A Visit to One Bush Culture

Pomona, California

After walking through the parking lot of Hummers, SUVs and pick up trucks with gun racks and NRA insignia and confederate flag bumper stickers, my friend and I paid $8 each to get into the Gun Show at the Paso Robles Fairgrounds. The sign also assured interested parties that “Children Under 13 Get In Free.” Once inside, a middle aged woman in a cowboy hat stamped my hand robustly.

“A concentration camp number?” I asked my not so amused friend.

“Don’t take too good of a shower, heh heh, and y’all kin git back in tomorrow. Hey, bring your missus or your girlfriend.”

She reassured us that the seemingly indelible number imprinted on the backs of our hands would indeed wash away. I didn’t recognize her accent as belonging to any part of California. But it did sound like most of the people I heard inside the massive tomblike structure with display tables lined up and down the aisles: Deep and rural South. Most of the people looked serious and downright intense. One man wearing a confederate hat and sporting a three day growth carried a small boy ­ presumably his son, who seemed to have more teeth than his father.

My friend, a lawyer who handles disability and workers’ compensation claims, and I split up. As he browsed the gun collections, I engaged with a woman selling dietary supplements and offering a free test to determine my level of anti-oxidants. The woman attaching my hand to some sci fi machine that emitted a purple light told me that she ordinarily marketed super vitamins at state fairs, but that the gun show crowd had proven exceptionally interested in her product.

She whispered that she had little interest in guns, but that the gun lovers seemed excited about living longer and staying healthy. As the machine supposedly offered a number that showed that my skin had an average number of anti-oxidants, but that by taking some supplement I would gain thousands more and obviously live forever, I noticed two kids under 13 picking up rifles and pretending to shoot me. I would have done the same at that age. But my father never thought to bring me to a gun show. He didn’t even own or think about owning a gun.

I eavesdropped on shoppers and browsers, who held intricate conversations with the sellers involving questions of precision about guns, cartridges, replacement parts, velocity of projectiles and other subjects about which I knew little or nothing.

Next to a toy model of an AK 47, at which the seller was advertising slings for holding such guns, since California outlawed the sale of such weapons, I noticed a long table displaying Nazi flags, SS insignia and a series of books by former SS officers. I read a few paragraphs about the highlights of their losing campaigns in Russia and their successful occupations of several other countries. One book dismissed allegations of the so-called Holocaust. The author, a Captain, claimed he spent his proud years in the service as a chauffer. The others, I supposed, had served as cooks and valets. The books, with elegantly laid out back and white photos, were printed in Spain, during the late Franco years.

In Reinhard Heydrich, The Biography Vol 1, the authors (names not printed) assembled “a unique collection of photographs that bring to life this biography of Hitler’s probable heir apparent.” In the book, the man who I had known as a child as the “Butcher of Prague” was called an “extraordinary man who rose to become second to Himmler within the SS, controlling the entire Security Service.”

I admired the ambiguity of the prose. “Labeled as the author of the ‘Final Solution’ to the Jewish question, Heydrich is branded by some as a 20th Century Machiavellian. Others in admiration of his intelligence, sporting and musical talents have bestowed upon him the icon of a Renaissance man. What a career he could have had if the Czech resistance hadn’t assassinated him! The book price, $49.95, was ten dollars less than the book next to it, Stories of Waffen-SS Combat Heroes.

On one table, I spotted a frayed T-shirt ­ it had a dirt line around the inside of the neck — with a photo of Timothy McVeigh. “We won’t Forgot You.” I wanted to ask the vendor about the ambiguous message, but he seemed too engaged in making a sale for an expensive antique shotgun, so I moved on

Tables displayed 19th Century rifles and six shooters, twentieth Century Glocks, 45s and Lugers, some with laser-sights attached. Each weapon was chained so that the customer could pick it up, feel it and dry shoot it without being able to walk away with the deadly merchandise.

Some tables displayed dangerous knives and machetes, a few had bows and arrows. Combine all these with the guns and there was enough fire power inside the tent to kill lots of people ­ and defenseless animals, of course.

My friend and I saw no blacks, Mexicans or other obvious urban type Jews in the crowd. As we left, gun free and knifeless, I told my friend that I had had had an alien experience, an hour of contact with one of the constituencies of George W. Bush.

“Don’t be silly,” he said. They’re my clients. They rely on guns, vitamins and God to protect them since the government doesn’t.”

As we passed the rows of vehicles in the parking lot we didn’t see an apparently new sticker, placed only on the front bumper of your Hummer that says “Run Hillary Run.”

Later that day we found Santa Margarita Lake, paid a fee to enter the state-run preserve and hiked up a small mountain overlooking the pristine body of water. Here we were located about 220 miles northwest of Los Angeles, watching hawks, eagles and vultures carve out their air turf. Below us, outboard motorboats with fishermen patrolled the water. Campers were parked along the lake shore. Some fisherman stood on piers and cast their lines.

After we descended, we met a fisherman wearing a “work sucks, I’m going fishing T shirt.” He told us that the lock had been stocked with crappie, largemouth, striped bass, and catfish.

We passed a sign that told fisherman not to swim in the lake or allow body parts to touch the water. “I think they use it for reservoir water he said,” even before I asked my question.

“Why is it alright to have outboard motors and not have people touch the water?”

“These days you don’t know what folks will bring on their bodies to a nice lake like this,” he said, without smiling. We watched him load cases of Coors beer onto his small boat, called “SS Beer Can.” I wished him luck with his fishing.

Back in Paso Robles, where vineyards and wine tasting rooms proliferate, along with the yuppie clientele that fills them, we discussed the cultural chasm that separated the liberal, urbane people who sipped wine and ate gourmet food and read the New York Review of Books from those whose lives seemed to revolve around fishing, hunting and thinking about protecting themselves with weapons from their fellow humans.

“The working class needs protection,” my friend says. They get screwed by big corporations who don’t want to pay workmen’s compensation or disability claims. The corporations skimp on health and safety and then hire big shot lawyers to screw the inured workers out of their just claims.”

A Mexican American woman appears with a coffee pot. She speaks unaccented English as she asks if we want refills. Are we ready to order? She shouts “dos huevos over easy con sausage” to the cook in the kitchen.

I left a large tip and dared ask: “Did you vote for Bush?”

She looked at me as if I was crazy. We smiled at each other.

How many different Americans can one ingest in the course of a short vacation in Paso Robles California? I suppose the job of winning the US presidency lies in the ability of Karl Rove to calculate how many of the diverse and distractedly zany cultures inside the country he has to convince ­ by any mean necessary, of course.

SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University, where he is the director of Digital Media Programs and International Outreach, and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He is also the co-author of “Assassination on Embassy Row,” which is about the Letelier and Moffitt murders. His new book is The Business of America.







More articles by:

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring