Monday, November 27, 2006

Holly Oakley

I went shooting this weekend. First time ever. Got to handle a cowboy gun--a big Colt .45 six-shooter replica, the long-barrel model with a side-gate breach, just like I gave Trace. It's got some kick, but less than I expected, and different than I expected. The gun is balanced around the trigger, and it's long and flat--your hand is diagonally below and behind the chamber. When it discharges it kind of rocks back, and if you don't try to fight it, your whole forearm floats up with it.

My sparring partner said he was impressed at how I wasn't afraid of the kick. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive about looking like a girl, but I've been in kung fu class long enough to know that getting hit isn't the end of the world. You just absorb the blow and keep on with the task at hand. Plus, in tai chi we learn to "separate the substantial from the insubstantial," which basically means you pay attention to what parts of the body must be tightened to do work, and which parts have to be soft to act as shock absorption. I figured out real fast that you have to tense the wrist and hand, to hold the gun, while the index finger is soft to pull the trigger and the elbow is loose to allow for the kick. If you try to take the kick at the hand, you'll get hurt.

Besides, you only have to aim long enough to pull the trigger. Once the explosion is gone, so is the bullet, and the kick doesn't matter to your aim.

I spent an hour or so working up to the Colt. First I shot a little .22 rifle with a scope, which was so smooth and effortless it was like throwing darts--only more accurate, since I can't throw darts to save my life. Then I progressed to a .22 revolver, which was harder to aim but got me familiar with the grip and action. Then they gave me something with a larger caliber: a James Bond gun, the Walther PPK 9-millimeter. It was very cool and sleek-looking, and I was pretty keen on it until I fired it. It's a small gun, and it felt good in my hand, but the slide-action made it jerk a lot. There's no mass to hold it down, and that explosion packs quite a punch. It shoves itself back into your hand. All the recoil seemed to bear right on the web of my thumb and forefinger. I shot through several magazines but never really settled to it. Sure looks sexy, though.

Then the Colt. My arm was softened up by this time, but after the Walther my nerves were a bit rattled. The range-master arranged me in a slightly forward stance, and I remembered my tai chi and rounded my shoulders across the back. Two hand grip: right around the grip and left palm cupping underneath. The gun was designed for larger hands than mine and I had to stretch to pull the hammer back, but it was no difficulty to cock it with my thumb.

I had figured out how to sight with one eye by this time. The left wasn't quite closed, it was just unneccessary; I wasn't focusing with it. The barrel was long and shiny, and I could look right down it to the red dot in the center of the target. The angle of the grip makes it as if you really are just pointing your finger, much more so than with the modern Walther. I set my teeth, felt for the ground with my toes, and pulled the trigger.

Boom! Crack! Ping! Nothing else sounds like a gunshot, especially out-of-doors. I had taken my earplugs out to really get the experience. The noise is so loud and percussive that it rings--you can feel the prick of your eardrums. My forearm seemed to rock back and I let it float down again. You can't really see where the bullet goes, in that moment when you pull the trigger; the assault to your senses is too disruptive. But there was a hole in the paper: had it been there before?

Sight down the barrel again, nice and slow. There's a tension on the trigger, an easy pull and then a point where you feel the spring. It takes only the tiniest curl of muscle to pull it past that point. Boom! Another hole in the paper. My back teeth are vibrating. I put my earplugs back in. The SP tells me that the range-master's mouth fell open at that point. Cock the hammer back, try to think forward at the paper. Boom! The kickback isn't a recoil, like the Walther, it's a torque around the chamber. I can't stop it, so I let my wrist go with it. Boom! Boom! A spray of wood pulp goes up behind the target. I am definitely hitting something. Boom!

Click. I'm out of ammo. I'd forgotten to count. I thumb the chamber and the barrel, gingerly at first, but they are only warm, not hot. The clean silver of the gun has darkened, smokily, around the chamber.

Everybody in the world, I think, has certain delusions about their own prowess. Some commedian said we all believe we're above-average drivers. Everyone I know seems to think they are above-average marksmen, as well. Maybe it's just the men I know.

"Did I hit anything?" I asked, semi-jokingly.

"Hell, yeah, you hit it!" the range master said. "That was outstanding!"

