The Gun Store

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
When travelling with family, it's good to let off a little steam...

Submitted: December 27, 2007

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 27, 2007



I am surprised when he says that he doesn’t want the biggest gun. After all, 17 year old boys can be such size queens.

“Oh shit no, Dude,” the kid drawls. The profanity doesn’t bother me unduly, but the newly-acquired habit of calling me “Dude” I find faintly depressing. I can only begin to imagine the feel of my father’s boot up my arse if I had entertained such casualness. At least he hasn’t called me motherfucker.

“No, the gun we’ll be needing is the weapon of choice for the SAS – the mighty Heckler & Koch MP5.”

“Good choice,” says John our crisp and taut gun guy, “that is a sweet weapon. The MP5's accuracy and reliability have made it the submachine gun of choice for military and law enforcement agencies worldwide for over thirty years.”

But we order more than that. To paraphrase Keanu’s Neo, we want “guns – lots of guns”. After all, we are in Vegas. We are on a road trip. And the ace in the hole – we are travelling with family. Not just family, but extended family. My wife’s parents, her siblings, their partners and progeny. Everyone carrying lots and lots of baggage – emotional baggage.

Snippety, over-heated, tepid, insecure as everyone is when they travel.

Eddie is too young to drink. He can’t vote or have sex. I’m sure that masturbation is illegal in most US states at any age. He doesn’t have a lot of avenues open where he can let off steam.

And I am getting a little freakin’ tired of being on my best behaviour. I want as many guns and bullets as my credit card will give me.

The Gun Store is real easy to find. There’s a bus stop on Tropicana just down from where it meets the Strip the guy says when I phoned for directions. “You can’t miss it. It’s right near the Hooters Casino”.

He says the word “Hooters” without the least bit of interest. Like it is the blandest word he can think of. Most guys would have layered the word with smirk – subtext: “We’re in a guy’s club, right? You and me? Right? And we love jugs, right? This proves we’re not homos, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Coz, late at night I have doubts about how much of a REGULAR GUY I really am.” But he doesn’t give the word any extra juice.

In fact, it’s like he is trying to be as fair as possible with the amount of inflection and meaning he gives all the words he uses. He has a parity of language that can only come from a cop or maybe ex-military. Next time you’re talking to a cop, listen for the even way they dish out the words. It’s like they’re using linguistics as a calling card for fairness or toughness – “I’m-only-going-to-say-this-once”.

I am thinking about these things while we wait at the bus stop on Tropicana Avenue. Las Vegas makes you do that. If you’re not a gambler, then you have plenty of time to watch and think. Any other city has hotels near its attractions. In Vegas, the hotels are the attractions. After a while, the whole gaudy sideshow looks like a mirror smeared with sweat and cum and shit. And definitely, tears. The tears of someone who has bet the farm on a pair of threes. Or the tears of someone who knows that the all-you-can-eat smorgasboard is as good – and as lonely – as it gets.

The sunlight was harsh and unrelenting. Even in Autumn – or Fall as they call it there – it caused the eyes to try and climb back into the skull like frightened moles. But once in shadow we were engulfed in darkness and a sudden drop in temperature. The place ran hot and cold like a metaphor for Lady Luck. It was as if the climate acted as a warning. I sat at the bus stop with my boy. As if I could even call him that anymore. Taller than me, he was nearly a man. I sat there in the shadow of this city that’s not really a city with a boy who’s no longer a boy.

My boy was sitting there quietly. Keeping his thoughts to himself. Inscrutable as a China man.

