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Pete Thunell: Being the cheese that stands alone

One man's struggle to decide whether to buy a gun.
One man's struggle to decide whether to buy a gun.
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We all know “The Farmer in the Dell,” yet another nonsense song that somehow survives each generation and seemingly will live on for eons to come — yet poets such as Duran Duran are all but forgotten just two short decades after “Rio.”

But I digress.

“Farmer in the Dell” follows a top-to-bottom progression, going from the farmer to his wife to a child, to some other things I forget, and inexplicably ending with cheese. The final verse proclaims, “The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, hi-ho, the derry-o, the cheese stands alone.”

Strangely, I think about that verse a lot, especially when I lie in bed at night as my family sleeps. Because I, like the cheese, stand alone: If something were to happen in the middle of the night, if someone breaks into the house with ill intentions, I am the cheese. (I like to think of myself as a fun but functional cheese, like muenster or havarti. My wife would contend I’m a limburger.)

It’s these scary thoughts that scratch at the back of my brain as I toss and turn, trying to sleep — and these thoughts that led me to an unnatural (for me) encounter.

“See how this feels,” he says as he hands it over to me. Before he even hands it to me, though, I already know how it's going to feel — weird and unnatural, like when a snake owner insists you’ll love having his boa constrictor wrapped around your neck.

I hold the shotgun and try to look natural. Just like with the snake on my neck, 98 percent of me knows I’m fine, but that 2 percent is steadfastly repeating over and over again in my head, “Somehow this is gonna end badly.”

Due to my love of movies that blow stuff up, I’ve seen roughly a million people coolly and effortlessly handle guns. Tough guys, wimpy guys, women, the elderly, aliens, robots, elderly robots, alien wimpy guys — they all make handling a gun look as casual as holding a spatula, but way, way cooler.

So when the shotgun is handed to me, I try to do my best to look like I somewhat know what I’m doing. I kind of hold it by my hip and bounce it a little. I hold it up to my eye and look down the barrel.

(Honestly, I have no idea what I would be looking for. Am I concerned the gun-makers made a gun where the barrel takes a sharp U-turn back at me like an Elmer Fudd gun? “Wait a minute, I’d like one of your straight-barrel guns, please,” I imagine myself saying to the salesman with an air of knowing.) So I hold it for a minute, hand it back to the salesman, say thanks and get the heck out of there.

I don’t really want to buy a gun, but there’s definitely a part of me that keeps telling me I should. In my experience, I’ve found a person’s interest in guns tends to be like a person’s interest in owning horses or tolerance for country music: It’s more something you’re brought up with than something you just stumble onto yourself.

For instance, it just doesn’t seem like people wake up and think, “I’m sick of owning pets I can’t sit on. I really should pony up some cash to get a giant pet I can ride around.” Same idea with guns.

My dad raised me without an interest in any of those things mentioned above. Pets were small, music was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and show tunes, and home protection was a dented baseball bat under his bed. When I recently mentioned the idea of getting a gun for my house, my dad just rolled his eyes at me.

“So your plan is when the bad guy breaks into your house and makes so much noise it wakes you up, you can go downstairs and take him out?” he asked incredulously.

He’s got a point. More than 95 percent of home break-ins happen during the day, so when I’m talking about getting a gun, in reality it would likely be for Tammy, my wife. She has about as much interest in having a gun as she would in running a frisky ferret petting zoo for toddlers who hug too hard.

Tammy not wanting a gun is purely practical for her — a percentage game. Which outweighs the other: the chance that a situation would arise where we needed a gun, or the chance a terrible accident would happen with the gun? (She’s been married to me long enough to know I’m the kind of guy who could hammer in a nail with my left hand tied securely behind my back and still somehow hit my thumb.)

We have four curious little kids who get into everything. I hear people say the best idea is to show your kids the gun and teach them to respect the gun. I don’t know about the kids those people are raising, but if that’s all they need to do is just tell their kids something and the kids fall right in line, mazel tov. That’s awesome.

If I showed my kids a gun and told them it was going to be in the house, having a gun is an awesome responsibility and they were not to touch it, the only words they would hear would be “gun," "in," "house," "awesome" and "touch it.” This would mean we would have to get a gun safe. And how often would one of these dangerous situations happen where you would have enough time to say, “Hold that thought, I have to run upstairs and open my safe.”

The discussion of guns and gun ownership has gotten weird lately. The popular view is that, like electronic dance music, either you’re 100 percent down with it or you must be 100 percent against it, no middle ground tolerated.

In the vocal view of some, if you’re fine with a person owning a gun or two but you are uncomfortable with everyone getting to stock up on enough automatic firepower and ammunition to individually overrun Canada, then you and the Constitution must need to go to relationship counseling.

Today, though, I’m standing in front of “Mike” at the store, trying to will myself into buying just one gun to protect my family against the possibility of just that one psycho. (And we’re in Vegas, so there is no shortage of “one psychos.”)

I just can’t bring myself to do it today.

Some years ago, I stole dad’s baseball bat, and I keep it under my bed at the ready. Now I just lie there, wondering if me wandering downstairs in my gym shorts with the bat cocked back, ready to swing away like Merrill in “Signs,” is going to be enough if the occasion arises.

Maybe I’ll download that app that makes the “chu-chunk” noise that sounds like you’re getting your pump-action shotgun ready. I’ll stand at the top of the stairs, pressing the app over and over, yelling, “You better get out or I’ll blast you.” I start to feel good about this idea until I realize this tactic may not work quite as well when the zombie apocalypse happens, and now I really can’t sleep. When it comes down to it, the cheese stands alone.

Pete Thunell lives in Las Vegas with his wife and four kids and works as an attorney. His email is petethunell@gmail.com.