Attempting, and Failing, to Remain Apolitical at the Sporting Clays Course, and on This Blog

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I wrote a little while back about how I was vaguely apprehensive about going clay shooting for my buddy’s bachelor party.  When I wrote that, I didn’t mean it as a political statement in any way.  Guns simply make me uneasy.  I wasn’t raised with guns, and up until a couple years ago, never shot, or even held one. That all being said, there’s a marked difference between a handgun and a shotgun to me, and we’d be working with the latter. Shotguns, and clay shooting, are for sportsman, people who hunt for food, or fun. Shotguns aren’t for shooting other people. So while I think holding guns will always make me uneasy, I was apprehensively excited about Saturday’s outing, and I arrived at the LV Sporting Clays facility just north of Allentown, feeling good, or about as good as anyone who was up till 4AM the night before, sipping on a Scotch and sprite (Editor’s Note: I’m aware that I’m white trash) at a South Philly strip club could feel (Editor’s Note: bachelor party, remember?).

I’ve always tried to keep this blog apolitical. I’ve been slipping a little bit as of late, but I’ve really done my best.  When it comes down to it, I write about fluff. I talk about vacations, breweries, hikes, places to eat, and Pennsylvania-centric day trips.  I’ve always treated this blog, and this space, a little bit like a diversion, similar to the way I approached my weekends for so long, a time to not think about the stressors of the real world, a diversion from work, from paying bills, from the noise in your car you keep putting off checking on, the love handles you didn’t have at this time last year, and the horror show that is the 2017 news.  I didn’t want to dilute my weekends, my breweries, hikes, and good food with the realities of life. I didn’t want to dilute this blog with real world travesties, but it’s been harder and harder to do. Three years ago when someone brought up politics at the bar or a party, and you said, “no politics guys, not now,” people mostly listened  Three years ago our President wasn’t ensuring he dominated near constant national attention, by using the old reality television star trick of saying something divisive in a public forum, and three years ago I was able to pass bucolic farms, and admire the pastoral scenery, not retch because of the fact that a man’s name I hate, and who to me is synonymous with ignorance, narrow-mindedness, racism disguised as free speech, and a noeveau rich vulgarity I thought we were over once we realized that The Wolf of Wallstreet wasn’t  aspirational, is scrawled across the side, telling you that he is going to make America great again, leaving me perpetually wondering exactly when that was.

The main SportingCclays building. I didn’t capture the Trump/Pence flyer on purpose. I also didn’t have the idea for this post at that time. Hindsight, right?

That’s exactly what happened when we walked across the grassy parking lot at LV Sporting Clays.  The complex sits on the grounds of a former mill, or factory, one of the ones that dads who fought in the second world war, and spent their weekends at the Jersey shore, used to work at before they started closing down all over Allentown. (Editor’s Note: I apologize for not being able to write about Allentown without making a Billy Joel reference.) The main office was located in a giant stone warehouse with the tall brick chimneys I associate with dilapidated former homes of industry.  The sharp bang of shotguns filled the air, and men in camo pants, Patagonia fleeces, and Oakleys strapped around their neck buzzed around in golf carts laden down with boxes of ammunition. This seems like it’s going to be fun, I thought to myself.   Then, I looked up, and saw the same vomit inducing image that’s been destroying so many barnscapes for me lately.  A giant TRUMP/PENCE sign proudly hung at the top of the warehouse. Proudly probably isn’t the best word.  It was flying proudly, cockily even, a year ago, when a great many of the coastal elites, a term Fox News devotees could easily apply to scores of people living along the Northeast Extension of the PA Turnpike, despite our landlocked status, were saying that there’s no way in hell a C-list reality television personality with an elementary grasp of the English language and a propensity for blatant lying could ever be President. Now, with almost a year passed, and historically low disapproval rating, the Trump/Pence pendant sitting atop LV Sporting Clays seemed more defiant than proud.  And what’s more, at this point putting up a sign like this tells me that you don’t mind making certain sects of people feel uncomfortable. Maybe that’s a stretch here, but it just seems like at this point you’re courting the eyes roll and derision this causes. You’re not trying to make a neutral environment for people to enjoy themselves. In a part, you might even revel in making people you deem inferior feel uncomfortable, because let’s face it, at this point Trump has made it very clear that his America is not an America for everyone, and that those politically correct liberals who tout that, can pretty much fuck themselves (Editor’s note: this is the first time I’ve ever used “Fuck” on my blog, and I hope it doesn’t go against any of your family values).

