I could see it
all already: us traveling across the whole U.S.A. and me earning the envy of
every boy in it. Loading the rifles, setting up the copper plaques. And that
was nothing to what came later. At first people would be scandalized—which was
not to say any the less envious—at a boy my age lighting up a cigarette.
Then...when the shot was fired that took off the ash I wouldn't even blink. The
show over, my father and I would sign autographs. If only he would have the
courage to stand up to my mother's objections!
My father's smile
brought down these dreams of mine on the wing. "It's mighty nice of
you," he said, shaking his head. "But in the first place, I'm not all
that good a rifle shot. It's shotguns I'm better acquainted with. And in the
second place, I wouldn't want to be on the road all the time. Thanks, but I'll
stick with what I know: greasemonkeying. If you're ever through this way again,
it would be a pleasure to take you hunting. I'd like to see you on
Now it was the
trick-shot artist's turn to smile and shake his head. "Thanks," he
said, "but I can't hit them damn things for love nor money. When I'm not
working, what I like to do is play golf."
So, if my father
wouldn't become a trick-shot artist, I would, in partnership with my pal, Pete
Hinkle. We stocked up on BB's and practiced with our air rifles. As our skills
sharpened, our targets got smaller and smaller. We became sharpshooters. We
became daredevils. We took turns shooting first half-dollars, then quarters,
then nickels and finally dimes from each other's fingers at 20 paces. We did it
dozens of times. We couldn't miss. It was time to take our show on the road.
First stop: the alleyway behind my father's shop downtown, a performance for
We tossed the
coin. Pete won. He would shoot, I would hold. Pete paced off the distance, took
aim, fired, and shot off my right thumbnail. Last performance of Hinkle &
Humphrey's trick-shot act.
you," my mother told my father when he brought me home from the doctor's
office. "You ought to have had better sense than to let them do
done it a hundred times before," I said. It was not out of bravery but out
of shame for myself and to protect my father against her scolding that I
concealed the pain I was enduring. "Don't blame him. Blame me."
She glowered at
my father. My defense of him made her all the angrier at him.
"I never knew
a damned air gun shot that hard," he said.
"Well, I just
hope you have both learned your lesson," she said.