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On the same afternoon that I zipped my grandfather into a body bag – he was fortunate to die at home, in his own bed, and the last words he heard on this earth were my grandmother saying she loved him — I inherited one of his old rifles. It was a single shot .22 with a scope from the old regime – decent glass in its day – that he used to teach my father and uncles to shoot in their sprawling back yard in North Hollywood. Under the house he built a pistol range.
In the years just after World War II North Hollywood — NoHo– was still in the country, hummocks away from the whistling grind of the Los Angeles basin. NoHo was horse properties and tangled arroyos and those golden hills the old Californios would still have recognized. It was a different world then and my grandfather built the boys their own ghost town, complete with a saloon and a bank and a jail – I have the black and white photographs – on land now buried under a bend in the 101 freeway. Today those memories are entombed under tons of concrete, not far from the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar on Lankershim where Armenian gangsters sit in the back room trafficking Russian whores, smoking Cuban cigars, and counting hauls from the opioid smurfs they deploy each day on the streets of the San Fernando Valley.
Things fall apart.
I come to these memories today because I am trying mightily to work out my place in this world. Zipping your grandfather into a body bag, it turns out, leaves a smoking crater in the middle of the solar plexus. Looking back, I realize that it has left a far deeper scar than I may have allowed for, desensitized as I was by the toxicities of law enforcement. But I see it now for what it was — unceremonious and shameful — and far less than he deserved on his way to Lord Neptune. But we live in a culture that has mostly eschewed meaningful ceremony for hashtags and Kardashians. Our family held a memorial in an airplane hangar at the Camarillo airport, and it was good, but we are no longer allowed to bury our dead with the honors they truly deserve, and so there is no long-boat burial mound for Russell Rullman, United States Navy, who sailed to war on the edge of the world and returned not on his shield, but with it.
I keep that rifle in my armory now, and several more of my family arms that have come down to me, including Russ’s Naval Officer’s sword and my father’s .38 from his days as a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. These items are but a few among our family’s arms, as valuable a legacy to the men of my clan as the historic arms of any family from any era. Which is one reason I can see no peaceful means by which I would ever surrender my weapons. Our armed heritage is both earned and sacred, and it is among the last true instruments by which we can measure our freedom. I will not comply with any law demanding my disarmament, and I will never peacefully surrender any firearm in my possession.
It’s astonishing how upsetting that simple declaration has become to some readers, as I have written it elsewhere, most publicly in a newspaper column. But many Americans, now fattened on a steady diet of sheep-think, an utterly bizarre obsession with “safety”, and accustomed to delivering histrionic outbursts, seem to live their lives in a state of perpetual fear. The book of Revelations has been replaced by the fear-mongering of militant special interest groups — the modern equivalent of sandwich board sidewalk doomsayers — and 24 hour news loops that tap dance on the minds of a noticeably weakened citizenry.
“Both at the time of plain clothes (peace) and the time of helmets and armor (war), it is sufficient for both high and low to revere the founders and their offspring so we can learn from their examples. Then we (samurais of the clan) will be able to manage everything without fail.”
Not that my opinion really matters. It doesn’t. But the simple truth is that I feel increasingly distanced from the course my nation seems to be taking. I feel that way about many of my fellow citizens too. I see them gasping and mewling their endless tin-can political opinions in all directions (the phenomenon of the instant foreign-relations expert is always amusing), and almost always responding at a kind of frenetic pitch to each new development in our culture. We have created legions of agitated street lawyers, all them demanding respect for the uniqueness of their persons — even as they are functionally unable to feed themselves, have eagerly surrendered their ability to defend themselves, and are utterly dependent on services provided by others in virtually every facet of their lives. There is a kind of wailing dependency that has settled into the fabric of our culture that I don’t remember from years past — no doubt — at least in part — a result of our meme-think inclinations and the tsunami of demonstrably false information that saturates our airwaves.
What I see most often, when I look out across the landscape, is a lot of desperation and hand-wringing and aimless outrage — millions of noisy chicks in a finely feathered-nest, chirping maniacally for yet another worm.
“Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
Death comes soon or late.
And how may man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods?’”
