On Nudism

When my parents moved to Van Nuys in 1955, I was five years old, and we found ourselves in a neighborhood with many similar couples with young children. One thing that seemed of particular interest to the young children, including me, was each other's bodies. For a couple of years it was not uncommon for the little boys and little girls to expose themselves to each other in protected areas, like behind bushes, in the neighborhood. I missed out on some of that when I transferred to a private school for the second grade, and my mother couldn't pick me up until she was on her way home from work. The other neighborhood children took advantage of the afternoon hours after school, before I got home, to satisfy their young sexual curiosity.

Eventually that curiosity seemed to die out. Perhaps that was because of a sexual latency period, or perhaps because of nudity taboo socialization. But it still seemed like great fun in retrospect. I never understood quite why that period had ended, though for many years it didn't seem like there was much that could be done about it:  It seemed difficult to relate to girls, and there certainly were no opportunities anymore for common nudity. The powerful fantasy world revolving around the junior high school girl's locker room and shower, shared with many other 12 year-old-boys (there were rumors that the girls even had a nude gymnastics class), remained mere fantasy.

My own diffidence and bookishness unnaturally prolonged ordinary adolescent awkwardness and delayed the development of mature relations with women. Although I was starting to date, after a fashion, once I went away to college, it wasn't until my senior year that I was beginning to have anything like what seemed like ordinary dating and sexual relationships. One problem had been my expectations from a personal relationship. I had wanted true love right away, and consequently was rather too intense about the whole business. I also had the, not uncommon, problem of fixating on the wrong kinds of persons, though, indeed, finding the right kind of person would be a serious longterm difficulty.

Nevertheless, I met my first wife in Hawaii and possessed, for about three years, the kind of personal life that I wanted. And one feature of it was, indeed, a great deal of nudity. The warmth and humidity of Honolulu made clothes rather unnecessary, and in the first apartment that we shared together, overlooking from a clifftop the lovely Mânoa Valley, our clothes came off the minute we got in the front door. Later we had to restrain that somewhat when we moved in with my wife's grandmother, but I also began to notice around Honolulu bumperstickers for the "Hawaii Nudist Park," which said "Dare To Go Bare."

Of course, there was a time before the existence of swimming suits. Back in the 18th century, sea bathing necessarily meant nude bathing -- though there probably wasn't much in the way of sun bathing. We see some provisions for modesty. Disrobing at English beaches seems to have been in special carriages that could be rolled out into the water, so that the period of open air nudity, leaping for carriage to water, was minimal. Nevertheless, in the accompanying illustrations, as in "Summer Amusement at Margate", the bathers attracted considerable admiring attention from observers. It is also noteworthy that the ideal of beauty in the modern "Swimming Venus" is rather heavier than became fashionable in the 20th Century (thanks to Paul Ableman, Anatomy of Nakedness [Orbis Publishing, London, 1982], for these pictures).

I finally gave the "Hawaii Nudist Park" a call. Their introductory meetings were clothed sessions at the Honolulu apartment of the very nice almost-eldery couple who ran things. All they did was explain what it was all about (no sex in public!) and then show a film about the Park. Gaye was not unwilling to give it a try, so we joined and soon headed for Kahuku -- one of the few places on the Windward side of Oahu were the highway was not near the beach and there was actually room, out of sight but accessible, for the Park. In Hawaii, ironically, where naked women used to swim out to the whaling ships, local sensibilities are now uniformly hostile to nude public bathing. It is now contrary to Hawaiian "culture," i.e. the Congregational Protestantism brought by the first 19th century missionaries (not to mention the Catholicism, etc., that arrived later). So when we arrived at the Nudist Park (mostly sand, actually), the people there were almost entirely haoles. Indeed, they seemed to be largely military. Even so, they were all very nice.

