Saying it was indecent of me to be driving around with a bare gun rack in my new pickup, Cyrus and Bebe made me go with them to the Southern Hospitality Gun, Knife & Doll Show. I didn't like guns and told them so. I believed they carried violence within them like dark clouds and acid rain. I wasn't much for knives either. My Swiss Army knife didn't count, being more an all-purpose utensil than a blade. Dolls . . . would that be American Girl or Barbie? Neutered? Inflatable? Either or, I never played with dolls.
         Cyrus said the jerry-rigged tent city was a Dirty South institution. We could have burned a full day combing through half the wares. Since we arrived shortly before last call, he urged a tight formation, maneuvering us through the mob with the skills of a hardcore mosher.
         Admitted free of charge, public servants and military personnel were out in force, jostling for photo ops with celebrity merchants of Safety, Security & Self-Defense. Bebe nodded at the skinheads and militiamen, their eager eyes too close for consciousness. Cyrus pointed at the R-2 patches on many of their tactical vests. Geared up for the American Revolution II, he said. In a spontaneous game of ID the Redneck, they scoured for telltale signs: mullets, wife beaters, cut-off flannel shirts unbuttoned to the waist and what Bebe called "them fugly moustaches." I fingered the churchgoing folks, pink-cheeked men and women who could have been doctors, ministers, teachers, insurance brokers. In polo shirts and khaki or plaid shorts, they carted their kids, some in strollers and baby slings, from one spotlit stand to the next, as if bargain-shopping at the mall.
        The smell of fried dough fueled the carnival atmosphere. Blasts from the shooting range at the far end of the grounds evoked a war zone. On tables under awnings at the corporate booths, soft halogen lamps gave the arms an allure that blocked out all else. These were weapons one could cozy up with beneath the sheets, barrels and blades glistening like the legs of fantasy carwash girls, who just so happened to be sauntering the aisles, bearing gifts of lemonade for overheated attendees. Dolls, Cyrus said.
         The event's main attraction—guns and knives—came in every conceivable style, from standard rifles, shotguns, pistols and revolvers to exotic semi-automatics and M16s, the ultimate aphrodisiac for Constitutional Militiamen. Most of the models were contemporary, though we did spot a few vintage pieces dating to the Civil War. All the major manufacturers were represented, Cyrus explained. Familiar names: Remington, Colt, Winchester, Beretta. The knives included machetes, stilettos and Harley-Davidson potato peelers. There were also niche accessories, priced to go. Our favorites: Rebel With a Cause ammunition belts, Breathe E-Z gas masks and "The Betsy Ross Cookbook," a how-to guide for aspiring bombmakers.
         Cyrus expected we'd score with this indie dealer of "Premium Pre-owned Products" who also sold red-white-and-blue caps with slogans of civic pride: U.S.A. #1, The President Is the Commander-in-Chief, A Friend Indeed Is a Towelhead That Bleeds. "The Savage 110 7mm Magnum," the vendor said, handing me a sleek gun from the couple dozen on display. "A fine choice for fire power on a budget." His salt-and-pepper fugly matched his silver-blue eyes. "This here's your basic bolt-action, long-range, precision instrument with a factory-mounted Simmons scope."
         I looked at Cyrus.
         "Just hold it up like you're gonna shoot somethin, see how it feels," he said.
         "As you can see," the vendor went on, "it's got a sturdy fiberglass stock, very modern, a twenty-four-inch barrel and a blue-steeled finish that'll keep it rust-free." He took off his Commander-in-Chief cap, wiping his brow and thinning hair with a red bandana as I pinned the gun against my shoulder, cocked my head to the side, shut one eye and peered through the scope. I saw the ex in the crosshairs.
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