Not the deep boom of a high-caliber revolver, but the sharp, evil pop of a nine millimeter.
Everyone else in the room and the hall just outside it--there were eight of us, in all--hit the floor in a hurry and started making for the corners, the back walls, anywhere away from the open windows that looked down on the presumed scene of the shooting--the block of Madison Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues. The scene reminded me of a fourth-grade stop, drop and roll fire-safety drill, except no one was laughing.
Memory's a funny thing. So is gunfire, and one tends to confuse the other. I remember staying upright for maybe a second before joining my compatriots in the classic "nearby gunshot" position, but since have been assured by several who were present that, despite their best efforts, I just sort of stood there and foolishly stared around for a good eight count before sinking down. They said I looked freaked out, totally scared. They were right, but wrong about the reason. It wasn't the sound of the shot that petrified me, but the reaction to it. I was both amazed and terrified by how fast people went prone. Amazed because to watch another human being (let alone a group of them) react to a threat on instinct is to observe an unparalleled efficiency of motion. Terrified because they had reacted to a gunshot on instinct. Not a generic loud sound, mind you. The instinctual reaction to a loud sound is to flinch and look around. The people around me did not flinch. They did not look around. They hit the deck--hard.
Now think about that. In a fraction of a second, seven different brains heard the sound, recognized it as gunfire, and commanded their respective bodies to dive to the floor. My brain, on the other hand, decided I should remain standing and process observations instead of cover my ass. I've since had a talk with said brain and it has assured me that, if a similar instance should arise in the future, the code of action will be first get down, then think.
Someone in the hall yelled that at me right after the shot. "Get down." It's become about as familiar a part of our lexicon as "good day." Probably every American who lives in a city knows exactly what that phrase means. Danger. Bullets. Get down. But still I didn't. I couldn't. Jesus Christ, I was thinking, what does it mean that thesound of a shot can trigger an instinct? And, for that matter, what does it mean that everyone knows what small-arms fire sounds like? What does it mean that no one in the room said, "What's that?"
Like you, probably, I read or hear about gun violence every week. About drive-bys and disgruntled employees, murder-suicides and stray-bullet tragedies. But I don't think I really registered how thoroughly fucked up things have become until I stood stupidly in a room full of people on the floor and realized that gunfire has become such an accepted, or at least common, element of our society that we react to it on autopilot.
Someone said it again. "Dude, get down." There was still a commotion outside--loud engines, angry shouts. "Put down the gun!" Whatever was going on down there, it wasn't over just yet. A small, beautiful person with gold glitter on her face coaxed me out of my wild-eyed deer-in-headlights imitation. "Hey," she said, softly. "Why don't you come down here with us?"
It felt better on the floor, and a few minutes later I was smiling again.
The truth is that, aside from the gunshot, Dizzyland--the grand-opening gala for adowntown underground artcenter called 8th Day--was a shining success. The new 10,000-square-foot art gallery/rave venue/industrial fun house is located in something of a sketchy, no man's land district of downtown at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Madison.
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Security at Dizzyland was exceptionally good, given the circumstances. The guards were generally big, friendly and licensed to carry firearms. Which was exactly what I wanted. It's another sign of urban decay that it took a lot of big, friendly guys with guns between me and the outside world to feel comfortable at a party in a bad part of town, but the hard truth is those guys were necessary.
After the shooting, of course, rumors were flying. Everything from shots fired inside (totally untrue) to a full-scale exchange of gunfire in which one guard was hit (also untrue--no one was injured, and there was only one shot). 8th Day co-founder Tommy Hough said after the event that the shot was fired in the air from a car parked on the street outside the building. He said that the security team outside got everyone on the sidewalk and in the front room to get down, and then approached the car with guns drawn. He said the car then sped away.
In any case, Dizzyland made a quick recovery. Anyone who was even close to the music pounding from the rave room in the back of the building remained happily oblivious, and the vibe at the party was so good that most who heard the shot got right back in the groove. Renovations on the building are far from complete, but the possibilities for 8th Day are clearly grand. The place is a labyrinthian wonderland--you never know what lies beyond the next door or around the next corner. It could be a room full of painting and sculpture, it could be a huge, black cavern with a hundred gyrating ravers surrounding a deejay in a chain-link cage, or it could be a silver-walled room full of people dying to paint your face. If you haven't been to an underground party, you owe it to yourself to check one out.
The 8th Day opening was scheduled to shut down at four in the morning, and at 4:20 the pulsing techno slowed, slowed, then stopped, and several hundred people simply moved out of the building in an orderly file--hugging one another, making sure everyone had a ride, and sharing water. There was neither herding nor testy exchanges between patron and security guard, none of the bullshit that goes on at closing time in Valley bars. It was simply time to go home. For me, this peaceful end to the evening sounded a warm, welcome note of hope. I can still hear the shot, but the memory of all those people interacting like newfound friends resonates the stronger in my mind.--David Holthouse