–Thomas B. Macauley
I have been observing the news with considerable interest, now two days after Qassam Solemeini – one of the world’s truly heinous assholes — was droned outside the Baghdad airport. I’ve been fascinated by the polarized responses in our own government, the bottle-deposit analysis all over the internet and social media, and wondering very sincerely: what has any of this to do with me? The answer is that it has almost nothing to do with me, has no impact at all on my daily life, and so the notion of having some golden opinion on the rightness or wrongness of it, or the long-term geo-political ramifications of it, seems almost ludicrous.
But I can admit that I enjoy watching how the event is making people squirm and grasp, and how it has called forth the righteous swords of condemnation and praise alike. Which is all, one thinks, just more noise down through the ages.
Because, if we are being honest with ourselves, we are as helpless as football fans sitting on a couch watching a football game. Whatever emotions may happen to be triggered by the play on the field, all of our rantings and ravings, rest assured, will have zero influence on the score. All we are doing, really, is responding to stimuli over which we have absolutely no control, even if we yell ourselves hoarse at the television screen.
Which might actually be the behavior of lunatics but…bread and circuses.
I have kept a journal for most of my life. I have boxes full of them. Between Monday, April 14, and Wednesday, April 16, 1986, I made long entries as I observed – I was a high school student – the American bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya. The entries are a record of the hysteria following that incident, the dire predictions of a World War made by the media pundits and various politicians, the accusations and counter-accusations of our government representatives, and the entries even contain hints of that same bizarre and latent terror of Iranians that grips our collective consciousness today. Lions and tigers and Persians, Oh my!
Not much has really changed, except perhaps that the pitch of delivery in our contemporary news reporting has been dialed up considerably, and there is now no escaping the shrapnel of exploding insta-punditry no matter which bunker one jumps into.
I’ve made some starker realizations in recent weeks and one of those is that my opinions on many subjects are essentially derivative. I am not a great political thinker, nor do I have a program that is going to solve any societal ills. It’s not in my wheelhouse, and on top of that I instinctively distrust anyone who thinks they are going to solve problems that have existed since the dawn of civilization — only dressed up in period costumes. We should have learned by now that there are no political messiahs but that selling even the worst illusion of salvation is generally lucrative.
Along with that realization has come the better one, which is that over the last couple of years I have strayed from what actually IS my wheelhouse. It’s a simple little reservation and I have somehow wandered off it, but I have spent the majority of my adult life studying and performing various forms of the combat arms. If you need a team inserted and an ambush set up somewhere in the rainforest, if you need surveillance and reconnaissance of a contested space, if you need to make a clandestine amphibious landing, or if you have an armed and barricaded subject you need removed, I can do all of those things. In fact, at the risk of immodesty, I’m pretty good at them. But if you need someone to wax on the dangers of piston driven engines, to opine on how cow flatulence is altering the ionosphere, if you want an opinion about the socialist leanings of east coast fraternity tarts, or want me to sit rapt through the next batch of impeachment theater, I’m probably not your guy.
I am greatly relieved to have made this rediscovery. It represents a sudden gust of refreshing winds that allow for a course correction out of the doldrums I’ve been drifting in. It’s freedom from having to care very much about which dipshit they are going to put in the oval office next fall, or even the rotating mayoral seat here in Sisters. It’s liberty from concern about whether or not we are going to war with those pesky Iranians. It’s permission for me not to care, because as it stands I am most without a political home in my own country, an internally displaced person, a refugee of sorts, and therefore have no representation in a single house of government anywhere. More importantly I’m free because I am back in training — where I belong.
They can do what they want with the inheritance of our republic, and they no doubt will. But while the larger populace worries and scratches and tweets over the looming conundrums of the day, I will focus intensely on all of the little things, like how to thrive in whatever form of disaster they eventually make of it.
Far from cynicism, this is actually a healthy program for wellness and general relief. It will be critical over the next ten months in particular, and for the foreseeable future. It is a kind of Bushido, and requires practice, but I’m already walking stronger on the earth for having made the choice. The obvious question then is: what are you training for? And the obvious answer remains what it was — and what it has always been: the unknown and the unknowable.
One of things about modern culture is that we live in a culture that is mostly commentary. People get their juices flowing by commenting on what other people do not by going out and doing something themselves. You know that quote by Teddy Roosevelt about the man in the arena? Well, nowadays we have a lot of people in the stands watching and posting on their I‑phones but very few people in the arena itself doing anything. We need more of the latter.
And yes, I’m aware that what this post is a commentary on culture itself.
Craig Rullman says
Yes, the Teddy quote fits perfectly. I am exhausted with the commentary. My endeavor is to return to the arena.
