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FROM CHUCK OLYNYK: Riding the Storm Out

December 31, 2012
Posted by Chuck Olynyk on December 31, 2012 at 12:40 PM \

Today is Sunday, December 30, 2012 and Day 356 of Year Three. Technically. I went to bed a few hours ago, but whether it is being sick or just my brain refusing to shut up, I’m awake after midnight on a Sunday morning and I’m too warm. There was also what I call a fever dream about my dead friend and shooting buddy. He used to find high humor in shooting behind me as I was frantically reloading at Lytle Creek, back before laws were enforced and we could go shooting at this hidden canyon. The game was to put all my black powder weapons on a table, shoot them all as rapidly as possible and time the reloading process. As I said, Brad thought it was the height of humor to shoot behind and yell, “Indians are coming!” Silly as it was, I miss that. (For the record, 39 seconds on my .50 flintlock rifle when I was really practiced) I haven’t fired a weapon since his suicide.

I don’t know if people are still afraid that someone armed with a gun will burst suddenly into a school and do great harm, or if this is intellectual posturing, or merely another excuse to argue about how guns are dealt with in our country versus other problems. I keep hearing from people who see the world like Bill Murray’s Frank Cross pushing his promo in the movie “Scrooged”:

Frank Cross: “That isn’t good enough! They’ve got to be so scared to miss it, so terrified! Now, if I were in charge—and I AM… Perhaps I can help you. Here’s what I’d do. Grace, cue it up.” Promo runs, as Frank mouths the words: “Acid rain.” Shot of someone burning from acid. “Drug addiction. International terrorism. Freeway killers. Now, more than ever… we must remember the true meaning of Christmas. Don’t miss Charles Dickens’ immortal classic, ‘Scrooge.’ Your life may just depend on it.” I also love that it is “Scrooge” and not “A Christmas Carol.” That sure smacked of education reform.

Fear is being stirred up to a fever pitch during the last two weeks. Nothing is scarier than to realize just how vulnerable you are, to realize what you cherish can be taken away. People will do or say anything to protect those they love. (Mr. Colling, seeking revenge upon Steg, a predator in the neighborhood: “I can take your money. I can take your life.” Steg offers up his stolen money, to which Mr. Collings replies, “No.”—“Due South,” Season One, “An Eye For an Eye”)

Those drums of militancy in the background add something to fear. “Don’t think you can take away our guns…” Not that I would advocate that. After all, I’m the guy who’s been going to air museums, posting pictures of planes and turrets. (In my defense, though, with the turret picture, I also posted “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”)

That being said…

Remember those days so long ago when people used the old saw, “Those that can’t do, teach”? Remember when we were told that most people who are public school teachers are lazy and incompetent, hence the need for school reform? (How special. The couple that raised their kids by cell phone as they sat in bars four to five days per week, but always had a story which began, “Hey, Chuck, you’re a teacher. There’s this STUPID teacher who can’t teach my kid…” just sat down beside me). Remember the stories of teachers who had that bottle hidden in the desk? Every one of us had a teacher we swore drank. How many of our kids complain about a teacher’s temper? (“He’s always in a bad mood…” “She’s crazy…” And let’s not even mention what some of my girls automatically say about the mood of a teacher who is a woman… Just remember, I didn’t say that…)

Oh, one more little thing to think about. What if you miss? Brad got me to load quickly, but I wasn’t too accurate while shooting in a hurry. What if someone misses? I think back to that time in the gym with the carjacker hiding amongst the kids. Thank God he stood up and moved into a relatively open area, where trained professionals were. But what if he hadn’t? And in a classroom, what if that bullet goes through a wall?

So, with all the baggage of just how incompetent we are in our chosen profession, why would anyone want to mandate guns in the hands of the people they consider losers and in the classroom?

Let’s carry it a little further—just out in the open and not concealed, eh? Teachers going through training? What if they are fully credentialed? And they don’t make the cut? Does that invalidate a credential? Or will your grouping on target become a part of the credentialing process, as important as awareness of English Language Learners or children with Special Needs?

