Leftovers: What I can’t control and can’t ignore

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Despite my quest for simplicity, I bought an air fryer. Not just a puny egg-shaped air fryer, but a beast of a countertop appliance that needs its own ZIP code and also performs other cooking functions.

It bakes, broils, dehydrates, has rotisserie attachments, and will toast my sesame bagel. All of this is most welcome since my $20 (thanks, Facebook marketplace) toaster oven finally gave out. 

Natalie LaddAlright. I’ll stop this nonsense. 

Before you flip the page or click away, I’ll admit the last thing anyone gives a crap about is my kitchen appliances. I’m still getting acquainted with the beast, but even I don’t really care about it right now. 

Like much of America, I’m preoccupied with things beyond my control. But I cannot ignore them. Things like assault rifles sold to an age group with a disproportionate propensity for mental illness and violent acts. But many gun proponents, in that age group or not, are vehemently opposed to banning them.

Apparently, hunters and recreational or competitive target shooters see the AR-15 as a close cousin of the military M16. So for those not in a foxhole, the AR-15 is the holy grail of guns. Fans and collectors are intrigued by the ergonomics and accuracy of this tactical weapon. It’s light, versatile, offers a range of calibers, and runs in the $2,000 price range. For sane gun advocates looking past the Second Amendment and personal rights, the AR-15 is like a piece of fine art. A thing of beauty and craftsmanship.

After work on the day of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I went home and cried. It was only 10 days after the church shooting in Buffalo, New York, and I had barely stopped crying over that. And there we were, another shooting where an “AR-15-style rifle” was the weapon of choice. 

There is no frame of reference we can call upon to relate to the agony of the relatives of the victims killed in mass shootings. While still horrible, shootings that take place during a gang turf war don’t evoke the same response as those that happen in mosques, schools, malls, and concerts. We can almost understand gang bad guys shooting different gang bad guys because we see it on TV all the time. But the mentally ill or dark web-brainwashed young men who are killing the elderly in churches and children in schools leave us unable to process the fallout beyond a feeling of sorrow and fear that words can’t describe. 

The closest I’ve ever been to the unique, near epidemic strain of fear Uvalde parents experienced was on 9/11. The girls were in first and third grades and Lyseth Elementary School went into lockdown immediately after the second plane hit the towers. Miles away in Florida, President George W. Bush was reading to school children when he heard his chief of staff whisper, “America is under attack.” Life changed in an instant.

Dawdling around that day, I was doing the liquor and beer inventory at work. I was also thinking about the tragic Red Sox-Yankees game the night before, which is why there was a small TV on the bar with the news on and sound off. The moment I glanced up and saw what was happening in New York, I wanted to get out of there and get my babies from school. I wanted my children near me. Immediately. 

At the same time, some fool tried to rob a bank and was running around Monument Square with a gun, so the police put businesses and residences in the area on lockdown. It was agonizing. But, later that afternoon, I was reunited with my bewildered but safe children and praised the powers that be with everything I’ve got. 

My heart still races when I think about it. But we’d probably have to multiply that feeling by a billion to come close to a Uvalde mother’s sense of urgency as she waited outside her child’s school on May 24.

So, not that I wish this on anyone, but maybe the problem is that not enough Americans know how parents in Uvalde feel. Or Sandy Hook parents. Or the others. We all know how we felt on 9/11. The national sentiment strongly supported us going to war. 

But how can we collectively care enough about mass shootings? 

I choose to think most art aficionados would give up a signed Rembrandt or Piccasso to stop them, so why won’t the sane and reasonable gun people willingly let go of AR-15-style rifles? I don’t want to tread on anyone’s constitutional rights, but can’t we tighten the restrictions where it makes sense?

Maybe the AR-15 is like the beast resting on my kitchen counter. It has bells and whistles and does damn near everything an appliance could possibly do. But I was fine with the $20 toaster oven. It kept things simple and never left me preoccupied.

Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].

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