Tony Woodlief | Author

Christmas Armaments

My Christmas quest was simple enough: buy toy cowboy guns for my boys. Caleb and Eli have boots and hats, bandanas and sheriff’s badges. But they don’t have holsters and guns. Without those critical components, however, you’ve really just got yourself a Village People costume. We’ve made do until now with two wooden pistols that were originally designed to shoot rubber bands. But I wanted to get them shiny cowboy guns, the kind that make a little boy’s heart race, that turn a bad guy’s legs to jelly, and that give a damsel that funny climbing-the-rope-in-gym-class feeling when she sees them strapped around your waist.

So I got up early one recent Saturday, and set out to catch Toys R Us right when they opened. This is advisable if like me you find yourself drawing hysterical conclusions about the future of civilization based on your experiences shopping in malls and driving behind school buses. If you can’t find anything nice to say about your fellow man, I like to think, then best just to avoid him.

So I walked inside the Toy Mecca in vain hopes of quickly completing my mission. In this I was working against teams of psychologists and store design specialists all bent on exactly the opposite goal, which is to keep the hapless shopper in the store for as long as there are dollars left in his wallet. I winded my way past rows of video games and Barbie paraphernalia (I think boys might benefit from owning a Barbie doll; every young man should understand what an expensive proposition it is to cohabitate with a narcissistic woman built like a stripper), past noisy electronic gizmos and remote-controlled devices.

But I couldn’t find guns. I wandered up and down aisles until I spotted a salesman. “Excuse me,” I said, “where can I find cowboy guns?”

“Oh. We don’t sell those.” He looked at me as if I had just asked him for nipple clamps, or perhaps a Bible. His voice was tinged with the self-righteousness of people who announce to others that they recycle, or that their children attend Eugene V. Debs Elementary because they believe in supporting the public schools.

“So basically we’re becoming France, right?” He saw neither the truth nor the humor in this observation.

Disgusted, I decided to nip this troubling portent in the bud by going to the store where the Almighty himself would shop if he needed cowboy guns. That’s right: Wal-Mart. Good ‘ole Wally World. Any store that draws as much ire from trial lawyers, NOW, and 60 Minutes has got to have me in mind as a target demographic. Wal-Mart, certainly, would have cowboy guns.

Well, if I wanted to buy the boys real guns, and perhaps a gallon of milk, then it turns out that Wal-Mart is the place to go. But not for toy cowboy guns — at least not my local Wal-Mart.

What followed were increasingly panicked visits to all the places that one might expect to find cowboy guns. KMart? Nothing but an assault rifle that makes high-pitched electronic noises, and a crappy plastic cowboy gun that I think actually broke a little when I looked at it wrong.

Target? Target! Their logo is a bloody bulls-eye, for crying out loud. Surely they would have cowboy guns, yes? Don’t believe the hype.

And so it was with every destination. Time dragged on and the roads began to fill with grim-faced shoppers. In desperation I wheeled into the local mall. There was one place left, one final hope for a man intent on arming his children, in fine American fashion, for Christmas. The hobby shop.

I was greeted by a gruff bearded man. He could smell the panic on me, like a grizzled sergeant can smell it on a soldier in his first battle. “Something I can do for you, son?”

“Yes. Please. Please, for the love of all that remains good about America, tell me that you carry toy cowboy guns. Just a couple of cowboy guns is all I’m asking for. Toys R Us doesn’t have them, Wal-Mart doesn’t have them . . .” My voice trailed off.

He sized me up, perhaps to see if I was one of those pansy do-gooder Public Citizen types just looking to make trouble. Fortunately I hadn’t shaved, and I was wearing flannel. “C’mon,” he said with a gleam in his eye, “we just got in a shipment.”

They just got in a shipment.

He led me to the back, where he had assembled — and I am not making this up — gun racks to hold all the toy armaments. If Santa ever needed to assemble a commando strike force, this could be his armory.

I almost cried. Here was every kind of toy pistol and rifle imaginable, made of real wood and metal. Single-barrel, double-barrel, over-and-under, even blunderbuss. Sighted, scoped, with and without shoulder strap, pump action, bolt action, underlever cocking . . . (Insert Tim Allen gorilla sound here).

There were swords, too, but as I’ve explained in a recent post, we don’t need any more of those.

And then I saw them: row after row of silver six-shooters in leather holsters. At that point I did cry a little, but I wiped away the tears really quick so the hobby-store guy wouldn’t see.

I think he would have understood, though. After playing with testing the guns for a while, I made my selections and hefted them to the counter. Keep in mind that a cowboy needs not just his pistols, but also a rifle to hunt with, and to cap rustlers from a good quarter-mile out. Then there’s also the fact that Isaac is going to need a gun in a couple of years. Plus the boys like for me to help them defend the house against bad guys, and there’s no way in heck I’m going to keep using the kitchen broom if they’re going to be wielding all this sweet equipment . . .

Suffice to say that the hobby-store guy covered his rent that day. He didn’t have a bag big enough to hold all my new weaponry, so he dug under the counter until he found an industrial-size garbage bag, the thick black kind. He asked me how many boys I have, and I told him three. He nodded approvingly as he gently placed my weapons inside the bag and tied it up. Then he offered me his hand and wished me a Merry Christmas.

I felt like I restored his hope in America, or fatherhood, or something like that. I know he inspired me. Think about it: here is a small entrepreneur who staked thousands of dollars on the bet that even if the big retail stores don’t have the guts to admit it, there are plenty of us parents willing to give our boys a toy gun for Christmas.

Nah, we’re a long way from being like France.

Blessings to you and your family for the remainder of this year and all of the next. And if you come creeping around my house in the middle of the night, you’d best announce yourself clearly and stand real still until we give you entry. We’re armed to the teeth.

On Key

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