I won't claim I dead-eyed it. But all six shots hit the paper--one of those tabloid-sized targets--at fifty feet. Four were in the black. One was an inch from the bullseye.

"Did the SP tell you I'd never fired a handgun before?" I said to the range master as he signed and dated my paper target.

"Yeah... I'd say you have a gift." He grinned at me.

I sighed theatrically. "I suppose now I'll have to do something responsible with it."

"You may be obligated," he agreed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

whoa, grandma

I took my Sparring Partner to meet my grandparents this weekend. They took to him immediately, as I guessed they would. Of course my grandparents are so sweet and gregarious, and the SP is endearingly good-natured and gracious, especially with older people. He's going to fit in the family just fine.

My grandfather immediately hauled him off I knew not where, talking about house construction and tools, and I followed my grandma into the kitchen to help with brunch.

"Wow, Holly," she said in an undertone. "He is handsome. He is so good-looking. And that voice."

He does have a lovely low voice, and a smooth articulate way of speaking. I was surprised, though, to hear the compliment. I mean, I think he's a hottie, but I know I'm not a reliable judge of his looks. And my family doesn't hand out empty compliments.

"I know I shouldn't carry on like this, an old grandma like me, but wow," Grandma said, while I grinned bigger and bigger. "You got a good one, there."

"Aw, stop it, you're gonna make me blush," I said.

"Well, you should be!" she said, giving me a squeeze. "You're the blushing bride."

We're getting married on Saturday--me and the SP. At last, at last. We'd always expected it would happen someday, although we never talked about it until recently. We both had a private conviction that I'd be widowed young and we'd hook up in ten or fifteen years. Hey, karma works in mysterious ways.

Grandma loaned me an antique Art Nouveau-era necklace that belonged to her grandmother, part of my namesake legacy. My dress is white silk, sleek and simple.

I feel serenely blissful.

Friday, November 10, 2006

spicy sausage 'shrooms

Saute some mild Italian sausage in a little water and olive oil. Use the bulk kind, or take the casings off of links. While it cooks, chop it up with a spatula or wooden spoon. Don't let it brown. You'll only need about 3/4 to 1 cup of cooked sausage, so if you cook a lot, save the rest for pizza or bolognese sauce.

While the sausage cooks, wash several large button mushrooms. With a paring knife, cut the stems out, and pare out some of the gills and edges to make little bowls of the caps. Save the stems for another project. Mushrooms freeze well enough for use in sauces and things.

Lightly oil a baking sheet, and the mushroom caps. Might want to line the sheet with foil, or use one with sides, because these will leak.

Drain the cooked sausage (as much as you need) and mince it very fine with a knife. Add generous sprinklings of Italian herbs (any pre-mixed blend that you like--I prefer Penzey's), fresh ground black pepper, and a tad too much red pepper flakes.

Add a couple spoonfuls of plain goat cheese (chevre). You want about 1 part goat cheese to 4 or 5 parts sausage, or to taste. Add just enough to make it stick together. Mix coarsely.

Use a spoon and your fingers to fill the mushroom caps and mound the sausage mixture on top. Garnish with some julienned red bell pepper, if you like. Sliced olives or onion might be nice, too.

Bake shrooms at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, depending on size. They will shrink and turn black. When they are allover dark, they're done. I did mine in the convection oven, at 375 for about 10 minutes.

Yum! Spicy! Salty! Rich! Way tasty little canape, or dinner. And it went pretty quickly, since I only made 10 or so.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

my semi-annual political post

Last night I was at a small social gathering that included a friend of a friend whom we'll call M. I spend an hour or so conversing with him, more or less amiably. He seemed quite intelligent. Of course like many intelligent people, he seems to feel that everyone can benefit from the virtue of his intelligence, whether he knows anything about your field of expertise or not. The minute he finds out I'm a writer he started telling me how/where I should research, what kind of books I should write and how doing so would "broaden my audience." Few things are more likely to set my back up, so it's possible that my opinion of him was somewhat dimmed by the time we got around to the topic that is still on my mind today.