Going naked just feels good. The sun and wind on all of one's body is a feeling unlike any other, and the best thing about going naked at the beach is:  No wet swimsuit. Indeed, no wet swimsuit, and no wet sand in the swimsuit. Putting up with some clammy, gritty rag, rubbing ground quartz against your genitals, just to go swimming, now strikes me as completely crazy. And that is from someone who thinks that a thong bathing suit on a woman is the sexiest thing in the Twentieth Centery. But if she is actually going to go swimming, I recommend nothing instead. On the other hand, people worry about the sexual aspect of going naked. Anyone who has actually been to a nudist facility, however, knows that a bunch of ordinary naked people is not very erotic. Some worry about the opposite problem, that ordinary naked bodies may seem so unerotic that people's interest in sex many actually be degraded! Looking at a bunch of old or fat naked people must really be a turn-off! Well, I suppose it could be for some people; but then, on the whole, it is really no different than seeing old or fat people in clothes -- and I actually thought that the fat people looked better without clothes than with. On the other hand, nudist organizations are often at pains to over-emphasize how unerotic nudity can be, lest they be accused of promoting orgies or something; and this sometimes passes over into a moralistic condemnation of nudity or representations of nudity that actually are erotic (with anti-porn feminism sometimes joining in). Some nudism even condemns clothing, not because it is sometimes unnecessary and cumbersome, but because clothing can highten erotic interest -- high heels, a mini-skirt, and a miracle bra can generate a lot of interest in a woman. But there is nothing wrong with hightening erotic interest, whether with clothes or without, in the appropriate context. Even anti-erotic nudists may engage in a lot of body decorating, with paints, jewelry, etc. Decorating the body for erotic purposes is as wholesome and worthy as the erotic purposes themselves.

So we had a very relaxing and enjoyable first day at the Hawaii Nudist Park. Until we got home, that is, since I had neglected a fundamental precaution: sun screen. I had about the worst sunburn of my life. Indeed, it must have been sunstroke, since I was quite ill. In the following days, when my skin started to peal, we ended up with huge sheets of skin all over the bedroom. I certainly learned my lesson, discovered sunscreen, and never had anything like that happen again. Sadly, neither did we see much more of the Hawaii Nudist Park, since our time left in Hawaii was short and other things began to happen.

After moving to Texas and losing Gaye, I did not have much interest in pursuing organized nudism. Nudist organizations are traditionally more interested in couples than in lone males, since they want to encourage a family oriented image and discourage the idea that they exist so that men can see and hit-on naked women. I was thinking in very much the same terms, and mainly liked the idea of going naked with a woman I was already with.

Nevertheless, Austin turned out to have some opportunities for nudity. The absolute epicenter of the Counter-Culture in Texas, Austin had a tradition of nude bathing out at Lake Travis, northwest of Austin. One place, universally referred to as "Hippie Hollow," came to have officially tolerated nude bathing (at least until recently, when a new Travis County District Attorney decided that children should not be allowed where they would see naked adults). So, my first year there, I was shedding clothes on trips out to the lake with my neighbors and new friends. This was all rather nice, but I didn't get into it too much. I was never very successful at relationships in Austin, and so never hitched up with any women who were as interested in nudity as I was.

Back in Los Angeles, relationships picked up, and I did visit the only Nudist organization that remained in Los Angeles County, Elysium Fields in Topanga Canyon, but continuing involvement just never has clicked. Part of the problem is the weather; for although it is warm in California, the humidity is very low compared to Hawaii or Texas (or New Jersey, my home-away-from-home where my present wife teaches). So even on hot days (90-100oF), I get cold around here.

My fantasy was to some day teach some philosophy classes out at Elysium, where they had courses in many things, mostly New Age, holistic, health, massage, etc., kinds of things. The Greeks found the "Naked Philosophers" (gynosophistaí), actually Jain monks, in India. It would be nice to have some naked philosophers in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, Elysium is now long gone, and there is nothing like it left in Los Angeles Country. This is a great shame and a great loss, but nothing to do about it.

The Naturist Society

American Association for Nude Recreation

Return to Top of Page

The Bricks of London

At left there are some row houses on Devonshire Place off Marylebone Road in London. Walking by, I was struck by the contrast in the color of the bricks. We have a row house that is faced in brown brick, next to one in red, next to one in yellow, then one in lighter brown, and one where the brick looks tan. This was a stiking example to me of the variety of colors that we see in the bricks of London. Growing up, I was always used to just seeing red brick; and in London you can see buildings of all red brick, such as the "Cruciform Building" of University College London, on Gower Street (across the street from Jeremy Bentham). But in London there are whole streets of uniform very dark brown, almost black, brick. Then there are whole buildings done in the yellow brick, which often strikes me as an unpleasant bilious color. The yellow works best in combination with the other colors, although buildings that take advantage of designs using multiple colors seem to be rare.

