John got a hankering to take SWAT training so we went to the backwoods of Half Moon Bay near Mavericks, where they have Hawaii-5-0 sized surf waves in Northern California that few are willing to risk. I love that area, especially that funky restaurant called the Moss Beach Distillery, which has the Blue Lady Ghost, who they say haunts the bathrooms and steals earrings. (She was featured on Unsolved Mysteries.) So we pulled up to a NO CIVILIANS sign way off the main road. I’m not even sure how we got to do this—the other couple we went with knew someone. We met up with seven friendly SWAT guys in camo fatigues. I was wearing a leather jacket, and John said I looked like the gun-wielding Lara Croft (!). “You’ll love an M4,” he said, because it was “light” and “easy to handle.” I didn’t. It felt like a toy, which made it creepy. John’s convinced that overexposure to guns is going to change my mind about them in the way they treat arachnophobia by making people travel on airplanes with a thousand loose spiders. But I don’t think so. A few years ago we went on an old-fashioned pheasant hunt in the backwoods of Austria (all the men wore formal hunting suits, except for John, who wore a cowboy hat and people kept calling him George Bush), and I never touched a gun. It was our first “hunt” and everyone was tolerant and polite and referred to us as “The Americans.” Our lovely hostess said “just don’t shoot our dogs.” Out in the field my feet were frozen (December in Austria is Siberia—in the evenings I wore cut-off tights under my ball gown to stay warm), the air was black with gunsmoke, shotguns cracking and dead birds piling up for the bird funeral. It was late afternoon and getting dark when a giant white rabbit leaped through the field like a bobbing surrender flag—someone yelled “John, get your hare!” and even though this was a competition, John glanced back at me, where I waited in horror with immobile feet (in my memory they are stuck in rabbit holes), and lowered his gun.
At SWAT training, worse than the automatic weapon is the Barrett, which shoots a mile. It’s essentially a cannon. You have to lie on the ground while a SWAT guy loads it. I was sure it would explode in my face. Ultimately it was peer pressure that got me to do it, the way it was before I rode Daisy, the mechanical bull, at the Cowgirl Corral Saloon in high school. When I looked through the scope into the woods that was a jungle, I thought of the movie Predator—I had the big gun but I felt clearly on the defensive. Slowly, I pulled the heavy trigger and the Barrett kicked and caught my shoulder. Everyone cheered. Later the guys barbecued hamburgers for us and took photos—I don’t think they get many visitors. John still swears I that I love shooting and had a smile on my face and says he has the photos of me smiling to prove it, but most likely it’s a grimace from the bruised shoulder.