On The Edge

January 25, 2013

My life with guns

Kennebec Journal Staff

When I was 22 years old, I killed a cop. I was serving in the Air Force in San Francisco, and I stood no more than six feet away from him, and I shot him four times and he fell, but not before my ears started ringing and kept ringing for three hours.

Now that I have your attention, I can tell you that I was an actor on stage in a San Francisco theater, and the pistol held blanks. In the first professional job of my career, I was playing a young psychotic gunman in Sydney Kingsley's "Detective Story."

Afterwards, my hand shook for hours. I loved the applause. I hated the gun.

It got worse: In Air Force boot camp, we all had to qualify for the carbine. On the firing range, the wooden top flew off mine and hit me in the face, causing a flow of blood. I did not qualify for a Purple Heart, because I was not shooting at a Korean.

For years I told girls at parties that the scar was a war wound. I really did. Women love men with scars. This is why Prussian officers often self-inflicted them. It didn't work on she who has grown skeptical of my ploys. She claims it's probably an acne scar from childhood.

After the wound healed, I was advised by my instructor not to apply for the military police. I wound up as a master typist in the Air Force intelligence office at a base in California. Mostly I filed classified stuff that they wouldn't let me actually read.

At 5 o'clock, after office hours, two gun-toting military policemen and I wheeled the day's paperwork down to a burner and incinerated it. I was compelled to wear a .45-caliber pistol on that short journey. Because I was so skinny -- no butt or hips -- the gun belt kept slipping down. This frightened the two MPs, and they relieved me of the obligation. True story.

With World War II, every boy in America had a collection of warrior equipment: copies of rifles, helmets, ammo belts and rubber bayonets. We even had realistic canteens, which we quickly learned to fill with Kool-Aid. It played a part in my life later in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It's a great true story, but I'm saving it for my memoirs.

One wartime Christmas, my sister and her friend, Margaret Eichelberger, got nurse sets, complete with Red Cross aprons and caps. The sets came with bandages, stethoscopes and vials of "real" blood of a gooey nature that, if spilled, did not come out of upholstery or aprons.

I don't know how this will reflect on my sexual identity, but I really wanted to be a nurse for a few hours and use that stethoscope. Maybe it was just all about Margaret Eichelberger.

You can see that my life with guns never really got going, but now the National Rifle Association's rhetoric has me concerned. They keep saying things like, "What if someone bursts through your door looking for drugs?"

Well, all I have are two pills for cholesterol and baby aspirin. However, if things get worse, and I'm forced to keep a gun in the house, it will be for her.

So I'm thinking a pearl-handled Derringer that she can tuck up inside her skirt like Bonnie Parker did. I understand that Clyde Barrow liked that. It's all immaterial. If they do a background check on me and ask my old Air Force instructor and those two MPs, I'll never get a permit anyway.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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