These row houses, with contrasting colors from one to the other, in themselves seem to be unusual, which is what caught my attention. I wondered if the different colors, and the dark brown especially, may have been a function of the materials available in the London area for brick making. The dark brown really seems the most characteristic of London, while up at Oxford I can only remember seeing red brick. Indeed, London bricks were originally made from the local London Clay, which was yellow; and even now "London stock brick" reproduces the content and color of the original bricks. While the brown color may often be the result of weathering in the pollution of London, the darker color may also be the result of firing the bricks for longer periods. Since the pollution has moderated in recent decades and a great deal of soot has been cleaned off of London buildings, it looks like the dark color is inherent in much of the brickwork.

Kings of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Return to Top of Page

Edwards Air Force Base

The picture at right is of my uncle, George D. ("Dan") Hendrix, when he was a Major stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, from 1963 until 1969. After visiting Dan, my aunt Lorraine (my father's sister), and my cousins Cheryl and Jaci at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in the summer of 1962, I visited at Edwards every subsequent summer until after I graduated from high school in 1967.

Edwards in the Sixties was an "open" base. That is, anyone could drive through, even though it was probably the most important non-secret site in the United States for experimental aircraft testing. There were no gates or guards except at specific installations. That was no longer the case by the Eighties. But when I was there, I even saw the supersonic XB-70 bomber flying overhead once. And every day there were sonic booms rattling the windows in the house. The only sonic booms I've heard for many years now were when the Space Shuttle would land at Edwards after coming in over Los Angeles at supersonic speed.

But, when I was a teenager, I wasn't spending a lot of time looking at aircraft or examining base facilities. It was mostly summer vacation stuff. We played card games, went to some movies, went bowling, looked at the stars (it was a dark sky out there, and I took my telescope), played with my cousin's pet rabbits, made ice cream, and often went on trips to visit other relatives, like Dan's parents' place at Oakhurst, which is up in the Sierra between Fresno and Yosemite. The last big trip we took together was up the Owens Valley in 1967 all the way to Mammoth Lakes, soon before I went away to college, with spectacular thunderstorms often roofing over the valley. It was still mostly very innocent American Graffiti sort of teenage stuff back then. I had never heard of teenagers, or anyone for that matter, just hanging out and getting loaded. Smoking cigarattes was about the most daring form of misbehavior, as it has now, after a fashion, become again.

Dan had grown up, as I did, in the San Fernando Valley. He was from Tarzana, where Edgar Rice Burroughs lived and which got named after Burroughs's most famous character, Tarzan of the Apes. When Dan went away to fly fighter planes in World War II, P-38's and P-51's in Europe, he always named his plane "Tarzana." He got called back into service for Korea, also flying figher planes, and then ended up as a test pilot at Holloman, working with fighters like the F-102. At Edwards his test pilot days were over; he actually taught meterology, which was his degree at UCLA, in the astronauts school. After Edwards, he did one tour flying reconnaissance planes in Vietnam and then a final stint at the Pentagon, before retiring as a full Colonel. In retirement, he returned to Edwards, as the civilian chief of flight testing for the B-1 bomber. Visiting his offices and facilities there as an adult, I saw much more of the flight line at Edwards, and got a more intimate look at the planes, than I ever had as a teenager. We even went out once to see the Space Shuttle land, back in the days before the Challenger disaster in 1986.

I knew that Edwards was a big deal but didn't really get the whole story until reading Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff [1983] many year later (the movie was terrible). I certainly never heard of Pancho Barnes or the "Happy Bottom Riding Club" back then, though, as it happened, Dan did know all about it. When I asked, he had some of his own stories to tell. It wasn't until many years later that I even met Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the sound barrier -- the living archetype of the "right stuff." When I did, he was referring to Dan as "Danny." I thought that was pretty good, if Chuck Yeager had his own nickname for your uncle.

Although I had spent so much time at Edwards, The Right Stuff didn't come out until 1983. I had always asked Dan about the War, but it never occurred to me that he might know about Chuck Yeager and the later history of Edwards. So it wasn't until the days at Edwards were over that I even asked him about the site of the "Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch" (1935-1953), the formal name of Happy Bottom Riding Club. Oh, of course, the ruins were still there and he had driven by them frequently. Well, as it happens, the site is a bit off the roads I travelled; and I never had come particularly near it. Since Dan had not mentioned it, nor I asked, back in the Sixties, the occasion never arose to go down there. Now, when Edwards is closed, and civilians can't just wander in, the site fortunately can be identified and inspected by the satellite photos at Google Maps. The circular swimming pool is conspicuous, although it was built quite late in the history of the ranch, after the Tehachapi Earthquake in 1952 had damaged the old pool. The Air Force has actually done nothing with the land, and so, apart from natural decay, everything is pretty much as Pancho Barnes left it. The report is that Air Force personnel have a barbeque there every year.

