AGAIN! GUN SENSE AND SENSIBILITY – BY TOM CURLEY

Given the state of the state, this seemed pretty relevant. I can look through the posts on Serendipity over the months and years … and instead of becoming dated — because we fixed this or that — or at least moved on to a different issue, we are still, months and years later dealing with the exact same stuff. Our “leaders” — such as they are — are spouting the same slogans and platitudes. So … on the subject of guns …

From March 2016 …


I’ve been thinking about why this country is so gun crazy. The craziest of the crazies keep saying: “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is, of course, ridiculous.

Then it hit me. It’s our fault so many people believe this kind of thing. By “our fault,” I mean the fault of those of us who grew up in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Our heroes were cowboys. We grew up watching Westerns in which everybody, men and women alike, had guns strapped to their waists. (Dale Evans was a hell of shot. So was Annie Oakley.)

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Everybody had a gun. Good guys. Bad guys. Grandma. But, the world was a lot safer in those westerns than it is now — and not because everyone had a gun. Or two. Or three.

First. The bad guys rarely — if ever — actually hit anybody at whom they shot.

Second. The good guys merely shot the guns out of the bad guys hands. They weren’t trying to kill them.

Third. Grandma just shot people in the ass. Usually with a shotgun filled with rock salt.

Okay, sometimes the good guy would need to be little more extreme, so he’d shoot the bad guy in the shoulder (or “wing em” as we used to say). But it was always just a flesh wound.

BAD GUY: “OW! You shot me in the shoulder!”

GOOD GUY: “Oh stop whining. It’s just a flesh wound.”

BAD BUY: “Well if you shot me between the eyes wouldn’t that technically be a “flesh wound” too?”

GOOD GUY: “Hmm. Never thought of it that way. You know, you’re rather astute for a bad guy.”

BAD GUY: “Thank you.”

Another thing. When the bad guy used up his bullets shooting at the good guy, he ‘d throw the gun at him! I never understood this. Seriously. You just fired a few dozen bullets, each traveling at about 1000 feet per second, at a guy a couple of hundred feet away. You missed every shot.

What exactly do you hope to accomplish by throwing the gun at him? Bonk him on the head?

GOOD GUY: “OW! What the hell?! Did you just throw your gun at me!?”

BAD GUY: “Uh, yeah.”

GOOD GUY: “Well that really hurt! Look! I’ve already got a lump! What’s wrong with you?? Why would you do that?”

BAD GUY: “I ran out of bullets.”

GOOD GUY: “And whose fault is that?! If you’re going to a gun fight, come more prepared.”

BAD GUY: “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

At this point, seeing that the bad guy doesn’t have a gun with to shoot anymore … and all the good guy was intending to do was shoot the gun out of his hand, both go home feeling oddly unfulfilled.

I don’t own a gun, but I took a gun safety course. I’ve done some target shooting. So I know guns are REUSABLE! That’s right! All you gotta do is find more bullets for Pete’s sake — and that gun’s back on the job.

FYI, don’t call them bullets. They’re cartridges. The bullet is the lead part you actually fire from the gun. (See? I told you I took a course.)

One more thing we tend to forget about Westerns. If you went into a town that had a Sheriff, you had to leave your guns at the sheriff’s office. When you left town, you got your guns back.

The Sheriff understood the only reason anyone came to town was to go to the saloon. Which, let’s face it, was a brothel with a liquor license. Letting a bunch of horny, drunken cowboys hang out in a confined space with booze, hookers, and guns is not a great idea.

Even if you were in a town where they let you keep your guns, there were rules.

1. If two bad guys got in a fight, they at least gave everybody a few seconds to move their chairs out of the way, or jump behind the bar.

2. If a good guy and a bad guy got into a disagreement, they would usually schedule the gunfight for the next day in the middle of town. That way, no one else got shot.

3. They set it up for high noon.

Why high noon? Probably because it was the lunch hour. Everybody in town could come out to watch. It also made it easier for the combatants. It wasn’t necessarily easy to get time off for a gunfight.

BAD GUY: “Hey boss? Can I get off early today? I have a gunfight at 2 o’clock.”

BAD GUY’S BOSS: “Okay, but I’ll have to dock your pay.”

