There are several men I know with whom I identify on multiple levels. I have taken time to call them my Exixtential Partners, meaning that would it not be for the random opportunities and chances, I could see myself living their lives and they mine. Some of those men have come by here at Cobb periodically, and sometimes they only appear in my stories. I feel that in my life I have been drastically short of such people and I imagine that many other men have lots of close friends, or at least it seems that way in beer commercials. My friends are dispersed around the country. They are online in gamechat rooms and blog commentaries and Facebook timelines. They are a busy signal away on toddler lockdown or squirreled away doing important anonymous work for the nation. They are at a remove.
Now that I am on the doorstep of being an old coot, it seems increasingly important to me that I get in touch and stay in touch with that diminishing group of people who might understand my jokes and not be offended. This is especially true since I work at home without the benefit of shallow but comforting professional lunch dates on the daily.
Over the weekend, I think that I may have bumped up my Partner list by two. That's pretty extraordinary. It is due to the work of the man I now call Maestro. He knows a lot of people worth knowing. So the bottom line is that Maestro introduced me to Felix and NightCrawler, both extraordinary dudes and we'uns went a-shootin' in the boondocks.
There were several significant things I noticed about myself and of society in association with the outing. At two days distance, I find the most amazing thing about this particular shooting outing, which will have been about my fifth or sixth in life, is the level of subtlety, or undercoverness, with which it proceded. After a casual breakfast on Saturday, I calmly went over to the local outdoor shop and picked up 200 rounds of 45 230gr FMJ ammo. I'm completely comfortable with those technical terms, and have no problem spending the $120 bucks required. But then I know that I have crossed a line that make most people I have known to cross their eyes and ward me away with crosses. I was very conscious of the weight of the ammo case in my hand as I walked back to my truck and closed the door on it. As soon as I got home, I found a lock for it and locked it up. I never bought ammo before, and kept guessing that there must be some protocol. But the whole thing was quiet and uneventful. This kind of thing happens every day.
There was a monstrous dinosaur that munched its prey and spit it out covered with slime all before the sun came up in the morning. It's the Crackodon. I battled the beast at 0630 hours on Sunday at the supermarket rally point on our way to the ranges. As usual, I beat the monster down with a couple of Red Bulls and got the goo off me. By 0800 at the Starbucks in Valencia, I was in high spirits, as were my compadres: four extraordinary men, telling jokes and stories, in one pickup truck heading north with a big locked box in the back.
Felix and Maestro go way back to high school where they made friends in physics class. Both of them are about 7 or 8 years older than I. Felix has an old black & white picture of himself in college where he looked like a brainy Danny Bonaduce. Now he looks like Steve Jobs' older brother. He stuck with the physics and has, most certainly, an enviable workshop. NightCrawler has the gnarliest scar I think I have ever seen. Like me he was born in a naval hospital and makes code run. He may be a few years younger, that or he covers his grey very well. He helped me in a very precisely geeky way, although I forget the name of the bone, I know exactly what part of my index finger should rest on the trigger.
We got to the spot, deep in the rugged shallow canyons near the illusive Santa Clara River. Paved road, cows, dirt road, deer, road runner, paved road, red tailed hawks, dirt road and then we were there. I've heard of this place, but it's a lot more intimate than I imagined. We signed in, paid, and drove further. We unlocked the members-only gate further up the road and found our pristine range. This is rather what I expected golf to be like. I guess I never quite made the right connection. Golf courses I know are not quite as beautiful as I expected, nice though, but completely over-crowded and overpriced. This gun range was nicer than I expected, quite inexpensive and completely private. Unless you count the booms echoing off the hills from shooters down the trail. I liked it. I felt at home.
Maestro got me started with the .22 conversion on his .45 Kimber. I relearned everything I knew from scratch, but the safety rules were the same. I began a great number of drills with a four-step draw and in no time I was making big puffs of dirt behind the targets I kept missing. Four steps is an understatement. There are about 200 things to remember when you're handling the firearm, lessons learned from generations of shooters that can only come with practice.
The quality of instruction I got from these vets was superb. I've head some of it before, but I shut up and listened. I learned that I've been doing a lot of small things wrong in my mind, and practically did the one thing I thought I wouldn't do, which was leave my finger on the trigger too much. I wasn't fumbly but handling a pistol properly is like playing the bass line of your favorite song on the piano. Even though the notes are simple and you know them, it's still all about touch, and you cannot master the touch and the bassline always sounds clunky until you play and play and play.
I got out about 200 rounds of 22LR and a couple dozen of the 45. This was more than pretty much all my previous experience combined, and yet a drop in the professional's bucket. The big bada boom clumsiness I felt the first time I shot a Glock was not there at all. I learned how to use my left hand this time out, and figured out the squeeze. I still over-muscled my right arm, but taking the 'dynamic tension' concept out of my head helped me do that. Now I have no fearful anticipation of recoil, yet I'm far from relaxed. But it's joyful work. I very much love the idea of being certifyably technically proficient with firearms. Beats the hell out of golf. Yet golf has the same kind of learning curve. You think about your grip all the time. You think about your aim all the time. You think about what's in front of you, how far, what the wind is doing, where you shot the last time, how and when to adjust. Shooting is marvelously complex and sophisticated, and deadly serious. And like golf, when you're hitting your targets, it's pure pleasure.
By the end of the session, I managed to pop 4 out of 6 plates in one sweep at about 7 meters. I learned that it's more important to bring spray paint, masking tape and index cards than it is to bring a knife and paracord. I'm having a hell of a time with good men, the sort I have to trust my life with.
And then we cleaned up, continued the incredibly geeky conversation about barrels and sight picture and dominant eyes and what you can actually hit with a deer slug at 100 yards with no scope, and the difference between combat shotguns and precision rifles and machining tool steel and carbonizing furnaces and the economics of high quality optics. My kinda folks.
We slipped back into civilization, minding at all times who was taking what of our hardware and where to park with respect to our cargo and its relative accessibility. I got home around 3pm, exhausted and giddy. I can't wait until next time.