Sunday, January 22, 2006

Winchester '71

From the NY Times yesterday comes the sad news of the closing of New Haven's beloved Winchester rifle and shotgun factory--sad for the 200 or so employees to be laid off by the U.S. Repeating Arms Company, makers and merchants since 18 ought something of ye famous Winchester repeating rifle, the How-the-West-Was-Won weapon ' o choice of the eponymous Duke in John Ford's "Stagecoach" (in fact a bizarre 10 foot tall bronze statue of John Wayne stands in the lobby of this landmark Conn. firearms factory--the very same Big Bad John who repeatedly squashed Zappa's haut chapeau at the Whiskey a Go Go many many years ago, according to "The Real Frank Zappa" tome). JW's not the only Duke out there of course, but as Joe Williams & Lambert Hendricks and Ross so elegantly put it on "Sing Along With Basie"--"Real Royal Blood/Is In Real Small Amount!"--you got Duke Wayne, you got Duke Ellington, you got Duke Snider, you got the Duke of Earl (and the Duke of Prunes, pace Frank)--and you got Duka Delite a/ka/ Julia Heyward, my former Gods and Monsters vocalist (the Duka moniker stems from her Downtown Diva days) with whom I recently buried the hatchet (but not in her head!) after many years incommunicado (these divas sure are a sensitive breed)...and Brian Wilson claims in his "Wouldn't It Be Nice" autobiog that Elvis called him "Duke" repeatedly upon first introduction, as if to ever so gently put the King's leaden imprimatur on just Who Was Who in the Royal Rock Order of Peck(ers), mid '60's U.S. division. And Beach Boy Brian (a royal name if ever there was one, a la Brian Boru, go ahead and google it) reciprocated to El in his lyrics to "Do You Remember (All the Guys Who Gave Us Rock 'n Roll)", to whit--"Elvis Presley is the King!"

Anywho, thought I would share with you a 100% genuwine little anecdote (no James Frey-ish dissembling from this boyo) about the Winchester-Olin factory (Olin's the co. that makes the, uh, ordnance...a word we're sadly all too familiar with here after what seems our endless Iraqi misadventure). Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, namely; my moment on the firing line of the subterranean rifle range of the said soon-to-be-shuttered Winchester plant--a decaying, slate-grey industrial mausoleum (the Northeast is littered with 'em) devoted to the manufacture of antiquated killing implements (for sport and for blood sports, Gatsby old sport), nestled in the high hills of the bucolic Elm City...

'Twas in the early fall of '71, I had just moved into my cramped single room in Yale's Jonathan Edwards College (the so-called "Music College" back in the day).

I had joined the Yale Rifle Team as a Freshman the year before--hell, I was an actual Yale Letter Man, having established myself as a crack shot at various summer camps in my youth, my fixation on riflery the result of a congenital indifference to most contact sports ('cept one)...So I was more than ready to ride roughshod with my rifle team rowdies over whatever ruffian riff-raff dared riffle our rifles. (Oh yes, there was one woman involved in my second season with the team name of Lucy Chase Williams, who not only was a good shot, but a gal after my own heart, possessor of an encyclopedic knowledge of le cinema fact Bill Moseley and I handed over the reins of our ongoing Things That Go Bump in the Night midnight movie operation to sweet Lucy upon graduation,,,and damn if the girl didn't later go on to write a biography of witchfinder general Vincent Price). Lucy also possessed a saucy, acid tongue (the way I like 'em) and once made a pithy comment on the (generally considered) masculine propensity for pumping lead, shooting irons, and blowing things up reeeeal good; namely: "For you guys this is masturbation...but what does that make it for me?" (Pop Quiz Time: the author of the funniest punchline submitted to me here at will win a DVD of excerpts from my film and television soundtracks for ABC News, HBO, Showtime etc.)

So yes I was on the A-Team, on constant call to compete at shooting matches against all collegiate comers with my Yale Rifle Team confreres.

Then one crisp Saturday night in the fall of '71 I ingest about a half a gram of black Afghani hash, for experimental research purposes only (the custom of my kinetic kind in those days--kids, don't try this at home!), and then venture forth to Woolsey Hall to check out the Yale Symphony Orchestra wrassling with Schoenberg's "Gurre Lieder", a monumental neo-Wagnerian pre-12-tone old warhorse featuring massed batallions of singers, balalaikas, 137 kettle drums (just kidding)--and midway through the evening I start experiencing wave upon wave of nausea from the hash I had eaten...coupled with a steep, rapid, vertiginous ascent into the aether as the THC-laced dromedary dung kicked in and began surfing my blood stream... and damn if I wasn't high as a mofo--so high, in fact, as to risk passing out amongst the tony audience attending on this high art ritual gawk...and so excusing myself, I exit rather hastily and rather shaky on my pins, pursued by a bear, or perhaps a phantom bulldog...bulldog...bow wow wow ('sfunny to recall this now, as the most famous coffeeshop franchise in Amsterdam is--but of course!-- The Bulldog)...and somehow I woozily shmoozily ooze my way back to my little crib in JE, a room which had been painted a bilious shade of day-glo, Funkadelic Green by the previous occupant (Kurt Schmoke, the actual future Mayor of Baltimore, who--and this is where it REALLY gets cosmic--has been an avid proponent for the legalization of cannabis! So my little room, "an everywhere", had kind of a history to it...hence those day-glo walls).

Anyway I pass out on my kingsize Posturpedic "palette on the floor" into total blackout oblivion... and then the next thing I know is:

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrng! Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrng!

The phone pops off and it's 8:30am Sunday morning and a distant voice on the other end galvanizes me into bleary-eyed wakefullness, hectoring me with "You idiot, where are you?? Don't you remember we're shooting against the Navy today??? Get your ass up the hill to the Winchester rifle range pronto--we start shooting at 9am!"

So I lurch up out of bed, jump into yesterday's duds without nary a rinse and a comb out, and stagger up Science Hill in a blind stupor to the Winchester-Olin joint...grab a bag of potato chips and a Coke in their cafeteria for sustenance (my typical breakfast fare in those days--Carvel Vanilla ice cream interlarded with Carmel Corn was a good 'un too)...

and next thing I know my buddies are surrounding me, literally carrying me downstairs to the basement rifle range. They kit me out with the de rigeur padded shooting jacket, and then place a .22 in my hands...

I assume the prone position, with the nose of my rifle swaying in my shaky grip...stare down the barrel...peer through the site...and zero in on the distant target...

and in a Zen Beatific Rush, I hold my breath...steady myself...and squeeze off 12 rounds just like one two three...

And then it's over...

the target comes hurtling back towards me on its wire pulley...

and upon close examination--I'd shot 12 out of 12 perfect Bull's Eyes.

What they call a "Possible"...Something hitherto totally Impossible for me.

And there but for the Grace of etc.

"Winchester Cathedral...Yer lifting me UP!"

ps. we beat the bell-bottomed trousers off the Navy that day!




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