I can still remember the first time I got a laugh from an “audience.” It was exhilarating, although I didn’t know what the word meant at the time. You see, I was in the second grade and the audience was my classmates.
Back in those Cold War days, America lived in fear of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. In our classrooms we had a “drop drill,” also known as “duck and cover.” Whenever our teacher uttered the word “drop,” we kids would instantly duck under our wooden desks. (As if a desk would protect us from a nuclear bomb.) Even at 7 I knew this was bogus.
One day our teacher, the elderly Mrs. Seitz, (probably younger than I am now) mistook the sound of a jet breaking the sound barrier for a Soviet nuclear attack. In between shrieks, she ordered us under our desks and frantically began closing the Venetian blinds. (First desks, now Venetian blinds were going to protect us from a nuclear meltdown?)
Thinking a little humor might calm the storm, I casually asked Mrs. Seitz if she had “seen the head doctor lately.” It clearly wasn’t the most diplomatic of observations, but it got a huge laugh from my classmates. I was immediately hooked on trying to be funny. I suppose I’m still doing it a mere 60 years later.
I didn’t give the occurrence another thought until walking from school. When I turned the last corner to my home I was stunned to see my father’s car parked in the driveway. At 3:30 p.m.? Trust me, this was definitely not a good sign.
After reading me the riot act, my parents drove me to school where I meekly apologized to Mrs. Seitz in front of the stern gaze of the principal, Dr. Elsa Peck. (Frankly, that I still remember these names is a little disturbing.) There was no mention that Mrs. Seitz had gone bananas to prompt my joke, only that I had learned my lesson.
For me, the Cold War was no fun. During a drop drill once I had gotten a nasty splinter from the wooden desk. And now I endured the shame of being labeled a smart aleck in front of my parents.
As awkward as this segue is, it brings me to the horrific shooting rampage that took place here last Friday. It was so depressing I didn’t feel like confronting the event head on. Actually, the two subjects do connect in that in the 1950s we grew up with the madness of possible nuclear annihilation and today kids grow up with the madness of shooting rampages.
Curiously, I found out about the shootings last Friday from a reader of mine who lives out of state. When I turned on the news I was flooded with emotions at what I saw. The killings at Columbine, Phoenix, Aurora and Newtown, had all seemed like that could never happen here. And now my city, so beautiful and idyllic, made the national and even international news not for our bountiful attributes, but that we were home to another psycho armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle. (And 1,300 rounds of ammunition.)
Since last week there have been two other shootings here, one resulting in a murder that led to the arrest of three suspects. This brings the one-week total of gun-related homicides in Santa Monica to six in five days. That number doesn’t include the shooter from Friday’s tragedy.
Those numbers rival Chicago or Detroit.
For some time I’ve been seething over how the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre and primarily GOP legislators, routinely ignore the will of the people. Despite the fact that 91 percent of the country and 74 percent of NRA members want universal background checks these merchants of death (gun manufacturers who bankroll the NRA) manage to keep bills from getting out of committee.
The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” For the founding fathers every word had a reason. We don’t have militias anymore, but it’s as though nobody reads the first half of the amendment.
On Tuesday, Santa Monica College had a graduation ceremony that doubled as a somber memorial to the family and friends of those who died or were injured in last week’s tragedy. Who could have thought that would happen in our city?
With a shooter who had 1,300 bullets, it’s actually a miracle many more weren’t killed. Kudos to the Santa Monica Police Department and the Santa Monica College Police Department, whose officers controlled the nightmare within 10 to 15 minutes.
Anytime I write about sensible gun regulation I unfailingly get nasty e-mails. Then again at least it’s better than a lecture in front of your parents in the principal’s office.
If you’re interested in preventing gun violence, go to www.bradycampaign.org. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.