When I Had to Draw My Weapon

Libby Leaving San Francisco

Look westward, angel. Leaving San Francisco.

In observance of taking the on-ramp onto EASTBOUND 80 last night out of San Francisco which signifies, ladies and gentlemen, that I’m St. Louis bound, after what will no doubt be a pivotal plot twist stop here today in El Dorado Hills, California, I wanted to deal with a little road trivia.

These factoids will not garner you any prizes because they will never surface at any organized trivia night, UNLESS I get a best-selling book out of this little jaunt and the trivia organizer is a literary nerd. I would say literary snob, but my stuff won’t ascend to the level such that snobs would be interested. So:

1. I have traveled 6,424 miles to date and as of today, I’ve stayed in an even number of hotels and homes, twelve each.

2. I have navigated the freeways of the biggest cites of America without Libby yelling at me to stop and ask directions. The major cities to date: St. Louis, (had to find my way out)  Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, Washington D.C., Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Denver comes in three days. Damn, wish I had time to run up to Seattle.

3. I have seen 4,325 McDonalds, 4,324 Starbucks, 371 cows, 122 horses, 5 deer, 27 kinfolk and 247 dogs.

Dogs. Lots of dogs.

Dogs. Lots of dogs.

By now, I’ve learned a few things: my left arm will forever be more tanned than my right, sunlight works almost as good as peroxide on my hair, flies in Texas are as big as a wad of chewing tobacco and bite like a son-of-a-bitch. I wish I’d brought scissors and I’m glad I brought stuff to make a vodka tonic.

Yesterday, I needed the bathroom while I was at Fisherman’s Wharf. I parked right in front of an IHOP, cracked the windows about four inches for Libby (thank God no more 108-degree heat, it was sixty-six!) and dashed into the restaurant, where the hostess asked if I needed a table. I pointed to a group of people in a far corner, waving like a fool, “I’m with them.” Which was, of course, right next to the bathroom. I highly recommend this trick and of course, I did not crash their party.

By now, I miss a few things. My own bed, my own bed, my own bed, my kids still at home, Lauren and Sean,  and of course, King Louie. (Not necessarily in that order…in fact, I might miss Louie the most, sorry kids, I love you, but…) I also have a hankering for Nacho Mama’s (Mexican food place in STL) and a movie. That’s one of the places you STILL  can not take your dog.

Laptop and Coffee

Not like my morning routine at home.

By now, I’ve dealt with a number of road hazards; chicken bones littering the sidewalks, rattling bathroom fans that come on with the light switch, hot water faucets that scald my butt with water pressure akin to spitting on my head, (I now wear my glasses IN the shower) brown liquids in styrofoam cups disguised as coffee and cactus too close to the highway, which when I drive past sunset, past the point of being tired, takes on the form of menacing monsters crouching, threatening me and my doggie on our narrow passage through the darkness. Nighttime on the highway will do that to a girl.

And it’s not like I’m packing heat in the event a mirage turns to marauder. Unlike my cousin Harold in Mineral Wells who told me when I climbed into his truck, “just shove that rifle back behind the seat,”  I am not carrying a weapon, save for mace and a vicious attack dog.

I sold my gun. I stole it anyway. Desperate times called for desperate measure in both situations — the acquiring and the discharge of said weapon. I don’t mean it went off, I simply mean I discharged myself of the weapon. Course it nearly went off, but I’ll get to that.

Years ago, when I was newly divorced and my former husband, the TV guy, was going through a rough patch of depression, (and this was before he got sent to prison….yikes, I bet he wished he could have the OLD depression back after that.) Anyway, it came time for him to load up the kids and head to Utah to visit his folks, something they did every summer, for a while. He had sounded particularly despondent in the days leading up to their trip, although, (and I assure you of this) then and now, he had never laid a hand on the kids in any way. (He wouldn’t even swat them on the behind, unlike me, who believed it was a good way to get their attention, especially if they were about to dart out into the street.)

I was working the EARLY morning shift at my TV station and was chronically sleep deprived (a.k.a. psychotic) and I started fixating on his revolver. He’d always kept a gun and he always traveled with it under the front seat of the car. I got myself worked up into a complete lather over him, a) being depressed and b) driving on a long road trip with my three youngest kids and c) having a gun in the car. So, I broke into his house and stole it.

One day, when I knew he was still at work, I got a ladder, loaded it into my mini-van, went to his house, found an open window (which of course was on the front of the house, with traffic and any number of cops going by at any given second) propped the ladder up, slid the screen open, climbed in the window, landing with a thump on the floor and went straight to the bed, where I knew from 14 years of marriage, the gun would be in between the mattresses. It was.

I grabbed it, stuck it in my blue jean pocket and went back to the window, only to kick the ladder over with the first leg out. I simply had to drop. Fortunately, it was only about four feet. I propped the ladder back up, climbed back up, closed the window, closed the screen and limped back to my car, where, I drove down the alley and checked to see if the gun, a six-shooter service revolver, had any bullets. The fucking thing was loaded. Worse yet, I accidentally cocked it.

This is where the story comes full circle about friends in need, then and now. My heart was thumping, I was already guilty of B&E and now, I was driving down the street in a white Dodge Caravan with a loaded gun with the hammer cocked. Holy Mother of God. I called my friend, who we’ll call Mona. Mona’s husband was a cop, had been to my house on many occasions. He’s the great kind of cop, who I’ll call Pat.