You know that space where you’re laughing so much that you’re teetering on hysteria? It’s been a great whale of a laugh that came out of nowhere and took all of you for a ride. All of your cells and organs. Years of rubbish get washed out of you like you’re backwashing leaves and pubes out of a swimming pool filter. And everything’s getting good and clear and light. But then some dark patch of gunk that was stuck in the hose jets out and turns the clear water to mud. Suddenly, you’re not laughing anymore. You can hardly breathe at the enormity of the sadness that is in you. You don’t even know what to do with it. Do I let it out? But you can’t. People are watching and that would be weird and also no-one wants to acknowledge – especially to themselves – that there is that much sadness lying around inside them. So you try and push it down and send it back so that you can deal with it at your leisure. But it pushes back – louder and harder – and bursts out of you like vomit with a force that rips you open and you’re left weeping.

Just thinking about it now makes me feel like a drink and a shower.

Vegas feels like a town that desperately wants to keep laughing. The golden days are long gone, but the party is still going. All sound and noise signifying nothing. There is no silence. No chance to sit around and contemplate the existence of a God or even ask yourself “what in Satan’s ringhole am I doing here?”

This is, after all, a town where the mother of all Hooters – the Hooters Casino, for Christ’s sake! – feels warm, maternal and a little tame. There is a sweetness to all those nice Eastern European and Eurasian girls in their tight white tops and orange hotpants that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe compared to the uber-tack on the Strip they actually seem real.

So we sit at the bus stop on Tropicana and watch the freak show and wait. We watch the young pachukos handing out flyers for non-stop sex to the never ending tide of humanity that sweeps back and forth. An uneven flotilla of young men with too-new tattoos and cans of Bud range past laughing. They talk up how much fun they are having. Re-running old jokes and pranks – “remember when…? That was craaaaaaazy man! I couldn’ fuggin’ believe you did that!”

We are approached by a family of four. A mom, dad, son and daughter set who look lost and edgy. Mom is looking like this was a “Big mistake!!” – she’s all wide-eyed with disbelief. Like us, she’s looking for the old Vegas of Sammy and Frankie. Dad is clutching a map like it’s a life raft because he’s drowning and I can tell that it’s killing him to ask for directions. I’ve been there before and I feel his pain. He desperately wants to figure it out by himself. I tell him he’s heading in the right direction. He looks relieved and flashes her an “I told you so” look. Eventually they’ll find their way to the water fountains at the Bellagio. The hypnotic display of water, lights and music makes it feel like a holiday.

And all of them, in one way or another, searching for a bit of that old-time gangster glamour. Wanna feel like a wise-guy? Take your best friend out into the parking lot and shoot him in the eye. Make sure you do it while delivering some sporting analogy or some hip spray about teamwork. Hit him in the head at the frustration of what he’s made you do. Drag his chin round and shoot-him-in-the-eye. Kick his still warm body, throw the gun at him and scream, “You piece of shit!” Weirdly, you’ll find that it doesn’t feel as great as it looks when DeNiro does it. That’s the problem with life, it never feels like it looks in the movies.

The visual and aural cacophony never lets up. Where does the electricity come from? I feel like I am being a killjoy when I think about global warming. I feel like a Vegan at a steakhouse – joyless and earnest. The thought sours my mood even more and I wish the goddam bus would come as if that was going to magically stop my head from churning.

I look down Tropicana. It is one straight road. It disappears out into the suburbs and then, probably, the desert. What’s out there? Can you lose yourself out there?

The bus, when it finally comes, isn’t bad. It is modern enough. It doesn’t smell. There is no hotspot that gave off alarm bells of the splosh of urine or vomit. But there is a tangible air of something… disappointment, maybe, that hang over the contents of the metal tube on wheels. This tube, after all, is packed with people who can’t afford a car.

The car is such a base -level status symbol in America that not having one gives you the beefy tang of the bottom feeder. There is a sense of tragedy and lack of self determination when you don’t have a car. There is a sense that you’re not trying hard enough. You can see how deep this runs in the American psyche. You can see it in the signs outside the churches – the churches for Christ-the-only-son-of-the-true-God’s sake – with signs that proclaim gems such as “success is not a sign of moral weakness”. In other words – “Jesus hates poor people – stop humiliating yourself and get to work”.