J.F. Bell says
Used to be the loudmouth at the corner bar was an oddity — you couldn’t switch him off, but you could avoid him and eventually get away if he got to be too much.
Now, this global spider web means not only means it’s tougher to duck the assholes — it puts them in contact with the like-minded, and the bigger the train wreck the greater the audience, which is erroneously assumed by pea-wits to impart a certain degree of importance. The technology that should have ushered in a golden age of knowledge instead wound up giving idiots and busybodies a microphone and a way to annoy people on a worldwide scale.
…who’d have thunk?
People weren’t built to live in major metropolitan areas. Of late, I’m increasingly certain they weren’t built to live joined at the hip to their technology, either.
Craig Rullman says
Also, we were once able to knock the piss out of the loudmouth — or even run him through with a sword if it was bad enough — and it was considered a service to the community. These days, looking sideways at the loudmouth is a felony. I just spent several hours sanitizing my bookface account. It is my only social media but it is now a one-way conversation. Which is another sixty pound sandbag thrown out of my pack. Thanks for being here, J.F.
J.F. Bell says
I used to think it was just facebook. Now I’m not sure it isn’t ALL social media.
Case in point. A couple of months back I joined a writing group to knock some off some of the rust from having been idled too long. There’s some good and some bad, but as yet the major takeaway is that I had a better grasp on my target audience before I signed up. More than that, I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more when I was working for myself.
It sounds callous, but the truth, and an essential fact for survival and sanity in our overconnected age, is sooner or later realizing that everybody has an opinion — and once you’ve got that, realizing most of them don’t matter.
Paul McNamee says
I’ve made some starker realizations in recent weeks … I am not a great political thinker, nor do I have a program that is going to solve any societal ills. It’s not in my wheelhouse…
Along with that realization has come the better one, which is that over the last couple of years I have strayed from what actually IS my wheelhouse.
I’ve been having similar thoughts. Politics aren’t my wheelhouse. I bet politics aren’t a lot of people’s wheelhouses but we all get dragged along the noise of 24/7 news, blathering talk radio, and social media.
I wonder how it happened. Advertisers and politicians certainly find a way to benefit from it,–maybe they started. Or, maybe people who identify first by politics grabbed the keys to the proverbial automobile early on.
2020 resolution for me it to reduce digital noise, digital baggage, shift to my wheelhouse(s) and stay there.
Paul McNamee says
(whoops — misplaced my italics. Second line is yours, too, of course)
Craig Rullman says
“2020 resolution for me it to reduce digital noise, digital baggage, shift to my wheelhouse(s) and stay there.” That’s really the spirit of it for me too. I’m going to let others handle all of those big issues and focus on my lane, and after only a few weeks of making that a practice, I’m happier than I have been in a long time.
Steve Erickson says
I think and therefore I am- comfortable with the question itself. Easy answers are for self indulgent delusional sugar ( it’s a metaphor ) cravers. Quickly satisfied with the results of throwing the dart at the dirigible.
Be content with what you know and earnest in attempting to know more.
I’m glad you have a wheelhouse that you built so thoroughly from experience and expertise.
Jim Cornelius says
Sugar craving is an apt metaphor. Gonna borrow it.
Stephen Erickson says
Please do, I’d be honored.
Craig Rullman says
I think part of the key, at least for me, moving forward, is to stop throwing darts at the dirigible altogether. Mostly they come down in the wrong backyard. I’m choosing to see a lot of this stuff on a very long, and increasingly amusing, timeline, which absolves me from having to give more of a shit than is strictly necessary. The problems that clog up our airwaves appear to me to have become largely, and almost across the board, intractable, and so I find very little profit in wading into the swamp. In shooting there is an old and completely bogus aid known as the “pie-chart”. It claims to diagnose problems in pistol shooting. It is 98% bullshit. What matters in accurate pistol shooting boils down to a couple of very small, adjustable things. Two of the most important are indexing and the front sight post. And if you had to choose one, it would be the front sight post. It is all very simple and even Zen. So, I’m back on my front sight post, and somehow my rounds are going more consistently where I send them.
I would agree we should not sleep on and be prepared to fight the loss of our liberties. That’s a real thing and an unapologetic F**k You to those who threaten it for the wrong reasons. As you know Craig, most of our cops at least at this point won’t be kicking any doors to take anyone’s guns. But I stopped saying never decades ago.
