The second time someone pulled a gun on me was during a robbery. At the time I was living in a tenement in a poor inner city neighborhood in Boston. The rent was cheap and it was situated between two major music schools – The New England Conservatory of Music and the Berklee College of Music. I was a struggling and very poor musician so it was an ideal situation. The thing was, I actually really liked my building and street, which was only one block long – it was filled with itinerants and fringe types which somehow made me feel comfortable. I lived in that apartment for almost ten years and had grown from a troubled teenager into an adult there. Lots of good times and plenty of bad, but it quickly became my home. I had finally escaped my wildly unstable and unsupervised childhood and the toxically poisonous family that went along with it. I was really happy for the first time in my life.
So late one night after living there for five years or so, I was coming home from a gig and it was probably around two in the morning. At the time I had a close friend in the band who would drive me home, and he’d usually come in and we’d smoke some pot, have a couple of beers and listen to some music before he’d head out.
It was one of those big old apartment buildings that was probably built in the 1930’s and my flat was in the basement. It was perfect for me.
To get in you had to first climb up some steps from the street, then pass through an unlocked door that would open into the little foyer, and finally you’d use your key to unlock the main door into the building. It was pretty big with maybe 60 apartments, every one of them filled with people who were strangers to me. Even though my street was near some colleges, it was considered too rough for students.
There was an old black lady, Mrs. Lewis, who lived immediately on the left as you walked into the lobby and she was the only one I really knew. She had lived there forever and for some reason took a liking to me. The feeling was mutual and she’d often invite me into her apartment to talk. Even though I felt close to her, I was young and always had somewhere to go. But I digress…
On this particular night we parked on the street and walked up to the front door, both of us stoned and tired. Even at this time of night there would be some people out, so seeing someone on the street or coming and going in building was completely normal.
I remember as soon as I opened the front door with my key being aware that somebody had slipped in right behind us – but that wasn’t all that unusual, it happened all the time. As humans we are, however, keenly attuned to our environment, even though we might not be aware of it. Clearly my antenna had picked up something unusual.
As soon as the door closed I heard the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked and we both instinctively stopped and slowly turned around. There, maybe ten feet behind us was a man pointing a pistol right at us – and I immediately saw his hands were shaking. I remember thinking “he’s scared – there’s one of him and two of us,” immediately followed by the realization that this is exactly how people get shot.
He was a skinny black dude with pants that were too big for him – like the kind they give you on your way out of Walpole when you don’t have any clothes of your own, ‘cuz all you’ve been wearing were your prison issues. I could see a car on the street right at the bottom of the steps with the engine running – it was cold out and you could see the hot exhaust condensing in the frigid night air.
Once again, time seemed to slow down as my mind became focused on giving him what he wanted and making it clear that we presented no threat. This was all instinctual, mind you – there was no time to actually think – only to react. But I was definitely hyper-aware that he had a loaded gun and was nervous in a neighborhood where it wasn’t unusual for people to get shot. Fortunately, my friend kept his cool.
We went through our pockets and gave him what little we had, which wasn’t much – a little money and our watches and wallets. But then he asked me to hand over my trumpet – at the time it was my life! I probably told him it was worthless but it made no difference. In a flash he was gone, with all our stuff – he got my friends guitar too. I remember being relieved he didn’t march us into my apartment and steal what little recording gear I had managed to save up and buy.
The coda to this story was my trip to the local precinct the next day to file a report in a desperate attempt to get my trumpet back. I never did, but my visit with the detective was hilariously disturbing. He was sympathetic to my situation, clearly recognizing me as a poor musician who had just lost his only instrument. I remember he got out a stack of large, dirty binders – the kind that hold photographs.
They contained the pictures of everyone in my neighborhood who had a record for theft and armed robbery. I was dumbfounded as I flipped through page after page, recognizing all the characters I saw in my neighborhood all the time. It seemed like everyone was in there – as if everyone I knew who wasn’t a musician had a record! After a while, all the mug shots just started blending into each other, there were just too many. When I gave up and said I didn’t see him, the detective helpfully offered to get out more books of mug shots of people in my neighborhood who had been busted for other crimes – assaults, sex crimes, murder, etc.
I remember thanking him and he offered to have one of the cops drive me home. I accepted and felt defeated and dejected but grateful to be alive.
I had lost some stuff, and although it was very distressing at the time, he didn’t take my life.
I would live to see another day.