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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Many New Facts

Lorraine Motel
Shelby County Register of Deeds
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Lorraine Motel view from boardinghouse window

Scene: The lobby of a South Bend fitness club on a weekday morning, mid-January 2022.

A group of retirees, stage right, sip coffee and nod along as a big, stentorian man holds court at a round table. He has luxurious silver hair, worn in the style of 60s-era Nashville, and a surgical mask dangles from his right ear – a flagrant violation of the gym’s mask rules but also an important part of this performance.

The man points an index finger.

“There are at least 52 people who turned up dead or missing after crossing Hillary Clinton!” he booms.

A bespectacled bystander, stage left, laughs out loud.

XXX

A true story, three winters into this no-end pandemic and more than five years after Hillary Clinton conceded electoral college defeat to Donald Trump. I encountered the coffee klatsch during a time when my wife and I were burning sick days to care for our boy after a positive test in his daycare classroom sent everyone into quarantine.

Please, let us talk about the crimes of Hillary Clinton! I’ll meet you in the basement at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria!

The greatest hits never age but what strikes me about this guy’s oldies show is how divorced from subsequent time it is, how stubbornly antediluvian, as they would say in The New Yorker. We live in a different epoch now. Many, many new facts have come to pass since Hillary Clinton’s political death. Many new facts.

Here’s one: The vaccination rate in Indiana is a smidge over 50 percent and will remain there until the Rapture.

XXX

Each January we rightfully mark the birth of MLK. There have been precious few Americans as intelligent or brave as Dr. King, and no others that I am aware of who spent their entire public lives under constant threat of death – in King’s case facing dozens of competing private bounties – until such time as they were actually shot dead. Lincoln faced similar threat for a scant four years before taking his seat at Ford’s Theater.

I admire Dr. King and abhor what happened to him but have found myself this dark January thinking about James Earl Ray. A violent, gun-toting, gun-using Nazi enthusiast and Confederate sympathizer; a bigot, liar, white supremacist and admirer of George Wallace. A wannabe mercenary in the race wars of post-colonial Africa, including apartheid Rhodesia, where Ray was headed at the time of his arrest in London. He would have enjoyed Jan. 6.

Ray killed MLK with a .30-06 deer rifle, during a different time in American gun culture, and he was arrested at Heathrow with a snub-nosed .38 in his pocket. Today he would be much better armed, with mil-spec rifles and pistols and detachable high-capacity magazines for all of it. I’ve been thinking about that, too.

One of the big-time local gun shops has a weekly promotions email and I watched all fall, through turkey, duck, goose and deer seasons, for evidence these very traditional firearm-based pastimes were even underway in Gun Land. Except for a couple deals on bird guns, you would never have known. These communications were and remain a bulletin of man-killing firearms.

The sunsetting of the assault rifle ban and the expansion of concealed carry and open carry and the whole doctrine of inviolate, absolutist gun rights – and the right-to-violence that undergirds these concepts – have led us to a place of danger and menace that would be familiar to Dr. King.

We are a nation under threat of death now.

XXX

A Chicago buddy likes to visit the firing range when he’s in town and we were there last fall when another shooter appeared and wordlessly walked to the far end of the platform. It was just the three of us. The shooter set up a pair of life-sized cardboard silhouettes, human head and torso, and placed them side-by-side about 10 yards downrange. He then returned to the firing line and began unholstering his pistol in a quick-draw from inside his waistline. Very specific movements, carefully executed. Draw. Point. Reholster. After 10 minutes, he began adding gunshots.

Draw. Point. Bang. Bang. Reholster. Ten minutes.

Draw. Point. Bang bang. Bang bang. Reholster. Double-taps to each silhouette. Ten minutes.

Draw. Point. Bang bang bang. Bang Bang bang. Reholster. Triple-taps. Ten minutes.

The shooter spent about an hour at the range – quadruple-taps, quintuple-taps, hundreds of total rounds – mechanistically honing a skill with but one real-world application.

“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King, Jr., Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968