LIVE AND LEARN DIE AND FORGET IT ALL
On November 29, 2012, I flew from Boston to Moline, Illinois to attend a three-day firearms auction that included 96 items from my dad’s antique gun* collection, in addition to over 3,000 other firearms, including Eva Braun’s handgun (a gift from Adolph Hitler) and Saddam Hussein’s M-77 Ruger, a war trophy taken from the Presidential Palace in Mosul and later given to a CIA agent as a retirement gift. My dad had decided to sell his 250 antique guns after twelve years of collecting, because, in his words, “I’m getting old and I’m going to die and nobody will know what to do with them.” I called him in North Carolina each night of the auction to let him know how it was going. I recorded those conversations. A common interest—his antique gun collection—was the point from which a conversation could begin and then meander, at times awkwardly, always ending up at the same place.
In a 30 minute unscripted monologue I attempt to make sense of my own relationship to the polarized debate around gun control in the US, while exploring the personal relationship I have with my father. I begin by giving each person a small package of M&Ms candy. I ask that as they finish eating the candy, they put their discarded wrapper into a bowl that I have placed on the floor in front of me. I weave a narrative that takes the starting point of the auction. The candy operates as a persuasive device, similar to the way that language is employed in the descriptions that the auctioneer spins to appeal to the bidders in their audience. The narrative gradually incorporates personal details about my father, occasionally interrupted by the audio recordings of our phone conversations. All the while, I am carefully folding the discarded candy wrappers into small origami-like forms, displaying them on a nearby ledge. A climax in the narrative ties the M&Ms directly to the story.
*Note: Any firearm with a frame or receiver made before January 1, 1899 is legally “antique” and not considered a “firearm” under Federal law. Being completely outside of Federal jurisdiction, these antique firearms are, in the words of an online gun dealer, “the last bastion of gun ownership and transfer privacy” and are shipped with no “paper trail.”