Capturing the Moment


Capturing the Moment

By Alex Call

monster dragon

I have taken up photography in the last year. My girlfriend Lee-Anne Carver, a wonderful, spiritual photographer, encouraged me to buy a decent camera after she saw a few of my cell phone shots. She said I had an eye, something you can’t acquire; it’s a gift. Well, I have now seen enough photography to know that there are people who really do have very good eyes, and I’m not sure how or if I fit in with these exalted shooters, but what I know for sure is that I really get off on drenching myself in the joy of shooting. It’s the same kind of fun as it was to bang out the Chuck Berry riffs and Beatle songs endlessly on an electric guitar as a teenager; it engenders the same single-pointed attention that songwriting and writing, and for that matter, fly-fishing, inspired in me as an adult. In photography, the process is a huge part of the goal. The first aspect, taking the photos, can be almost orgasmic: working within the framework of the light, the subject, the angle, the moment; getting lucky. The second really enjoyable part of photography is looking at the pictures. No waiting for film these days. We load them up on the computer and instantly beginning culling and editing. Photographers look for the good “capture”, the Capture of the Moment, when subject, light, and timing all came together for an unrepeatable, undefinable split second. Ah, the Moment! That’s what the camera is good at. The lens can focus in the shutter can stop time dead, and you get to look it a moment over and over. I’ve always wanted to do that. When I was younger and lived at the beach I would watch the waves roll endlessly in. The bigger ones would feather at the crest when the wind was offshore and there was that sublime moment just as the wave was at its peak as it arched forward over onto itself; my, how I wanted to freeze that moment. Of course, the waves never obeyed my silent command and my sense of longing for the eternal moment was simply a feeling that lingered until the next big set came in. The problem with the Moment is that no matter how hard you try, you can’t capture it. Ok, you can take a photograph. Voila! We see an image of a certain time and place taken from a certain perspective. It is a representation of true uniqueness. But it’s the camera’s moment, not even ours. Ours is seen by the limited filters of senses and thought. We only “see’ a tiny portion of reality; we can’t even begin to comprehend what reality might be with our senses and minds. We see the photograph on a screen or paper. The actual moment? It’s gone. You see, on a very basic level, by the time what we call a moment happens, it’s over. The “moment” itself is so fleeting it simply can’t be recorded. The fastest supercollider can never catch it, either. What we see is a construct of our minds, a projection of what we have learned in our brains and in our bodies. In term of physics, we might call what we see nothing but a display of shimmering photons, or whatever photons are made of. Our minds create and roll out an instant memory, based on limited perception, as our “reality”. This is the problem. We think of the moment as existing; we see the world, we touch things, we remember (vaguely). But there’s in nothing really solid there at all. Just as we look out into the stars and see vast space, so are the microcosmic worlds almost entirely space. The Moment exists not in the future and not in the past, but only in one endless, beginningless point of, what? The moment can’t be measured or held, and certainly not captured. What we see as “reality” is in fact not possible as reality; it only an agreement we have with our minds to not go completely mad. We instantly categorize every single thing we sense and event we perceive as one “thing” or another. Most often we assign a “good” or “bad” to it as well. We fail to realize that our world cannot be regarded as solid. It is in a very basic sense absolutely impermanent. So we look at our captured moment on a piece of glossy photo paper and smile; what a great slice of the pie it is. Our deeper minds, that essence beyond words and senses knows and recognizes this unique fragment as being part of its own family, part of “creation”. We recognize that each fragment is seen from a singular, never-again perspective, unique, yet so like the others to give us the feeling of being permanent and lasting. We take joy at the expression of beauty or sorrow on the screen, on the paper. It is not reality; even the act of seeing it is its own fragment of moment, just like the image. We cannot separate the seeing from the seen, though our minds certainly try, and give the appearance of succeeding. I will never see beyond what I can see while I remain in my senses and thoughts. They are by their nature very limited, though excellent, means of organizing the world appearing before me. Perhaps my spiritual seeking will give me further glimpses of something “beyond” or more “present” from time to time; I’ve had a couple of spark-like tastes in my life. But for now I will point and click the camera and load the images on the computer and marvel, in that moment, at the previous moments I’ve captured. I hope you like them too sometimes. I love seeing photographs of the inexplicable, mysterious world. It’s a beautiful moment.

