I received a gift today from my old friend Garrett’s father, Sandy. The gift was a casino coin that he had been carrying around in his pocket for the better part of 20 years. He finally decided that it was me who should carry the coin and invited me to his shop to retrieve it. I went the other day to get it and it brought back memories that I hadn’t thought of in a while. Many of my old friends know this story, but many of my new friends do not. Here’s the story of that coin.
I was thirteen years old and my friend Garrett Diamond and I would hang out everyday after middle school. This day, December 13, 1987 is one that I will never forget and I’m sure Garrett, his family, and my family won’t either.
Upon arriving at Garrett’s house after school, which was empty because his parents worked during the day, Garrett went off into his room to talk on the phone. Talking on the phone was a big deal back then because there was no cell phones. The only time you could talk on the phone was from a landline. Garrett, being one of the more popular kids in school, was talking this day to another popular student, a girl named Cory Gracjar.
As Garrett was indisposed, I decided to venture into his father’s home office, which was a forbidden area of the house. Garrett’s father was, and still is, the owner of a pawn shop, so not only did he always have interesting things lying around, he also had wide selection of guns. At that time in my life, I was very much into the shooting sports. I was well versed in gun safety and would visit the shooting range at least twice a month, even though my parents hated it. Many of my friend’s fathers were shooters and I would tag along with them every chance I got.
That being said, my journey into Sandy’s office that day was not for the purpose of looking at his guns, but to view his extensive collection of casino chips, which I knew he kept in his desk. He had notebooks filled with pages of plastic sleeves that held casino chips from around the world. Coincidentally, my grandfather had returned from a trip to the islands the week before and had given me a chip from one of the casinos he had visited. I was curious to see if Garrett’s father had the same chip in his collection.
So, while Garrett was on the phone on the other side of the house, I ventured to a place I was not supposed to and went nosing around in drawers that I had no business being in. Shockingly, trouble ensued.
After unsuccessfully looking through one of the notebooks, I fished another one out of the drawer. Unlike the first notebook, however, there was a thud when this one was removed. Looking into the open drawer, I noticed a pistol was laying on its side that had been propped up in between the two notebooks. Of course, with my vast knowledge of guns and gun safety, I thought it to be no big deal to pick this pistol up. This was mistake number one.
In examining the weapon, I ascertained that it was a Berretta .25 automatic with a pop-up barrel. This means that the barrel was literally on a hinge that let it tilt forward, sort of like a
shotgun. Knowing the first thing to do when encountering a weapon is to ensure that it is unloaded, I ejected the magazine. I then racked the slide to pop the round out of the chamber. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the round did not eject. I later found out that this is the reason for the popup barrel. To get the round out of the chamber, you pop the barrel up and pull it out. However, because I didn’t know that, I was now holding a cocked and loaded .25 automatic.
Finally realizing that this was not a good situation, I decided to just un-cock the gun, put everything back where I found it and get the hell out of there. So, I placed my hand over the top of the barrel to steady the gun, put the thumb of my other hand on the hammer to slowly let it up, and pulled the trigger. Well, my thumb slipped, the hammer dropped, and the gun went off.
Unbeknownst to me prior to this latest sequence of events, the fleshy part of my palm on the hand that was steadying the gun was actually sitting right in front of the muzzle. This was due to a combination of my grossly-fat hands (I was a much bigger guy back then) and the shortness of the Barretta’s barrel. This meant that when the gun went off, the bullet went into my hand, hit the very edge of my hand bone, and ricocheted out the other side.
Meanwhile, Garrett, who’s been on the phone this entire time, hears the gunshot and comes running from the other side of the house. Getting to the doorway of his father’s office and seeing me standing behind his father’s desk, he says, “What the hell just happened?!”
I replied, “I just shot myself!”
“Look!”, I screamed as I held up my hand as a stream of blood was making its way up my arm.
Well, Garrett flipped. Not kidding. Garrett starts repeating “Oh my God” over and over again, while running up and down the hall. He makes his way back into his bedroom where Cory Gracjar remained on the phone. He picks it up and says, “Cory, I have to go, Jon just shot himself!” and hangs up.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I was a bigger guy growing up. In fact, when I graduated High School, I was nearly 300lbs. Due to my personality and my upbringing, I was always a happy kid and always part of the “in crowd”. That being said, it was not beyond the realm of possibility in my friend’s eyes that the fat kid would up and commit suicide one day. Because Garrett had not specified to Cory where I had shot myself, she thought the worse. She immediately started working the phones and spreading the news that Jon Levine had, in fact, committed suicide.