As of this writing, he’s also made it very clear that this is the America for 32 year old men who find dates at baton recitals, as long as they are anti-abortion, so maybe he is open minded after all. 2017 is confusing, dude.

Anyhow, we walked into the building and filled out the requisite waivers required of an activity like this.  We’d arrived at a super busy time, and because there was such a big group of us, had to wait till a bunch of other groups started the course.  We filed around a couple of tables they had set up in the waiting area.  They had hotdogs for sale for $1.50, which I’m always going to respect, as well as vending machines, but I had an entire case of water in my car, and figured a walk would help clear my head a bit.

I will say, LV Sporting Clays does a solid business. The place was packed, so on my way back out to my vehicle, I passed a barrage of interesting people still making their way in.  There were alot of older people.  Initially the juxtaposition between a man in a wheelchair holding a gun case is a little bit jarring, but I have to tip my hat to those folks for trying to stay active. Sporting clays is an excellent way for people with limited mobility to get outdoors and do something athletic adjacent.  It reminded me of golf in that way.

Walking/zipping around in golf carts around the LV Sporting Clay grounds was a rather lovely day.

There were a lot of guys dressed in hunting garb: camo pants, utilitarian vests, carhart and UnderArmour tops. These were the guys I was expecting to see, and the ones I’m familiar with. I grew up in a very hunting-centric region of the state. The majority of guys (and more girls than you might expect) I’m friends with hunted at some point in their life, and one of my oldest friends still all but disappears off the face of the Earth during hunting season.  I want to make one thing clear before I continue.  You’ve probably been able to pick up on the fact that I’m pretty left leaning, due to my rhetoric thus far. That would be a fair assumption.  That being said, I’m  a believer in the 2nd amendment. I think the right to bear arms is a right that should be upheld, and that guns are so ingrained in our society that it would take a major overhaul I don’t know we’re capable of, in order to get rid of them safely. I also think having an unarmed populace could be potentially damning; and I think there’s no better example than this current administration. The thought of them having all the guns actually makes me shudder. That all being said, the hunters and sportsman that I know are basically model gun-owners.  These are people who take safety courses, and practice using their guns.  They don’t whip them out in public for show.  They don’t show them off lined up on a bed to post on Facebook when they’re not in use, but keep them locked in cabinets. And a large majority of them are pro-gun control. That’s the thing that bothers me whenever this  debate comes up. You can absolutely believe fully in the Second Amendment, and still advocate for gun control. It’s a thing.  Responsible gun owners are the ones I actually want to be hearing from during this time. They’re the ones who know that there’s no reason to own anything semi-automatic unless you’re trying to kill people. They’re the ones who will say that absolutely, there should be a waiting period, and background checks. They’re the ones who understand the consequences and responsibilities that come with owning a firearm, and generally the ones that I  agree with in the whole gun debate.

Another one of my major problems with our current political climate are that people have big, robust (Editor’s Note: VEEP taught me to use robust as much as possible in any politically affiliated discussion) opinions that seem to mostly times lie at one end or the other of the spectrum.  No one wants to meet in the middle, because that would somehow concede that the other side has at least a little bit of value. No one wants to compromise. Everyone wants to win, and frankly, I am getting sick of all the “winning” certain people allege has been going on (Editor’s note: Aside from the recent tax overhaul, I can’t find a concrete example of actual winning, and that’s more an example of “winning,” that winning anyhow).

