I was about to toss the weekly barrage of junk mail when two words caught my eye: RUGER WEEKEND. The Kittery Trading Post – just inside the state lines of Maine – was wheelin’ and dealin’ alright, selling their Ruger inventory at massive discounts. Every purchase came with a free $50 gift card and if you arrived early enough you could get a free knife or backpack. Pretty neat, I thought, as I ogled the guns on the glossy paper. Rifles and 9mms and .22s – including one lilac-colored beaut that would make a lady swoon – bullets and holsters and knives: oh my!

I’m not a Gun Person. I like guns, though. Loud noises (BOOM!) and cold, shiny metal are exciting things. I get strangely dyslexic around guns, however. Was that a 22mm or a .9? It is a .357 or a .387 or both? Then there’s magazine rounds, barrel-length, weight, model numbers, serial numbers, automatic, semi-automatic – and the ammo aisle is an entirely different mess.

But here’s the thing: I’ve shot guns. I like to shoot guns. I’m very comfortable around guns. I think I can get pretty good at it. And the concentration and focus during shooting practice is an incredible challenge – and mighty fun. Look, I just want a gun, alright? Then there’s that whole self-defense thing. I’d sleep just a smidge easier every time I hear a creak in the night ’round these parts, as we approach the troubling future ahead, until I can move a little bit norther than North Massachusetts.

I’ve delayed buying a gun for years, mostly because of finances, but also because of the fear that comes from not knowing much about guns. I drive by a gun shop every day and I imagine going in and dealing with the same elitist attitudes I’ve dealt with in homebrew stores, car garages, record shops, even at the dog park. People who have more knowledge than you and are sure you know it. Hmmph. (Once at the fancy-schmancy bicycle shop, I referred to my tire size in inches instead of millimeters and the employee gave me that look. I told him I’m not a “bike snob.” He gave me the tube in silence and I skipped away, never to return. Turns out, the tubes measured in millimeters have a different type of stem, and I sorta needed that one.)

I learn by doing, and tend to feel pretty shy about something until I can get my hands on it. So this lack of knowledge and experience had me feeling pretty crummy about interacting with a sales person, as if he could veto my decision to buy the thing. Even the thought of getting caught in a Gun People Conversation scared the crap out of me. So my plan, I decided, was to go in and get out as smoothly as possible. I’d buy the gun, become intimate with its operation, cleaning, safety, and whatnot before ever firing it. I looked in the flyer and decided I’d buy the Ruger 3340 9E 9mm pistol. I’ve wanted the SR9 for years, but after comparing the two models in the flyer, I decided the slightly larger, heavier gun that holds more bullets was more my style. Once I had the thing, all the confusion would go away. I’d have my baby.

The flyer struck a salacious pose atop my pile of notebooks and papers. Hey, big boy, it’s Saturday are you gonna come get me? Oh, I’m much too busy on Saturday, I decide. Busy, busy, gotta take the dog for two walks, gotta edit this article and publish it, gotta plop down on the couch and read Five To One, One In Five five times. Before I knew it, Saturday night had arrived, and I could settle back into a comfortable routine at my Gun Free Zone of a home. My emotional holster felt pretty empty.

I kicked myself out of the house on Sunday morning at 9 am, arriving at the Trading Post ’round half-past. Wow, no one’s here! There were plenty of cars in the lot, but the only people by the front door were some girl scouts selling junk food. I lumbered to the front door. Two gabbing ladies carrying their lunches beat me and walked in, and I realized the store wasn’t even open yet. The sign said 10 am. All my nerves tightened up and I crept back to my car.

I sat in my car for the next thirty minutes, ignoring all the what-ifs. All those stupid thoughts that panic-stricken moms and shaky-voiced liberals whisper into my ear: “You’ll have an accident.” “You’ll shoot your dog.” “You’ll kill someone when they break into your house instead of maybe just splinter their ankle as they run off with your silver coin horde.” Even worse: “What if a child finds the gun?!” There is a nightstand next to my bed with a little drawer, and the thought of the gun lying in there, next to the cartidge filled with bullets makes me just a little tense. But sometimes the thought of not having it there makes me a little tense, too. Not because I am scared of bad guys, but because I don’t need to feel tense about it in the first place.

