Tony Woodlief | Author

Just like John Wayne would have done

“What are you doing?” I ask Wife. This is not an honest question. I know full well what she is doing, she is staring down the barrel of an old lever-action pop gun. The lever part is important. We’ll come back to that part. Remember that part. For those of you who don’t know what it is, think of the rifles John Wayne used to carry.

So, Wife is staring down the barrel. In our house, we try to treat pretend guns like they are real. “Quit staring down the barrel,” I fuss.

“Well, your youngest son has learned that if he puts a Nerf dart in the barrel and shoots, it will fly out. So he crammed three in there.”

“Let me see it,” I say with authority. I say it like guns are a man thing, even though Wife owns a .380 Beretta with knurled walnut grip and soft-tip Glaser rounds and is fully prepared, and sometimes even itching, to make a salt shaker out of someone. I say it nonetheless like she is a novice and might hurt herself with the Nerf-loaded pop gun. She rolls her eyes and relinquishes the pop gun.

I piously announce something or other about gun safety. I point the rifle at the floor and shake. No Nerf dart. I whack it on the barrel and shake again. No dart. I look down the barrel. I see the dart hiding in there.

Ever hear the phrase “half-cocked”? Don’t go off half-cocked, people say. I’m not sure where that phrase comes from, but maybe it refers to when an idiot cocks the lever of a rifle and leaves it extended, perpendicular to the rifle, rather than returning it to its closed position. Why would an idiot do such a thing? Perhaps because he is trying to get Nerf darts out of the barrel.

So I am holding the pop gun half-cocked, and I give it another shake, and then I pull the trigger. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when you fire a half-cocked lever-action rifle, I can tell you. That innocent-looking lever becomes a little guillotine, is what happens.

I’m not sure what I bellowed when the lever tried to amputate my finger at the cuticle, but it got the attention of everyone in the house. Blood. Bruising. Torn flesh. Persistent, throbbing pain five hours later. I’m pretty sure my finger’s broken, but I’m too embarrassed to look a medical professional in the eye.

I’m sure there’s a lesson here, and I think it’s not that you should remain indifferent when your wife is looking down the barrel of a rifle. Maybe the lesson is that we’re never as smart as we think. Or perhaps that nothing is safe enough in the hands of a fool. Who knows. I’m pretty sure, however, that if you injure yourself with a cowboy rifle, you’re obligated to treat your wound the way a cowboy would, which is why I’m typing this beside a whiskey bottle.

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