A bizarre event I covered as a reporter was a big game hunting convention in Reno, Nevada. Two celebrities were there, former president George Bush (senior), and General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Desert Storm.
Held every year, the convention promotes the hunting of exotic game, animals you may never of heard of, because they’re so rare. I’m not necessarily against hunting, the dinner table of the frontier, pioneer American heritage and all that.
But I was totally unprepared for the sickening spectacle of two famous men shadowed by a crowd of 200 sycophants, security officers and members of the media, including myself. Wherever Bush and Schwarzkopf went, that’s where we followed, like a pack of hungry hyenas.
The heads of exotic animals were mounted all over the walls of the cavernous hall.
In a display booth was a picture of a guy leaning down, posing with a rare ibex he had just shot at the 14,000-foot level of some Andean peak. This had to be the last ibex left anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, and he had shot it and was evidently proud. The guy looked like one of those rich, Spanish men of leisure who would have a name such as, Alehandro de la vega el centro Jules.
I came to the conclusion he was either a phony using his money to play Ernest Hemingway, or had a kinky sexual hang-up about shooting and mounting rare heads.
This was obviously a rich man’s sport. In limp justification, a sign announced that some of the meat taken would be donated to the poor. When was the last time you were offered an ibex hamburger?
Bush and Norman were tight-lipped, exchanging a few stilted pleasantries with hucksters at their booths. From one we learned we could hunt a rare hedgehog on an island called K-12 in the Andaman Sea, wherever that is, if we’re willing to pay thousands of dollars.
“Hi general.” I inched closer. “Do you like to hunt?”
Schwarzkopf turned and peered at me, seeming surprised. “Sometimes,” he answered quietly.
A dopey-looking, baby-faced punk security guard in a uniform with a badge, who bore a resemblance to Richie Cunningham on the old Happy Days TV show, angrily pushed forward and said, “you’re not supposed to ask for comments.”
“I just did,” I replied with contempt.
I believe that Richie, a low-ranking convention cop enraptured by imagined power, wanted to summarily arrest me, throw me in a cell, and whip me about the face with a length of hose. But this wasn’t Bolivia (another favored hunting place). He couldn’t do it. So he stood by impotent, and fumed.
I didn’t push my luck. I never dared talk to Bush.
I felt sorry for Bush and Norman, recipients of fame, but also prisoners of it, their every word and move subject to scrutiny, paraded around like a couple of freaks. Rather than hunt rare animals, I thought they ought to stay home and take up chess.