Let’s talk about being a stupid teenager, and how that almost got me killed.
My freshman year of college, I fell in with the wrong crowd. While other students were joining fraternities and making lifelong friends/drinking buddies, I joined a different kind of club. I joined the Medieval Society. In case that name isn’t descriptive enough for you, I joined a club that was theoretically supposed to study/celebrate medieval society… but mostly just played Dungeons and Dragons. That’s… like the same thing, right? Look, we were supposed to have a “living” chess game in the quad one time, but organizing things is hard, and… We tried, okay!? But, yes, the point is that we were a big group of nerds, so I fit in almost immediately. I was welcomed with open arms! And I had a Dreamcast!
And, if I’m being completely honest, there were a number of “adventures” with that gang that could have led to… grievous bodily harm. Don’t tell my mom, but I’m pretty sure I was sealed in a cardboard box, and then rode around campus on the roof of a car. That… somehow seemed like a good idea at the time. “Bopper Weapons” were constructed crudely, and tetanus shots may have been required. We weren’t allowed on the roof for a very good reason, but windows were fair game, and… Oh man, the more I think about it, the more I’m surprised I lived to see 20.
And then there was the time I really almost died.
It was a crisp December morning. Actually, scratch that, I just remember it as “morning” because it was my freshman year of college, and “morning” was defined as “any time before 3 PM”. Regardless, it was a nice enough day, and I was filming a zombie movie with my friends. Jim (real names used because I don’t have enough foresight or consistency to use the pseudonym “Tim”) was part of the film program at our school, and he wanted to create a sort of Romero-pastiche. Please note that this was a million years ago, and well before zombies were trendy. Just want to be clear on the simple fact that we were never cool. Anyway, because of my movie star good looks (Alan Alda is a movie star), I was chosen as the star of the piece, or at least the one remaining human. The rest of my fellow cast members were zombies, and I was the lone survivor who would, in the end, blow his brains out rather than join the hordes of the undead. This act of final defiance would, of course, require a prop gun.
And that simple prop gun nearly sealed my fate.
Let’s set the scene a little further, as I don’t want there to be any questions about what was happening here. First of all, we were filming this movie on campus, and we had done so the week before without incident. Jim, our director and filmmaker, had a permit, and permission to film his school project on school grounds. It was a Saturday, and this was predominantly a commuter college, so campus was fairly deserted. And, again, I can’t stress this enough: with the exception of myself and a few camera caddies (including the aforementioned Jim), everyone was in tattered clothes and zombie makeup. Granted, the tattered clothing could have been typical college chic, but it was rare a group of people could coordinate such a look on a Saturday afternoon. Oh, and, yes, as mentioned, there were people with video cameras, which, given the epoch/school funding, were not the tiny, “cute” cameras of today, but something more akin to one of April O’Neil’s gigantic accessories.
Point is that, even from a distance, a layman should have been able to identify that something “fantasy” was happening here, and not, say, a mysteriously very quiet shooting.
But one campus security guard apparently did not get the memo, and drew a gun on me while demanding that I freeze.
And I’d be lying if I said I never think about that very specific moment. I was filming a movie with my friends. These friends, it should be noted, were not the most serious people in the world. After all, after we were done with this bit of “business”, we were probably going to hit the school cafeteria and see how many dessert toppings we could pile on a waffle (scientific answer: ∞). We were a generally optimistic, lighthearted group of people, and took very little seriously. This was bound to change over the years, but we were all fresh-faced, and practically teenagers. Actually, scratch that, the majority of us were teenagers. I think only one of us was old enough to (legally) drink. We were stupid teenagers, and, while we might have also claimed to understand all of the secrets of the universe… we were also pretty likely to puke week old sushi and tequila because we somehow thought eating week old sushi and tequila would end in anything other than tears. So with these (soon to be) life-long friends by my side, I felt pretty safe and… Funny? That was the general mood, ultimately, things were fun.
So you’ll forgive me if I reveal that my first impulse was to use my fake gun to challenge campus security to an Old West-style duel.
To be clear, I did not do that! But it was my first impulse. My absolute first thought was that this was a “fake” situation, and this could not possibly be a real life person training a real life weapon on my fragile, fleshy body. My brain could literally not comprehend that I had just gone from “a fun afternoon with friends” to “literal mortal danger”. That’s the thing about guns: they kill. They are designed to kill. Once a gun is introduced to a situation, someone could plainly die. In this case, had I made the wrong move, I would have died, right there, a corpse bleeding out on campus grass.
And I want to say that this security guard was a kind, level-headed fellow who immediately realized his error. But the reality is that I dropped the gun and held up my hands (still not really believing this was happening), and the guard, who could not have been any older than 25, proceeded to call us “retards” for brandishing a fake gun. Again, we had a permit, it was already a secluded section of campus, and, unless a zombie cult had started up in the last few months, it was pretty clear these cameras weren’t here to film a documentary. But, regardless of all obvious evidence, Big Hero Security Guard was going to save the day from 100 lb. kid with a fake gun, because think of the carnage that could be caused with that apparently very, very quiet gun. That’s certainly worth someone losing their life!
So, if you’re curious about the zombie shoot, we were “politely asked” to leave campus for further filming adventures, and we wound up relocating to a friend’s surprisingly post-apocalyptic backyard for further video hijinks. I mimed blowing my brains out, and my friends dined on raw liver that you were meant to believe dribbled out of my skull. It took all freaking day, and was a comedy of errors our director still recounts to this day, but it did wind up actually, ya know, ending.
But one thing hasn’t ended, and that’s the gun control debate. I like to think my feelings on the subject are pretty clear, but I hope this story makes one thing obvious: kids are stupid. In a life or death situation, there are roughly 50/50 odds that someone will make the right decision on a good day. In what was once a safe, peaceful environment, it is very easy to misread the situation, make the wrong call, and be killed for your mistake. I absolutely know this from experience, and it is nothing short of a miracle that I survived being a dumb teenager with a fake gun. But there would never have been the threat of death without a real gun in the mix.
Keep guns out of our schools.
Post script: And the other obvious statement is that I survived because I was/am white. We’ll talk about that more on Friday…