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.