It had not been a good month for Bob.
First it was the woman, his girlfriend of a year and a half, who gave him the heave-ho. Then his truck broke down.
Then somebody shot him in the head.
That was eight months ago. Ask him about it now, and he'll take a swig of his beer and say, "Shit happens."
Indeed it does, but the particular piece of shit that we'll be reviewing today is that last incident, and our tour guide into the world of random violence will be the victim himself, Bob, who actually has a lot more to say on the experience than just "Shit happens." But this is not a story of incredible, made-for-TV-movie tragedy; there are no wheelchairs or paralysis or tear-jerking nights of dream-filled horror involved.
Bob got off a lot easier than many. Other than a scar curving across the left side of his forehead that looks like it was made with a broken protractor, Bob carries little baggage from the night of October 4, 1995. Mentally and physically, he's pretty much worked things out.
"I'm a lot more aware than I used to be. The old attitude of bravado, 'Who's gonna shoot me?' is long gone," he admits. And in his 39 years, Kenosha, Wisconsin-born Bob has become a qualified owner/operator of bravado.
Just look at him: head shaved, goatee, dark tattoos of the Grim Reaper and a huge-breasted maiden dripping down one arm, a bald eagle on the other. Bob says he did 15 months in Vietnam "blowing things up" and was on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon in April 1975. He used to ride with the Wheelers, a bike club out of Lake County, Illinois, in the early '80s. These days Bob cares for quadriplegics--something he's been doing for five years--works part-time in a Valley pawnshop and is a longtime gun enthusiast.
But Bob's tale of survival at the Texaco Star Mart at 48th Street and Broadway has a lot more to do with luck than bravado. Actually, shit didn't happen that night last October. "An angel on my shoulder" kept the list of 439 Phoenix homicides free of the name of Bob.
"I was delivering tropical fish to Page. You pick up the fish at three in the morning, you drive four blocks to the gas station, you gas up your vehicle and you head out," explains Bob. "I had everything. Cichlids, angelfish, anything you can think of--$1,600 worth of tropical fish. This was my eighth trip, same gas station, same time of night.
"I had like five bucks in my pocket so I could buy a pack of cigarettes and have $2.50 for lunch. I had a gas card from the company to fill up the truck with. So at 3:30 I go to the gas station, gas up the truck, pay for it with the credit card, put the card back in my wallet, walk back to the truck, get in. Started the truck, went to buckle in, and as I'm looking down to plug the buckle in, I hear this voice right next to my face saying, 'Got a dollar?'
"As I turned to look at him, I said, 'No, sure don't,' and it's a black kid, and he's looking at the ground. So I look out the window and down. I notice something next to him and look off to the left, and I'm looking down the barrel of a .22 pistol. A Ruger Mark II four-inch-barrel .22 long rifle.
"It was one Mexican kid that held the gun, and one black kid that asked me for a dollar. They were, tops, 15, and I bet the black kid wasn't even that old. And the black kid couldn't even look at me. Which is why I thought it was a gang initiation at first, and all I could think of was they were initiating the black kid.
"I looked at the Mexican kid dead in the eye, and he just smiled. And his smile never touched his eyes. He had lizard eyes. I mean stone-cold, Mafia pop-you-in-the-back-of-the-head-'scuse me-nothing-personal eyes. And I saw the gun, and I thought, 'Oh, shit, a robbery.'
"And I looked at that smile, and I thought, 'I'm a dead man.'"
What would you do?
A difficult question for anyone to answer if he wasn't behind the wheel of the fish truck. This is what the officer who answered the phone at the Phoenix Police Information Desk advised me.
"I can't give you a textbook answer for that. You're going to have to do what you've gotta do. . . . If you're in the car, and someone confronts you, and you think you can get away, yeah, punch it. Just don't run over five people."
Here's what Bob did:
"I'd already started the truck. All I could think of was lean back, shift it and floor it. If [the kid] had a .38 or .45, I probably would have said, 'You can have the truck or my wallet or whatever, just don't hurt me.' But he had a .22, and, being a gunsmith, I knew you can take a .22 almost anywhere and probably live."
Well, I wouldn't know that. I'm just an average sissy like anybody else, but then, bullets are just as good at piercing average sissies as they are tough guys.
"I'm an ex-Vietnam Marine, I'm an ex-biker. Who in their right fuckin' mind is going to go up against me?" Bob admits to thinking. Ah, but the answer was standing right there with lizard eyes and a finger on a trigger just seconds away from pulling. "I don't get a scratch in 15 months in Vietnam, and I'm actually gonna die at the hands of a 15-year-old," he says, shaking his stubbly head.
"I leaned back, and the world went white. Never heard the gun go off, never felt a thing. The world just went the most brilliant white I've ever seen in all my 39 years. White like I'd expect God's robe to look like. And I went blind. Apparently, it flipped me between the bucket seats, but when it hit me, I was shifting and flooring it."
Blind and upside down, Bob drove--rode, rather--the truck about 70 feet onto 48th Street and crashed into a median sign.
"Next thing I remember was thinking I heard them get in the truck. All I could think to say was, 'Don't shoot me, I'm blind, just kick me out of the truck.' And I said it just like that. I wasn't scared, and I wasn't brave. I was just kind of neutral."
But there was nobody there to hear him. According to a witness statement in the police report, "the suspects fled on foot."
Meanwhile, Bob was going somewhere, too, somewhere in the inner sanctum of his bullet-damaged brain. "In the time from when I thought they got in the truck from when I got shot was probably a minute and a half, maybe. I don't know, it could have been 30 seconds. I wasn't on this planet. I don't know where I was, but it wasn't hot, and it wasn't cold, and if I would have had my choice, I wouldn't have come back. It was that comfortable. No white light at the end of the tunnel, no flashing in front of my eyes of all the bullshit I did in my lifetime."
"The next thing I remember is my sight started coming back, and there's a Mexican lady--she turned out to be a nurse--leaning over me yelling at the attendant, 'