Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is that a gun in that monkey's pocket...or is he just happy to see me?

When you go to the zoo, you expect to see monkeys, maybe a brooding vulture. You don't expect to see visitors with handguns. But you would have, had you visited Zoo Boise Saturday morning. 
About ten members of the local chapter of OpenCarry.org, a national group that advocates for citizens' rights to openly carry handguns, met there for a morning out.
After a little confusion at the front gate about whether it's legal to pack unconcealed heat at the zoo — it is, if you're in Idaho — the group, all visibly armed, bought tickets and sauntered in, past the concession stand with the dino fries, and bins of plush toys.   
Naturally, I wanted the members of OpenCarry to be bandoleered like Mexican revolutionaries. I was there to write a newspaper story after all, and I'm always hoping for a detail like that.
Alas, the closest thing I saw to a bandoleer was the black belt, studded with silver hearts, that held the holster of Carol, a friendly open carrier from Nampa. 
(For those of you not from this part of the world, Nampa is a town near Boise known for its sugar beet factory and box store sprawl where you're really likely to hear someone say, "Wow, I remember when that car dealership was a potato field.")  
Bandoleerless, Carol left her sunglasses on the whole time we talked and proclaimed herself a big fan of home schooling, along with the firearms. 
Carol has gone through the steps, the training and the background check, to qualify for a concealed weapons permit. Hiding your weapon, rather than wearing it like jewelry, is the next step up in personal safety. 
Though she now considers her holster as integral a part of her wardrobe as her underwear, she can still imagine an unarmed world.
"In an ideal society, one of peace and people taking control of their own lives, you wouldn't need a gun," she said.
Unfortunately, said fellow OpenCarry.org member Blaine of Eagle (another town near Boise, where the presence of a cupcake store indicates its relative prosperity), the world is a dangerous place of random shootings — even in malls and churches. Going through life unarmed? Folly.
The former military man said he's not a vigilante and has no desire to chase down criminals. 
"When seconds count, police are still minutes away," he said.
Neither Carol nor Blaine has ever had to use their gun in self defense. 
They have been asked to leave private property, though, like restaurants and stores where their guns made people nervous.
Lt. Alan Cavener of the Boise Police Department said that when it comes to carrying guns in public, reason has to play a part.
"We support peoples' constitutional rights, but we also want to ensure public safety. People need to use common sense about where they choose to bring a firearm," Cavener said.
The OpenCarry zoo visitors were trying to make the point that bringing your pistol, along with your middle schooler, to look at the monkeys was common sense. 
"Coming to the zoo was something we could do together, like any family would," said Carol.
The only other reporter who showed up to cover the story, was a handsome, square-jawed tv guy. He was all over one particularly photogenic clan of open carriers. 
The dad wore a Smithsonian t-shirt. The kids, a couple meek-looking, doe-eyed daughters and a boy, were all too young to carry their own handguns. They wore holsters, holding little knives and canisters of pepper spray instead. 
Zoo visitor Laura, from Salem Ore., questioned whether it was really necessary for someone besides a staffer working closely with dangerous animals to carry a gun at the zoo — legality aside. Saturday morning, the most ominous threats appeared to be runaway strollers and kids throwing tantrums. 
"Legal and appropriate are two different things," said another visitor, Alex from Boise.

I wrote my story. It ran in the paper. I am not a fan of guns, or "carrying," open or otherwise. In my personal life I've been vocal about that. In fact, the one time I've been abandoned by a man in a restaurant, was when I told a him I would not live in a house if there were guns inside it, even if said guns belonged to George Washington, or something. He got offended and stormed out. 

OK, so there were other issues in that relationship, but still. 

In the newspaper business, as a reporter, you're honor-bound to write about things fairly, regardless of your personal thoughts. So what I tend to do, because I'm so afraid of looking biased, is that I usually end up sounding sympathetic to the side I'm personally against. Also, I inevitably end up liking most of the people I talk to, or hitting it off in some weird way. Like when Carol told me she got her studded leather belt at Fred Meyer, on sale, looked at me and said, "I know. Cool, right?"  
I always get this Rodney King, "can't we all get along" thing. Not the best for a reporter.

So the fallout from this piece was, I got a few emails from gun enthusiasts who were really appreciative of the article. I think they thought I was on their side. 

The truth is, I will never think that a family that open carries is just like any other family. And this is coming from a true, native daughter of the Wild West. As a kid, I watched Gunsmoke regularly. One of my earliest crushes was on Matt Dillon. Sheriff Matt Dillon.
I got bags of beef jerky in my Christmas stocking every year, was terrorized by uniquely western fears, like, would it hurt if I fell into Old Faithful at Yellowstone Park, or would I be instantly par-boiled and feel nothing?
I did own a weapon.
I remember one Saturday when my dad took me and my brother to the sporting goods store so we could get our own knives. 
I chose a little pearl-handled pocket knife. As I recall, the attraction was the pearl-handle --really pretty -- not the blade. 

(A sign posted near the ranch of coyote-lovers outside Ketchum, Idaho. A second sign on the property reads: "'Happy' is our pet coyote. He warns our dogs when the wolves are near." Only in Idaho — maybe in Montana and Wyoming as well — will you find such a constellation of canines.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The first ones of the season

Finally, after a year of strategic planting of lots of scarlet things, my first up-close encounter with a hummingbird. These creatures are nothing less than magical. I have planted three tall agastaches. "Tutti-frutti" variety in the front yard. I was crouched down by one the other evening, weeding out inadvertent cantaloupes grown from "composted" seeds. I heard and felt that particular flapping buzz that seems to entirely change the air around it, that always means a hummingbird is near. And there he was, satiny green, going blossom to blossom on the agastache right next to me. I don't actually think he knew I was there. So I didn't move anything but my eyeballs, watching him. 
My earlier up-close encounter with a hummingbird was more taxidermic in spirit. Walking along the sidewalk one day a couple summers ago, I looked down and saw a newly-dead hummingbird. I picked him up and carried him home, sandwiched between two geranium leaves. He was that small. 
I inspected him on the kitchen table for a long time. Because how often do you get the opportunity to see a fully intact, stationary hummingbird?
I saw a long, dry, thread-like tongue. Grey-green feathers like epaulettes on his shoulders. I put him in a Ziploc bag and put him in the freezer. When I look at him now, he seems even smaller and his green color is almost gone. 
He shares the freezer with a goldfinch, found lying outside a state office building. Intact also. I suspect a collision with a plate glass window did him in. 

Battered and broken, the Hulk comes home

Broken feet in the air. Face down in a ditch. Green skin pock-marked and scratched. Sure, it looked like the aftermath of a 24-hour bender. But it wasn't the Hulk's fault. Purloined from the sidewalk outside the Outpost 12 comic book store on State Street in Boise Thursday night, the seven-foot papier maché sculpture met an ignominious end in a drainage ditch at the bad end of 36th Street. 
Following what one of the Hulk's owners, Ray Egusquiza, described as a "semi-anonymous" phone call Friday night from someone claiming to work for "the highway department," the shattered super hero cum art project was hauled from the muck. He's currently in seclusion in the Outpost 12 game room. "His arm is sitting on a table all by itself. Yeah, it's kind of depressing," Egusquiza said. 
Egusquiza, who has an art degree and crafted the Hulk, is taking the vandalism hard. He had planned to start a new project, a life-sized Supergirl, intended as the Hulk's companion. But that will have to wait. 
Egusquiza believes the Hulk can be repaired, but estimates the job may require "two or three weeks of dedicated work."
Healing the emotional injuries may take longer. 
"At first I was mad. But at the same time, I thought it was kind of nice that someone thought the Hulk was good enough to steal," Egusquiza said. "But then, finding out they dumped him in a ditch. That was crushing."
The Hulk had only spent about a week and a half on the job before his assault. But in that short time he had begun to develop a following. 
"We had whole families coming in. Kids would pose with the Hulk, parents would take pictures," Egusquiza said. "We took him in and out every day with a handcart," Egusquiza added wistfully. 
Outpost 12 co-owner Jeff Doyle was helping a customer at about 8:30 p.m., Thursday, when he saw two men in a white pickup truck leave the smoke shop nearby. They threw the Hulk into their pickup and sped away. 
Egusquiza believes the Hulk will reassume his post outside the shop after he recovers. "But he'll be secured with a nice, big chain," the artist said.