A Day at the Gun Range

In West Palm Beach, many local families partake in a leisurely Saturday afternoon activity shooting pistols at Gator Guns and Archery Center on Okeechobee Boulevard. My experience at this huge, indoor firing range and gun shop was limited to a visit last year with my friend Chris who introduced me to the place.  Chris is something of an expert with his cache of guns, pistols, and hunting rifles.  My grandson Billy was here this weekend and considering my need to keep a 12-year-old busy, I asked Chris to introduce Billy to the basics of gun safety and target shooting at Gators.  As anyone who reads or watches television knows, the gun control issue is an urgent matter after the many tragedies in Nashville and elsewhere, with semiautomatic weapons behind the worst of the massacres.  As a responsible grandfather I believe a youngster from New York City should know more than what he reads and hears about guns in the news, and indeed a trip to Gator’s gun range was an enlightening experience for Billy.  First, he saw the massive and exhaustive collection of armaments on display and for sale there, all legal under Florida law.  The pistols Chris taught him to handle were small arms typically used by law enforcement.  Billy was very surprised to see entire families there—mothers and fathers, grandparents, and young children –all out target shooting with their weapons. According to the rules at Gator’s, if a child is tall enough to see over the table and is accompanied by a parent, they are permitted to shoot in the range. For many of the participants it was not just a leisurely outing but a practice round to keep their skills honed for safe handling and to burnish their hunting skills.  Some were there for the fun of target practice.  It was clear that from an early age they are held accountable for the proper use of a gun.  It is the duty of parents, especially in a gun-friendly state like Florida, to instruct their children about gun safety and when it is appropriate to use such a deadly weapon.  Most people at the range on Saturday owned their guns and kept them in their homes.  It makes sense that the children learn how and when to use them.   There were instructors also working the range helping the newbies to the sport.  Others seemed to be professionals, possibly law enforcement. This is Florida—the wild west where the right to carry a concealed weapon is allowed without a permit.  It is a law that invites more gun use and gun education I suspect.  Billy left Gators clutching his paper target showing near perfect hand-eye coordination.  He came away from his time there with a new skill, and he was excited about wanting to go out target shooting again.  More importantly, he learned to respect the power of a gun in the hand and why safety and constraints are necessary for their use. 

All the Flags at the Bridge

Back in 2020, when Carl Butz and I first discussed the name of my future column, Carl immediately suggested “Here Back East.” “You live on the East coast,” he said, “–Florida, Long Island and Maine–so it is accurate and general enough that you can write about anything under that heading.” I was fine with it considering I did not fully grasp at the time how much I would enjoy sitting down each week in front of my old Olympia typewriter to tap out the 200 words or so that ultimately become a Messenger column. So here I am in Palm Beach a day after the historic news of the indictment of a former President – right in my backyard. Well not quite my backyard but a few miles south of it, at Mar-a-Lago, the permanent residence of our former President. After tennis yesterday morning, I hung the lanyard with my press pass around my neck and headed out. (Full disclosure – I am scheduled to be interviewed by the Secret Service for entry to the White House press conferences in the spring.)

The midday sun was high over the ocean as I drove past the historic wooden gates at the entrance of Mar-a-Lago. A few secret servicemen carried serious-looking weapons and stood talking amongst themselves as minimal lunch traffic went in and out of the club grounds. There was no former President greeting his club members that I could see. Unable to stop to query the guards about their morning routine now that the former President was preparing to travel north for his arraignment, I proceeded west over the Southern Bridge where Trump supporters routinely gather to catch a glimpse of him and cheer him in his motorcade on the way to his golf club in West Palm Beach, or perhaps to the airport.

Midway over the bridge a Palm Beach policeman idled on his motorcycle. Below him, partly under the bridge, were a group of a dozen or so supporters waving flags- mostly MAGA– so many flags they seemed to outnumber the people. People were milling about, some seated in beach chairs. The mood at the gathering seemed upbeat and the scene brought to mind the football tailgate parties outside of Shea Stadium in the 1970s. Parked beside the bridge was a smart, white BMW convertible with a mix of American and MAGA flags attached to the rear. Still, it appeared to be a weak turnout compared to the bridge rallies in years past, when the headlines drew out the fans. One such occasion was during the last impeachment trial. There were easily ten times the number of people then, barely contained in the permitted areas around the bridge entrance. The indictment of this former President has not seemed to arouse the same ire of his supporters, if the crowd count was any indication of their sentiment. It might have been the time of day—I was there during lunch hour. As the date for the arraignment grows near, I assume more supporters will be drawn to the Southern Bridge location to cheer on the former president. Or perhaps his supporters are awaiting his commands, as they did prior to the January 6 insurrection— the infamous day in history when the Capitol was stormed by American flag-bearing extremists. Here’s to the American flag, a symbol of our collective values and support of the Constitution. Yesterday on the bridge, the flag was made to appear symbolic of less than all we stand for in America.

What Would Mark Twain Say?

For the past several months I have been intrigued by author Mark Twain’s time out west.  I came upon a book entitled Mark Twain in California by Nigey Lennon, which gave me insight into Twain’s early journalistic years on the Nevada-California border, and then in San Francisco where he wrote for the Morning Call.  Prior to starting my research, I only knew Twain as the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

His career as a frontier journalist began following a stint as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River.  Samuel Clemens was his name by birth, but it was on the water that he gained his pen name, from the shouts in riverboat jargon for two fathoms –“mark twain!”– i.e. the safe water depth for steamboats.   He headed west after the start of the Civil War and, failing at mining the Comstock Lode, took up writing for the local papers.  This part of his life was of special interest to me because rumors have been circulating for years that Twain wrote for “The Mountain Messenger”– an assertion long disputed by Twain biographers and scholars, who allege that what appeared in the Messenger at that time under a pen name was only the reprint of an “unremarkable” piece he wrote for a San Francisco newspaper while “hungover.”   Journalism at the time barely resembled the rigorous, present-day “All the News That’s Fit to Print” style of The New York Times.  In fact, Twain wrote under multiple pseudonyms, including “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” and simply “Josh,” among others, and his journalistic focus tended to be on barroom “squabbles the night before…usually between Irish and Irish or Chinese and Chinese, with now and then a squabble between the two races for a change.”

 Notwithstanding the historical facts -or fiction-I thought it would be interesting to imagine, based on Twain’s own words, his view of current events if he were writing for the Messenger today.  So, what would be Josh’s take on the current political climate? Today everyone is squabbling, especially between political parties as well as politicians of the same stripe fighting amongst themselves.  Twain’s quip, “I breakfasted every morning with the governor, dined with the principal clergymen and slept in the station house,” might apply to Trump’s rapid decline in popularity among his own supporters after hosting controversial dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago.  On other issues, Twain’s habit of speculation with mining stocks led to an observation which might apply to the crypto-fraud debacle of today: “The wreck was complete.  The bubble scarcely left a microscopic moisture behind it.  I was an early beggar, and a thorough one.”  

 Twain was a frontier humorist who dealt on corrupt politicians.  He finished his California journalistic career in San Francisco writing humor, philosophizing and moralizing.  Twain would have found plenty to write about in the past year in America.  We could use a bit more of his ethics – and humor– these days.

A Letter to Ukraine

My Dear Beloved Mother and Father,

As I write to you from my well-lighted and warm home in America, I see images on the nightly news of our hometown, Kherson, being brutalized and bombed by the Russians.  In February, when the invasion of our country started, you made the decision to wait out the war, but by April it was no longer safe to drive the streets of Kherson with the Russian soldiers terrorizing the residents who were trying to survive, simply looking for food and shelter.  When you made the journey west to Lviv to find safe harbor I knew it would be dangerous but you made the right choice to go.  Though it is under Martial Law, at least Lviv is not occupied by the aggressors.

We know how fortunate we are to be here in the U.S. and think of you constantly.  When I look back on it, winning the green card lottery to emigrate to the United States in 2007 was a miracle.  I remember telling you both that Viktoryia and I were moving to America.  You were gracious and did not guilt us for leaving our home and country even though it was heartbreaking for you and us.  I know Vasyl leaving in 2019 to practice medicine in Slovakia was another blow to our nuclear family but you supported his decision as well.  Our lives outside of Ukraine are bright and promising.  I am attending law school to build on my education in Ukraine and hopefully someday I will be a practicing lawyer in New York.  My daughters were born here.  How fortunate we are here.  We can only be so happy though, knowing you are still suffering through this war with its many atrocities which you have described to me over the last several months—so much worse than what we see here in the U.S. news.  We do everything we can from here, focusing on raising monies through our non-profit organization, Help UA Inc., for purchasing, packing and shipping clothing, medical supplies, uniforms, safety equipment, hygiene products and other essentials to Ukraine.

We pray for your safety and health in your temporary home in Lviv and we look forward to the day when we can all be together again in a peaceful world.

Your loving son,


Simon Andriychuk is a 39-year-old Ukrainian American who has lived in the U.S. since 2007 with his wife and children.  An attorney in Ukraine, Simon has worked at my law firm since 2016 as a paralegal and is now studying for the New York Bar.  His extended family remain in Ukraine. This letter was edited.

Dinner at Mar-a-Lago

Driving out of Mar-a-Lago was a bit disorienting in the dark.  The Secret Service agent, dressed in black, directed us past several government vans through an exit onto Ocean Road, leading to Southern Bridge.  I soon realized we were using the private driveway of the former President as it was far off the main road where most of the traffic went in and out of the Mar-a-Lago compound–otherwise known as the “Southern White House” when Trump was in office.   Patti and I had been invited to a gala event there as guests of the Major of the local Salvation Army, to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the organization.  The Salvation Army is a faith-based charitable foundation which Patti and I support through their scholarship program. 

When I first received the invitation, I was uncertain whether we should attend.  It had only been two weeks since Trump broke bread with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rap artist Ye, both notorious antisemites.   That was on the heels of the subpoena raid by the FBI in August searching for government documents which Trump allegedly illegally removed from the White House.   Then an article in the Palm Beach Post reinforced how Trump sympathizers use Mar-a-Lago as a venue to curry favor with him.  All of this made me uncomfortable about attending the event.  But my friend Bill, who is head of the Board of Trustees at Salvation Army, assured me that the Salvation Army gala would not turn into a political affair.  The landlord would not be there to promote his recently announced candidacy.

Mar-a-Lago, as most readers may know, was originally the estate of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, built in 1927.  The exterior architecture is in the style of a Mediterranean villa, while the extravagant interiors could be described as Trump’s version of Versailles. The Salvation Army event was men in white tie and  women in long ball gowns.  It felt like something from a bygone era.  I found myself standing aside most of the evening observing the grandiose furnishings and architecture.  I kept looking for signs of the owner, but the only evidence were secret service agents milling about, identifiable by their earpieces and the official-looking badges hanging from their belts.  I must presume if Trump intended to make a surprise appearance the metal scanners would have been present, no cell phones would have been allowed and the women’s purses would have been searched.  The only telltale signs of Trump in the house was his name on the wifi and a single framed award at the entrance to the women’s bathroom, honoring his restoration of Mar-a-Lago.  I never made it into the men’s room, but having been to his golf club in the past, the walls there are filled with his pictures and awards. 

                My takeaway is that Mar-a-Lago will return to its historical significance as Marjorie Merriweather Post’s once magnificent home and not Trump’s preferred venue for favor seekers, once his political career ends.  Going by the comments overhead around the pool before dinner, the Salvation Army event was the beginning of the end of Mar-a-Lago as a club to “meet and greet” Trump.  Notwithstanding the fact that this was a Florida crowd, the attention to Trump will fade and membership to the club will not be Trump driven.  In my view, if Trump had shown that night, there would have been a “fire drill” – some would have headed over to shake his hand, but most would’ve headed for the door. But he didn’t show up fortunately, and Patti and I got a few dances in before we left.