The Angels of 286 E. 2nd Street

In 1984 there were real life angels living at 286 E. 2nd Street in New York City’s Lower East Side. I know there were angels living there for a fact because even though I’m not an angel, I lived there too.  And the people in this building helped save my life, in large part, by helping me decide to continue taking part in it. You don’t get more angel than that.

I was held up at gunpoint early one August morning on a Brooklyn street in 1984 and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet, along with some bone fragments to keep it company, remains lodged in my brain. Knowing the wound can abscess at any time and, if it does, possibly end my life, is a full plate’s worth of reality to digest.

While it was the 84th Precinct of the New York City Police Department and the doctors and nurses in Long Island College Hospital that saved my life. It was the angels of 286 East Second Street that helped me decide to keep it, and then, live it.

My dictionary, New Oxford American English, defines the noun, angel, as “a spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God, conventionally represented in human form with wings and a long robe.” 

This definition perfectly describes the angels of 286, though being from the New York City’s Lower East Side, they didn’t need any wings – or robes, for that matter. It would have cramped their style, come to think of it.

I moved into 286 in the early 1980s. It was there I met, for the first time, Dane Arnold, Hart Faber, Joshua Holland, Zeke Kisling, Arthur May, Kenneth Mencher, Dominique Nadel, Dorrill Semper, Kathy Semper, Thomas Weatherly. 

Every single one of them, honest, compassionate, loving, strong. In truth, they are, every single one of them, some of the most extraordinary individuals I’ve ever known. 

Each one of the exemplified that singular wisdom of Henry David Thoreau by allowing themselves to be themselves.

“I learned this, at least, by my experience: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” 

Break for freedom – Day 14 (the One Shot Club)

Day 14 – Thursday, August 24, 2017 (The One Shot Club)

6:23 a.m. – 33 years ago today I was held-up and shot in the head. Like it or not, it’s been something of a banner over my life ever since. I remember Jim Brady, the White House press secretary for President Ronald Reagan who was shot in the head during a 1981 assassination attempt on the president, drawing my attention to the fact both of us lived with injuries that, by their very nature (We both lived with bullet fragments lodged in our brain.), would get us attention, and we should use the attention to help others understand the reality of brain injury, and the merciless reality of gun violence.

Jim left this life three years ago this month. He was a good, loving, and courageous man. There are people alive today because of the Brady Bill.

Jim is not the only person I’ve known who has survived being headshot. Or, as my late friend William would say, “The One Shot Club.” William was a member, so too were Kevin, Tyrone, Donald. We all really and truly loved and cared about each other. One day, William, me, Tyrone, and Donald were standing outside in a small circle talking. Suddenly a big smile burst onto Tyrone’s face. “Hey, we’re all standing?”

This observation was followed immediately by all of us of us putting our arms around the shoulders of man on either side of us. We were all smiling, no one said a word. The reality Tyrone’s question brought to the fore didn’t require words. Had any of us said a word in those next moments, the spiritual beauty of the experience would have vanished. In short, we loved each other, our respect for each other was bullet proof.

8:01 a.m. – Home after cool, crisp, enjoyable walk. The walks are becoming easier. Anxiety down a good 80 percent. This means I’ll soon change the route again, and add distance. When you’ve reduced your opponents’ punches to weak jabs, go to the next level, challenge its harder punches, and punch back.

Here’s to every member of the One Shot Club, I love each of you with all my heart.


For Donald, Jim, Kevin, Tyrone, & William

Break for freedom – Day 10 (The bullet)

Day 10 – Sunday, August 20, 2017 (The bullet)

7:51 a.m. – Back home from my walk. I looked up around 6:40-something this morning and said: “I want to go out.” In short order, out I went into the early morning cool.

I did not get as sweat-soaked today. I think (I don’t want to say this too loudly) I may be beginning to carve away power from fear. If you happen to bump into fear at a social event, please don’t let on. Fear is quite the control freak, any sign that someone is breaking free of its grasp makes it angry.

For whatever reason, perhaps because this is the month I got shot, I found myself thinking of the bullet lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain during the walk. The brain has no nerve endings, so I don’t feel it. If I were to identify one disappointment linked to its presence, it would be this; I don’t set off airport alarms. I had plans of approaching an airport metal detector and bowing my head forward so it would be the first to thing enter its realm. My thought was, the bullet will set the alarm off, the inspector will point at my head and ask, “So whattaya got in there?” and I’ll respond, “You’re never gonna believe this.” But, alas, these detectors don’t detect lead.

The bullet has been part of my being for most of my life now, 33 years the 24th of this month. It has done its damage, and no doubt plays a role in my life, to some degree. It has its limitations. Name one, you ask? Sure. It couldn’t stop me from taking my morning walk today.



For James Scott “Jim” Brady aka Bear

Walking on eggs, patience, facing death & willpower

I’m a patient man but I fought too hard for my life to walk on eggs for anyone all the time (back to this in a minute). I was held up and shot in the head in 1984 and live with the bullet lodged in my brain. The bullet tore a path that extended more than half way through the frontal lobe.

Surviving that, as you might imagine, requires you fight like hell for your life.

Along with my brain injury, the shooting experience contributed to a formidable PTSD presence in my life. For me, PTSD means certain events, sounds, smells, situations, and so on, cause flashbacks and flooding. Flooding means a particular emotion or emotional condition has overwhelmed the person’s in-the-moment experience. Stopping it on a dime is impossible. In my case the emotional condition most likely to flood is terror.

Knowing I’m safe intellectually doesn’t stop the terror. It takes hours for the terror to subside.

Okay. The egg thing,  patience, and willpower. Some years ago my friend (and in my heart, my brother) Dane Arnold, said, “You’re too patient with people.” Trust me, he said that to me more than once and he was right almost every single time. I’d be allowing someone to take advantage of me in one way or another, giving them chance after chance, when I should’ve cut them loose.

I rented a room in my lower east side apartment and one of my tenants was horrible about paying rent, cleaning up after herself in any of the common rooms. She had a marked talent for the woe-is-me ballad. So, I let things drag on until I finally realized she’d mastered the ballad but never lived the experience. The switch, as they say, flipped, and the she was out.

There are times people think patience, or, as the more common saying goes, niceness, is a sign of weakness. I can think of no bigger myth. One of the gifts getting shot in the head gave me is the awareness that the following paragraph describes an experience that underscores the active presence of willpower

Here’s the experience:

I am lying on the ground bleeding to death. I’ve been shot in the head and the top of my head’s been blown off. I can’t feel anything below my neck.  I’m blind. It’s around five in the morning on a residential street, it is dark and no one is out. I am alone and I know it. A few moments later I realize I’m standing up. My vision is back and I’m connected to my body again but I have no memory of standing up. But the truth is, I did. And I was alone.

I may still be too patient with people at times. You see, I know a lot of people who’ve been pulverized by life so badly trusting those around them is a steep climb. An impossible climb for some, sad to say. But before I disengage, I’d like to know I I did all I could. Sometimes too much, perhaps.

Thing is, I’d rather be guilty of being too patient than not patient enough.