I used to pride myself for being one of these people that didn’t do that.  I prided myself for not just blindly following one side or the other, for being both a bipartisan voter, and thinker.  I didn’t want to be one of those people overreacted every time something I didn’t agree with exactly came up. I wanted to listen and understand the opposing viewpoint, and I want to go out on a limb, and say that while this is something I prided myself on, it’s not exactly unique. I believe I’m part of the silent majority that does live somewhere in the middle, and doesn’t feel the need to be super vocal about their viewpoints. It might be a smart way to be, but I think this past election has showed us that it’s dangerous. I think there’s too many people, who, like me, didn’t want to condemn Trump as a lunatic, or Hilter-adjacent, and understood why someone might vote for him.  I think a majority of us tried to remain measured and restrained, and dare I say, politically correct while discussing the election, and while I don’t think it’s the reason Trump was elected, I don’t think it helped.  This is not a time for restraint. It’s not a time for being polite. It’s not really a time for being measured, and careful, so I’m going to take a page of his supporter’s books right now. Because those loud, ignorant, people I think voted for Trump for all the wrong reasons (Editor’s Note: I’m talking about the people still blindly supporting him after all he’s done and said, not those who simply voted for him), seemed to be the most vocal ones for the longest time.  They were the ones who spent 8 years calling Obama a n*****, and then calling you a snowflake for having the audacity to be appalled by that word.  They were the ones who automatically assumed you expected things for free because you once expressed you think helping people should be an intrinsic American value. They’re the ones who cherry pick Christianity or support of the troops to rationalize their hatred and fear. They’re the ones that for years I just ignored, thinking exactly what one Mrs. Clinton asserted, that when they’d go low, I’d go high.

Well, that time has passed. And I’ve moved onto fighting low with low. I’ve moved on to being the person who asserts my views, even when it’s not exactly the “appropriate” time, and even if it makes some people uncomfortable (because while I may be a middle class white guy, the jabs and jokes directed at the Obama family made me uncomfortable, particularly when it happened in public settings).  Because it’s not the time to keep politics out of things anymore. We can’t do that. So in these next few paragraphs, I’m going to be politically incorrect. I’m going to make sweeping generalizations about someone I don’t actually know. I’m going to rely on stereotypes, and think of the worst case scenario. I’m going to proudly be a judgmental asshole. Because the other way, the rational way, the dare I say, classy way, hasn’t worked.

Because there was another sect of people at the sporting clays range that I didn’t respect, or tip my hat too. There were a sect of people that I found dangerous, and embarrassing, and disgusting, and mind you, this was simply by viewing what they looked like, and not knowing anything about them, the way that some people I’m acquainted with view I don’t know, black people, or Mexicans.  Anyhow, I reached my car, retrieved several bottles of water, and leaned against the trunk.  I chugged two bottles almost immediately. Remember again, I was out late,  I’m rapidly becoming an elder person, and frankly Pearl, I was not doing well by any stretch of the imagination.  I stayed there after those waters, to take some time to myself in the fresh breeze, and away from the gunfire that was really playing a dangerous game with the growing pounding emitting from my sinuses. I opened another one up, and as I attempted in vain to assuage my dehydrated body, I watched as two men drove a golf cart away from the range, and directly up to the back of a lime green VW  bug directly out of 2002. The shorter of these two men was dressed in camouflage pants, but not the hunting kind, the kind you buy pre-distressed at Express or somewhere, and one of those “funny” tee shirts in the vein of “I’m With Stupid” that aren’t really funny, and right away tell you scores about that person. He was very slight, to put it politely. The other gentleman, to put it politely, was very large, and wearing a pair of jeans, blindingly white sneakers, and a bright blue polo that complimented what I just assumed was his bug.  They opened up its hatch back, and pulled out a gigantic gun, whose case required both of them to handle before putting it back into the golf cart.  They then proceeded to unload several more, albeit smaller, guns into the back of the cart.  The small man then walked back around and took his place in the driver’s seat.  The larger man climbed into the passenger side, and wrapped his arms around that gigantic, what I’m going to term assault rifle (Editor’s Note: I don’t know guns. It was  big), like it was both the most important and most expensive thing he owned. And here’s where I’m going to generalize. It probably was.