Before I became a teacher, I used to work as a case manager for Federal inmates. I prepared intake reports, evaluations, release paperwork on Federal prisoners who were sent to a halfway house run by a private corporation for the BOP (Bureau of Prisons, the Feds). We never received the training that correctional officers went through. We simply took what was being sent from T.I. (Terminal Island), Boron, Lompoc, Pleasanton and McNeil Island in Washington before it was closed down. No training. Some of my friends thought I was risking my life every day, even if I didn’t realize it.

I eventually ended up with the job of writing all the release paperwork because I was one of two people who had graduated from college. That made me qualified enough because others had never finished college (nor high school, in some cases…).

However, it was a facility that, although it contracted with the Federal government, specifically through the BOP, we were definitely NOT Federal officers. We were NOT trained in any way.

Yet we were deciding the fates of Federal inmates. We decided who would be released, or if their time at the facility would be extended… or if they went back behind the wall (translation: “We couldn’t control you, so you finish your sentence inside and get dumped on the street after your release date.”)

We were not supposed to be armed, which the inmates knew. For most of my time in that neighborhood, I went unarmed. The inmates knew it. The only inmate who ever threatened me with a weapon backed off, probably because I was young and stupid and God protects children and fools and ships named Enterprise. It wasn’t because of any training I received, but how I reacted out of pure instinct. Inmates never tried that with me again, but I always wondered how it would have played out if someone else had been in the situation? Or if it had been another inmate.

I mentioned that I did not carry a weapon most of the time. Truth to tell, I did so in time, probably from a combination of youth and fear of the neighborhood. After all, it was the turf of Pomona’s Twelfth Street gang, which made the news… at least in Pomona. After a time, I found myself unable to leave it at home. I felt vulnerable without it. Yes, it was illegal, but I justified my fear, for lack of a better word, of the gang violence in the neighborhood where the halfway house was, to extend to other areas of my life.

Tonight, I re-watched an episode of “Due South,” a series about a Mountie who is stationed at the consulate in Chicago, and evolves into the quasi-partner of a streetwise Chicago cop. It’s a buddy series, a series of fathers and sons, the son, Constable Benton Fraser, learning who his (murdered) father, Sgt. Robert Fraser, was through both the journals the elder Fraser kept, and his ghostly visits to his son. There is a scene in the episode, “The Duel,” where the Chicago cop, Ray Vecchio, beats up a mobster, someone he grew up with and who now runs the neighborhood. Ray can choose to live in fear. Instead, as he sits on his bed, he removes the clip from his gun, locks the gun in a drawer, places the clip on the dresser, then goes to bed.

In the following and concluding scene, Fraser reads his father’s journal: “When I took him in, his eyes were pure hatred. As the door to the prison slammed shut behind me, I can still hear his voice and the words he spit out at me, ‘I’ll find you Fraser if it’s the last thing I do. I’ll track you down and kill you wherever you go.’ That night in my cabin I lay there and thought about fear and what it does to a man. How it eats his insides out and takes the best from him. I listen to the wind make the ice flows creak outside and the wolves bay and a thousand other sounds of the winter night. And as I listened to my heart beat, I released the fear inside me little by little until it was no longer there. And then I closed my eyes and slept soundly until morning.”—Sgt. Robert Fraser, journal entry, “Due South,” Season One, “The Deal.”

It reminded me of what it felt like to put the gun away. It had become a crutch during the time I worked at the halfway house. I had to realize that carrying a gun wasn’t the answer to easing my fears.

After 9/11, we were told over and over, amidst heightened security, that we had to continue to live normally. Some people never have… I had to try to embrace it. That’s why, on the day of Christmas Eve, when I had to go to the Pomona Courthouse, I had to make a joke out of it:

After I set it off with my laptop, my camera, the bag, my keys, my change: “If you set off the metal detector one more time, you’re buying me lunch.”

Thought: how many times do I have to do it to buy you dinner? What I said: “Sorry.”

She asked, “Is that a Roosevelt sticker on your laptop?”

“Yes, it matches my shirt.” I was wearing last year’s softball shirt, which I pointed at.

Eyes narrowed, eyebrows lowered, with intense scrutiny, “Are you being funny?”

“Oh, God, I hope so…” When in doubt, play the fool.

A smile. “I want a Roosevelt sticker.”

“Yours. As soon as I get back from vacation. I have the utmost respect for the law.” She snorted.

My point? This, too, shall pass, and, as much as I like guns, I don’t believe that I will ever have to carry one. Nor should any of us.

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