Cutchogue RR station – view west 1970 – photo courtesy Derek Stadler WordPress.com

Deyan Ranko Brashich

It’s been a year since gunshots ended seventeen lives on a high school campus in Parkland, Florida. Back then the news was that the victims were the tipping point – that America’s love affair with guns was over, that change would defeat the entrenched self-interests of politicians and the National Rifle Association. Earnest teens grabbed the mike and the country’s stage promising to lead the charge for change.

A year has gone by and 30,000 Americans, male and female, gay and straight, 1,200 of them children, have died of “injury by firearm”. We keep singing that sad old song “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, marching in place, never coming up with a solution to America’s obsession with guns.

This gun thing is a love and hate conundrum that defies logic. It is uniquely American, except for them jihadi terrorists who have embraced Kalashnikov assault rifles and suicide vests.

I tried to explain this aberration to my European buddies in many a café and bistro while studying abroad. They loved Jeeps, Levi’s and I W Harper’s bourbon but they were deaf to the lure of the Siren song of the Wild West, the great outdoors as sung by the magazine “Boy’s Life”. A rifle for them was the hated symbol for the 18-month sentence of compulsory military service. For me, my first gun the Marlin 39A lever-action .22 was adventure and afternoons walking the woods.

Over the years on I tried to make the American gun thing understandable if not acceptable. I used my own brush with danger and a gun as an example.

In the nineteen-sixties we bought property on Long Island’s North Fork. Back then, before vineyards and weekenders changed the landscape, that thin stretch of land was a backwater, a relic that time had passed by. It was not the Hamptons of the South Fork with rolling lawns, trimmed hedges and grand estates where the likes of Jay Gatsby and the Buchanan’s partied. This was hardscrabble subsistence farm country where potato and the cauliflower were king, where duck farms polluted the waterways and oystermen hauled up the now empty steel rakes of their tongs.  

East End men were rough, their women neither easy nor forgiving – shit kicking farmers in work boots, army veterans nursing war wounds, young guys in fear of the draft and Viet Nam – they were there full of anger and resentment for us newcomers.  

Late one July afternoon, after a night in an emergency room and police stations caring for an abused child, we took the train out East. The railroad stopped in Cutchogue at a gravel lot that once had a raised platform and a waiting room. But the milk train no longer stopped there and only memories and old postcards reminded you what was once there.

While waiting for our ride home we trudged across the dusty lot and down Depot Lane to what was once the railroad station but was now a local dive run by a tough Polish broad who kept peace and order with hands the size of ham hocks. All the locals were belly up to the bar getting a head start on Friday night when we walked in.

I had spent two days in a sweaty rumpled suit as a lawyer volunteer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In contrast, my wife, a beautiful blond glass of water, was as fresh as a daisy. We passed through the bar into the far room with its juke box and pool table picking up a couple of beers on the way, waiting for the ride.

The song that summer was Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou”. I played it time and again, shooting pool, ignoring that the tune and our presence was grating the locals raw. The comments became abusive and I could see that a confrontation coming. I shucked my jacket revealing a Colt Detective Special – I was after all, a SPCC peace officer “on the job” and armed. That ended the confrontation and we walked out, waiting for our ride roadside

But the American gun thing has turned ugly. No longer were the armed confrontations one on one, shoot outs at the OK corral, good against evil. Guns now were used in schools, theatres, parking lots – shooting galleries with civilians and children as targets. With yesterday’s killings in an Aurora, Illinois warehouse, the time has come to for a declaration of national emergency and a reset of our and my shortsighted mindset.  

Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York and was a long-time resident of New Suffolk/Cutchogue, N.Y. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com 

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