Some people may have teenage summer memories of the Catskills or the New Jersey shore, but mine are of the heat of the Mojave Desert, flat white Edwards Dry Lake in the distance, my cousins at the card table, my uncle coming home for lunch in his orange flight suit, my aunt Lorraine deciding to make glorious pizzas for dinner, the windows rattling with sonic booms, the daily ritual of deciding when to close up the house and turn on the "swamp" air cooler. Not high adventure, perhaps, but happy and enjoyable.

Coordinated Flight

Return to Top of Page

The Fifties

Born in 1949, I grew up in the 50's and early 60's. The first serious political event that I remember clearly was John F. Kennedy's election in 1960. My parents were Republicans, and I was all for Richard Nixon. Nevertheless, when Kennedy was later assassinated, I very nearly cried myself to sleep. Before that, my memories are merely personal, not political.

A recent movie, Pleasantville (1998), portrays the 50's as a time of repressed feelings and oppression, symbolized with black and white colors. The opposite of that would be the 70's TV series, Happy Days, based on the movie American Graffiti (1973). The TV series was straight 50's nostalgia. American Graffiti was a bittersweet end to innocence. Pleasantville perhaps is attempt to counter idealized views of the 50's.

Kelley and mother Frances in San FranciscoFor my own childhood, idealization is hardly needed. My 50¢ allowance and bicycle were all I needed for a thrilling Saturday morning. I would ride off to the neighborhood drugstore, about half a mile away (a "neighborhood" in Los Angeles), to buy comic books. This was at the corner of Burbank Blvd. and Woodman Avenue, where the stores consequently were called part of "Bur-Wood." In the winter, since I had never heard of overcoats or wool caps in Los Angeles, my ears would be numb by the time I got there. The comic books, mostly Disney comics like "Scrooge McDuck," one of my favorites, were only 15¢ apiece, but once a month there was a major purchase. Mad Magazine was all of 25¢, a major expense, half of my allowance, but well worth it.

Riding my bicycle, I didn't worry about a bicycle crash helmet, or elbow pads, or knee pads. I had never heard of anything of the sort. There certainly weren't any laws requiring them. I don't remember any accidents with my bicycle, though I'm sure there must have others who had accidents where a helmet might have helped. Previously, I had a tricycle of the traditional steel, top-heavy kind. Those, evidently, fall over easily and have disappeared, but I don't ever remember falling over, except deliberately, for fun.

I had never heard of any serious crime, or much in the way of theft, but my neighborhood friends and I all carefully locked up our bicycles when we went anywhere. I was astonished many years later, in 1980, to see a couple of pre-teens leave their bicycles unlocked on the sidewalk outside a restaurant in Santa Monica. Although it is the only time I have ever seen anything like that happen, the bicycles were promptly stolen, by other children (of a different ethnic persuasion). young Jackie StoneOnly one was recovered by patrons dashing out of the restaurant, and the victim was inconsolable. How we could have been so cynical in 1958 in the Valley and children so naive in 1980 Over the Hill is still a good question.

Although it hardly seems possible, given what a lot of people think about families, especially families in the 50's, I am sorry to report that there wasn't any domestic violence or sexual abuse in my family. Although my parents seemed to become less affectionate over time, I never saw either of them lay a hand in anger on each other or become violent in any way. They did believe in spanking, but I can't remember being spanked more than once or twice, in a very restrained way (no belts or anything), for very clear reasons. Since there wasn't any kind of sexual activity involving me, and I wasn't aware of sex between my parents (I would have been a poor case for Freud), the result was actually extended ignorance about how sex worked. This must be the Pleasantville sort of "sexual repression," since I was as naive as any Victorian virgin bride right up through high school. Since other kids I knew in junior high acted like they knew more, but always refused to divulge any details, one is left to wonder if they were similarly ignorant or not. Sex education in health classes in high school, although explicit enough in some respects, was too clinical to give me a complete idea of exactly what was going to happen. I actually had to lose my virginity to get the whole picture. While this now seems rather pathetic, and I later had some perhaps irresponsible encounters, a couple of results now look rather nice:  I never had any illegitimate children, and I never got any kind of venereal disease.