We had come around, somehow, to legend and archeology and Ireland, so I mentioned the Atlantis thing, and that segued into the Celtic/Druidic revival that came around in the 1890's (which is when the definitive popular versions of Robin Hood and King Arthur and the Atlantis legends were conceived--by fiction writers), which figured heavily into Hitler's Master Race concept a generation later.

So M confides to me his pet theory. He had noticed the similarity between the KKK ceremonial robes and the old Druidic ceremonial robes (Well, yes--the founders of the KKK were, in fact, Scotsmen, and I have heard that theory before, but since no one really knows anything about the Druids it's risky to make conclusive comparisons). And, he says, the southeastern part of the country is populated with whites of primarily Scots-Irish decent. (Yes, my family is from south Missouri and Arkansas, I'm aware of that). "Appalachia," I said.

"Right, right. So the Irish always thought they were the chosen people, right?" (Ok... well, according to the stuff I've been reading lately, that view was somewhat recent and romanticized..) That's where the Aryan people came from." He gave me a brief lineage of the migration of Man from the cradle of civilization through India, Greece, Europe, and into Ireland. I can neither verify nor refute it right now, so we'll move on.

"And now they're all settled in the lower part of this country. Ok, there's some Spanish and French influence, but it's mostly contained. And now you've got all these people who come from the South U.S. and think they're part of this Master race--who were the Druids? High priests of the chosen people! And who's in charge of the country right now? You see? They think it's their destiny to rule! They think they're the chosen race. And I can't wait to see them get driven out of office tomorrow."*

I nodded. "Y'know, I was with you up there til the conclusion."

He chuckled. "Well, you know I've described this theory to sociologists who think there may be something to it."

I nodded again, thinking it was the kind of logic that Harry Turtledove novels are built upon.

I could've shredded him, but what was the point? Can I even count all the random fantastical assumptions in his "theory"? We won't even delve into the mix of races that made up the population of the British Isles, in the two millennia between the disappearance of the Druids, and the immigration of the potato-famine Irish to Western shores in the 1860's. Because the bulk of them were NOT descended from Druids. Take a peak at the Wikipedia entry if you want to go into this, because I'm certainly not going to. Shaky enough to pressume that the descendents of those Scots-Irish immigrants, who settled in the hilly southeast of the U.S. 150-200 years ago, have retained enough cultural or genetic "memory," shall we say, to a) remember/care that they came from Ireland, b) retain the foggiest idea of what a Druid is, and c) maintain enough national identity to believe/care that "they"--supposing that d) there are enough of them to perpetuate a conspiracy--are destined to rule? And e) they're all--every last mother-loving one of them--Republicans?

"Now, I'm not suggesting they think they ARE Druids," M was hasty to clarify.

Well, good. Because you wouldn't want me to think you were COMPLETELY without a leg to stand on.

Honestly, this is what bugs me about politics. I started to type "radical politics" but I don't think there's any other kind anymore. Everybody who's ever given me an earful of political jingoism bases it on the same ridiculous warrants, i.e. "George Bush doesn't care about Black people." or "I think George Bush just really hates gays." Or, in the case of my ex-husband, "Liberals want us all to be atheists."

It's stupid. It's absolutist, it's projecting your own fears onto others, and it's presuming to know the mind of someone you've never even met. The COLLECTIVE mind of a PEOPLE you've never met. "If you're not one of us, then you're against us." It's offensively negative, and it accomplishes nothing.

I heard the worst, most manipulative ad ever on the radio the other day. The narrator spoke with a pronounced "black" accent. "Don't you think working families should have enough to eat? Don't you think the elderly should be able to get the medicines they need? Candidate X voted against raising minimum wage, and the drug companies give her money to protect their interests. (My paraphrasing actually makes it sound more dignified than it was.) Don't vote for Candidate X. She's a mean horrible woman who will starve your children and grind up your grandma for Soylent Green."

I'm just weary of it. These last six years have been the worst in my memory. I can't remember the last time I heard anybody pleading to "focus on the issues."

With the exception of a very few things, like abortion, nothing is an either-or issue, and certainly no side of any issue is the sole ideological property of any party. Why do I even have to say this? We ALL would like to see health care better-run and more efficient. We're ALL worried about how our children are going to make a living and who's going to care for us when we're old and decrepit. It's just plain idiot prejudice to insist that one party would take care of everything if those elitist assholes from the other party would quit lying and stealing.

