ONE day in eighth grade, I took a gun to school. I don't mean a toy gun or a replica.
I mean I carried a fully operational .22-caliber rifle - specifically a single-shot, bolt-action model - into my public school in New York.
That morning, when the school bus arrived at my house, the driver eyed the gun and asked why I had it.
I gave an explanation that apparently satisfied her, since she shrugged and said nothing more on the matter.
I took my customary seat in the third row, leaning the gun's barrel against the window.
Once we arrived at school, I carried the rifle into the building. It was in my hand, plain as day, not in any case.
Two teachers passed me in the hallway and said hello. One raised an eyebrow and nodded toward the gun.
"Wood shop," I explained.
She smiled and walked away.
The shop teacher, Mr. Wilcox, greeted me when I reached his room.
"You finally remembered it," he said.
He took the old rifle, which had belonged to my grandfather, and admired it. "This'll clean up nice."
Mr. Wilcox was the one who had given me the idea of bringing a gun to school. I'd seen him refinish the wooden stock of one of his rifles and asked if he would help me do mine.
He directed me to a workbench, where I took the gun apart and proceeded to sand the stock. It never occurred to me that I might have disassembled it at home, bringing only the wooden part.
After a couple of weeks, I took the refurbished gun home, again walking freely through the halls and again taking the bus, without incident.
This was in 1981. But what made this now-unthinkable episode possible was less when it occurred than where.
I lived in Upstate New York, in the rural dairy farm country between Buffalo and Rochester, a place that had, and has, more in common with West Virginia than with Staten Island.
New York City, a good seven hours away, may as well have been the moon. My neighbors were farmers and lunch ladies and truck drivers, and most of us faced lives of hard labor.