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Don’t be afraid to not be afraid


Don’t be afraid to not be afraid

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By Alex Call

I hear so much pessimism these days. Every crisis that explodes forth from the 24/7 media provokes another tortured wave of anguish about the state of the world: Sandy Hook, Boston, Iran, and so forth. There’s a lot of fraught hand-wringing going on and I sense a sense that people feel the world is out of control and falling apart.

There’s no doubt that there are many, many very difficult problems in the world. What? Terrorists? Wars? School shootings? Terrible! What’s this world coming to? Oh me, Oh my! We like to expect that things will progress and get quickly better; this is the myth and faith that we grew up with; the myth of progress as swift and a faith that sure, steady change for the better is always coming.

This myth is pervasive in American culture: Manifest Destiny, the New Deal, Morning in America. It has gotten boosts along the way: Westward Expansion, Emancipation of the Slaves, Progressive Initiatives such as Women’s Suffrage, Integration, and environmental laws, always onward and upward. By the 1950’s, Television was helping bring this myth in bite-sized form into every living room: Spandex jackets for everyone. The ‘60’s took it over the top: Free Love, Freedom, World Peace. The future was so bright.

It seems all this brightness was too much for those of a conservative bent. Over the last several decades there has been a pulse of war drums from the Right, calling progress dangerous and appealing to racial, religious, and ethnic fears. Greed, Glorious Greed, has co-opted the language of Love and hipness and caused a polarization of America’s wealth and political views. The angry, fearful tirades of the Right Wing media have mercilessly eroded the audacious cathedrals of hope projected by progressive visionaries. The World seems darker by the day. Each media-frenzy crisis builds more anxiety into an increasingly nervous society. What will happen with the Iranians? Shooters at the Mall? Will North Korea shoot Nukes at us? Doomsday Preppers, stockpile your ammo and canned goods! The End is Nigh! The myth has failed us.

But wait! Are things really as bad as they seem? Are we actually just hearing more about the world’s problems in greater detail? Consider this: In WWII, just seventy years ago, perhaps up to two hundred million people died. Thousands of soldiers fell in single days, sometimes more than a hundred thousand in one battle. We all know what happened to those millions who were incinerated, raped, shot, beheaded, and firebombed.

The dropping of the A-bombs on Japan in 1945 were and are a cosmic punctuation mark on the World’s violence. It has steadily, if unevenly, lessened since then. Though every conflict is terrible and morally inexcusable, really, wars have gotten smaller and less likely to expand with every decade. We now feel horror at handfuls of deaths, as we should. The Media that brings conflict and terror into our mindsets actually produces this effect: we are coming to not accept tragic, needless deaths. This is a very good trend. If it continues, we shall call for hearings into a single killing in Nigeria, a drone strike in Yemen, or a street- corner shooting in Chicago with a vehemence that will ultimately yield a result of less killing. Current potential conflicts are already subject to intense, instant, jet and ‘net diplomacy, which tends to tamp down aggressive war.

Racial tensions, though simmering now, are also waning. The United States of America has a black president. Think about it! Gay marriage is rapidly becoming legal and will soon be the Law of the entire Land. People are turning away from dogmatic, institutionalized churches in favor of community spirit and non-religious spirituality.

I do see three problems looming that must be addressed. Climate change is an established fact and we are seeing the increasingly devastating results now. The inequity between rich and poor on a global scale is unsustainable and must be corrected. The last problem is the biggest: population growth simply must be corralled at once. Laboratory studies have always shown that populations of test animals crash through disease when the numbers get too high. We are seeing Sars, Aids, H1N1, and other viruses crop up and more will come.
Greed is still king, and money-based resistance to environmental controls has led to the Climate crisis. Social/financial inequity is simply wrong and must go; its emerging erosion finds expression in the economic revolutions around the world. I have at least a glimmer of hope that the ultimately empty impulse to acquire wealth that you can’t keep will someday lose its dark appeal for the elites, replaced by inspired desire to manage our resources on a global scale for the benefit of all. Hey, you could make a buck that way, you know! In fact, there is plenty for everyone if we would bend our minds to figuring it out. As for population control, we must look reality in the eye and discard outdated religious thinking that was meant to increase the flock to produce revenue for Churches and States. Overpopulate too much and most of humanity may well fall to microbes. These are serious issues with which we are facing deadlines. The time to act is now.

