It began with a pair of flip-flops and a stubbed toe. It ended with a .45 perched on the hip of a very angry man in line in front of me at the prescription counter.

Let’s back up. A few days ago, I was weeding my flower bed when I stubbed my big toe on the stump of a juniper tree. By the time I limped into the house in my flip-flops, the toe was bleeding profusely. I bandaged the thing and before long it quit bleeding. But something was wrong. I could feel some sort of foreign object in there.

Armed with a sterilized needle and a pair of tweezers, I started digging around the bottom of my toe later that afternoon. Sure enough, there was a splinter in there, too embedded for me to reach.

After supper that night, my husband tried his hand, using a fine-nosed pair of tweezers and the high-powered, lighted magnifier he uses for fly tying. Several times he got ahold of the sliver of wood, only to break off a few tiny pieces.

Meanwhile, I bravely carried on by alternately hollering my head off and chomping down hard on a washcloth. After all, hadn’t the gunshot victims under Doc’s care on “Gunsmoke” done the same thing, albeit aided by a little rye whiskey?

After 20 minutes or so of this torture, I called it quits. Time to bring in the professionals. The next morning I hobbled into the urgent care facility up here in Show Low. Moments later, I was in a minor-surgery room, where the physician’s assistant who would be helping me introduced himself as the janitor. Ha, ha, ha.

Eyeing him coldly, I said, “All I want is for there to be no pain.”

“Oh, I won’t be feeling any pain,” he assured me. Yikes, had I wandered into the White Mountains Comedy Club by mistake?

Blessedly, he quickly assumed a professional manner, numbing my toe and giving it a rubber-band tourniquet. “You’re gonna bleed like a stuck pig when this is over,” he warned. He was right. But at least the sliver of wood was now safely out, resting on a surgical tray.

“Juniper is one of the most toxic woods,” he said, making me feel a little better about seeking medical help for something so minor. Before leaving, I was given a tetanus shot and a prescription for antibiotics.

Ten minutes later, I was standing in line for my drugs at Kmart. Directly in front of me was a man of about 70, wearing camouflage pants and carrying a .45 on his hip, holstered. I knew it was a .45 because that’s what he was telling the man in front of him.

Kindred souls, they were soon engaged in all sorts of enlightening discussions, all beginning with the name Obama. I swear on my mother’s headstone every word of the following is true:

“You know, Obama’s an Aayrab,” said the man with the gun.

The other man nodded in agreement, then said, “When he declares martial law, the first thing we need to do is kill all the liberals.”

For a brief moment I thought I heard the Black Hawk helicopters swooping into the parking lot. And so it continued, with these two men freely exercising their First and Second Amendment rights, while I said nothing.

After all, Arizona is a stand-your-ground state. What if some feeble protestation on my part resulted in the man with the gun looking down at my swollen, throbbing toe? Would he feel sufficiently threatened to take action?

Coward that I was, it was only after the men left that I complained to the lone pharmacist on duty, who rolled his eyes in seeming sympathy. Clutching the drugs in my cold, if not-yet-dead, fingers, I then headed for home.

Today, the ache in my foot is gone, if not so the rest of me. And I wonder whose fear was greater — the man with the gun on his hip or me, too timid to exercise my own right to free speech.

Bonnie Henry’s column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at