"Hi, I'm Ruger"
...in which a familiar gunslinger enters the saloon
Initially, I found Ruger irritating because he was a D&D freak. I knew these dungeon master types all too well, and this kid was straight out of Gen Con, rambling on about halfling hit points and dragon dexterity. I was often trapped behind the circulation desk in situations like this, like an understanding saloonkeep, minding my little tavern. Usually, I was enduring podunk student monologues about incarcerated family members and that bitch of a shift manager at the Dollar Tree. But the rap from DJ Warlock is always more painful, void of relatable realities as it is, and no amount of wide-eyed, silent pleading on the part of the victim can make it stop. Worse, it’s completely predictable. You know what you’re in for as soon as you spot the Rick & Morty t-shirt.
I’m always fascinated by these characters you meet in life who come straight out of Central Casting. The plantation blueblood who sounds just like Foghorn Leghorn. The jazz pianist who calls everyone “cat.” The Alpine Austrian with an actual, no-shit monocle. There’s something reassuring about people who fit the stereotype perfectly, as if life were one big Aaron Spelling production, complete with a desk-pounding squad commander who’s had enough of your renegade policework.
At least it would have been comfortably predictable had Ruger remained just another gamer dork, never having revealed the real character fate had rolled up for him. Ruger was a gun nut. Not just a firearms fan, but a conspiracy-addled paranoid, obsessed with weaponry, previously homeschooled on a rural compound by crackpot militia parents. He was dim, eternally defensive, and quick to anger when he felt “disrespected.” He loved Alex Jones, and he shook with fear and excitement when he talked about the potential of combat gear. Ruger was a Single Shooter. He might as well have had it printed on business cards.
Mass shootings were something the college staff speculated about a lot. My little library on this satellite campus was dead-center in the building, framed in glass like a Chevrolet showroom. Once a determined shooter decided that the time of cleansing was nigh, posted the manifesto on Reddit, and slipped into his cammies, the first thing he’d see upon entering the building was me. The eight-dollar-an-hour security guards, who came and went frequently during my tenure, all assured me that they would be far away from my location, phoning an actual cop, when the shrapnel started flying. But where would I be? There was no back door in my little fishbowl. My only option would be to confront the shooter directly. “Give me that! You’re not allowed to do that in here!”
That sort of talk was all in good fun until the potential shooter, a kid named after a goddamned firearm, introduced himself, his fear of the One-World-Government agenda, and his deep resentment of college instructors who dared to judge him with poor grades. In fact he introduced himself again and again: Gunboy used to hand me his English papers to proofread, and no matter how often I coached him about thesis statements and opening paragraphs, his first sentence in each paper always read, “Hi, I’m Ruger.” As if he were kicking off another installment of his You Tube series. This was the level of not-getting-it mama’s little sniper was operating on.
But the fun didn’t stop there, because every single paper he wrote, regardless of the assigned topic, became a meditation on the subject of…you guessed it! Whether expected to write an overview of a Faulkner short story or explain a passage from Hamlet, Ruger instead filled his paper with information about target accuracy and tactical maneuvers. His essay on The Yellow Wallpaper was an informative how-to guide for surviving a full-scale assault by invaders, who have not only surrounded your home with military-grade weapons, but set fire to your garage. My only feedback on that one was to ask what the reader had theoretically done to coax the ire of these assassins. But what would a stereotype know about character motivation?
That’s the problem with stock characters; they don’t know they’re typecast. Ruger had no idea he was the Single Shooter. He didn’t know these essays were being kept in a file in the Dean’s office, along with detailed reports from college personal about his activities and comments. He didn’t understand how perfectly he fit the profile. And this, I considered, might be the key to circumventing his inevitable spree. Maybe someone should just explain to him, I thought, that his inevitable Day of Reckoning wouldn’t be a surprise at all. That it would not only be completely predictable, but cliché. Tiresome. So last century.
And truthfully, sadly, I think we really are pretty bored with this character. Young, white, mentally defective male with a gun boner, cranked up on Art Bell and 4-Chan memes, brimming with resentment of the libtards or the feminazis or the pedophiles in the pizza shop, strapping on his Doc Martins and his Big Lots assault rifle, wiping out schoolkids or K-Mart shoppers or college librarians, because being a regular old loudmouthed, put-upon shithead just wasn’t getting the job done. We’re all sick of this type; we’ve had more than enough of his senseless carnage. Yet here he is, season after season. What else is on?
Being bored by a role-playing nerd spouting off about levitation spells was harmless enough; now I felt like I was staring my death right in its acned face. But the tell-tale signs of MAGA-capped gun nuttery won’t get anyone banished from a college campus any more than rolling 12-sided dice would. This was a cowtown in the Deep South, after all. Well-armed, anti-government militia types, scanning the skies for black helicopters, were as common as teenage weddings. Red flags be damned; Ruger was ours until the day we all died. My only recourse was to stay on his good side, hoping he’d remember in his Columbinian stupor that I fully endorsed his paper on A Rose for Emily, the one that included pipe bomb recipes.
But then, one semester, no Ruger. Here I was, braced for Bilbo’s Armageddon, and the little psychopath just disappeared, deciding that college was no fun and heading back to the family bunker. No “Bye, I’m Ruger” or nothing. I was relieved, but oddly, also a bit sorry to see him go. I had grown accustomed to the feeling that every day I saw Ruger showing up to class unarmed was another day of safety, as if we had smoothed over his mood swings and kept the apocalypse at bay. As if we had control. Keeping Ruger cool, calm, and friendly – just another eccentric gamer geek – meant keeping the peace. Because the one thing we concerned Americans clearly could never do was prevent this lunatic bedwetter from getting his hands on assault weapons, no matter how much craziness we had on file. And now our period of influence was over, because our little stock character was gone, just written out of the series.
He was quickly replaced by a new student named Luther, who had a dent in his forehead from a farm accident and was unnervingly obsessed with Taylor Swift. Luther also liked to talk to me. About his father’s gun collection.
I saw Ruger a year later. He was puffy and bloated, and he told me he was now heavily medicated because he’d been having memory lapses. Great, I thought. Just what you needed, more brain damage. He staggered off, leaving me with an overwhelming sense of guilt. He’s someone else’s problem now. His Big Day, if it comes, won’t happen on my watch, in my saloon; it’ll happen at Bi-Lo or Hardee’s or whatever public place is full of the people who are stealing our once-great nation from level-five warriors like him. I won’t be there to tackle him or to try and talk him down, to remind him of the good times we had together, chatting about orcs.
I came back from the Christmas break that year to open up the library for a new semester. It took me a few minutes to notice what was different about the place, the present I’d received from the Dean. At the rear of the library, a back door had been installed.
(And let’s not forget Ashley’s website, jam-packed with portraits and other drawings, his highly-affordable prints and books currently available, his eagerness for your portrait commission, and his contact email, firstname.lastname@example.org, where he longs to hear from you.)