Hanging in my office is an exquisitely hand-tooled leather holster. And nestled in that exquisitely hand-tooled leather holster is an actual sized, cowboy six-gun.
I do not own a gun.
I do own a gun. That gun. But the bullets – yes, it has bullets – are replica bullets, and the chamber – I think that’s the word – does not spin around – because my actual-sized, cowboy six-gun…
I believe I’ve made myself clear on that point. I have a cowboy gun. It isn’t real.
But it isn’t a toy either.
I know toy cowboy guns. Growing up, I owned a ton of them. They were cap guns.
The caps came in various forms, depending on the requirements of the gun. The most common type were rolls, where you shot one cap at a time, and the next cap jumped up into position in front of the hammer.
Caps also came in flat discs of six caps per circle. You flipped out the chamber, pressed in the flat disk, then flipped the chamber back in. As you blasted away, the chamber rotated, allowing you to fire off six shots before reloading.
Then, there were the individual caps needed for the “Mother Of All Cap Guns” – the Stallion 45. Stallion 45’s are now collectibles. One selling for five ninety-five, they now sell for hundreds of dollars each on the Internet. And they’re worth it.
Pearl handled, made of polished…some metal that looks shiny, the Stallion 45 was the top-of-the-line fake firearm of its day, a toy The Lone Ranger might have given his children for Christmas.
The Stallion 45 was, by far, the most difficult to load.
STALLION 45 – LOADING INSTRUCTIONS
A single cap is tamped down into the shell casings of each of the six bullets. The bullets are then inserted, one at a time, into the gun’s revolving chamber, which, when fired, allowed you to squeeze off six shots, like an actual six-gun.
After the six shots have been fired, the bullets are then unloaded, the spent caps are scraped out off the bottoms of each shell casing, after which individual replacement caps are inserted, and the bullets are returned to the chamber.
Firing the Stallion 45 took less than ten seconds.
Reloading took twenty minutes.
I believe I have demonstrated my enthusiasm for cap guns. I was still playing with them when I was thirteen. I know that, because I remember asking for a two-gun holster for my Bar Mitzvah.
I am now in my mid-forties. Dr. M and I are visiting some spa-like resort in Tucson, Arizona. The trip allows me to reconnect with my friend, Dennis, a talented writer I’d worked with on Best of the West, now living in Tucson, so his wife can attend journalism classes at the local college.
During our visit, Dr. M and I took in one of Tucson’s most celebrated tourist attractions, Old Tucson Studios, a fabricated cowboy town, where over the years, many highly regarded westerns had been filmed, including Rio Bravo and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The place feels like the real thing.
What do I know about the real thing. It feels like the real, fake thing.
So I’m working my way down Old Tucson’s Main Street, checking out the General Store, the livery stable and the saloon, when a hand-painted sign abruptly catches my eye.
You gotta go in the Gun Shop. At least, I do. I’m a Gun Guy. (Fake guns. It’s an important distinction.)
I step into the Gun Shop. I look around.
I have wandered into heaven.
The room is filled with dozens of "prop" cowboy guns. Rifles, shotguns, pistols with gun barrels of varying lengths, from relatively short to laughably long “Buntline Specials.” I am told that these non-working replicas were issued to the “Extras.” “Extras’” guns didn’t need to work. They just needed to look authentic.
That’s what distinguished these Gun Shop facsimiles from cap guns. Everything about them said,
Their look. The metal they were made out of. Their full, actual size. And, most importantly, their actual, real gun
Those fake guns were heavy. Except for their inability to shoot, they were in-every-detail duplicates of the real thing.
The Gun Shop guns were for sale. And I wanted one.
A family member talked me out of it. She reminded me how old I was. She explained that I might have wanted this firearm facsimile when I was younger – say, twelve – but my desire for one now was simply a tantalizing flashback.
The family member was right. I didn’t want the gun. I just thought I did.
So I didn’t buy one.
When I got home, I experienced severe “Non-Buyer’s Remorse”, and immediately called my friend Dennis in Tucson.
“I want that gun!”
The rest of the story belongs to Dennis, who related it to us later, when we were together Los Angeles.
After my phone call, Dennis drove to Old Tucson and picked up the gun I’d instructed him to buy. However, instead of shipping it to me immediately, Dennis decided to surprise me by ordering, at his own expense, an accompanying gift – an exquisitely hand-tooled leather holster.
Being an in-demand television writer at the time, Dennis regularly commuted to Los Angeles for high-level “pitch” meetings. His plan was that, on his first business trip to Los Angeles after the custom-made holster was finished, he would bring both it and my coveted way-better-than-a-cap-gun-authentic-looking-cowboy-six-shooter along with him.
Keep in mind that this story took place before September 11th, 2001. Though security was considerably looser back then, it was hardly non-existent.
I should also tell you that my friend, Dennis, is scrupulously honest. Though more likely, what did him in was the fact that the man tends to be, some might say, obsessively clear when he’s expressing himself, spelling things out - things that may or not be necessary for other people to know – in laborious detail. This tendency is probably what makes Dennis a good writer. It, unfortunately, proved his undoing as an airplane passenger.
Boarding the plane, Dennis immediately went up to the flight attendant and said:
“In the service of full disclosure – and of not wanting to be the cause of any ‘surprises’ down the line – I feel obligated to inform you, in all candor – and demonstrating that I clearly have nothing to hide – that, amongst my “Carry-on” items – all of which are of a purely personal nature, except for this one glaring exception – I have a gun. Not a real gun. A replica. Which I’m transporting to a friend in Los Angeles, along with an exquisitely hand-tooled leather holster. I just thought you should know.”
The flight attendant only heard “I have a gun.”
Dennis was immediately arrested. He missed his flight. He missed his meetings. He was held in isolation for hours. He was vigorously interrogated.
If this had happened today, Dennis would most likely be languishing in Guantanamo, undergoing whatever this administration perceives as not being torture. That was his one lucky break. He brought a gun on a plane before a time when you can be criminally charged for bringing on more than three ounces of hand lotion.
Sometimes, I feel terrible for the trouble I got Dennis into. But more often, when the mood hits me, I strap on my exquisitely hand-tooled leather holster, and practice my fast draw.