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Toy Guns

29 August 2017

On a typically bright summer day, in some far flung corner of Los Angeles, a father carried his petite 4-year-old son on his shoulders. Unknown yet to history, the son’s name was Gentry Isaac Joe. They made their way through a post-card neighborhood where sidewalks are shaded by handsome trees, comfortable scents and bumper stickers pledging allegiance to Bernie Sanders.  The atomic duo reached a street corner and waited for the light to change so they could cross safely. Such activities remain common and safe in the bowels of Californian suburbia. Gentrification has made it so. But while Gentry’s attire looked about right—blue shorts, a white t-shirt with red stripes—there was an added bonus to his appearance: A miniature AK-47 slung over his small, right shoulder.

The weapon at close inspection was obviously a plastic toy, but from afar it could have easily fooled the eye as the real thing—a minimized automatic for a minimized militiaman. But oh how much Gentry loved his toy gun, he carried it slung over like the soldiers on TV, or the action figures his father cheerfully purchased for him. “Hold it like a man,” his father warned him, boasting that the alpha males of the family line always respected weapons and men in uniform. They were a blue-eyed race, commanding respect in far flung lands to defeat evil doers and Commies (yes, those still exist, even if they now call themselves “Democrats”).

A strong sense of personal responsibility and work ethic begins with the handling of weapons in many corners of the Republic. And so the father took Gentry to the local pond near the Public Library, never to set foot inside the building of course, and sat on a bench to check his emails and smiled as Gentry chased around the local ducks with his weapon aimed high, giggling like a hyena with those first, predatory glances that made dad so proud. Having checked his emails, including on the fake account he kept with his mistress—a buxom vegan of an intern who would do anything to move above minimum wage—dad grabbed Gentry, as the boy made his final “kills” and scooped him up to walk back home to Mrs. Joe. “I killed a lot of bad guys!” squealed Gentry.  Dad smiled and then cast a suspicious eye on the Muslim couple walking down the street with a stroller. Of course dad was no racist, just a realist.

If there was a day which set the course for the life of Gentry Isaac Joe, it was that one by the library pond. Reared in the Spartan ways of an American “man,” Gentry soon entered adolescence with a basic creed pounded into him by dad, sometimes drunkenly after a hard day at the office (sustaining a middle class life becomes tougher work each year): Work hard, don’t tolerate weaklings, be liberal but not radical, vote Democrat but always support the commander-in-chief no matter party affiliation- especially in times of war, America is the still the greatest country (not continent), stay fit so hot girls will fuck you, believe in God even if you don’t, and no matter what, always make a lot of money. If any friends or family members say any different, then brush them aside—Empire is not built on sentimental feelings.

Soon the plastic gun was upgraded to a video game console. Come high school, Gentry enjoyed the hypnotic pull of garnering kills on a screen more than he did his girlfriend(s). It made him feel powerful and manly, it gave him an adrenaline rush that books and homework just took away. He imagined the targets had morphed into Mexican gang bangers, black dope dealers and white trash muggers, basically the scum weapons were made to protect you from in the first place. He was a captain in the football team, so physically Gentry was already quite imposing, but you never knew where danger lurked.

But Gentry was never sure what he wanted to do in terms of a career. He hated the idea of being an office zombie like his father, and his mother provided little guidance since she dropped out of college to take care of him. Gentry wasn’t very bookish, and for a while he entertained the thought of becoming a video game critic—but for such work writing skills are still required.

Fate provided an answer for Gentry when terrorists carried out an attack on that ultimate symbol of capitalist orgy, Disneyland. Gentry was swept up in the national march to defend our way of life from foreign scum. Foreign scum indeed it had been, as the White House pointed the finger at Fiji, where the terrorists had been linked to a cell railing against the governing, U.S.-backed junta, ahem, allied government. Dad gave his blessing, mom did as well (with a little more restraint) and Gentry was off to become a warrior.

On Fijian shores Gentry learned his craft. All that time playing his AK back home paid off and now he felt as if he had been blissfully thrown into one of his favorite video games. The difference now was that those Fijian rebels kept firing back real bullets. Gentry would never forget the first time he saw a fellow soldier’s skull blow apart, during a night time patrol, the skull fragments looked like sparks in the moonlight as they flew into the air. Luckily new laser weaponry and sonic equipment (stamped with fancy corporate brands), eventually subdued those pesky Fijians.

As the years passed Gentry moved up and up, proving to be an efficient killing machine and then boss material (thanks to those ethics from dad). While on leave he met and wed a Persian American supermarket cashier named Romina, who worshipped old movie stars and thought Gentry looked like her idol Paul Newman. She spoke with honks and hisses, and worshipped the man now called General Joe. Dad had been a bit suspicious, but General Joe assured him she wasn’t Muslim. Her own family was simply happy with the status upgrade. Romina was in awe of how General Joe explained the world’s evils and how he would fight to end them, she was especially in awe of his blue eyes.

In the Year of the Dog, General Joe was named Secretary of Defense by the newly elected President Hogg. Hogg, an all American beast of a man, with hair and paunch of Aryan glory, admired General Joe’s hatred of wussies and respect for weapons. Hogg hailed from the jungles of Wall Street, and considered himself a predator of the highest order. Now he and General Joe would be instill the same sense of strength and ethics on a population made weak by liberalism (General Joe had long ago decided to register Republican, but voted liberal on a few issues).

Their moment to shine as a team came when a small, but nuclear-armed Asian country, with a name even General Joe could not pronounce, decided to fire a missile towards the small island territory of Chingados. This original Spanish territory, sold to the U.S. for a surprisingly low amount in the mid-19th century, suddenly became a flashpoint of historic proportions. During a heated war room meeting, Hogg and his staff discussed how to respond. The Asian country officially termed the missile firing an honest mistake. But Hogg was already facing falling poll numbers, and the American populace seemed genuinely terrified of this Asian menace (even if it wasn’t predominantly Muslim). General Joe knew that to maintain U.S. power and respect for its imperium, it had to impose discipline. He took Hogg aside into the hallway, away from those cowards in his staff—most of whom had never even held a gun—and suggested the president make an example of this little Asian shithole with an unpronounceable name by simply erasing it. Show them why we are the greatest country on Earth.

24 hours after that conversation, General Joe walked out of his home and turned to his young son Frederick, age 5, and handed him a gift: His first toy gun. It was a shining, impressive plastic reproduction of a German Luger. Best to get them started with a sense of history. Frederick was delighted.  He waved the weapon like a scepter. Romina walked out in her apron and kissed General Joe goodbye. As General Joe drove away Frederick aimed his weapon at the sky, the blue heaven was the last thing he would ever see before the white hot flash of a sudden, radioactive sunrise and his mother’s confused, then blood-curdling scream.


Alci Rengifo is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, CA. He is also a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books and the East LA monthly, Brooklyn & Boyle.