Garrett comes flying back to the other side of the house to find me standing at the kitchen sink, bleeding. He’s in full-panic mode at this point and has started to interlace “My parent’s are going to kill me” in with the “Oh My God’s”. I, on the other hand (no pun intended), am somewhat calm and trying to think of way out of this. Surprisingly, my hand doesn’t hurt and is actually quite numb, which made me even more nervous than I was. I’m able to staunch the bleeding with some paper towels (the powder burns from the muzzle flash had mostly cauterized the wound) and I began to try and calm Garrett down. “Don’t worry”, I tell him, “I’ve got a plan.”
The first part of my plan is to clean up the crime scene. We get rid of all of the blood, put the gun back where we found it, and act like nothing happened. This plan would have worked perfectly, except that I had hole in my hand, which Garrett feverishly points out.
“Right, this is what we do: I’ll call my mother and tell her that I found something in the middle of the street and when I picked it up, it exploded.” In a thirteen-year old’s brain, this idea sounds completely plausible. So, we cleaned up all the blood which, to this day, Garrett’s mother Lisa says she never found a drop, put everything back in it’s place and called my mom.
My mother had one of the best bullshit detectors around, at least, when it came to me. In hindsight, I think that it was actually a combination of her own prowess and my lack of believability. Whatever it was, it was hard to put one by her.
I called my mother’s work and told her that I had found something in the street, picked it up, and it exploded. Immediately, the alarm bells went off in my mother’s head and she began, calmly, questioning me.
“Are you burned?”
“Are you bleeding?”
“Fine. Wrap it in a paper towel and I’ll come pick you up and take you to the hospital.”, my mother said, as nonchalantly as if she was ordering some to-go food.
“Did she believe you?”, Garrett asked immediately upon me hanging up the phone.
“I think so.”, I said.
So, wrapping my hand in a paper towel, Garrett and I walked outside to the curb in front of his house to wait for my mother.
As nonchalant as she was on the phone, she was even more-so driving down the street to pick me up. Stopping in front of the house, she asked to see my hand, which I showed her and immediately told me to get in the car. She informed Garrett that she was taking me to the hospital and that Garrett needed to call his parents to tell them what happened. The panic returned instantly to Garrett as we departed.
We weren’t more than thirty seconds into our trip when the inquisition started. I immediately broke down and, hysterically, told my mother exactly what had happened. Her relief for my well-being didn’t necessarily come through in her utter disdain for how stupid I was. However, in hindsight, I could tell that she was thankful that the gun wasn’t pointed at my head.
The hospital was an absolute whirlwind. They rushed me into the back to start treating the wound, which involved lots of painful scrubbing to get the powder marks off. In addition, I had to get a tetanus shot because, well, I had a piece of metal pierce my body. Most interesting of all, the police were called.
As it turns out, anytime someone comes to a hospital with a gunshot wound, they’re required by law to call the cops. This prevents someone who gets shot during the commission of a crime from seeking treatment. I also imagine that it does wonders to bolster the back-alley medical profession.
So, after getting grilled by the cops and having my hand wrapped, I was released to my mother’s recognizance and sent home. When we walked back to the waiting room, we found quite a party waiting for us. Not only was my father, brother and sister there, but so were my grandparents and Garrett’s parents. Everyone was quite relieved to find that I was in good health and they all raced to be the first to tell me how stupid I was for doing what I did. It was a tie.
Arriving at school the next day, I walked into the common area where everyone gathered prior to the bell and was nearly tackled by a flying Cory Gracjar who lunged at me to give me a hug. Up to that point, pretty much every thought I was dead, so it was quite a surprise that I was walking around. I was the most popular kid at school that day, at least, until after lunch. Once everyone got a look, asked me how I was doing, and informed me that I shouldn’t play with guns, I re-took my rightful place as class clown, several steps removed from Mr. Popularity.
So, where does this coin that Sandy gave me come into play? Well, as it turns out, bullets just don’t stop for no reason. After this one passed through my hand, it found its way back into the open drawer that contained the casino-chip notebooks. It passed through the cover of one of the books and struck the metal coin that was just bestowed to me. While it’s difficult to tell from the pictures, it struck with such force that it actually bent the coin. Being older and seeing how warped a solid-metal object is from something that had passed through me really makes me think about how lucky I am to be able to blog about this now.
To this day, I still have a scar on my hand, two actually. One where the bullet went in and one where it came out. And up to this point, they were all I had to remind me of that day. Now, thanks to Sandy and Lisa, I’ve got a new lucky coin that I’ll carry in my pocket and an excuse to tell this story whenever I’m asked what it is.