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Heart of the city 

The Observer pulled a gun on a guy in my driveway Saturday night. It was the first time in 43 years that I've ever pointed a firearm at another human being on purpose. My father always told me never to aim a gun at anything you aren't prepared to kill. I was prepared to kill a man. It is a very dark intersection to pass through.

Our cars have been getting tossed on the regular at night. Items stolen, stuff thrown around, our doors left open so the dome lights run the batteries down. Four times in the past month. Saturday night just before midnight, I looked out, and there was a guy sitting in my wife's Honda, door open, him rifling through the car.

I have owned a Mossberg 12-gauge pump shotgun with a pistol grip for all the years we've lived in our little house in the heart of the city. It sleeps in a secret hidey hole I made for it, so it doesn't wind up where a lot of guns previously owned by law-and-order owners of firearms do: in the hands of some idiot kid who decided to break into my house for a look-see. A few years back, a guy here in Little Rock was killed doing exactly what I was about to: going out with a gun to confront somebody who was burglarizing his car. It's a mad world out there. I thought of that guy as I opened the door.

When I loomed up out of the dark, wearing only jeans, a hoodie and my son's shoes, and racked the shotgun to make the guy look up from the glove box of my wife's car, I'm sure the business end of that Mossberg looked very big in the streetlights. From the distance I was to him, an 18-inch barreled shotgun throws a pattern of double-ought buckshot about as big as a dinner plate. I never took the safety off, but my thumb was on the funny slide-safety Mossbergs have on their rump the whole time.

The guy in my wife's car put his hands up slowly and crept out slowly, hunched, an older man in a shabby coat and a ratty baseball cap. He said he didn't take anything. Said he was only trying to get something to eat. I told him to get down on his belly. Later, my wife and son told me I roared the words at him, though I don't remember it that way. The world, by then, had contracted to a dim bubble containing only me and the man I was prepared to kill, if his hands reached for a pocket or his beltline.

It was my wife saying my name from the porch, her voice afraid for me, that pulled me back to earth. I realized I've never been that scared in my life, and suddenly wondered what the hell I thought I was doing. I told the guy to get up and go, to never come back. I told him to run. He jumped up and ran all the way down the block with his hands up, and kept them up as he rounded the corner and disappeared.

I don't tell you any of this to brag. I did something incredibly foolish that could have wound up with me or a stranger dying in a driveway, maybe both. I'm honestly a little ashamed of myself. But after almost two decades of living in this town, having my house robbed four times, having the pitiful little engagement ring I bought for my wife when I was working a roofing crew and couldn't afford any better stolen, having the first computer my son built by himself stolen, having our dresser drawers rifled through while we were at work, having our cars gone through more times than I can count while we sleep, I came to a decision there with the door knob in one hand and a shotgun in the other. In that moment, it wasn't a man out there in that car at all. It was this city. I didn't want to get hurt. I didn't want to hurt anybody. I'm sure that's what they all say when shit goes sideways in the dark.

That may have been enough for me. After our son graduates from Central High next spring, we're talking about getting out of Little Rock. Not far away, but far enough. My frustration with this town could have gotten me or a guy tossing a car for loose change killed Saturday night, had things gone slightly different. And even though I love this place, no place on this earth is worth that.

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