That’s why I am happy to see the unmistakable positive signs of change. Peaceful change, brought by educated populaces is the developing wave of the future. I used to think that the 60’s had been taken over by body snatchers who embodied the very antithesis of what was espoused in that brief time of cosmic inspiration. But now I believe that in fact the organic orchards of the 60’s are just beginning to bear fruit. It’s just taken longer than the myth promised. It’s really not a bad myth. Progress that eases the suffering of the people and beings of the world is not bad.

So I think we might open the hatches on our bunkers and start planting gardens. We might put up our weapons and say howdy to our neighbors. It’s a beautiful planet and a wonderful time to be alive. Thing might just be OK. Our fears are not good seeds to plant, let’s plant hope instead.

Don’t be afraid to not be afraid; you might change the world after all.

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Row, Row, Row, Your Boat..a Mantra for Westerners


A Mantra for Westerners

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By Alex Call

Out of pre- Victorian times, perhaps originating in the United States, comes:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

This universally known ditty is far more than a children’s song. It has very deep meanings, including the facet of being sung in the form of a round. I wonder if some wandering Buddhist, perhaps reincarnated on banks of the Mississippi River or some such locale long before Buddhism had come to the West, did not consciously or otherwise make this up.

Here’s some historical reference from Wikipedia:
“It has been suggested that the song may have originally arisen out of American minstrelsy. The earliest printing of the song is from 1852, when the lyrics were published with similar lyrics to those used today, but with a very different tune. It was reprinted again two years later with the same lyrics and another tune. The modern tune was first recorded with the lyrics in 1881, mentioning Eliphalet Oram Lyte in The Franklin Square Song Collection but not making it clear whether he was the composer or adapter.”

Let’s look at the song line by line.

Row, row, row your boat

Effort and intention is featured here. One must make consistent efforts to keep your vessel moving. It’s not enough, in the song’s view, to simply let the current take you wherever it may. You have to row. Rowing is a demanding task, requiring focus, judgment, and persistence. Obviously, the rower has intention to keep the boat going the right direction with the proper pace, seemingly without end.

Gently down the stream

One’s boat should take advantage of the flow of life. To row upstream is not going to work, so abiding Faith is indicated here; the flow of life will be generally correct, though not perfect. We know that currents and rapids, even waterfalls and floods will occur. But a sure, faithful, consistent touch will usually put us in a good position to handle the next transition in an unending series of transitions; “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly”. Being heavy-handed and forcing the issue, especially in our dealings with others, is often counterproductive and does not bring one into a happy place anyway. There’s only so much one can do about life: don’t hit the banks or run aground on obvious sandbars, watch for snags and sweepers, maybe even plan ahead a little bit (but remember the river is taking you and you can’t change that)!

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Don’t worry – be happy! Thich Naht Hanh tells us to practice smile therapy. The Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness. Life is at the very least simply not fair: it’s hard (as John Wayne once said, “and it’s harder if you’re stupid”), and it’s really made so much more tedious and weary-making when you add your own heavy piles of imagined, neurotic, crappy misery on top of your already karmically-laden craft. Hey, we all do it; if we didn’t we wouldn’t need the song to remind us. But we can try to remember, over and over, and it takes a lot of mantra repetitions to get this into out thick skulls: repeat after me… Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily….and…! ‘a one more time!

Life is but a dream

Ah…this is the part that’s really deep and juicy. It has to do with the nature of mind and perception. What do we see? What is there, or what we apply our mental special effects to? The latter, really. Life is a fleeting, beginningless, endless moment that we choose to view as past, present and future. Well, the past no longer exists, the future has yet to be, (if ever- and it won’t be what we think it will be anyway), and the ‘present’ might be a gift, but we can only infer that it happens at all by referring to our personally tainted visions of the past and our fear-and-hope-driven (two sides of the same coin) daydreams of the future. So, since all manifestation is on a very basic physical level nothing but an spacious, outrageous, empty shimmer of energy, why not follow the instructions of the lines above and enjoy whatever manifests as we make the effort to guide our boats as nicely and happily as we can manage. The dream will happen, regardless of our take on it, until it does whatever it does.

