It was way back when I was a kid too young to concern myself with adult worries like Vietnam, counter culture, and gun violence. It was Christmas, and all I wanted was the stuff I saw on TV. And that year, Mattel was waging a campaign on pre-teens, pushing their brand new, full-scale, completely accurate toy version of the military’s standard weapon, the M-16. Mattel’s version was known as the M-16 Marauder (I have no clue as to why), but I remember that it was cool in a major way. It looked – and more importantly sounded – as if I would be able to take on an entire platoon of bad guys, single-handedly.
Santa was good to me that year. I got my M-16 Marauder. It was, in a word, awesome. No caps. No batteries. And unlike the real M-16s, this one could shoot for a full 60 seconds, in full-auto, without a reload. (Come to think of it, this may be where today’s Hollywood directors got the idea that guns should be able to shoot from bottomless magazines, that never need reloading.)
I loved that gun. Rumor has it that one actually made it into a war movie – when John Wayne broke his M-16 against a tree in The Green Berets, he apparently used the Mattel version, instead of a real one. Sadly, my experience with my M-16 did not end well.
One fine day in the summer, I was in my backyard treehouse, playing “war” with a friend from school. Little did I know that this “friend” was a sociopath-in-the-making. We were playing with our respective guns. Now keep in mind, the M-16 Marauder was full of sound and fury, but signified nothing, when it came to throwing projectiles. It was as impotent as a post-prostatectomy Octogenarian who’s run out of Viagra.
So my proto-sociopathic “friend” decided to up the ante. He’d found a cache of empty bottles that had held SAE 30 oil. You know: those flat bottles with an offset mouth to facilitate easy pouring. Or to make it easier to turn the bloody thing into a projectile.
Let’s make a long story/painful memory short. The little bastard threw the thing at me like a javelin, and connected with my front teeth. One trip to the dentist later, and I was told that I had cracks that would likely result in either a lifetime of trips to the dentist or some false teeth in my future. (Fortunately for me, my dentist proved to be a pessimist. Over 40 years later, and I’m still using my God-given chompers.)
That was the end of my friendship with said sociopath. And it was the end of my playtime as a normal kid, un-besmirched by an over-protective set of parents. For the next few years any playing outside with guns, Frisbees, baseballs or footballs, without what my Mom referred to as the appropriate “protective headgear.” Marking my initial descent into über-nerddom, I was forced to wear a football helmet if I wanted to play catch.
Even worse, it was a New York Giants football helmet. Kind of the ultimate humiliation for a Dallas Cowboys fan. (I suppose I should at least be grateful that the cheap-o sporting goods emporium didn’t stock Philadelphia Eagles helmets. Now THAT would have been a fate worse than death.)
So from then on, my excitement over playing with my M-16 faded away. I was just not cut out to be a football-helmet wearing warrior. Years later, I’d read Doonsbury and wonder if Gary Trudeau’s mom and mine exchanged Christmas cards – his character B.D. has an unnatural affection for his football helmet. But at least B.D. could play football. I was not so blessed.
The weird thing is that, to this day, I’ve not shot an M-16, an AR-15, or any of their variations. It’s not that I don’t want to. I just haven’t had the opportunity yet. It’s on my list of things to do/things to buy. But when I do, I can tell you that my list of “protective headgear” will include ear protection and eye protection. But I’ll be leaving the football helmet at home.