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Su Lum: Slumming

In the summer of 1960, during our 25-day trip from New Jersey to Alaska, my husband, Burt, gave me a little lesson in gun safety.

Prior to “the lesson,” there had been an incident in the Midwest, when something was wrong with the brakes on the 33-foot house trailer we were pulling, making the trailer lurch and swerve all over the road.

“Learn to drive!” screamed a man in a truck containing several hostile-looking passengers, and Burt called back, “Sorry – there’s a problem with the brakes,” gratuitously adding, “Mind your own business!”

As soon as he could, Burt pulled off the road onto a side street and was under the trailer trying to figure out what was ailing the brake system when the same truck full of people he had just told to mind their on business pulled up alongside.

Burt had time to hiss at me, “If anything goes wrong, get the rifle!”


We were carrying an arsenal of weapons, preparatory to our upcoming adventure in Alaska – everything from handguns to a bow with razor-sharp arrows and the rifle – ready by the door – but I didn’t know squat about any of them, didn’t even know if the rifle was loaded.

What I did know was that if hostilities occurred, I was supposed to wave the rifle at these guys and say something to the effect of, “Hold it right there.”

As it happened, nothing happened. Burt defused the situation by pretending that the men had stopped to help, thanking them profusely but saying he thought he’d found the source of the problem. They drove off somewhat perplexed, and we drove off, still swerving, before they changed their minds.

That was 52 years ago, so I can’t be sure this was the reason for the gun lesson – it may have been that I was nervous in general about that rifle by our front door – but I clearly recall Burt sitting on the couch, showing me how to load bullets into the chamber and then taking them out, saying, “See? No bullets,” pulling the trigger and BLAM, shooting a bullet into the bag of dried dog food by the door.

Our gun-shy dog leapt out of his skin, and Burt, who was as shocked as I and the dog were, had the unmitigated nerve to say he had done it on purpose as an object lesson never to assume a gun is unloaded.

I’m not a big fan of guns. Our guns shot one bullet at a time, but now it’s a whole new world out there, more like a computer game. I remember not so long ago (to me) when an early computer game came out called Dark Castle. One of our typesetters used to play it and hated the part where she had to shoot ravens to get to the next level because she could hardly bear to hear their agonized caws. “Bang, caw, oh no!” would waft into the ad department.

We’ve come a long way from games like Dark Castle and Frogger to today’s mayhem on computers, in the movies, on the streets and in our schools.

Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks our progression as a species is somewhat warped. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at