While there wasn't any kind violence or (obvious) sex in my family, my parents did drink, and smoke. They certainly didn't drink to any kind of excess, but for some reason I found this rather embrassing as a teenager. The example of my parents led to my manifestation of youthful rebellion by not drinking and not smoking. I did get drunk a few times, when I was 19, 20, and 23, but since I got sick each time (once very drunk and very sick in Beirut), I stayed away from it after that. It wasn't until I was 26 years old, living in Austin, that I started drinking again in a more measured and controlled way. I also noticed that I had always had gotten sick from too much wine but never did get sick from beer.

My parents weren't particularly religious. When I was a small child, I remember us going to church occasionally, but as I got older, we went less often and then never. For some reason I resisted involvement with any of the church social activities for children. So there wasn't much of a religious aspect to our family life. So my family was not particularly conservative in any social sense (except, perhaps, for the previously mentioned sexual "repressiveness").

On the other hand, my parents were Republicans. Since my father's family was from Arkansas, they can even be said to have been among the kind of Dixicrats who eventually went over to the Republican Party. Nevertheless, one thing I never heard in my house were ethnic or racial epithets. There was no Archie Bunker around here. My parents were supportive of the basic aims of the Civil Rights movement, to end Segregation, but they drew the line at the kind of preferences and social engineering that came to be the ultimate goals of the movement in the late 60's, 70's, 80's, and even now. They were perfectly right about that. My father, although not entirely free of racial prejudice, and increasing irritated with black radicals in the 60's, always used polite language. Indeed, having some of the same regional dialect, he pronounced the word "negro," the preferred polite term in the 50's and early 60's, in exactly the same way as Lyndon Baines Johnson. The "n" word was never spoken in our house. As a Reaganite who didn't live to see Reagan elected President, my father was more worried about the deficit than anything else -- though, of course, that got worse under Reagan rather than better.

While many people still think that Ronald Reagan was as much a racist as Bull Conner, and that critics of "affirmative active" preferential policies are as much Segregationists as George Wallace -- so that anti-Proposition 209 ads in California in 1996 actually showed KKK crosses burning -- this is really absurd and contemptible nonsense, a slander of sincere, principled, and polite people, and a political miscalculation of great proportions. Yet such slanderers, i.e. mainstream Democrats, then like to call their opponents "extremists." As Ronald Reagan said, he did not leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left him. My father seems to have had a similar experience, since, like Reagan, he began his political life voting for FDR. I, on the other hand, am now convinced that FDR was the original sin, which is why I went from being a Democrat to being a Libertarian.

On Saturday nights my father used to barbecue steaks in the back yard, not far from where the incinerator used to be (burning trash was outlawed as the smog got worse in Los Angeles). Then we would settle down to watch Sea Hunt, with Lloyd Bridges (d. 1998), and Perry Mason, with Raymond Burr (d. 1993). I was enthralled by these classic shows, though I remember precious little about them, except Lloyd Bridges under water and Raymond Burr always making the true criminal confess on the stand.

Disneyland opened while I was still very small. We then would go once a year. Since it was so thrilling to me, really the high point of the year, I asked my mother once why we couldn't go more often. She said that even one trip cost as much as $20, and they just couldn't afford more than that. It may also have been that I ran them ragged when we were there.

Back before airconditioned cars, a trip to Las Vegas meant going in the cool hours of the morning. Nothing is more vivid in my mind than rising one summer morning, perhaps in 1957 or 1958, at 4:30 AM. In the absence of a San Diego Freeway, we drove north in the dark up Sepulveda Blvd., where the signals had not been turned on yet -- they only flashed yellow or red, depending on the direction. I don't think signals in Los Angeles ever get turned off anymore. Passing over the mountains and reaching the desert at Palmdale, we headed off down what now, in the age of the Interstate Highway System, seem like obscure back roads. At my age, I usually had no idea where we were. Returning home, I was astonished when I saw a sign that said "Entering Los Angeles County," when we were still, as far as I could tell, out in the middle of nowhere -- Los Angeles itself was nowhere to be seen. (Within a couple of years, however, I was already getting a much better sense of navagation and had no difficulty understanding where we were on a trip in 1959 up to British Columbia.) Arriving in Las Vegas, we stayed at the Sands, which then lacked the tower that was built in the 60's. Almost 40 years later, my wife and I went back there for our 5th wedding anniversary, just two weeks before the hotel was closed for demolition. In 1996 the grounds seemed a lot smaller. Back in the 50's, they were boundless, with buildings as far as could be imagined. A whole city in the desert. Indeed, it was rather more like the desert back then, with just a few hotels along the Strip. Although I wasn't allowed in the casino as a child, it was not hard to go by and look in, and there were always slot machines adjacent to public byways. The dollar slot machines were the most fascinating, since they were still using silver dollars, especially the old Morgan dollars from the 19th century. A dollar wasn't worth as much as it had on the gold standard, but a 1958 dollar was still worth five time or more what it is now. What I could go in and see at the Sands was one of the shows:  Johnny Mathis, as it happened. I've remembered his voice and songs ever since, though I never became a big fan or anything.