BAD GUY: (Sighing) “Never mind. I’ll reschedule it for lunchtime.”

Besides, “Gunfight at Two-ish” doesn’t have the gravitas of “High Noon.”

So yeah, everybody had guns in old Westerns, but they were more mature about using them.

You could argue things were simpler back then. “Things were more black and white,” you say.

To this I reply: “So what? Westerns weren’t more black and white. They were completely black and white.”

They didn’t go to color until the mid-sixties.

These days, everything contains infinitely more shades of gray. With a whole lot of color thrown in.

“SHANE” – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

(Shane & Jack Wilson square off, eyeing each other as a stray dog limps out)

Shane: “I’ve heard about you..”

Wilson: “What have you heard, Shane”..

Shane: “I’ve heard your name isn’t Wilson. It’s Isidore Moshe Rabinowitz”…

Wilson: “Prove it”…

(Gunshots exchanged. Wilson/Rabinowitz falls)

Shane: “Shalom, Sucker!!”

(Shane riding away)

Joey: “Shane, come back, Shane!!”

Shane: “F#@k off, you little bugger” …

(Shane gives the kid a finger as he rides off into the sunset with music up full)

– The End –


BACK ON THE SAGEBRUSH TRAIL – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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With the world around us covered with snow, it seems a perfect time for one (last?)(probably not) visit to Arizona …

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We were watching an old western the other night. “The Quest” was an unsuccessful TV pilot. Marilyn watched it for a while, then said “That’s Arizona. We were just there. That’s just outside Phoenix. I have pictures of that mountain. You have pictures of that mountain.”

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We watched the credits. She was right. (I hate when that happens.) It was, indeed, Arizona.

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We have pictures. These are my pictures of those mountains. As opposed to Marilyn’s, which look pretty much the same. Roads cross the sands where before, there was empty desert. More houses, here and there.

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Many more cacti. Arizona has done a really good job protecting the saguaro, so they’ve been growing huge and spiny since the movie was made in 1976.

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The mountains haven’t changed.

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SWEPT AWAY BY CACTI AND SUNSET

The intrepid Armstrongs came from a small, New England town and were instantly converted to western pilgrims, smitten by the tall cactus and the red light of sunset

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It was a full conversion. Garry Armstrong, former mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan television station, was undaunted by warnings about snakes in the grass. “Dealt with those bastards for years,” he said. “At least these snakes warn you with rattles,” and kept shooting. Pictures. He shot pictures. Many hundred of pictures. Thousands, really.

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His wife was equally pixellated. “Oh wow,” she reiterated. Sometimes, she said “Oh wow, look at that!” or “Oh wow, that’s … amazing.”

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The peak of the experience came yesterday afternoon, whatever day it was, when at the Apache Land Museum, and old movie set containing memories of the days when western movies were shot nearby in the desert surround the Superstition Mountains.

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Not only did Garry Armstrong get slightly too up close and personal with a cactus, but the notorious husband and wife team got to ride a mule, reviving happy memories of when they both rode real horses in rings, trails, and the occasional rodeo.

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They also were able to listen to a concert given by one Henny Penny, internationally renowned performer on the toy xylophone.

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It was a long days journey into night, beginning with coffee, continuing with lunch in a ghost town name Goldfield, and ending with a big old pizza back at the hacienda of über host Ben.

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Yee haw!

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SHOWDOWN AT WILD HORSE PASS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Story by Garry Armstrong
Pictures by Garry & Marilyn Armstrong

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More than a week in Arizona and we couldn’t lose them. We couldn’t see them. The big country that protected us shielded them, too. It was the posse from Hell!

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We kept to the high country, hoping the cactus, tumbleweed and narrow trails would distance us.

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Scorpion Gulch was the way to the mountains and beyond. We saw a few pilgrims here and there taking in the view. They ignored us. Good for them.

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This was the same trail used by Waco Johnny Dean, Long Tom and Dutch Henry Brown in the relentless chase for that Winchester ’73.

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The same trail used by Sheriff Pearly B. Sweet and the posse from Welcome and Carefree who pursued Bob Hightower, Pete and the Abilene Kid, the three Godfathers.

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There was no losing our posse from Hell.

Rawhide, we figured, might be a good place to lose those guys … whoever they were.

