence with something about the sanctity of all life and end it by saying that, come the Revolution, I would be ready, after years of target practice with 22s at summer camps.

I had no satisfactory reply to his assertion, that night. Pinned to the wall, I finally agreed to go hunting with him the following day. So there I was, standing in a stubble-cut field in the freezing end of November, cradling someone’s shotgun in my arms. Tom had brought his hunting buddies: two big amiable brothers with pale blue eyes and tiny immaculate moustaches, whose names I immediately forgot—Beau and Joe, or maybe Jess and Fess. Tom informed me pointedly that these two had killed most of the meat their family ate since they were big enough for the job. With shy, sweet smiles they assured me that this included slaughtering hogs and chickens as well as bringing home  “game-- y'know, critters and birds.”

It was cold and quiet and very, very early. As we began to walk, the sun came up, and our shadows reached out far in front of us. The brothers scanned patiently with identical squints. Since it was, they said, the one day that three hunting seasons overlapped, I could shoot at pretty much anything that moved and it would most likely be OK.

We spent several hours looking for signs of natural life, but we didn’t see a thing. Not a v of geese headed south; not a stray animal scat, not a footprint—nothing. It was like a party without the guest of honor. Finally, we gave up and went back into town. Tom was so embarrassed that he made me promise not to tell anyone. Wary of the subject altogether, I never talked about guns again.

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Seventeen years go by. I am standing in the living room of my girlfriend’s apartment in San Francisco, waiting for her to come home to her formerly-revolutionary neighborhood, now mostly occupied by industrious young couples with clean jobs and well-dressed babies. It’s late, just at the graying edge of darkness, and I’m looking out the window through a telescope. She keeps it there on a tripod, to look at the stars and to shame the people in the building on the opposite corner into closing the blinds before they walk around naked. I check, but no one’s home there yet, so I pivot the instrument around and look the other way, into Golden Gate Park.

As I idly pan across a little glade some distance away, I suddenly see a man about my age, dressed entirely in black and carrying a really big pistol with a silencer on it. (By now, movies have taught me a great deal more than college did about things like guns.) His posture and progress make it clear that he is sneaking up on someone. I think I’m about to witness a murder and there’s nothing, seemingly, I can do about it. I shout at him uselessly as he raises the gun with both hands, sights along the barrel and fires. He runs towards his victim and I follow him with the telescope, now shaking crazily, along the edge of a small grove of trees. I am trying to get a look at his face so I can identify him to the police.

My heart is beating so hard I’m seeing spots before my eyes as he stops, reaches down, and picks up a rabbit with a hole in it big enough to see right through. He pulls a camera out of his pocket and photographs the bleeding shreds at arm’s length, holding them next to a piece of paper he has carefully unfolded. Then he stuffs everything—carcass, gun, and paper—into a garbage bag, shoving it under his jacket before he disappears into the dark beneath the trees. Disturbed and nauseated but profoundly mystified, I tell no one about what I’ve just seen. It is just too awful to describe or explain.

A few months later, I am at the crowded opening of a show of performance art documentation at a big raw alternative space. As I disinterestedly scan a wall of pictures, one catches my eye, and with an exclamation I squeeze my little plastic glass of wine so hard it cracks, leaking its contents onto the concrete floor. I am staring at an image of a hand that holds both the blasted remains of a rabbit and a creased white page with a quote from Baudrillard about simulacra written across it, spelled Bodriard and semulackra.

Later, at a bar, I remember Tom in the Tip Top, shouting at me about putting bullets through pieces of paper. For a moment, I wish I still had that that big cold double-barreled shotgun that he tenderly laid in my city-girl arms, so I could go back and shoot that photograph.