Although I didn't have a lot of friends, and didn't have any anything to do with girls after the earliest period when the local boys and girls would expose themselves to each other, I keep myself busy enough with running around in the neighborhood, building model ships, and watching television. Saturday mornings were my favorite television times, especially with the science shows that were on, like Watch Mr. Wizard. There was also a show, I think it was just called Planet Earth that, as it happened, was on just for the International Geophysical Year in 1958, though I wasn't aware of such an event at the time. I was simply transfixed by such things. The television, of course, was a large black and white set in a wooden cabinet, with doors. The only person I knew of with a color set was a wealthy building contractor friend of my parents. Sometimes, over at his house in Northridge, I'd see Bonanza, one of the earliest shows in color, in color.

I didn't do a lot of reading, that I can remember, before about 1962, except for comic books. The play in the neighborhood much of time involved our toy guns. There were never any stories that I had ever heard of a policeman, or anyone else, shooting a kid because they thought that a toy gun might be a real one. My toy guns were actually pretty realistic. One of my favorites was a copy of a snub-nose .38 police revolver. It loaded cartridges with springs in them, plastic bullets on the front, and a little round cap on the back. Shooting the gun thus, with appropriate sound effect, fired the little plastic bullet off into the distance. I'm sure that this was dangerous as hell. No telling how many eyes got put out by those things, though I never heard of any harm coming of it in my circle. I certainly didn't shoot the gun very often, for fear of losing the bullet! I had a shoulder holster for the gun, and one one trip to San Francisco I insisted on wearing the holster and gun out to dinner, discretely concealed in my little three piece suit. These days, they'd probably call in a SWAT team.

Every couple of weeks my father would take me to the barber shop. What I always got, of course, was some kind of crew cut. It was kind of fun getting my hair cut, but I hated ending up with little itchy cut hairs in my shirt. No kind of precaution seemed to prevent that from happening, and I was never comfortable until I could take a shower and wash the hairs away. By the time I graduated from high school -- high school graduation pictures from 1967 are still very 50's-ish looking -- I never wanted to go to a barber again. Mostly, I haven't, muddling along with cutting my own hair.

When I was a child, my family never had Mexican or Chinese food, let alone Indian or Thai, or even Deli. The most exotic thing we had was spaghetti, though we did go out to a German restaurant sometimes, and had German food at the old Shadows resaurant on Signal Hill in San Francisco. The meat sauce for the spaghetti my mother made from cratch with a recipe I still use. She got it from a girl she roomed with when she came to Los Angeles in 1940. While my taste subsequently was expanded by travelling, some of the cuisine I picked up overseas, like hummus from Lebanon, has since caught on all over and is readily available in local supermarkets. Hawaiian food, however, is a little harder to find outside Honolulu. Our 50's diet was pretty monotonous, meat and potatoes kind of stuff. My mother wasn't too ambitious about cooking, since she worked a full-time job at Lockheed and, in the days before fast food, had to make dinner after getting home in the evening. So she certainly wasn't the typical 50's housewife.

The overall effect, I dare say, of being raised in the 50's was to be spoiled. Life was certainly nothing like it had been for my father, especially, in the Depression. Just telling us about it, while we were being carefully protected from anything of the sort in fact, really didn't register. It was hard to take seriously the stories about hardship. There was no such thing as scraping for a meal or doing without. It was the kind of innocent, naive, and protected life, I fear, that helped produce the sense of "entitlement" that many people have today, that anything important (education, medical care, etc.) should be free, just conjured out of the air by taxes on somebody else (smokers, maybe). There weren't even any significant earthquakes in my childhood. The Sylmar quake in 1971 was the first time significant damage was done in the LA Basin since the Long Beach earthquake back in the 30's. I don't even remember any thunder or lightning until I went to New Mexico in 1962. Ike's America really was, as far as I knew, with just a few problems like Segregation, just what everybody wanted.