Rawhide — a place where dudes are welcome. We wouldn’t be noticed as the pilgrims sashayed up and down Main Street. Maybe the posse from Hell might have paper on a few of these strangers.

Rawhide also was a good place to grab some grub. Maybe even some shut-eye. But no time for real fun if you get my drift. Those pilgrims kept giving us shifty looks.

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Back on the trail, I thought we saw an old saddle pal. He rode with us in the old days. He was a good old boy. Turned out he was dead and just a statue, probably done in by the railroad men who dogged us for too many years. Close up, our old pal still looked good. They don’t make men like him any more.

We had to move on. No sense chasing memories. We wanted to head back to the high country and the safety of those mountains. But time was running out. We knew the end was near.

Just as well. We were running low on luck and bullets.

The posse from hell finally cornered us at Wild Horse Pass. They stayed with their long guns as we faced them down. It was a long day’s siege into night.

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We would not go quietly. We could see the fear in their eyes as we held our position. Clearly, we  had them on experience, as we stared across the pass and other confrontations which have blurred over the years.

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In the distance, we heard the strains of “Shall We Gather At The River” sung mournfully by the good folks at The Light of The Desert Lutheran Church. Was this a boot hill elegy?

Print the legend.

THE DUKE AND GARRY: A PILGRIM’S TALE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Our Arizona vacation is a trip back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows. The cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoke memories especially of John Wayne-John Ford classics.

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The locales around Phoenix are similar to areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made some of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-one winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and surrounding areas of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snow balls at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved.

At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snow balls. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

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I remember calling in a few favors. Somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. Long moments — an eternity to me — followed  as I waited alone on stage. Suddenly, the stage lit up and I froze.

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“Hello, Garry!”, Duke Wayne boomed in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage and greeted me. My TV persona kicked in as I shook hands with my hero, beaming with a pseudo happy smile.

I was oblivious to the cameras and time. Later, I would learn that it was a pretty fair interview with me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps. Apparently, that impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

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The interview apparently ran long because a press agent finally had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene”. I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me.

Later, as the gathering dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a broad, idiotic smile and said, “Good to see YOU again, Duke”. I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and laughing. Didn’t matter to me.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around repeatedly asking people if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water in my face and get on with my job.

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among others. Damn, I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

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Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these artifacts. Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

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Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!

WINCHESTER ’73, CROCKETT AND JIM – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Our second full day in Arizona and first day out on a photo shoot was blessed by sunshine, missing for nearly a week in Phoenix.

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Our host and old friend, Ben, was showing us the sights. We hit pay dirt with our first sunset in Phoenix. I didn’t have to move much to capture scenes that reminded me of one of the first westerns I saw on the big screen, 1950’s “Winchester ’73”.

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The cactus and looming mountains brought back memories of Jimmy Stewart’s “Lin McAdam” chasing after bad guys like Dutch Henry Brown and Waco Johnny Dean in the austere country that now gleamed in burnt color.

As I slowly made my way through the hardened mud, dodged piles of horse “residue” and other clutter, the echoes of “Winchester ’73” and other beloved westerns raced through my sense memory.

So many images….”The Last Sunset”, “The Bravados”, “Arizona Raiders”, “Ride Lonesome”, “3:10 To Yuma”, and all those other oaters shot where I now roamed.

I could feel the presence of John Ford, Robert Aldrich, Delmer Daves, William Wyler and all those other legendary directors who shot classic westerns here.

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Somewhere in the shadows between the cactus and the mountains were the ghosts of characters played by Duke, Clint, Randy, Mitch, and all the other silver screen cowboys.

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Halfway through this particular “shoot” we met two locals, Crockett and Jim.

Crockett is the lean, four-legged Arizonan who checked out the pilgrims taking pictures before a bond was forged. Crockett probably saw the dog hair and smelled familiar odors on our clothing before deciding we would do.

Jim, Crockett’s pal, was quicker to offer friendship. He spun a few stories, sang some songs and swapped a few lies once we told him about our love of the west. I probably cemented things by telling Jim about my encounter with John Wayne back in the early 70’s.

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We had burned daylight as the sunset presented itself in natural wide-screen beauty.

Garry by Ben Taylor

Then, a long goodbye with Crockett and Jim before we rode away to dinner and plans to see more of Arizona.