“I need you to call Pat,” I told her with panic in my voice. “I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I had to get a gun out of TV man’s house and now I’ve got the damn thing cocked and I don’t know how to uncock it.”

Calmly, Mona said, “Okay. I’ll find him.” No questions asked. Within fifteen minutes, Pat met me in downtown parking lot, halfway in between the police station and the TV station where I worked, and Pat let the hammer down on an empty chamber.

“Put the bullets someplace away from the gun,” he said and went back to work.

TV man didn’t miss the gun for months. They went on their trip, he must have forgotten his custom on taking it on the road. About a year later he asked if I recalled him getting it out from under the mattress when we split the sheets. I simply said I did not. The gun sat in a dresser drawer for thirteen years until this past Christmas. Remember my tale of woe about having only $14 on the tenth of December to last until Christmas Eve?

I had to draw my weapon. After years of being so broke so many times but not selling it,I finally caved. I used the gun money for Christmas, oh, and heat and electricity. Sucks when there’s no lights on the Christmas tree.

And friends, in the TRUE spirit of giving, those same friends, whom I’ll continue to call Mona and Pat, when I launched my Kickstarter campaign to fund Off the Leash, even though Mona had recently been laid off from her job, and Pat had lost his job a while back, leaving two 50-somethings with zero jobs in their household at that moment, Mona chips in $50. FIFTY BUCKS!!! She said she wished it could be more. She tells me I’m amazingly brave.

I think I am amazingly blessed.

Jean and Libby in San Francisco

My original hometown, San Francisco. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Mona.

(If I  don’t get arrested for breaking and entering. Anybody know the statute of limitations?)

And in the interest of fairness, I’ll deduct the proceeds from the gun from back child support.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Great post and great picture. I can’t wait to read the plot twist to which you alluded.

  2. Bring my puppy home!

  3. Loved the pic of you and Libby. The tale of the gun was quite entertaining – you are a brave woman. I can’t wait to read the book.

  4. I remember the gun story and being amazed at what you would do to protect your kids. Those kids (now adults) had a mom that helped them to grow into wonderful people. I am so very proud of them. Aunt Bev

  5. Great post, and a great story at the end. Yes, Mona and Pat are true friends, I’d say. You are blessed, as I’m sure they’re blessed to have you as a friend. Continued safe travels. That photo of you and Libby looking at the Golden Gate Bridge got me all choked up.

  6. Gerry Mandel says:

    I lived in The City by the Bay for a year, when I got out of the army (ours), and wanted to be a Beatnik. I did, lousy poetry and all. Then I came home, got married, got a job, go serious – in that order. That all came back to me when I saw you and Libby, side by side, looking at the Golden Gate Bridge. Fog still does that to me. You have built a new storeroom filled with memories. Way to go. And some day I want to read the final version of you, your hubby, and The Gun.

    • The thing about you Gerry, is that you could teach a beatnik a thing or two about a thing or two. When I grow up, I want to be just like you. I had NO idea that you’d lived in San Francisco. It is magical. Oh, and steep. And cold and damp. And wonderful. In the book, I may go into a bit more detail about The Gun.

  7. Love this post! I can picture you climbing out the window, a loaded gun in your pocket, stretching your foot and…kicking the ladder to the ground. I would have managed to exhale a great big “F*CK!” between clenched teeth. Maybe you did the same. Good thing the damn gun didn’t go off! You have good people in your life, Jean…a sure sign that you, too, are “good people.”
    Hey, here’s a thought…let’s have a “welcome back” get together at Nacho Mama’s (Manchester Road? In Glendale?) when you return!

    • I’m down with the Nacho Mama’s reunion. Amazing since I have just traveled to the best Mexican food states in the country. I think I’ll reach out to John and Nancy and see if they’ll host us. I’ve just given them a free plug. It would be nice to meet you in person, oh fellow writer who cries into her smart phone. Smart.

  8. Great stuff. The depicted dogs may be small or timid, but you certainly are not.

    Hope your travel eastward includes Medicine Bow Ridge (west of Centennial WYO, which is west of Laramie) and plenty of Steve Earle with the windows down.

    Send more stories.

    • I wish I was cutting through Wyoming. One of the few states (not including altered) that I have not been to. But friends and family stops having me slicing through Nevada, Utah, southern Colorado, Kansas and then, Missouri! Steve Earle, on the other hand, just what the doctor ordered, baby. Windows down and all.

  9. I hope the gun was registered and didn’t end up in the hands of a bad guy or gal. I have never held a gun and I couldn’t have done what you did. Braver than I am.

    • Not to worry, Madge. I did not sell it on the street.I am not THAT well connected. It was sold to a highly reputable collector/dealer. In face, if I sell the book, I hope to get it back from him. Will probably pay twice what I got for it. That’s the Whatley family motto, by the way, buy high, sell low.

  10. Kathleen Maurer says:

    I have not participated in comments before due to reading emails usually on the fly and no time to reply. I do take the time to read your stories, and LOVE them. Like a good drama or novel, they are small slices of real life and they are great. Thanks!

    • Thank you so much Kathleen. What, you’re only a doctor? Come on, you’ve got time to kill. The fact that you take the time to read my stuff, even on the fly, means a lot to me.

  11. I am just strange enough to have wondered and enjoyed the stats that you shared! Needless to say, I wish you had more healthy eating options than MacDonald’s but that’s my own prejudice. I adore the photo of Libby and you together in SF. In fact, I just loved this whole post! Keep going. Awesome stories.