Nevertheless, much of my generation went away to school in 1967 and just went wild -- sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll -- much of the fruit of which seems to have been VD, OD's, and deafness. Undoubtedly many things have gotten better since the 50's, but it also seems to be the case in history that as some things get better, other things get worse. People still get arrested for smoking marijuana, as in the 50's, and absurdly disproportionate sentences, just like in the 50's, are returning to show how "serious" politicians are about the war on drugs. Also, now the police can kick down your door in a no-knock search for the marijuana, and shoot you if you look threatening to them. This is not an improvement over the old English principle that authorities must knock on the door and show their warrant. But perhaps the trashing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights since the "enlightened" 60's is another story.

Lee Child's Las Vegas

Return to Top of Page

How I Became a Gun Nut

When I joined the Libertarian Party, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into. Since I gave some money to the local Libertarian candidate for State Senate, John Vernon, he invited me to his house for election night, 1992. As part of the entertainment, he showed the video ads that he had made and run on local cable channels. Since there had recently been riots in Los Angeles, and Libertarians believed in people taking responsibility for their self-defense, one of John's video ads had him holding his shotgun and pumping it. To suit the action to the video, John then got out his shotgun and reenacted the action.

This worried me. What was I getting into? I had never been very interested in guns, and now it looked like I was getting involved with a bunch of gun nuts. These fears turned out to be a little ironic. Was John Vernon some survivalist, some bunker minded holdout in the Idaho wilderness? Well, no. John was a caterer. He also had AIDS. When he died a couple years later, the obituary in the Los Angeles Times identified him as the "Omelet King" because once he had set a record making omelets. Not a very threatening guy. John just believed in being armed.

Eventually I caved in and became armed myself, with a Remington 870 Marine Magnum 12 gauge, cylinder bore, pump action shotgun, as at right, with a six shell magazine. It is a beauty, but I had never fired a gun larger than the rifles they have in some carnival booths. Most rifle and pistol ranges don't even allow shotguns, since they are rather like cannons compared to other firearms.

A 12 gauge shotgun has a barrel diameter of .727 inches, larger than a .45 pistol, larger than a .60 caliber machine gun -- a 20 mm gun (found on many aircraft, and a basic anti-aircraft gun in World War II), by comparison, is .787 inches in diameter. Of course, what comes out is not a .727 inch ball or slug, but usually some multiple pieces of shot. I have some shells that contain 8 pieces of 000 buckshot, each of which is .36 inches in diameter -- 9.14 mm. This is really a lot of lead. Police have now largely given up their traditional .38 revolvers for 9 mm semi-automatics (.354 inches). 9 mm bullets are larger (longer) than 9 mm (round) shot, but one of these 000 shells fires more lead that some multiple shots from such a 9 mm.

Fortunately, there are the Angeles Shooting Ranges in Little Tujunga Canyon, where even shotguns are welcome. I hated the idea of owning a weapon I had not fired or had no experience in handling. And I was reluctant to load live ammunition at home, just to see how the action worked. But that got taken care of. I especially wondered what the recoil would be like, with my shoulder responding to Newton's Third Law for all the lead leaving the barrel at the velocity of sound. Well, it was more like a punch than a shove. It wasn't going to knock me over. But it was a good punch. I get bruises. It is less damaging to hold the gun at waist level, so that my arms absorb the recoil. This doesn't hit my body. And the loss of accuracy doesn't matter much. They say that you point a shotgun more than aim it, since the shot scatters, especially with short barrels. My gun has an 18 inch barrel, the shortest allowed by Federal Law.

Annie Oakley's act in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was shooting with shotguns. This in arenas where she was usually surrounded by spectators. One might wonder why the audience was never hit with shot. But Annie loaded her own shells, and they only had salt in them. This dissipated very rapidly. And since salt is light, it lost velocity very quickly. So nothing much ever reached the spectators. It must have been a spectacular act. I think there is some film of the Show, but I don't recall ever seeing film of Annie (who was called "Little Sure Shot" by Sitting Bull, no less, who was with the Show for a while).

The Remington 870 itself comes in for mention in the novel Silence of the Lambs [1988], though not the 1991 movie (which won best picture, best director, best actor, and best actress for the year). We know from the movie that Clarice Starling's father was killed in the line of duty, but we get more detail from the novel. Her father only carried a shotgun, not a pistol (the movie wrongly shows her father with a pistol), and as he got out of his truck to investigate a burglary, he accidentally hit the "fore-end" pump handle on his 870, which "short-shucked" it -- a half pump that jammed a shell in the action -- so Clarice's father was unable to defend himself against the burglars, who shot him [St. Martin's Paperback, p.151].