Jesus Christ: just go buy it. Just don’t take a bunch of selfies with it after. The gun is a tool to honor, not a toy. I went into the Trading Post at ten, lingering on the outskirts of a fresh crowd of shoppers. Fortunately, only most of them were there for Ruger Weekend.img_20161204_094709212

The Kittery Trading Post is a jungle of sporting goods, gear, clothes, gifts and knick-knacks. Wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling lush growth and wild Mainahs everwheahhh. Perusing racks of snow jackets, eyeing flavors of locally-made jams and treats, pawing through buckets of wool socks, in line to buy bags of fresh kettle popcorn. I climbed a staircase…CAMPING. Racks of waterbottles, hundreds of rolled-up sleeping bags, a display of rocket stoves…no guns. I went back to the first floor and asked a wooden bear statue where the firearms were. It ignored me, though I don’t blame it. I went down some stairs…FISHING. I passed a display model ice house and froze. Fishing rods and millions of SKUs of hook, lure, bait and tackle as far as I could see. One lonely salesman learned on a counter and twiddled his thumbs. Nobody’s racing to the fishing department on a December morning. I swam out of there as quietly as the tide carried me in.

I wandered aimlessly, finding myself in the woman’s clothing section – whoops! Then a guy walked by with determination, so I trailed him. I followed him to the ammo-pilled mecca that was the gun department. It was its own ecosystem. There in the canopy were signs advertising every brand of gun I’ve heard of and many I haven’t. The rifles emerged from the understory, where there were racks and racks of accessories I will never comprehend. On this forest’s floor, my feet shuffled past boxes of ammo sprouting from every corner. I treaded carefully in this strange place. Guns hung from every hook on every wall, and counters lined the entire room, filled with more guns. I had no idea where to go or what to look at.

But there were yellow Ruger signs hanging in one section, and a crowd of Ruger Weekend Warriors. I ventured that way. After a short wait, an old timah with a name tag on his shirt asked me how he could help me, so I pointed at the sign promoting the 9E  and said “I want this one.” Easy does it, keep it simple. Point and nod. He dug out the floor model from the pile inside the counter and released the barrel, then handed it to me. I, uh, inspected it. “Looks good to me, I’ll take it.”

I had to show him my ID and he filled out a form. He called my order for someone to grab and I waited. He helped a trainee deal with a customer who wanted a gun that could hold a scope – any gun that can hold a scope! – and had to see every single option available. Suddenly a tough-lookin’ gal zipped by and handed him a white box, RUGER on the label. The old timah repeated the process of releasing the barrel of the gun and handed it to me for examination. I looked this one over in the same manner, but got lost in the realization that this was the one I’d be taking home. I peeked inside the handle where the bullets went. I looked inside the barrel where the chamber hid. I felt the grip on the handle, the safety, the barrel.

He asked me if it was acceptable, and I said ayup (I am in Maine, after all). He packed the gun up, then took me to another counter. He passed my purchase-to-be, background check paperwork, and ID to a tall man with a forced, tight smile and instructed me to wait with him. The tall man’s job was to peer over the heads and hats of all the shoppers in line before me and direct me to the next available clerk, who would walk me through the process of getting permission from the government to plead the 2nd – my inalienable right, yeah, whatever…

This is how Gun People do it, so I guess I can, also. I loathed the man in that moment, that grimace, the way he tilted his head to peek at each clerk behind the counter, the way he held the box and paperwork like a woman holds a purse. Then again, I just poked and sniffed my gun like a glass of merlot. Hmmph, I could have said, an aroma of oak, hints of plum, cherry, and boysenberry. I took off my ski cap and stuffed it into my back pocket. I could have been waving it willy-nilly from the back of a stallion right now, I thought. My other hand’s squeezing the trigger of my shiny new pistol, cutting up the sky with 17+1 rounds of – sigh, I’m not even sure what ammunition I need to buy. My fantasy evaporated, so I just crossed my arms and waited.

