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Loaded Stories

Memories and Tales of Fathers, 1970s California, and Other Complications

Personal Essay (2013)

Cover by Jeff McElroy

Loaded Stories is a personal essay about growing up in wild 1970s California, my hard-partying fathers, and how our lives were shaped by guns.


Introduction: Hi!

The first story—the tabloid headline, page 5—is that my father was murdered, shot, before I had a chance to really meet him.


1. Topanga Rattlesnake

The man who would later become my dad didn’t like me bragging about my father’s gunshot murder at all


2. Mountain Adventures

Big Bear Lake is a seven-mile-long, snow-fed reservoir nestled in a large valley high up in the San Bernardino Mountains.


3. Trouble in Connecticut

Everything changed when Cedar Lake Camp’s manager resigned and Billy aggressively pushed to apply for his position.


4. Bear City Fantasies

In high school, before another story came along, this one more loaded than the first, I had a weakness for daydreams wherein I inflicted some serious hurt upon villainous boys or men who had it coming.


5. Terror in Venice Beach

I don’t recall the way in which the story was told, only the basic facts that were communicated, not by Mom, but by Dad.


6. Leadville Stories

In 1994, after a year living the semi-bohemian dream in San Francisco, I embarked upon a Jack Kerouac/Henry Miller/Tom Waits romanticized wandering dropout adventure.


7. Murder in Tennessee

It was a warm, humid evening when I knocked on the door of my aunt’s aluminum-sided duplex.


8. Hollywood Handgun

I’ve never been shot, or even shot at, but I did have a gun pointed at me, and not just for laughs.


9. Loaded Stories

I’m no model of self-control, but over the years I’ve learned to contain my anger.


10. Big Bear Gun Stash

Dad had never gotten me interested in guns, but he’d still managed to drop a bundle of weapons in my lap.


11. Breakdown in Vermont

In the end it wasn’t the booze and drugs—or even a loaded gun—that did Dad in: it was the cigarettes.


12. Mom, Coast-to-Coast

As a young adult I came to realize that, when it comes to most of the biggest things, I was a lucky kid. I had my mother.


13. San Francisco Closet

Isn’t every American born with a gun in his or her hand?