And IF we assume that M is right, and the South has risen again, with their Gaelic-influenced country-western music and their Aryan noblesse oblige, all I can say is, why the hell shouldn't they? I challenge you to find me an ancient culture on this Earth that DIDN'T wholeheartedly believe they were the Master Race. The Navajo people's name for themselves is "Diné," which means, "the people." The Greeks divided the world into two categories, Greeks and "xenos." The Jews' tendency toward self-isolation has been their preservation and their destruction. Why should the Republicans and Democrats be any different?

And so what if that other group think they're better than everybody else or they're destined to rule or go to Heaven or whatever? In a two-party system, your faction wins about half the time, so what are you bitching about? You really think that your party has all the right answers and your best interests at heart and should be given free reign to "fix" everything? If you do, I'm coming over to your house to garotte you, tonight. You are a dangerous radically naive individual who is just as reckless as a suicide bomber.

You know what I think? I think that the primary virtue of a democracy is that nothing can be accomplished quickly. I hear people talking about Washington being "broken" and this country "lacking in direction," but I think standing still, politically, is the healthiest thing we can do.

The Tao Te Ching says:
The more laws and restrictions there are,
the poorer people become.
The sharper men's weapons,
the more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
the more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
the more thieves and robbers.

You want a radical idea? Stop voting. Stop letting them force you into making a choice you don't want, just because it's an illusion of choice. Millions of Americans have already done it. It's the only ethical thing to do, because it's the only way to avoid forcing your will on someone else.

Or if you're the type who likes to be proactive, go work for some group that advocates less legislature and smaller government. Find a cash-only doctor. Save an emergency medical fund, instead of paying premiums you'll never see again. Get out of debt and work for cash. Raise your own produce and fertilize it with your own compost. Live in a house made of straw bales, for all I care.

Just don't talk to me about it. Your indignation, frankly, is beneath me.

*in the elections today, Nov 7.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween wit

Last night the SP and I went out on the town, to promenade in our gunslingin' finery and take in the sights. You'd think I'd learn by now to take a camera.

It was cold. And dark. We didn't see quite as much costuming action as I'd expected, but then we got downtown kind of late. We did see a Droog, though, strolling uptown along the sidewalk, complete with bowler hat and cane. Genuinely creepy and very cool (I should note that, in the course of searching for pictures, I ran across a blog entry that claims they're overdone. Could be--I'd never seen one before, but that may explain why vintage bowler hats are so hard to find).

We also saw "V," as in "Vendetta," sweeping his way across the intersection with the light change. Black hood, cape, sword-stick and all. Impressive, at least at a distance. Much more effort than the ready-made commercial version. Got to admire that.

But my personal pick of the evening was the waiter in the rather classy Italian restaurant where we stopped for an appetizer. The SP first pointed him out: "That guy's wearing a Superman tee-shirt." And he was--but over it he wore an Oxford striped shirt, with the sleeves rolled up and the front unbuttoned. His trousers were gray, and he had a conservative striped tie looped around his neck. He was a nicely built young man, maybe thirty, with dark hair neatly combed and parted. He wore black-framed glasses.

"He's Clark Kent," I realized aloud, with delight.

Classy. Subtle, but needing no explanation or guesswork. Two thumbs up, mister waiter.

Oh yeah, and we got some attention, too. I wore my blue 1880 dinner dress, with my new hat and wool cape. The SP wore his new gunslinger ensemble, looking remarkably like Val Kilmer in "Tombstone" (though less pasty). Mostly people admired at a distance, but a few came up and offered compliments. There was a large party of mostly women at the table behind us. Several were dressed as nuns. They were a bit drunk and huggy and just loved us. "Oooh, look at her dress," they said. "Ooooh, look at her hat. Ooooh, look at him!" "Mmm, I like that one. Look at that coat! Is he supposed to be a gunfighter?" "Maybe he's her husband!" (As opposed to some stranger who just happened to meet me at the bar dressed in the same period garb?)

"That nun slapped me on the butt," the SP reported as we made our way back to the car.