Monday, September 26, 2016

A Very Good Night

This is a non-fiction piece I submitted to Chicago Literati as part of their "Taboo: Rules Are Meant to be Broken" theme.  It was not accepted, but I since I wrote it, I'm posting it here.

A Very Good Night

In 1993, while I was earning pennies as an economic development coordinator for a community organization in Chicago, I decided that I needed a handgun.  I was carrying around a lot of money on Saturday nights, because I ran a Bingo game to fundraise for that same crappy non-profit. The off-duty police officer who provided security for the hall strongly suggested I purchase a gun, after pointing out that everyone knew I was walking to my car with a bag full of money about an hour after the hall closed.  When I protested that handguns were illegal in Chicago, he shrugged and said it was my call, but better to explain yourself later than end up in a coffin.

I was making $18,000 a year, so I stopped eating, to save up for this handgun.  Handguns are not cheap, at least not when you buy them legally. Or even semi-legally, as I did.

I picked up a gun dealer's card while at a gun show in the suburbs with my grandfather; it turned out to be for a suburban cop who moonlighted as a firearms dealer.  He actually came down to my apartment and had coffee with me while we went through his catalogs.  He was horrified by the closeness of the buildings and was shocked I didn't already own a weapon, living in my neighborhood.  It was actually a pretty good area, but the guy made me feel paranoid, which I didn't appreciate, being a naturally paranoid person already.  I guess that's the nature of his business.

I picked out a little .38 revolver with a two-inch barrel and covered hammer, called a Centennial.  I was assured that it would be easy to hide and carry around, but not very fun to shoot.  Both of those things were true.

In addition to the gun, I had to shell out even more money, for the cleaning kit, cleaning solution, and a box of ammunition.  This all added to the bottom line, so it was weeks before I could afford to take it to the firing range, which also involved a long drive out to the suburbs, as there were no ranges in Chicago.   Why would you need one, since handguns were illegal?  I was starting to have buyer's remorse.  No one had warned me about the periphery costs of owning a gun.

Over time, despite the lack of a holster, I got used to carrying my little revolver.  I pocketed it in my winter coat, or jammed it in my waist like a gang-banger and covered it with a long shirt, in the summer.

Carrying a gun around does weird things to your perception of danger, and it also affects your reaction to danger.  At least, it did to me.  I became much bolder and more confrontational.  I walked around neighborhoods at night that were not safe, because I felt protected.  At first I never drank while I was carrying, but after a while, I relaxed that rule.  Which was a mistake.

One night I got together with a bunch of old friends from college, and we went to a punk show at a Polish bar way out west on Belmont Avenue.  It wasn't the greatest neighborhood, so I wore my gun.

Since there were five of us, we all figured someone would save money for a cab.  Instead we spent every last dime on beer, not even leaving enough for bus fare.  We would have to walk miles, at two in the morning, through some bad areas in order to reach one of our houses to crash.

At first it wasn't too bad, we were drunk and laughing at our situation, and talking about the music we'd just heard.  Suddenly a car pulled up next to us.  A big boat, an Oldsmobile maybe.  It followed us as we got quiet and nervous.  The glass was tinted and the streetlights were out, so we couldn't see inside the car.  A window rolled down and a guy in the passenger seat started yelling out insults with a Polish accent, asking us what we were doing in his neighborhood, and telling us we didn't belong. We kept quiet, but the car kept following us and the taunts and insults continued.

Without warning there was a loud crash and I was covered in glass and beer.  Someone in the car had thrown a beer bottle, which smashed against the wall right next to me as I walked.

My heart was racing and I spun around to face the car, which stopped moving.  I reached in my jacket pocket for my gun, I wasn't thinking clearly, I was drunk and scared and believed my life to be in danger.  But a friend of mine stepped up, put his hand on my arm, and quietly said,

"They could have a shotgun in there, and we don't know how many guys are in that car, and the cops will show up for sure."

So I left the gun in my pocket and we took off running.  They followed for a while longer, threw some more bottles at us, but eventually sped off, laughing loudly.  Everybody got to live, and nobody went to jail.  It was a very good night.

Brian Wille survived 15 years in IT and escaped with nothing worse than a bad back, acid reflux, nightmares and teeth ground down to nubs.  His work has appeared in The Redacted Files podcast and blog, The Nerdologues Your Stories podcast, This Week in Despair podcast, and Brent P. Newhall's Musaeum of Fantastic Wonders.  You can find him @steamboat77 on Twitter or visit his personal blog, Bad Company: Dungeoneers, Hunters, Aliens and Old Gods where he talks about games, music, and stories.