SO: Xmas. My father's children were skimpy breeders, and it generally falls to the extended crew, the descendants of his 90-year-old sister, to host holiday festivities, since their seeming unfamiliarity with the work of Thomas Malthus, the concepts of home economics, or the advances of modern contraception (their average of 3.5 children, 3 marriages, and 2.5 divorces is actually dragged down by my once-married, childless first cousin) has necessitated each maintain a small banquet hall just to meet their daily feeding requirements.
The late patriarch of this clan, my Uncle Sam, was the CFO of a major international conglomerate who lived like a minor suburbanite rather than a prairie earl. This was not, so far as I could tell, due to miserliness, but a sort of Christian duty to frugality, one which passed into quaintness, became endangered, and finally as rare as ivory-billed woodpecker teeth, all within his lifetime. That current of Midwestern Calvinism still riffles and eddies along, somewhere, with his grandchildren, but their children cross dry-shod and oblivious; any future hints of frugality will no doubt be thrust upon them, by a world they seem connected to only electronically. This is not the grousing of a bitter old man, not this time: our neighbor's child is a beacon of social responsibility, and I have hopes for the eldest of my Poor Wife's younger brother's brood, the one who seems to have escaped serious brain bubbles. It's the young person who isn't at least partly frivolous who's suspect, and one unstuck to at least one electrical gadget is practically unthinkable. The disturbing fact is not addiction to consumer gizmos, nor a steady diet of crappy blockbuster movies consumed with relish, but the genealogical evidence of a startling decline: my uncle was a very smart man, and his eldest daughter, whose serial monogamy and slightly-excessive reproductive rate kick-started the whole business, is damn near brilliant, but they've managed to usher in somehow, in less than sixty years, an entire generation of aspiring cheerleaders. (Mind you, we've known a couple of smart cheerleaders in our time, and we regard Life Itself as an endless stream of surprises, some favorable. We're just saying that whatever that gang was doing with its cellphones Xmas Day, we think following current events can be safely ruled out.)
The day ended with the near-traditional invitation to the neighbor's holiday bash, which is always a source of decent drinks, entertaining conversation, and better dope than most Republicans will admit to owning, let alone share. And this led, indirectly, to The Greatest Gift of All, or at least the most fun I had all Season. I was ushered into the Secret Smoke Room (our hostess knows enough to grab me when the disapproving schoolmarm I married isn't looking) for a semi-annual lung capacity test, followed by the customary hanging and shooting the neighborhood shit. A couple people had come in, indulged, and gone out again when the room suddenly filled with Metaphorical Camouflage: the decidedly Republican husband, his usual three-man posse of twenty-somethings, which I find a tad odd, and a guy I didn't know, who turned out to be a former assistant chief of police, but who, in the parlance of The Day, was cool. The young guys started in to tokin', after which the conversation returned to the subject I believe it rarely left: Huntin'.
Now, the only thing I've ever shot at, or wanted to shoot at, is a target. I've done a little fishing, but only as part of a program to determine if there were levels of Boredom beyond Extreme and Mind-Numbing. I married into a family of hunters (the menfolk, that is), and I've known others, and I have to say I Don't Get It. I don't have a Bambi complex. I don't want to ban hunting. I just think the concerned citizen of the world today would put the vast majority of his available energies into protecting what's left of this natural world--including not peppering it with stray lead--so they and others might be able to hunt in the future. But, like I say, this guy's a Republican, so his consideration for what you and I might call "the planet" begins and ends with himself (please, don't bother telling me there's such a thing as non-toxic shot. I know it, and I know the level of concern these guys have for the environment vs. their own pocketbooks or lethality ranges).
And these guys are bird hunters, like my father- and brother-in-law, which means that they don't hunt in any accepted definition of the word; they go sit by a lake at some guy's lodge, wait for whatever's in season to fly over, and shoot at it. I'm not attempting a psychology of the thing, nor impugning a native moral superiority; I'm just saying that, to me, the woods are a great place to hike in, explore, and observe, but if I want to sit for fourteen hours a chair, suitable light, and a good book seem like more the ticket. And my Poor Wife, who was regularly fed the spoils of this sort of thing while growing up, thinks that biting unexpecteldly into a piece of birdshot somewhat diminishes the pleasures of the table.
Anyway, the talk goes on at length about some prime spot a few miles north, a private lake between two cornfields, and drifts into just what conservation laws can be ignored or violated with impunity (a feature of every hunter's confab I've ever heard, with apologies to any scrupulous shooters out there. These are people who have a list of imaginary intrusions into their Rights a yard in length, and expecting self-policing is analogous to expecting Republicans to protect voting rights. Then there's a segue into grousing [pardon] about the possibility that Indiana might join the ever-growing list of Socialist States which unfairly require gun show peddlers to obey the law an' stuff).
And this wakes the cop up, apparently, and he starts telling gun tales, either from his own casebook or some NRA fanboy site I'm not sure, but there's a couple in a row that end with the a) law-abiding homeowner and b) firearms-savvy storeowner putting one right between the eyes of a ne'er-do-well (the latter, I think, was Aarne-Thompson 961, "Shopkeeper saved by Hidden Piece"). That one evolved into a discussion of the trigger mechanism responsible for saving the merchant's life, then smart gun technology and the politicians who are just waiting for January 20 ("Black Tuesday") so they can ram it down our throats.
The growing audience enthusiasm triggered (sorry) the inevitable "when this Obama gets in" rant. (I'm a reasonable student of local culture and color, and the "this" construction is foreign. Is it military? The helicopter instructor in The Simpsons used it: "Another guy I like is this Leo Sayer".) "Although he seems to be moving more towards the center".
I should note here that when I drink, or treat my mind like a couple of fried eggs, I actually become unbearably charming; I'm sort of a reverse surly drunk. But there was some political contentiousness going on already (my Republican host saying at one point that "it's the gun nuts who make everyone else look bad", thereby, at least, recognizing that there was some reason), and one of the younger guys turned out to be some sort of libertarian Marxist, so I decided I could put in 2¢ without harshing the buzz.
So he paused for a moment, and I kinda looked at him sideways and said, "Y'own a credit card?"
And I'm not going to recount the rest of the conversation, which would sound like I was arguing with an imaginary cabbie. But he got it right away. His face went slack for a moment. And I went on for the sake of the younger guys, whom I was sure it had passed by. "You hand over more information about yourself five times a day; every time you buy razor blades or ball-point pens. Why is requiring fly-by-night weapon salesmen to keep records such an imposition on your rights when you give up those same rights, willingly, for the sake of some small convenience?"
It was a little unfair, because I knew he thought he'd had a completely simpatico audience, because he imagines that Barack Obama is as far to the Left as one can get, and because I hadn't jumped up with the Bambi Defense, but instead hit him right between the Rights. He kinda looked at me hopelessly for a moment.
Then he said "You're under arrest for possession of a controlled substance."
You gotta love cop humor.