“Can you let us know where to get off for the Gun Store?” I asked the driver as we climb aboard.

He nodded and gave a word – “sure” – that was so soft it seemed to be a foot scraping along the rubber matting of the bus.

The bus isn’t airconditioned which shows how far down the food chain we have come. Everything in Vegas is airconditioned. Everything it seems, except for public transport. There are no slot machines on a bus.

I say to Eddie, “don’t look at anyone. Just stare at a spot about six inches in front of your face. Or find something inordinately interesting to look at out the window. Just don’t, you know, examine people.”

“Shit dude,” he grumbles, “I’ve seen COPS. I’m not a freakin’ hick with no freakin’ idea. I’m…” He loses interest in his own schtick and we climb into a seat about two thirds down the bus. The pecking order of school buses came into my head. Losers and teachers down the front. Sheep in the middle. Fringe dwellers (Goths, punks, yadda yadda) two thirds down and then the self-appointed A-list crowd with their dumb enforcers down the back. Even now in my forties, I don’t want – or need - the grief of going down the back.

So, I’m sitting on the bus with my son. We don’t say much. I’m sure his interpretation of the whole Vegas thing is waaaay different to mine and I don’t feel like I have the right to pollute it. I’m thinking Rat-Pack, he’s thinking six pack.

Sprinkled through the bus are the backstage crew that help to run the American Dream. They are like the after-hours staff from Disneyland that you glimpsed taking a smoko a few days earlier. They are on the outside of the candystore – too tired to even look in the window anymore. Mostly Hispanic looking, they just want to get home and take a load off. Tired looking women are crumpled in their seats – their faces pruning with worry. It’s hot and my shirt acts as a wet membrane between my back and the vinyl seats. I look out the window at the afternoon sun. The light here is like something off a ‘70s TV show. Or maybe a Mommas & Poppas video clip. It flares everywhere you look. You know, like lens flaring when you look at the sun through a camera. There is a haze as well, like everything is covered in gauze. It softens all the edges and makes the afternoon seem timeless. Like the earth doesn’t want to surrender the day to the twilight. It won’t be long before everything sharpens and is reduced to orange highlights and purple shadows. But for now everything is soft and washed out.

We’re only a mile or so from the strip and we may as well in another city. All remnants of glitz has gone and the road is rimmed with parking lots, warehouses and cheap booze shops. They don’t even try to hold the desert back here and the dust piles up everywhere.

At each stop, the people look lonely, broken, bored by the heat. A cluster of half-baked gangbangers climb aboard. They eyeball us as they do their bad-boy stagger up the back of the bus. We must be a rarity – tourists on a bus in Vegas. But they leave us alone. As the miles scoot past I notice that the biggest thing on the bus is the space between everyone. Nobody makes eye contact. Nobody acknowledges anyone. The air is thick with the collective need for isolation. These people, for whatever reasons, don’t want to be noticed. They don’t want any trouble. The fear runs deep here. You can feel it on your skin. Breathe it in your nostrils. I started to understand the deep, deep need to have a gun in my hand.

“Gaaaaan storrrrrr, maaaaaan” yells the driver as the bus shudders to a stop. His accent as thick as taco sauce. We feel everyone checking us out as we amble off. We’re hit with a gust of dust as we cross the carpark. A faded blue flyer wraps around my leg. “Tuesday is Ladies Day, FREE range use for all ladies on Tuesdays so come in and practice your shooting skills!” it says eagerly in Wild West Frontier type.

“Featuring Lead Free Ammo for our customer's health and safety”. This last sentence is down the bottom of the page. I am too Vegas’d-out to even think about the moral complexity of that statement. Eddie looks at me and laughs.

We push through the doors eager to get back to where we started. John is there waiting to help us lose ourselves in the smell of cordite and the feel of short controlled bursts. I feel a warm burst of desert air as the door closes behind me. A last whisper that tells me I’m already lost.

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