It is the summer of 1990 and I am a 21 year-old kid working at a camp outside of Toronto.
“Do you have a gun in your car? Do you see celebrities? Do you surf before school? Is everyone into movies?
“No, I don’t have a gun in my car. Yeah, I have seen celebrities. The beach is too far away to surf before school but I could go there every day if I wanted to. Yeah, people like movies.”
He tells me he is from Beachwood, the guy next to him says something about also being from Ohio but is from the heights and the other guy is from Detroit.
They keep peppering me with questions and I answer them and realize I am really far from home and these guys have no idea what LA is really like.
I make a crack about burning rivers to the first couple and turn to the guy from Detroit and tell him the Pistons were lucky to beat the Lakers and that’s why they rioted.
We all laugh and agree that one day we’ll visit each others cities and see what life is like first hand.
You won’t find any footage of me running through a field a of sunflowers in Canada, but forests and lake side, yeah I did that.
You Get What You Go For
There is a teenage boy arguing with me about a million different things and I can’t get him to listen to common sense.
He is too much like me to recognize that I might have more than a clue about things so it will take a while before he comes forward and gives me an opportunity to tell him you get what you go for.
It is not without flaws this idea of mine but it has enough merit to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Tom Petty is big at camp and we play his album Full Moon Fever on a regular basis.
Runnin’ Down a Dream, Free Fallin’ and I Won’t Back Down are the songs I like best but for different reasons.
I didn’t see Tom around town very often, but every now and then my fellow resident of Encino and I would cross paths.
Probably never said a word to each other and I can’t say he ever noticed me but every time I hear him sing about the vampires walking through the Valley moving west down Ventura Boulevard I smile.
He is talking about home and it doesn’t matter whether anyone else knows these places are real or not because they are to me.
Very few people at camp have a clue where The Valley is and this girl tells me it sounds like a ridiculous name.
“Why would anyone say they are from The Valley. I thought that was fake, like Valley Girls.”
“You wish you didn’t come from Shaky Heights and that the river didn’t spontaneously combust every week.”
She glares at me and says I need to stop making fun of her city. If she had pigtails I would probably yank them or accidentally spill some ink on her dress.
But she doesn’t have pigtails and I have no ink so nothing gets pulled, yanked or spilled.
I suppose I could tell her I am desperately trying to get her attention but I just don’t.
Someone ought to tell me you get what you go for or at least that if you don’t try you get nothing.
You Don’t Get To Choose When
That teenager is battling with me about a few things and somehow we touch upon death.
“One day there won’t be any more one days to talk about. I don’t know when or how but I know it will happen.
I’ll do my best to do as your great-grandfather told me he would do. When death comes I’ll punch him in the throat and then try to kick his ass.
If it is possible for me to beat him, well I will and if not I guess I’ll go find out what comes next.
And one day I’ll be in your position with my own father. I don’t particularly like either idea very much and I have plans for what I want to happen but I can’t promise that things will go anything like I hope they will.”
It is 27 years since that summer day in Toronto when they asked if I carried a gun in my car.
That was because LA had a bunch of freeway shootings and people wondered what the hell was going on.
It was before the riots that would come post Rodney King verdict when OJ was still a hero to many and lock down was associated with prison.
The idea that I would wake up to learn that more than 50 people had been murdered by a man with guns and that the nation would be paralyzed was unfathomable.
Back then I would have told you that it was impossible for America not to work together to figure out a solution to a gun problem.
I would have known it sounded naive and couched my answer in some more people might get hurt before we get it figured it out, but been confident it would happen.
Now I am not convinced that we’re willing to do what it takes to figure this out.
We have cried crocodile tears about school children being murdered in Columbine and Sandy Hook.
We have yelled about massacres at Virginia Tech and in movie theaters but that hasn’t mattered.
Because there is always some jackass who claims that in order to ensure our freedom we have to enable people to do things that might lead to danger.
So while we argue about the proper way for football players to be allowed to protest and limit free speech by saying you can’t yell fire in a theater we do little to combat gun violence.
And the best part of all of this is that if you try and have a discussion you know it will move from civil to uncivil in three or less mouse clicks.
Hell, I was told by a man I could sleep with his wife before he would let me take his gun and by the way, “go fuck yourself snowflake.”
I politely told him I already was sleeping with his wife and that she said I could give him lessons on how to be a man.
And that was the civil part of the conversation.
But the thing here is that I am not willing to sit back and worry about whether I choose the right time or the right words to ask for accountability and change.
My obligations aren’t to make people believe that they have special rights that don’t exist or to say that I won’t work to have their existing rights abrogated.
You Get What You Go For Part II
I am not anti-gun. You won’t hear me arguing to take all of the guns away but you might hear me argue to take some of the guns away.
You might hear me push for more limitations in a lot of areas for the simple reason that I hear nothing but lip service from far too many people about trying to do something to make our country safer.
Stop telling me about how bad Chicago is or that if we take away guns only bad people will have them. It doesn’t fly any more, especially when you don’t offer alternatives.
Again, I am not saying that I am advocating for removing all guns and even if I was, would it matter. I am not the president.
I can’t pretend to govern by executive order although I can tweet about everything and pretend that is real communication.
All I can do is add my voice to the chorus of others who are disgusted by what we see and are trying to to make a better world for our children.
It should be really hard to come up with a list of shootings in which people were murdered and it is not.
We all walk around with massive computers in our pockets and big black purses called smartphones.
We send people into space and come up with cures for all sorts of things that used to kill people.
We can do better.
We can reach a reasonable compromise and if people won’t compromise, we can find legal ways to accommodate that too.