I never had a BB gun. But I did have a six-shooter cap gun.

cap gun broken gene autry by junkables comBroken Gene Autry by junkables

The very first time I shot it, or tried to use it, with the caps in a circle of six, I pulled the trigger. The hammer hit the cap. A loud sound I had never experienced before, never felt. A shock to my system. I dropped the gun. It hit the concreted sidewalk in front of my grandma’s house. It broke: six or more pieces, I am sure: spring, barrel, cylinder, and “pearl” handle–all lying there. Of course, what I did next was predictable: I began crying (something often done during my young age). Looking around, I did not see any king’s horses nor all the king’s men–just the ghost of Ralphie.

ralphie shot Ralphie after Christmas

I picked up the pieces myself, and then ran into my grandma’s house, hoping for the working of a piece-by-piece miracle. There was my grandpa, The Jack of All Trades. Showing him…tears…. His verdict: “Irreparable damage.”

I do not remember my next cap gun. That memory is gone, locked away somewhere. But I know I had at least one or two more cap guns.

In my Chicago neighborhood, we did not play cops-and-robbers. We did not play cowboys-and-Indians. We played for serious: We played war. In fact, a friend of my dad’s gave me authentic-looking replicas, full size, of a Tommy gun and–yes!–a .50 caliber machine gun, complete with tripod mount, all painted in a dark grey.

I was king of the mountain. Most Popular Re-Enactor, Most Popular Shooter, on the block. I should have gotten an award for my status.  I am now remembering Tom Cruise playing Ron Kovic’s childhood during a summer in Massapequa, New York. He plays war in the woods, the child war in Born on the Fourth of July.

born on the fourth by wideangle-closeupTom Cruise as Ron Kovic.   Credit: wideangle-closeup

“No more guns,” Mom said.

And I put away the things of a child, and became involved in other activities, No more running, hiding behind bushes, setting up the gun with a buddy, getting killed– and no more skinned knees.

Until…1988, no longer a child, when the boy-toys grew “adult,” big-people toys. The toys were now weapons. I bought a .22 pistol.

ruger stainless 22 by icollectorRuger Government Model .22 Bull Barrel Stainless

I had learned not to drop guns, but had learned to shoot, for real, within an orange grove. I became a pretty good shooter, with a good history, with the .22, and then with a real 1911 Government Model .45, even entering shooting contests. Target practice, then local matches. Guns and Ammo was my new bible. I was hooked.

Until my eyes and vision got bad. Even new glasses did not allow me to see well a 50-yard target.

So that was the end of my “professional-amateur” shooting days.

Yet guns came and went: rifles, revolvers, automatic pistols. I still had fun at the gun range: shooting was a sport that I enjoyed. However, it all became very expensive. Ammunition became costly; range fees increased–or some ranges even closed. I was less and less on the range. Moreover, other challenges had presented themselves to me, not whole-man targets at 25 yards, but rather stained glass craft, and collecting diecast airplanes. There was no longer any time for guns.

The End.

Until recently, when I attended a large gun show. Once inside the large civic center, among hundreds of buyers and sellers of merchandise and shooting supplies, I had those good-old feelings coming back to me. It had been a long time since I had handled guns (handling glass cutters and soldering tools had taken over all my free time). I wanted to feel it all over. My friend Burt and I made our way from table to table, touchy-feely, triggers and barrels and handles. “Ah, this fits my hand perfectly,” I said, gripping a .45 with a price tag of $4,300! So smooth. “Smooth.”

45 auto ed brown kobra carry by gunsinternational $2400

Moving along, we came upon a dealer of air power guns, CO2, and mechanical, BB guns, and plastic-soft BB’s.

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

Really. I needed one of these. I could shoot in the house (gasp!) and in the yard.  “I choose this one.”

softy-gun .45My Softy .45

This was still my favorite model of all the many I have bought and sold.

And not to forget the plastic BB’s.gun BBs“Soft” BB’s

Imagine: “5,000 for $10,” the dealer said. “Of course,” I responded.

“I’m baaack!” I told my friend.

At his home, I said we had to try it out, in his yard. What fun it was.

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

Most assuredly possible: I read from the warning label: “DO NOT SHOOT AT HUMANS OR ANIMALS.” But I had to learn how much it might hurt.

My bruise was much better after three weeks…. On my right calf, where I told my son to shoot me. The plastic BB hit, and instant sting. Then instant–really instant–blood mark where the BB broke the skin, with some small bleeding. By night, the bruise was the size of a quarter, with puffiness and swelling.

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

Once again, I have a child-guy-toy. This time I will not drop it. No tears. Though maybe, after I made myself a guinea pig. From a yard away. “Pop!” Then,


© James F. O’Neil 2015

books_shelves by megan kerr com uk walesBOOKSHELVES by MEGAN KERR, UK, WALES

“Books play a far more intimate role in life than mere utilitarian objects. Their mere presence gives much to a home or a room, and they are capable of a very long-term relationship. I still wince when I think of a particular book lost or lent away years ago, and I feel fully moved into a new home only when the books are secure on their shelves, providing their necessary warmth and companionship.”  –Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life (1996)



As a teacher of humanities, I often posed a question to myself.  “As a professor of literature and humanities, can I offer my life as an illustration of the benefits that accrue from humanistic studies?”

Does the study of literature and other “humanistic” subjects result in one’s becoming a more decent, liberal, tolerant, and civilized human being? No guarantees, was my answer.

I often thought of Dr. Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich, the ideological head of the Nazi Party: at age 24, he earned his PhD in Romantic Drama [Humanities] from Heidelberg University.

? ? ?


“Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. –E. M. Forster (Howards End)

“. . . the chief problem of teaching anything in our atomized period lies precisely in the fact that the ordinary student cannot or will not connect the few facts he knows, the slim insights he has previously attained, the chance extensions of sensibility into which he has been once or twice tempted, into a large enough context to make sense of the world he inhabits, or the works of art he encounters. Only connect! should be the motto of all critics and teachers.” –Leslie Fiedler


“Reach out and touch someone you love!”

“Remember this, my child: The basics: Being able to count to 100.  Knowing LEFT from RIGHT.  Reciting AND understanding the alphabet.  All else follows from this.”  So, quadratic equations, the Pythagorean Theorem, and the Bill of Rights: learned in time.  “Know your basics.”  (“Oh, and know, also, the colors of the rainbow: R-O-Y-G-B-I-V, for that is basic to appreciating BEAUTY.”)



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