Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Scariest Thing of All

We have lost count of the number of books in our house.

We could probably count them, but given the state of our childrens’ rooms, there’s no chance we’d get them all in a single count. We’d have to have some kind of system, say, little stickers, to put on each book as it was counted to make sure we could tell the counted from the uncounted.

But who wants to put stickers on books?

And the vast majority of these books are not new. We buy them used from thrift stores. We buy them used online. We buy them used at library sales, garage sales, the army surplus store. Sometimes I swear they’re smuggled into the house baked inside loaves of bread.

I have two paperback books in my work bag. The kids have books spilling out of the bags they’ve taken to scout camp for the summer. And they leave books all over the place: On the kitchen counter, on the floor in the bathroom, on the couch, under the couch, stuck in the couch cushions, piled high on my desk because they don’t want to bother with the alphabet to put them back on the shelves properly.

I can, however, account for every single gun in the house.

Because we don’t have any guns.

Because they don’t fall within our realm of interest.

Dad had a shotgun, propped up in the corner of his office.

As boys, my brother and I had bb guns that looked like real pistols. (And aside from my brother accidentally shooting a friend’s sister in the rear end, nothing bad ever happened with them. But we are not black.)

I’ve shot guns with the scouts, plinking away at targets with my youngest son, who has earned the Rifle Shooting Merit Badge.

I’ve seen both worlds, and books are more interesting.

So to hear President Obama say things like “We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. ... We know these things to be true,” disturbs me.

The author of this article was obviously disturbed. But maybe he or she is disturbed about the wrong thing.

I have not seen the kinds of neighborhoods he’s talking about. If there are guns flooding my neighbor4hood, we don’t see them. Though I know there are plenty about.
Conversely, we don’t see books flooding our neighborhood either. But every house I go into has them, often piled high to the sky.

But maybe it’s a case of what you see is what you get.

I won’t argue that guns may be flooding neighborhoods. I won’t argue that maybe some kids in those neighborhoods, because they see so many guns, decide they want one. And many get them. Maybe a gun has more cool factor than a book or a computer. Computers and books are for nerds. Guns, hell, they make you look cool, if the covers to what few rap albums I’ve seen are anything to go by. (Again, I don’t listen to rap music if I can help it. It’s not my thing. That it is the thing of others is outside my realm of experience.)

And maybe in my neighborhood there’s no peer pressure to get a gun rather than a computer or a book. I do know my wife and I spend what money we can to make sure books and computers are in the house.

I don't know how easy -- or how difficult -- guns are to get, legally or not. As they don't interest me, I don't have them in the house, so I have no experience buying them. But maybe I should pause for a moment to think what it would e like to live in a neighborhood where the mindset is get a gun and use one because they're cool, because you have to have one, because the gang wants you to have one. Just like I want my kids to have books.

But I don’t know what it’s like to live in that kind of neighborhood. So it's easy to get caught up in wooly thinking that scoffs at the idea of guns being easier to get than books. It's not a matter of cost, availability, or illegality -- it's maybe a matter of what's on the mind.

If the choice is between food and a book, well, it’s food. Certainly it’s food rather than a computer, if money is tight (as it is, we make do with ancient computers by most standards, though the kids do have their own Kindle Fires, so we’re not all that bad off).

We don’t have to make those kinds of choices.

We don’t live in a neighborhood where you’re scared of your neighbors, where you don’t leave your “stuff” out at night – though there have been a few bicycle thefts around, so we’ve got that tiny whiff of the unsavory around us. We’re not surrounded by poverty, shunned because of the color of our skin or mortally afraid of the police (in fact, we’ve had only one visit with a policeman at our home, and he was an animal control officer coming to help us get a marmot out of the engine compartment of our Honda; the marmot left before the officer arrived). Oh, and those warnings about speeding.

But the cops look at me and think “Huh. Middle aged fat white guy.” Or, when I was younger, “Punk fat kid.” But they never gave me any trouble, aside from a winger wag over that foot on the gas pedal. Because I’m whitey, Or not. I don’t know. It’s nothing I’ve ever had to think about.

So I don’t live in a world where guns are easier to get then books or computers. And I don’t want to. That some do live in such places, maybe it’s an exaggeration to say things like that. But living where I do, I don’t know. All I know about those neighborhoods is what they show me on TV – and that’s not a lot –and from a few trips through California.

Whitey here is very disconnected from this kind of thing. It’s not my world.

And we tend to accept the reality of the world we live in, even if that reality is distorted by the media, our faulty, rose-colored memories, our pallor, or the fact that for the rest of the folks out there, we don’t have room for empathy or even a whisper of understanding because our heads are firmly planted in the sandy soil of the universe we have crammed inside our skulls.

Maybe that’s the most disturbing thing of all.

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