Remington seems to have taken care of this. Now there is an "action bar lock." If the shotgun is cocked, the fore-end will not move. One must release the lock, not something to be done accidentally, or pull the trigger (something else hopefully not done accidentally) to release the fore-end. With this arrangement, it is really impossible to have a live round in the breach and have a "short-shuck" occur. Remington still does warn that when inserting shells into the magazine, "be sure the rim of each shell snaps past the shell latch to prevent the shell from sliding back over the carrier." This could result in the same kind of jam that doomed Clarice's father. The first time I did insert a shell there, before I got the feel of it, I pushed the shell so far in that the carrier (which lifts the shells up into the breach as the action is closed) closed on my thumb. Getting my thumb out resulted in a cut from the side of the carrier. So it certainly helps to have a feel for how the mechanism works. The shell latch does audibly click into place.

Perhaps all this does not actually make me a gun "nut"; but I think, in the estimation of many, it is going to be close. There is no mistaking the 870 Marine Magnum for a hunting weapon. This is something to use on Osama at close range.

In 2013 I moved from California to New Jersey. In an infamous case in New Jersey, Brian Aitken was convicted of a felony for lawfully transporting firearms between his residences. Superior Court Judge James Morley, in an example of gross misconduct, refused to instruct the jury on the relevant law. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie commuted Aitken's sentence and declined to reappoint Morley to the bench -- but he did not pardon Aitken, which is what was called for.

Investigating the gun laws of New Jersey, it looked like weapons could not be lawfully brought into the State unless the owner had already been issued a "State of NJ Firearms Purchaser Identification Card." This seemed to require that one was already a resident of New Jersey, which, moving in from out of State, I wasn't. Sounded like a kind of Catch 22. So before leaving California, I sold my shotgun to a gun store in Burbank.

Some years went by, and I was distracted by many things. Finally, however, in the Spring of 2018, I stopped by a New Jersey gun store to find out about the procedure for acquiring a license and the equivalent of my old shotgun. I had already found on line the application for a New Jersey firearms Identification Card, but I could find no information on the place to file or send it. At the gun store, they told me that it needed to be filed in person with my local police department, which for me would be the department of Franklin Township, in Somerset County, New Jersey. The application required a witness to my signature, and references for testimonials from two upstanding citizens unrelated to me. It also required a fingerprint set, which of course the police used to do themselves but now is done electronically by an independent contractor, with whom one must make an appointment. I had been fingerprinted before beginning to teach at Los Angeles Valley College in 1987, the old messy ink way.

This was more involved than when I bought the shotgun in California, where the only complication was a waiting period for them to do a background check. If the background check was done up front in New Jersey, that might actually be more convenient. Also, purchasing a handgun in California required taking a class. In New Jersey, the same application would do for a handgun and for long guns, i.e. rifles and shotguns. I was not initially interested in a handgun, but at the gun store they suggested applying anyway, just in case.

After some weeks, the Identification Card came through, with a separate permit good for one handgun, if purchased within a certain length of time. The ID Card was good for multiple long guns, unless revoked.

The gun store did not have a Remington 870 Marine Magnum 12 gauge, but they could order one. Meanwhile, with the handgun permit, I could buy a handgun on the spot; and I did. It was a Colt .38 "Cobra" revolver, which was pretty much the real version of a toy gun I had as a child. I had been advised years earlier than a shotgun might not be the best weapon for self-defense in the home, since it is large and awkward, and perhaps would have a tendency to blow holes through walls. So the .38 revolver is perhaps more like it.

A week later they got in the shotgun. Unfortunately, although having already done the background check, New Jersey wants an on-line check at the time of purchase. With the handgun, that only took about half an hour; but with the shotgun, more than an hour went by without any response. They said that wait times could vary greatly. So I went back the next day, by which time the check had gone through.

I'm not sure I need to test-fire the shotgun, with whose operation and feel I am already familiar; but now I have test-fired the handgun, to become familiar with it. All of this may not have been necessary. Somerset County, New Jersey, is not a high crime area. But you never know. I don't like the idea of needing to call 911 and waiting helplessly for the police to show up. As all Americans should know, the police have no legal obligation to protect anyone from crime. They may just clean up the mess. In Franklin Township, which is actually pretty rural, I don't see police on patrol very often, and the actual police station is more than ten miles away, in Somerset. So it is just a matter of being prepared.

What Is Called "Gun Control"

What are Second Amendment Rights?

Return to Top of Page

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1997, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2013, 2017, 2018 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D., Postumus Friesianorum, All Rights Reserved