Monday, January 24, 2011

Odd Little Things

by Ben Small

Do little things sometimes cause your mind to wander?

The Lizard

Like a few days ago, when a lizard jumped out of my range bag as I reached in to pull out my .22-250 for more break-in work. The last time I'd used the bag was the week before.

And it was the middle of January, when lizards are supposed to be deep underground.

So how did a lizard just slightly larger than a geko get into my range bag in the first place? The question has haunted my thoughts for the last few days. I'd used the bag a week before, but I'd closed it up and latched it after I'd removed my rifle and put it in the safe.

Had the lizard been in there all winter? It was surely too cold for lizards when I packed the bag for the day. So he must have been there for at least a week, maybe moved in the week before when I put the rifle back in the bag. It had been mid-sixties then, marginal for lizards, cold-blooded creatures that they are.

And then I thought, What had he been doing in there? Where did he hide?

Of course, the lizard could have been under the foam rubber. But what if he'd crawled up my barrel while it was still warm the week before? I'd cleaned the rifle at the close of shooting, and sure as shootin' hadn't seen any lizard. Was it possible that Lizzo had climbed down the barrel, enjoying the narrow tolerances as the door of light closed down on him. If so, what if he'd done some business in the barrel of my rifle? Would dried lizard-poop stuck to the barrel cause a pressure bubble when fired, ruining my new gun?

I cleaned the rifle again. Nothing but normal stuff came out, near as I could tell.

These thoughts late at night caused me to think of the Tucson Desert Museum, Arizona's second most popular tourist attraction. The Desert Museum has a cutaway down one tight channel through the rocks. It's sides are cut out and covered with clear plastic, showing the life within. Amazing tunnels, filled with creatures, twisting, curling, with pock marks in the walls, perfect little bowls for collecting water after a rare but hard Arizona rain. Snakes, gophers, pack-rats, lizards, rabbits and even some birds, inhabit these holes. Take three square feet of desert land. You wouldn't believe what's living under those three feet. A life support system that sustains fifteen or more animals, just in the first six feet down. They pop up when they can feel the heat of the sun, about sixty-five degrees, pop back at night, when shadows cool the ground or when they sense predators, who may have come out of the next hole over.

It's like watching an ant farm then blowing it up into a larger frame. In just about twelve feet of Desert Museum channel, I counted six snakes and umpteen other creepy-crawly critters anywhere from just under the soil surface to ten feet or more down.

Hah, and most people think the desert is devoid of life.

Au contraire.

So it's possible that the lizard popped up during my range time the week before and hopped into my range bag, which had been left open and had been warmed by the sun. But what did that lizard think when he'd been trapped in there and left in the garage? No wonder he seemed so eager to jump out. And assuming he'd climbed into my bag the week before, he'd no doubt come up from a hole around the range.

Had he somehow found the same hole he'd come out of? Or would he take any hole? I couldn't tell. As soon as the lizard hit the rocks, he was gone. He'd found a hole quickly, but was it the right hole?

I turned around and saw a sign hanging on a pole, warning shooters to be wary of venomous critters -- like rattlesnakes. Guess they could pop out of a nearby hole too some warm day. The young ones are the worst: they don't know any better and pump all their venom into a victim. They can't modulate the flow like the adult rattlers can.

I think I'll be a bit more careful around the range from now on. Bullets may not be the only hazard awaiting the unwary.


And then the next day, I went over to my shooting buddy Dan's house. Dan's begun making ammo, tailoring his concoctions to tested accuracy results of our rifles. I'd never seen ammo made before; I've always bought it in already produced commercial bullets. Don't have to mix gunpowder then; don't have to ream out cartridges, take measurements of case expansion; don't have to ram punch presses through the casings and trim the case lengths that grow through this process.

Dan was measuring powder for our .22-250 and .243 rounds, using an electronic scale and tiny cup, making his adjustments with a tiny steel spoon. Minimalistic adjustments down to a tenth of a grain of powder, a speck so small it looks like dust. He pointed out something to me and looked up, accidently spilling some gun powder onto his kitchen table. I expected the gun powder to be fine, like black sugar, not in tiny charcoal-colored rods that break off when touched.

But then I'd never seen gun powder before except in torn-apart fireworks.

"Damn," he said. He pointed to a little vial. "That's where I put spilled powder."

"Why do you store it?" I asked. He wasn't going to use that powder; it'd been contaminated. "Why don't you just grab a vacuum and sweep it up?"

Dan gave me a look like I was Curly on The Three Stooges. He handed over the plastic container of powder. "Take a whiff, not a big one, don't take it down deep, but just a quick pass."

I did as instructed and recoiled at the ammonia smell. "That's a form of nitro-glycerine," he said. He gave me an ominous look. "You don't vacuum it up."

Dumb me. "Why?" I asked.

Dan's a chemical engineer. He knows this stuff. He gave me another Curly look. "Static electricity. You'll blow yourself up."

Ah. I knew there had to be a reason. And also a reason Dan makes these formulations rather than me. Dan knows what he's doing; I'm a klutz. I'd probably have just swept the spilled gunpowder onto the floor and run it over with the vacuum cleaner, ended up blowing the vacuum and the idiot holding it all over the Sonoran Desert.

Dan was pouring the powder from a one pound container. As I watched him fill one bullet after another, I said, "Does the powder come in larger containers?

"Yeah," he said. "Our next step up will be to buy the four pound container, once we get the mixtures right."

I looked at how large the one pound container was. About the size of a drinking glass. Light stuff, gunpowder. The four pound container be about the size of a jumbo family can of soup. you know, the big 'un, like what you find at Costco or Sam's Club.

"How many bullets will the one pound container make?" I asked.

Dan shrugged. "Lots. I figure each bullet costs maybe fifty cents, all told."

Wow! A box of twenty commercially produced bullets for a .22-250 would cost me about thirty bucks. By having Dan load my bullets, I'd save a dollar a round, and they'd be tailored to my rifle, as opposed to catch as catch can with commercial bullets.

Need I say I offered him a deal: I'd buy the components; he'd make my bullets?

But then my mind wandered again. Always the mystery writer, I guess. "So, anybody can walk into a sporting goods store and buy a pound or four of gun powder and then go to a hardware store, buy some pipe and ends, drill a hole, stuff nails and gunpowder into the pipe, close it up, attach some form of fuse, and have a bomb?"

"Yup," Dan said. "Sorta boggles the mind, doesn't it. Think about all the states that have forms and hoops to jump through for buying ammo, yet nothing for buying gunpowder."

Truly, it boggles the mind.

Bears-Packers Game

I've lived in both Wisconsin and Illinois. So who did I root for? A question many of my friends asked before the big game. My Fantasy Football league's named "Cutler's Pouting Lip." 


MTV's Skins

So MTV is now broadcasting child pornography, or so sponsors and an aroused public claim. This brings a couple questions to mind: Who is running MTV, and how long before a naked Kardashian juvenile poses on Skins? Kris Jenner's done such a wonderful job converting the sex tape of her vacuous daughter Kim into a career, can child porn of another daughter be far behind? 

And then another thought crossed my mind. I'll bet you Eric Holder takes less time acting on this legal challenge than he has deciding what to do with Kahlid Sheik Mohammad, the 9/11 planner and the man who cut off Daniel Pearl's head. Mohammad's been in federal custody since March 1, 2003, and Holder still can't figure out what to do with him. I wonder if Kahlid Sheik Mohammad gets to watch Skins on the high definition television Holder's probably given him, you know, to pass the time until Holder makes a decision.

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