25 December 2012

One person's craziness is
another person's reality.
   - Tim Burton

Twenty years ago, a good friend of mine moved to Texas. She'd been hired by Compaq, then an independent, growing hardware manufacturer, to manage their booming training and technical support organization. She was a New Englander, through and through, and when she made the decision to accept Compaq's generous offer, I expressed my misgivings.

The people there are different from us, I said. I told her stories about my own experiences with them -- how blunt and crude some of them could be with outsiders, how unwelcoming to "northerners" as a whole, and how difficult it was to connect with them, just based on what happens if you open your mouth and a Texas twang doesn't come gushing forth. She'd made up her mind, she said; she intended to take the job, make the move to the Lone Star state and adapt to the new way of life. She assured me she could make a go of it, and she'd do whatever it took.

Several months after her move, I asked her how she felt about her decision.

"It's terrific," she said. "Everyone's been really nice, and I even go with them after work to target shooting practice." This, from a woman who hated guns, war and violence. I laughed, then asked when she'd joined the dark side.

"No, really, RB -- I go to the range every Friday after work with the women in my department. It's fun, and then after, we go out for pizza and beer."

"Did you buy a weapon?"

"No, I borrow a pistol from one of the girls -- she's got a few, so she lets me use one of hers. I just have to buy the ammo."

I felt giddy, in that way you can when the world rocks in its orbit. "And you think that shooting this pistol is a good time?" 

"Oh, yeah. I wear my goggles and earplugs, and I button up my shirt, all the way to my neck and at the wrists..."

"Wait. You button your shirt? What does that have to do with anything?"

"They have this law now. A couple years ago, some woman was at a mom-and-pop shooting range with an automatic weapon, and you know how they keep shooting as long as you've got the trigger pulled?" I didn't know, and encouraged her to continue the story. "Well, this woman was quite buxom, and the top two buttons of her shirt were open. She squeezed off a round and the shell flipped out backward and landed down the front of her shirt and into her bra."

"Oh, no." God forgive me, I started laughing.

She went on. "Well, you know, the shells are really hot, and this one was burning her pretty good. The problem was, she was still holding the gun, and she squeezed the trigger. She was jumping around trying to get the hot shell out of her bra, and she was firing all over the place."

"Was anyone hurt?"

"Oh, yeah. She killed the owner, and she wounded a bunch of people who were there. That's why they passed the law."

"What law?"

"That you have to button your shirt up to the neck and down to the wrists."

"Be careful, will you?"

After our conversation, I thought about what she'd told me. A non-pathological response to carnage on the order of what she'd described would be to shut down the shooting ranges and forbid ownership of the weapons that could fire even if you didn't plan on it. But Texas, being full of Texans, had a different response, which forever clarifies (for me, at least) the mindset of the people who live there. Instead of rational gun control that could prevent a massacre, they passed a law requiring women to button their shirts.

Excuse me. I need to buy some button futures for the coming apocalypse.

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