This ideally sung as a round, indicating that the cycle of the dream is endless itself and struggle is useless, only the approach and intention are ours to take. Row gently and merrily, and remind me to do the same.

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wr 2Have a nice dream!

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The Major Leagues


The Major Leagues

by Alex Call

 A few months ago I asked my ten- year -old son what he wanted to be when he grew up. During the previous year I hadn’t seen him as much I would like to, due to a separation and attendant, nasty court battles, but I had been there for his baseball seasons, both spring and fall, as an assistant coach. I took him fishing most times I saw him off the field.

I don’t know what prompted my question; I suppose I was trying to let him know I cared where he was going. I miss you like crazy, kid. I’m your father; don’t forget.

His answer was perfect. “I want to be either a Major League baseball player or an ichthyologist”.

Wow, of course. When I was ten I wanted to be either a Major Leaguer or a paleontologist!  I said, that’s great! Ichthyologist! Cool!  He showed me a bunch of fish pictures online (he likes the really ugly, coarse fish I was never into, like Asian carp, Wells catfish, and deep water finners with Latin names). I told him about catching hard-fighting pargo in Baja.

I had the thought to say, well, son, there are only a very few Major League ballplayers, so maybe coaching would be a good way to go, but I held back. My son is a very good little baseball player with many pro mannerisms and great hands and feet. He has a deep competitive fire in him as well. Who knows? You can basically always be an ichthyologist.

By the time I was eleven, my goals had drifted from paleontology to my new passion: Rock Music. Oh, I still wanted to be a baseball player, but I could see that Tom, Dave, and Brian on my little league team were way better than I was and they weren’t as good as Mike, Rick, and Steve over in the neighboring league.

But nothing could dissuade me from going for the majors in Rock. I would do it; I had no doubt. First came The Wandering Kind (we played a frat party and a Christmas tree sale in a parking lot), then The Urthworms in High School, then The Tiny hearing Aid Company ( fits all in one ear!), and then Clover.

The early bands were the low minors, just learning how to field grounders and throw off the correct foot. Clover was AA, then AAA, and then quickly Major League. OK, we were there for a little while and weren’t starting players, but we had some good games: we got signed to a label and made two albums, did some good concerts, and even blew away Steve Miller one night. But our records were lousy and didn’t sell and we got cut and sent down by our label. Worse: we were flat-out released. No one would sign us. Wait! We’re Major Leaguers!

Clover. Ciambotti, McFee, Mitch, Huey, Sean. Good harmonies, great lead players, solid up the middle. Pitching? Maybe a little weak (me and Huey at the time), but serviceable and even good on many shows. We got signed again and went off to England and had a better look around the Bigs: tours, records, interviews, groupies, high times. Ciambotti with his Panama hat and red suspenders, Huey with his studded-leather harmonica holsters, my blue suede lace up Beatle boots. Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, London, New York, LA.

Our records didn’t sell and we got cut again. Maybe the “pitching” (my singing and songwriting) was not Major League after all. Clover broke up. I fell into deep space. McFee joined the Doobie Bros. Huey got a record deal, Ciambotti played with many artists. They were Major Leaguers. Me? Not so much.

But then I had a hit song as a writer, then another, then a few more. Clive Davis signed me to Arista Records. I bought SUV’s, built a house in Montana. Ah, I was a major leaguer after all. If I had gone to college and become a paleontologist, perhaps I would have discovered a jawbone of some unknown dinosaur in the wind blasted badlands of Alberta. Duckbillensis Callenensis. But I had stuck with my eleven- year- old’s dream and though it was very far from perfect, and though the story doesn’t end there at all, I did get my short run in the Bigs. Not enough, not as much as other guys, but enough for me to say I played in the Major Leagues: The Show. Do I have regrets about how I comported myself at times? yes. Do I wish I had a few do-overs? yes. But still, I put on the uniform and took the field.

So I won’t say to my son that his dream of being a Major League ballplayer is not worth pursuing; he has his own journey to go through. I hope he does get to the Bigs, whatever field he takes. Keep your eye on the ball, son.

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UFO’s? or Rocks? You be the judge.


UFO’s? or Rocks? You be the judge.
By Alex Call

We went out to dinner the other night to a restaurant that was in a converted old movie theater. A new space had been created from the brick shell of the building. The hip (and somewhat toasted) chef came by our table and we started chatting. He said that the building was haunted, and proceeded to tell us tales of the dark basement, of two little girls in clothes of another day seen sometimes in the balcony, and things that generally go bump in the night.

He wanted to believe in ghosts. He did believe, beyond belief: Ghosts exist! Many, many people believe in ghosts. Ghosts go with religion, so that’s natural. We humans can’t answer the most basic existential questions, so we tend to accept what others have passed from the past as “gospel”. Religions generally feature afterlives (you can live forever!), and ghosts are poor, lost souls that have fallen through the cracks of the foundations of Faith. Besides, ghosts are fun- in a buttered popcorn and a medium-sized–soda-kind-of-way. We have a need to believe, not a reason, so we construct edifices of belief that give us comfort, a place to go: scary, but also fun and exciting, a safety valve from the pressure of the relentless glare of realty’s searing light.

Let’s face it, reality is harsh: we live and die without a real owner’s manual to guide us through the process of life, without an absolute knowledge of what this is all about. OK, I know, I know: many of you will say, “WAIT! We have ______! (name your deity) Have Faith: this is the Way!” Well, that’s belief, and may it serve you well. But it’s not truth, because the truth is no one knows what the truth is.

We love to believe in things that really shouldn’t exist, like ghosts, Sasquatches, UFO’s, Loch Ness Monsters, rains of frogs, vampires, Yetis, and the like. Angels help us; demons plague us. God saves us, the Devil damns us. We find our futures in tarot cards, fortune cookies, and astrology. Our bodies are healed by meditation, yoga, and expensive mud baths and massage. New cars and perfect hair sooth us and make us feel grounded and safe.

We think that ancient man (who was exactly like us, by the way) could never have built the Pyramids, Stonehenge, and Machu Pichu without the help of Ancient Astronauts. “Experts” in Alien-ology point out that those gigantic blocks of stone could never have been carved or moved without the aid of Alien technologies. What’s funny to me about this is that when I look at these ancient edifices, and they are impressive, I see very much the hand of man, imperfect, but striving towards something. If Aliens could engineer spacecraft, couldn’t they have cut uniform stones? Why did they make some things so crudely? Hmmm. Could it be that men did the best they could? No one says that the Gothic cathedrals of France, the Roman Forum, the Parthenon, or the Empire State Building are anything other than works of man. How did the stone masons carve the incredible sculptures of Chartres? I’ll tell you how: they worked their asses off at it, just the way that Neolithic builders hoisted the stones of Stonehenge, the way that Egyptians ramped up and built the Pyramids.

Ghost hunters probe spooky old buildings with flashy spooktrometers, infrared cameras, and white-noise analyzers. They collate their data, but never find anything. I keep waiting. Sasquatch hunting is an industry, with field researchers in Gore-Tex, pushing through tangled, dark forests and clambering up dripping crags. Never mind that no deer hunter has ever shot one. People shoot everything, folks; if one was out there, it’d be dead and on display on Jay Leno. Nessie has sold many a T-shirt and kept Scotland’s pubs open for decades (nothing in the lake but salmon). Seekers meditate, seek wise masters, do yoga, and cleanse their bodies; we still all get old and die and sometimes drunk, divorced, and bankrupt in the process. We pray to Heaven to intercede for us, but things go our way or they don’t; it’s hard to tell why.

Humans have brains that are capable of analytic thought. We can figure things out. We also are able to bring people together to build massive things, from Stone Rings to skyscrapers. We can codify religion and philosophy, forms of law and governance. We tell stories that take ahold of people’s minds and emotions. We build, we destroy, and we pass on, usually not leaving a diary or a blueprint.

All this real stuff is very exciting to me. I wish that UFO’s. Bigfoots (feet?), and Levitating Masters existed. I would love to see a Nessie or a rain of frogs. But what I really like is the fact that humans did build Stonehenge and the Pyramids, the Gothic Cathedrals and the Parthenon and the great wall, The Mounds along the Mississippi, and Saturn rockets, and the Skyline of New York. We did all this. No aliens needed, though they’re welcome to visit if they want to be nice aliens.