My turn came and I got a station next to a Chinese man buying a rifle. Awesome. The woman at the counter had a pony-tail tied back over a shaved head. Also awesome. She was a fast talker, but asked me if I had ever filled out the form before. “No, this is my first time,” I said. She already had my ID, so she pointed to all the places that my penmanship was required while she typed things into the computer. Sign here, address there, she pointed. Answer these questions: Am I an illegal alien? Am I in ISIS? How about the communist party? Did I vote for a Democrat? How about felonies, restraining orders, psychological disorders, etc.? I’m squeaky clean, baby. The woman told me once my results were in, my name would be written on a white board behind her and I could go to a special table and get the deal done. I asked her how long it would take, like thirty minutes? The board was currently blank; she had no idea.

Well, it took forty five minutes. She told me to get in line and I showed my ID – again – and paid for the Ruger. The white box was whisked away from me – again – and the cashier handed me the backpack as promised, the receipt and order form, the $50 gift card. I juggled my cell phone and wallet, as well, still trying to get my debit card put away neatly. I tried to stuff my cell phone into my back pocket, but my ski cap was jammed in there, so I put it in my left pocket, then stuffed my wallet in as far as it would go. I was starting to make sense of my possessions, then the cashier handed me a piece of paper with driving instructions on them. Huh? “This is where you can pick up your gun,” she told me. Something called a “transfer.”

I read the instructions real quick: I had to drive two miles back to Portsmouth over the imaginary line in the middle of the Piscataqua River to meet a kid who has the exciting job to transport firearms across state lines. I juggled my stuff as I navigated the jungle back to where I saw a nice Woolrich shirt I would snag with the gift card. I used my last available finger to pluck the shirt from the shelf. The line to check out was long so I organized myself. Backpack, shirt, paperwork, in a neat pile. Okay, now where’s my wallet? Umm…

My wallet was missing. I checked every pocket twice, and everything I was carrying: no wallet. I backtracked to the shirts, then back upstairs through CAMPING and into the gun department. I asked the cashier if she saw my wallet and she said no. I have good faith in Mainahs, though, as the old yankee spirit is built on a foundation of too much hard work and a load of generosity, so I presumed my wallet would either still be on the floor or hand-delivered to customer service. Moments later, I was called on the intercom. Down at customer service, two old gents in khakis and LL Bean sweaters peered down over their reading glasses at my ID, having a little fun with it, making sure my mugshot and my mug matched up perfectly, asking me my address and birthday, checking my picture one last time. It is only in Maine where old yankees will tell you the name of the fella who found your wallet. I thanked them (and him, whoever he is) and got on my way.

As I drove through the Kittery lights back to the (mostly) Free State, I realized I had been at the Trading Post for over two hours and still didn’t have my gun. This was worse than the DMV! But at least it was less soul-sucking. I could spend all day at the Trading Post. Ten minutes later, I was 150 yards past the state line, on a nasty old trucker’s road, which looked more like a Massachusetts haunt than anywhere else in New Hampshire. It’s loaded with adult-themed stores, sleazy gas stations – now that I think of it, the liquor store isn’t too far down the road – and there it was, the “transfer” location.

I got in line behind all the other New Hampshire dudes who had just bought firearms in Vacationland. “I saw the flyer and couldn’t say no,” one enthusiast told the kid at the desk in the otherwise abandoned building the Trading Post used for our not-so-shady deals. The two of them talked shop for a minute, then the guy said loudly that he would check the serial number on his gun with the one on his order form. After he was satisfied, the guy I had followed into the gun department got his piece, then the Chinese man let me go ahead, as he eyed his rifle patiently. I showed the kid my ID – I want to burn this thing – and mimicked the enthusiast, now quickly learning how to fit in. I matched my serial number – oh, I’ve done this a hundred times, I’m an ol’ gunslingah – then signed the form.

I walked back to my car and tossed the box in the back, just in case a pig sniffed me out like a truffle, which happens almost as often as I lose my wallet. My ride home was fortunately uneventful, and after I admired it on my counter for a few minutes, I texted my girlfriend rather melodramatically: “I got the gun.”img_20161204_121525013

I felt so edgy.

It’s really not a big deal. The pup stared up at me with his tongue out, butt waggling. Take me outside, there’s dog things to be done! he seemed to be saying, What do you think this is, Mission Impossible? Yip!

Sigh, the dog’s right. I put the gun away. I’ll play with it another time.

Anyway, just a thought. Bullets would make a great stocking stuffer, wouldn’t they?