March 21, 2008
On Dear Days Gone By
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
In 1969 the sublimely talented, infinitely wise, yet somehow tragically misunderstood Jack O'Connor wrote a very good book of reminiscences called Horse and Buggy West. It was about his boyhood in Arizona in the early 20th century. If I may be permitted, I would like to do a little of that here.
I grew up near the New Jersey shore, not far from Asbury Park, which produced Bruce Springsteen*. In the 1950s, as you strolled down the boardwalk, you could hear a distinctive crack…clang….crack…clang, and you knew you were near the shooting gallery.
Shooting galleries have just about passed from the American scene, but for a kid who was crazy about guns, they were heaven on earth. You gave the degenerate behind the counter 25 cents and he would slide ten greasy .22 Shorts into a tube-magazine pump gun. Then you popped away at knockdown steel targets that just sat there, or paraded by on a conveyor belt, and if you hit with all ten shots, you got a cheesy prize.
For kids like me who were not allowed to have guns, it was the only chance we got to handle a real firearm aside from summer-camp programs, and it was pure magic. Now these places are no more. A shooting gallery is a place where junkies gather, or it is a video game. No more wonderful smell of gunpowder; no more slick slide actions chained to the counter top. Liability problems, you know. And it might give youngsters hostile feelings toward steel silhouettes of ducks.
*Bruce Springsteen has always baffled me. At the time this narrative took place, a popular male singer was a good-looking guy who could actually sing and whose lyrics you could actually understand. Perry Como qualified. Vic Damone and Eddie Fisher made the cut, as did Tony Bennett. Mr. Springsteen seems like a decent enough person, but he qualifies on none of the three counts.