The actual truth is more exciting than aliens. We need to give ourselves credit when credit is due; it often enough is not due. We also make war and kill without need.

Take a look at the real wonders of this incredible, unexplainable planet and drench yourself in the glory of a common deer, an old church, a satellite passing overhead, a thunderstorm, a graveyard decked with lonely flowers, an Interstate Highway, a cheeseburger, a garden, a mountain, a baseball stadium, your children, or your pets. It’s pretty dang amazing without bigfoots.

As for those UFO’s, I wouldn’t mind seeing one (that Aliens genetically engineered humans is my personal favorite crackpot theory) but until then….I think they’re rocks…

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2013: Happy New Year? I\


2013: Happy New Year?
By Alex Call

There’s something unsettling about the very year: 2013. It seems unbalanced, uneven, shaky. I suppose it’s the “13”, a supposedly unlucky number. Whatever happened in a 13 year? 1812, 1914, hmmm…those “even” years marked two wars, so maybe 13 is a plus on that account. But still it’s hard to imagine that the movers and shakers who “run the country” are going to put aside their ideological differences long enough to actually accomplish anything of lasting value in 2013, despite the ardent wishes of so many billions of people that they do so. There so many vital needs before us, as a Nation, as a World. For narrow views tinged with racism, religion, and unspoken fears to impede progress is shortsighted, selfish, and dangerous.

This can no longer be an age of denial. The world faces the most serious problems that any age has ever been presented with. If you look at the curves of population vs. resources, what jumps off the chart are the incredibly sharp spikes, going in the wrong directions. There is no longer any question of whether Global Warming is taking place. We’ve even had our first “Sci-Fi Movie“hurricane in Sandy. That was not a normal storm, but it was exactly what environmental scientists have been predicting for some time. The Middle East is in chaos and who knows what governments will arise in the place of the old dictatorships. Hunger plagues the world in an age when there are MacDonald’s around the globe.

In the U.S. the extreme right-wing faction holds the nation hostage through bullying politics. Republican leaders are afraid to lose their grip on their leadership positions and so kowtow to the Tea Party. The Tea Party is a creature that seems to baffle the media and thus the general population. Underlying the Tea Party Constitutional rhetoric lies a base of occult evangelicalism and conspiracy thinking that includes such themes as the Second Coming, the Antichrist, racism, and the New World Order taking power for Mr.Satan. Why the media does not publicize this is beyond me, but it was also true that the pervasive racism that drove the Right in the election was only brought forward by a very few people at the very end of the campaign. Scratch the head? It was quite obvious to me.

My point is that we don’t have time to waste on this nonsense. We need to be in an Age of Reason: an era of pragmatic thinking, of solutions, and not be sidelined by narrow ideologies. We could, if we were to put our real focus on it, feed the world; we could work on developing long-term strategies for energy, conservation of resources, and international understanding. It is critical that we do this; we need to attack the problems on a “war” footing. We don’t even speak of overpopulation. Global warming is hardly mentioned anymore; it’s all covered up with “Tea Party”, debt ceiling, tax rates for millionaires. Yet Overpopulation is the key to the future; in laboratory studies rat populations crash through disease when the number become too high. We could face this at any time. Food and water resources are soon to reach critical poor levels.
The time for yapping about tax rates being three and a half percent too high is over. Warring over national, religious, and ethnic differences is completely irresponsible. It’s time to get serious about the future of our planet. 2013. Maybe it will be good year, but we’ve got our work cut out for us. I think we all need to be talking with each other about how to bring about an Age of Reason in these unreasonable times. We must rise above and sweep away the insane, petty, and petulant ideas and factions which impede real progress.
Come on, 2013, be the start of Happy New Years to come.

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A gun for Christmas by Alex Call


A Gun for Christmas

by Alex Call

You know how kids want things. I want it. I want it. I’ll dream and plot until I have it. I got to have it! I forget which one of my friends had one already, maybe Jack, maybe Taylor. It wasn’t something that we had in our house. It was outside our family experience, something other kids might have gotten from their dads. My dad didn’t involve himself in my kid world much.