And once I noticed these guys, I started noticing others of their ilk. They weren’t older people out to get in a nice day. They weren’t sportsmen or women, practicing a hobby. They weren’t like my group, out to do something new for the day. They were the gun enthusiasts, guys mostly, who you could tell by their build and dress, weren’t roughing it out in the forests of Pennsylvania on cold November mornings waiting for a deer. These were not guys just having fun, as evident by the non-rental guns they owned.  These were guys who liked to shoot things, who wanted some feeling of manliness that living in their mom’s basement and driving a second hand VW bug didn’t exactly give them. They are the type of people so insecure with their lives and height, so fucking scared of anything changing in their world, so desperate to prove their masculinity to those around them, to harness a power they crave but don’t have enough natural charisma to harness, that they have to resort to guns to feel. These are the types of people who scare me, the types who collect weapons, and show them off, and cradle them like their babies. These are the kinds of people who perpetrate the kinds of crimes you’ve seen at Las Vegas concerts, Texas churches, Colorado libraries, and Central Florida suburbs. These are the people looking for an excuse to use their gun on a person, but the kind of people we won’t admit are a problem here in the US.

I didn’t bring that up when I went back to join my group inside though, I just let the thought run a muck in my mind. I didn’t know everyone there, didn’t want to offend anyone, and again, didn’t want to come across as anything but measured, intelligent, and classy (Editor’s note: not sure why I thought they’d think this, these were the same people who witnessed me drinking sprite with scotch, and yes, ordering a hamburger at a South Philly strip club just hours prior). What I came into though, was a mostly incredulous group of guys reading through NRA literature in the form of pamphlets, booklets, and brochures, which were strewn haphazardly on tables in the waiting areas.

I’ve always know about the existence of the NRA, but have never explored their website, watched any of their videos, or read anything they’ve put out. It’s mind boggling to say the least. Check out this video, for example:

 

Seriously though, what country was that supposed to be? The U.S. definitely has some steps it can take to getting safer, but that would have you believe we’re in a god-damn war zone.  It’s the definition of incendiary, a concrete example of creating fear where there really isn’t any, of making the masses think that its foreign extremists of all types that will reign violence down on their lives, ignoring the fact that statistically their neighborhood actually is littered with drunk drivers, domestic abusers, rapists, and yes, Americans who shoot Americans.  The literature wasn’t much better, although it did make me feel better about assuming that some people were looking for a reason to shoot another human being, because the way we interpreted it at least, one of the main benefits of joining the NRA is getting firearm protection in case you just happen to need to shoot somebody on your property.  This  includes 24/7/365 access to a members only hotline for “incident reporting” and “emergency assistance” (Editor’s note: I thought that was 911), as well as “psychological support and cleanup costs.” Read that again, “psychological support and CLEAN UP COSTS.”  My mind was blown yet again. It’s a classic case of hearing that these crazies were out there, but never actually seeing it, or in this case, reading it first hand. One of the guys in the party definitely had an idea of the kinds of people he might run into, and in preparation wore a Bernie Sanders shirt. I respected that. I don’t think anyone knew what it was though. I would’ve been legitimately nervous had he worn an “I’m with Her” tee shirt. That might be the type of things some of these folks considered a situation that might result in psychological support and clean up costs.

I tried and tried to write this post. I wanted it to be just about my experience shooting clay birds with my friends for the first time, but draft after draft kept segueing into this rant you’re now reading.  I couldn’t convey my experiences that day, without including it, because when I thought back on the day, and on my first impression of walking into this facility, it was the only thing on my mind.

Now all this being said, the people working at LV Clay Sporting were beyond professional and polite, and we had a really fun afternoon. I mean, I did awfully. I hit exactly one clay bird during our 2.5 hours shooting, but it was a great way to spend an afternoon with friends, there’s plenty of staff around so you always feel safe, and the course is somehow beautiful, despite being littered with shell casings.  I’m actually thinking of getting my dad a gift card here for Christmas, because I think it’d be something he, my brother, and I would had fun doing together.  I’m still not at the point where I want to let my viewpoints or politics keep me from doing things I enjoy, or going to specific locales, but I also have gotten to the point where I’m not going to hide those views either, and I don’t necessarily think that expressing them is diluting or hurting my writing or this space. For better or worse, I don’t think we’re at a point where we, or at least I, am capable of being apolitical, and keeping quiet in an ill advised attempt for people think I’m level headed. I think this post might’ve done a good job of showing that right now, I’m not. Right now I’m angry and worried, and weekend diversions aren’t able to fully satiate those fears anymore.

That was cathartic. Thanks for bearing with me. Tomorrow’s post will be much more fun. I promise.

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