30 years ago today

Thirty years ago today I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet remains lodged in my brain. If you think this is a difficult day for me, it is anything but. In fact, the anniversary of the shooting finds me with an extra spring in my step, as the saying goes. First, the remarkable truth and gift that I still have my life is never lost on me on this day. That truth has a little extra glow to its already formidable luster.

I don’t spend a lot of time (anymore) thinking about the details of that morning. I was held up by two people, one, a teenager, was the shooter. I never did see the second person, the one who emptied my pockets while the kid held the gun to the side of my head. It was around five in the morning and it was dark and no one except the three of us was around.  After the person relieved me of the $63 in my pockets, the kid shot. I came to on the ground and somehow, I have no idea how because I have no memory of it, I got back to my feet. Soon a voice from down the street called out to me. I saw a slender man in pajamas hurrying towards me. I would later  learn his name. Mark Jenkinson. He was and is an extraordinary photographer and gifted writer.

The reality of that experience was, and in some respects, still  is,  out of my comprehension’s reach. I didn’t learn how far out of reach until the first year anniversary when I got together for dinner with friends, including Mark, at the 7A Café in the Lower East Side.  It was Mark who introduced me to  how beyond my comprehension’s reach that morning was, and how remarkable the human mind is at getting us through life’s rougher waters.

We sat together at dinner’s end and I told him my memory of that morning. That I’d heard him call out and when he reached me he took me by the arm and said, “My wife’s calling the police and ambulance,” and how we began walking towards his house and how I could see he was struggling to stay composed because I was bleeding profusely (20 percent of your body’s blood supply is in your head) and how when I saw police cars from the NYPD’s 84th Precinct in Brooklyn coming up the street I pulled him into the street and flagged them down because I was afraid they wouldn’t see us in the dark and that would mean the end of me.  And, how, when they stopped, I got into the back of the lead cop car under my own steam.

Mark gave me a gentle smile and said, “You’re completely wrong. The only thing you’re right about is you were lucid. The fact is you kept falling down and getting up when I saw you.” He went on to explain that he was laying me down on the front steps of his house when the police arrived and that I had to be helped into the back of the cop car. His more accurate memory of that morning was, while emotional to absorb, comforting because it made more sense. I realized that my memory of that morning reflected the mind’s capacity for survival. My mind was only allowing me to perceive what it could handle. Had it let me know the reality of my physical condition my ability to be lucid would have perished, and I probably would have to.

So, here’s to the miracle of life. Here’s to the all too few truly courageous and compassionate people like Mark, and lastly, here is my message to you. Remember to live. Please remember to live.

No to Bloomberg – Yes to NYPD & First Responders

I do not support New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his re-election bid. His understated style kept his arrogance out of the spotlight until he decided to overrule  the will of the people and dump term limits. Mr. Bloomberg thinks he is able to help NYC face its challenges better than anyone else. I don’t believe he believes that. I think he is addicted to power like many others. After all, he is one of many elected officials who fall foursquare under the observation Abraham Lincoln made when he said, “Most men can handle adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Bloomberg took the test and failed miserably.

Having said this, it seems the New York’s Police Benevolent Association, the largest of the NYPD’s unions, will endorse Bloomberg.  There is no human being on the face of the earth who respects the NYPD any more than I do, nor is there anyone who owes them more than I do. I owe them my life. It was Brooklyn’s 84th Precinct that responded with breathtaking speed when I was held up and shot in the head in 1984. One item in my bucket list is to save the life of a aw enforcement officer before my time is up.

So, let me say something to Mr. Bloomberg. If you win re-election, increase the NYPD’s starting pay. I know it was increased to $41,975 as of August 1 this year, but it should be much higher than that. While $41,975 may be nice pay in the rural areas of the state, it is disgracefully low for anyone trying to make ends meet in the pricey five boroughs. After all, Mr. Bloomberg, you and I and anyone paying close attention to your actions, know you are slowly but surely selling off the city to the wealthiest folks. The least you could do is make sure that the NYPD and, while you’re at it, the starting salaries of other first responders, are as high as any in the country. The starting base pay now for NYC firefighters is a $36,400, the starting pay for EMS professionals is $27,295, and the starting pay for paramedics is $37,346. There is no excuse for pay rates so low in NYC.

Raising all their starting pay should not be a problem for you. If you can overrule the will of the people for your own self-interest, perhaps you can do something for those who give their lives to save other peoples lives the pay they deserve. It’s the least you can do, Mr. Mayor. The most you can do, by the way, is resign.

MEMOIR EXCERPT: I REMEMBER

Dear Reader,

From time to time in this blog, though not in awhile, I publish an excerpt from the memoir I am working on. I am closing in on the end of this task, a scary and emotional proposition. When writing the following piece, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. In fact, when it got to the part where the young man is begging for his life, I had to get up and leave the writing table. I did not return until the next day. It is striking to me how one can have a memory, much like something on a shelf, and manage its presence with some semblance of composure, yet, when you write the memory, you take it down from the shelf and live it. And then there is little shelter. Anyway, thank for for taking the time to read this, and I hope your life and the life of your loved ones is going well.

Peter S. Kahrmann, April 7, 2008

_______________________

I remember.