So I hit up my mom, the real power in the house, for it. She recited the oft-repeated family tale of Uncle Whosit, who pleaded with his Victorian-era parents for one and thought his dream was coming true when he saw the long, cylindrical package on the top shelf of the closet where the Christmas presents were hidden. But it turned out to be an umbrella. Not a proper gift for an eleven–year-old boy (like me) at all, no, not at all! Uncle Whosit didn’t get one but I was going to; my mom finally gave in and told me so. And now Christmas was almost here.

You wouldn’t think that Daisy would be the name of a gun maker. Too girlie. Maybe Frontier or Trailblazer or something German sounding like Schotz or Fokker, a manly sounding name for a man’s weapon. But Daisy it was, because they made BB guns. I didn’t want the western-style lever action like Jack’s, even though it was the U.S. Cavalry model from the movies, it wasn’t powerful enough. I had my heart set on a pump-action. I eyeballed one on display at Santa’s Toys for months. I practically wore off the paint on the barrel just looking at it.

“You have to be safe!” My mom insisted, “or you can’t have it. I won’t have anyone’s eyes getting shot out!” Why was it always the eyes? “Don’t throw rocks; you’ll put someone’s eye out!” But throwing rock-hard apples was fine. My older brother’s friends pelted my little posse mercilessly and no one lost an eye, or even got hit. Mom, I promise I’ll be careful! I promise! I promise!
I don’t know what I was planning on shooting with my Daisy; I hadn’t gotten that far yet. I simply needed to get one, against all parental odds. And so I did get to unwrap a long cylindrical package Christmas morning and take my pump-action heart’s desire out to meet our destiny. I filled it with shiny copper BB’s from the BB tube. I think it held fifty or so. I clacked the pump, shockn- chockn, and she was loaded.
Daisy was suddenly heavier, pregnant, alive. Alive in my hands. Once loaded, she had to be fired. And I knew in that moment that what I had to do with this BB gun was the forbidden. I had to shoot birds. Oh, I think I started by taking some shots across the gully at the old barn. I could track the flight of the BB: a copper arc that fell off fast after fifty feet. I could hit things. I’ve always had a good eye.

Above my head were the crabapple trees of the orchard. Even in December in Northern California there are robins and other birds around. I craned my neck and looked up and saw them flitting about. A bird would light on a branch and just sit there for a few moments. I had only to be quiet and calm.

Holy shit, I shot one and it fell down at the base of the tree. It was dead What did I feel when I shot that first one? Probably a secret, guilty pride. I was a good shot! I think I scuffed the ground with my shoe and piled some leaves over the bird’s little soft body. I didn’t tell my mom, that’s for sure.
As the days went by one bird became another and another. Dang, I was good. I could see how to aim slightly above the birds so that my BB would hit home. I stalked that little orchard for the next few weeks, taking one, two, even three birds at a time: robins and whatever else. A flutter of feathers lifeless on the ground; kick the body into the tall grass. I felt a little bad about killing them, but the thrill of the hunt covered that up.

It became too easy. The little birdies didn’t wise up; I could plug them with little effort. I took to shooting them across the gully, a more challenging shot. I felt worse with each new kill now; I knew it was all but finished for me and my daisy, and it was only January! Dang, I had really wanted that gun.

One day after school I took to my solitary orchard, Daisy in hand. I might have shot one. I didn’t like it seeing the bird dead. Kick in down into gully. There was a movement in the top branches of Big Tree. I raised my weapon slowly. There hovering was a hummingbird. I think I said don’t do it, but I did. A fine shot of a moving target. I hit it in the head and it fell through the branches right at my feet. I had smashed its little pointy beak. It was still alive. But it wouldn’t make it; its beak was shattered by my BB. Its colors were beautiful, iridescent green and red, I think. Its wings buzzed as it struggled. I pumped again, put the muzzle right to its head, and squeezed. I kicked it twenty feet into some bushes.

I can’t remember who I gave the gun to. Lucky guy. My score was Alex 54, birds 0. I took up guitar that year and also became a half-decent baseball player. A year later I had a girlfriend. I never picked up a gun again to kill.

I really wanted that gun.

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