BURNED-OVER DISTRICT, NY–Now that Russell has smuggled firearms onto the porch I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the BATF calls it a “compound.” Until then, herewith, via The American Conservative, a piece on my visit to my favorite gun show:


The Super Bowl is a mere anticlimax to the February edition of the triannual Alexander Gun Show, held earlier that day in a volunteer firemen’s hall a mile south of the home of the late Barber Conable, the statesman who represented us in Congress for 20 years. Conable was a poetry-reciting antiquarian Iwo Jima vet who used to scour the show looking for Indian arrowheads to add to a collection he had begun in boyhood. Now that was an American.

The phrase “gun show” reduces Ellen Goodman readers to enuresis. Yet Alexander is basically a rural swap meet, as friendships are renewed and shotguns and ammo vended or traded of a Sunday morning. (The attendees have all gone to 7 o’clock mass, I’m sure.) Alexander Cockburn once wrote in the Nation that the populist Left ought to talk to the folks at gun shows; genuine democrats would come away refreshed by an encounter with working and rural citizens who are pro-Bill of Rights, anti-corporatist, and open to radical alternatives. Gene Debs and Huey Long and Norman Mailer would dig Alexander; a Democratic Party financed by Wall Street and choreographed by upper-middle-class hall monitors barely countenances these peoples’ existence, though the lackbeards navigating the crowded aisles looking for a good cheap hunting rifle will make perfectly suitable corpses in whatever wars the think-tank commanders are drawing up in their tax-exempt covens.

I don’t hunt, but my dad is an NRA member, and I grew up in a gun culture whose rate of violent crime is equal to the number of farmers in President Obama’s cabinet. Contrary to the lurid imaginings of Beltway advocates of gun control–recently euphemized to “gun safety”–in Alexander I saw nary Crip nor Blood nor sullen stringy-haired school sniper in a Slipknot T-shirt stocking his armory.

I stop to chat—chat: what an epicene verb in this context!—with Mark Shephard and his parents Barb and Ken at their customary table. Shep has been my friend since I was 5 years old. We laugh about a previous Gun Show/Super Bowl Sunday, when, glutted on chicken wings and Genny Cream Ale, we watched Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal sail wide right in the 1991 game, which carved out a regional slough of despond later visited by the right-wing Calvin Klein model Vincent Gallo’s film “Buffalo ’66.”

Shep and I spent every other fall day of 1972 visiting McGovern headquarters in Batavia and stuffing our pockets full of “Remember October 9” buttons. He never stopped collecting.

So at Shep’s table I buy a button for Charles Goodell, the last U.S. senator from Upstate New York, who was appointed in 1968 to succeed assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. (Goodell’s son, Roger, commissioner of the NFL, will hand out the Super Bowl trophy that night.)

Charles Goodell was a native of Jamestown, which also produced Roger Tory Peterson, 10,000 Maniacs, and Lucille Ball–not bad. In the humanely flighty tradition of his hometown, Goodell joined the quasi-pacifist Oregon senator Mark Hatfield as the loudest anti-Vietnam War voices in the Republican Party.

Alas, as an Upstater, Goodell was too low-caste to ever win a statewide race. He proved to be a seatwarmer between carpetbaggers, as he lost a three-way race in 1970 to Connecticut’s own James Buckley, who enjoyed birds quite as much as Roger Tory Peterson had but thought the Vietnam War just ducky.

Buckley fell in 1976 to an actual New Yorker, Pat Moynihan, for whom I toiled in magnificent ambivalence, but DPM gave way to yet another carpetbagger, the militaristic schoolmarm herself, who resigned the seat to exercise her diplomatic muscle.

To his great credit, accidental governor David Paterson, in replacing Hillary, passed over heirheadess Caroline Kennedy and son of a bastard Andrew Cuomo to choose Kirsten Gillibrand, a pretty blonde pro-gun, anti-bailout Hudson Valley Democrat who might make a decent ticketmate with Sen. James Webb or Jon Tester in 2016. If, that is, she is not Goodelled in 2010, for Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and other metroliberals driven by hick-hatred are threatening a primary. Senator Gillibrand’s devotion to the Second Amendment will be sorely tested over the next two years—her colleague, the beyond egregious Chuck Schumer, has undertaken to educate her on the matter—but if she sticks to her guns, so to speak, the freemen and women of Alexander will have the odd sensation of Senate representation by someone who has not only been north of Yonkers, but has seen, up close, such rural exotica as a maple tree, a cider press, and a Methodist church.

I drive home from the gun show under the heatless midwinter sun singing along with the car radio to the touched Scott Walker’s tristful “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” I don’t know: maybe it will.  

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Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.


  1. Mr. Kauffman,

    Your poetic patriotism of Upstate is truly moving. It’s almost enough to convince me to stick around the area despite my horror at what the blind Bolshevik is doing to us these days. You’re a heartier localist than myself, especially if you’re drinking Genny Cream Ale. But summer is coming, Muckdog season is not far off–you can’t beat the beer garden in right field–and I’ve got a copy of Carl Carmer’s The Tavern Lamps are Still Burning. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  2. Okay, Josh, you beer snob. I’ll buy you a Rohrbachs out in the beer garden this summer. See you at Dwyer…

  3. Hoist a dram for Ms. Gillibrand because she is deeply into the vampire nest and will not be good for ANYTHING by July….September at the latest. The Goons shall re-educate her for efficient use within the Beltway Golden Barque and that, as they say, is the end of that. Thence, repair yourself to the Maxim Memorial Machine Gun Shoot in an undisclosed location in yon neighboring Yankee State and drown out your sorrows in a thirty minute free fire. Nothing so improves a roast beef sandwich as not-so-faint overtones of cordite.

    I once recovered from several hours in the Manhattan 19th Precinct for a seat belt violation…well, ok, I admit, there was the minor matter of a previous vehicular issue compounded by New York State Bureaucratic lapses but, nonetheless, aside from a convivial Cuban Cellmate (“give a couple Cubans a million bucks and they can put a 48 Ford pickup on the moon mang”) and an admonition from the arresting officer that the folks looking at the cameras covering our cell don’t like it when the inmates are having a good time….well, lets just say that the machine gun shoot restores one’s faith in sedition.

    And, as we all well know, the definition of Patriotism in this besotted lapsed-Republic has been backed right into sedition .

  4. I would like to formally “take back” my name calling of Gov. Patterson. He’s not my favorite but calling him a Bolshevik might be below the belt. And, to be fair, NYS government was a mess long before he took over.

  5. I know the left engages in name calling and “framing” on a reular basis, but calling people “Bolsheviks” is not a great response. First, we should be fighting over policy, not defining one another. But second, i don’t know how many Americans actually know who the Bolsheviks were and what they stood for. We’re just creating another label for “bad people”, like the overused “Nazi” tag. Eventually people get decensitized.

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