It is 1981 and I am walking down Court Street in Brooklyn with Charlie, a friend of mine. We hear angry voices behind us yelling and screaming. We turn and see a young black man running his heart out down the center of Court Street. He is coming towards us and he is being chased by maybe 20 angry young white boys, mostly teenagers. The young black man who looks to be in his twenties runs past us. His face is lit wild with terror.

Voices scream, “Get that fucking nigger! Get that nigger!” I tell Charlie get to the other side of the street, lets stay with this.

We are running on either side of the angry crowd of young whites now, watching what happens. Some are carrying sticks, pieces of two-by-four. One carries a piece of rebar about the length of a baseball bat. I am hoping the young black man will get away.

He doesn’t.

They catch him and the angry young white with the rebar slams it across the back of the young black man. He crumbles to the ground. He trys to get up but another angry young white breaks a piece of wood across his back. The young black man wobbles upwards and is downed again when a bottle is smashed across his head. There is blood now. He is on the ground screaming. “Please God don’t kill me! Please God! Please God! I have a wife and children! Please God! Please God don’t let them kill me!”

I lock eyes with Charlie and motion for him to call the police. I move fast into the crowd, reaching the young black man through a barrage of kicks and pounches. There is a pause in the violence, a sudden quiet, the angry mob does not know what to make of me. I pull the young black man up into my arms and hold him against a parked car so it shields him on one side. I shield him on the other.

Some in the angry mob try to reach past me and punch him. When this happens, I push the young black man into a crouch so he is out of reach and aim hard words back at the crowd, now nothing more than a single rage-filled being: seething, pulsing, breathing as one, dripping with hate.

I say, “What the fuck are you doing? You really want to kill him? You want to go to jail for him?”

One reaches in again. I shove him back hard and our eyes meet. I know if this mob explodes into us I will have to damage or kill someone quickly. Suddenly a big Italian man joins me in protecting the young black man. He is older than all of us, huge and burly, powerful, no nonsense. His presence nearly stills the mob completely. Later I find out he is one of the powers in the neighborhood and deeply respected by all.

Police units arrive and take the bleeding terrified young man to the hospital. I thank the big Italian man. He says, “Hey, I hear him say he got a wife and kids. That’s all I gotta hear. The man’s got family.”

The police say they are taking the young black man to Long Island College Hospital. The police are from the 84th Precinct, the same precinct that will save my life and take me to the same hospital just three years later.

NYPD AND FDNY STARTING PAY IS A DISGRACE

Maybe it is just me but I think if you agree to take a job exoects you to give up your life to protect mine, your starting pay should be more than $25,100 a year. In fact, it should be more than $36,400 a year. These are the starting annual salaries for the New York City Police Department and the New York City Fire Department, the NYPD being the lowest of the two.

Someone recently told me the starting salary for the NYPD was $25,100. I thought they were joking. “Are you kidding? That’s New York City, bro” I said. “You’re lucky if you can put food on the table for that kind of money.” He as not kidding. And so, I looked at the FDNY’s starting salary too. Yes, more than the NYPDs, but at $36,400, it is a disgrace.

Before I continue here, let me say that I am very biased. The NYPD’s 84th Precinct in Brooklyn saved my life in 1984 when I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range. It was just after five in the morning and a slew of police units were there in a flash. Some might say, So what? That’s there job. But no one with that mindset is thinking it through. These men and women raced to a scene where there was gunfire and one person wounded. They did not know me from Adam. They did not know what they were coming into. A gang fight? Was there still shooting? When they got to me, did they know if the shooter was nearby, and maybe crazy enough to shoot one of them? These are men and women with families. Some are parents, all are sons and daughters, all are human beings. And they raced to help me knowing damned well that where there is gunfire there is the chance of being killed. And there starting pay is $25,100! Are you kidding me? That is a base salary of $483 a week – before taxes. And for firefighters, the base salary is $700 a week – before taxes.

Now I know that there are those who will say, well, they get overtime and good benefits. Others will no doubt point to cases of police brutality and misconduct. My response to this is simple. Cops or firefights who break the law or engage in misconduct do so because of who they are as individuals – NOT because they are cops or firefighters. There is not a profession out there that does not have its fair share of fuck-ups. Have you taken a gander at Washington lately?

For anyone who disagrees with me and thinks I am wrong when I say the starting salaries should not be a penny less than $52,000 a year (Look, $1,000 a week for someone who has taken a job that asks them to give their life to protect yours and mine is not even in the same ballpark as overpaid) – I have a little exercise for you.

Sit back in your chair and relax for a moment. Take a deep breath, exhale slowly. Okay now. Close your eyes and remember the breathtaking courage displayed by so many firefighters and police officers on 9/11. Remember the images of firefighters going up the stairs while civilians were racing down the stairs to safety.

Now open your eyes and repeat the following sentence aloud. I think New York City Police officers should be paid a starting weekly salary of $483 and I think New York City firefighters should be paid a starting weekly salary of $700.

If you are not feeling sick inside right now, shame on you. If you are not feeling sick inside right now, you sure as hell do not have the strength of character displayed by the NYPD and FDNY on 9/11, and you sure as hell do not have the strength of character in the men and women from the 84th Precinct that saved my life. And if you are making $1,000 or more a week – you are probably overpaid.