I would also caution that the world story told through the news, movies, television and advertising is very different than the one most of us live. I’m better off not watching any news.
It’s a fallen world to be sure, however I have been guilty of looking for the negative puzzle pieces to match the false narrative presented to us 24/7. The devil’s highlights both subtle and spectacular.
Had a blast tonight watching one of freshman boys win his first wrestling match via pin; the other wrestle to the only OT match of the night then lose an epic battle between two little grinders, then came home to a hero’s welcome from my 110 pound American Bulldog, who was still high from her day with dad out and about.
I’m most assuredly meeting more healthy humans than my days on patrol in California and in general feeling more aligned with the PNW community I now call home. The breathing room, headspace and not working about killing, being killed, or worrying about the same for one of my cops has been good.
Environment is important and if your blessed to have the resources to be where you want, do that. Don’t wait. I will admit however my internal suffering behind the badge could have been mitigated substantially if I would have focused my energy more on what and who I loved, than things I could never change. Silly fights; a waste of my energy, time and nobody cares anyway.
So, I won’t do that anymore. I lost the reaction of anger in the administration of force or violence decades ago and I probably won’t stop seeing the bad guys in the crowd out my institutionalization. So unless backed into a corner or it’s an actual matter of principle, it’s about the things and folks I love.
And your right to call out the honor that should have been to your grand-pops, but even in doing so — we all got to learn and you got to reflect on another cool human being.
Wether I pick up the gun for a living again or not, I anticipate an even greater distance from that negative narrative. That is the plan.
At least until somebody p****s me off.…..
Jim — I hope your looking for your new dog.?
A topic for another thread but I think the above using domestic law enforcement as an example — does a good job of highlighting the impossibility of it all sometimes.
lane batot says
Perspective is a marvelous thing. In reading lots of History,(including, of course, things that went on thousands of years ago) one finds that human tragedy and stupidity have not really changed all that much, nor escalated in other than the numbers simply due to there being so many MORE people infesting the planet these days. And that so-called “higher” technology humans have become slaves to, of course. One should do what one can, IF one can, to try and help improve things, and keep sheer anarchy and despotism at bay, but perhaps one of the best things one can do is just REFUSE to get involved with human political or cultural madness–sometimes the simple example of such people can be of great inspiration and influence on others. Such people can serve as anchors in the storm–a completely worthy purpose, certainly! I was luckily BORN knowing my wheelhouse–never any need to go and “find myself”(a saying so popular in the 60’s and 70’s). And fortunately was never forced to stray too far from it(well, there was that one really bad, confusing year–1984–when I stuck my neck out FAR too far for what I thought was a “friend”, and got mixed up in a world of trouble! And it was the DOG I had at the time, that brought me to my senses!) And I do realize how enormously lucky I’ve been in that respect. Perhaps it is because I imprinted on canines at an early age, and if dogs are not much interested in something, then neither am I, generally speaking. It has been an excellent barometer for dealing with the crazy world of bipedal primates. When subjects like this come up, I can’t help but think of Voltaire and his classic, hilarious(but oh, so true to life and human history even now) little novel “Candide”. “Just tend your garden, Dr. Pangloss” is some of THE BEST advice anyone has ever given!
Craig Rullman says
I think “tending my garden” is the best approach — at least for me, and I have tried several different approaches. As much as possible I am trying to build a life that will show resilience no matter who is in charge of what. That may look, variously, like a partisan guerrilla existence, or a peaceful guy raising vegetables in the woods. One must be very careful with allegiances and loyalties, and my response simply depends on what atmosphere is created by those in the world around me. If they make me an outlaw, then I will become one. If they leave me alone, I will be a happy badger down in my hole. The long view of history, and an honest evaluation of my place in it, makes it clear that my ability to influence the greater course of human history is limited 🙂 And I’m okay with it.
lane batot says
I think any life revolved around living close to Nature(the actual “REAL World!”) and learning to provide and do for ones’self is the most balanced and satisfying(and sensible!) way to live, in the end. And it automatically tends to isolate one from the worst of the craziness! A favorite saying I ran across awhile back,(can’t remember who said it, or the exact quote…) that many “modern” humans would do well to consider(which most so-called “primitive” indigenous peoples adhered to) is “Man does not control Nature by conquering it, but by understanding it.”
Trying to do the same this last year and better off for it.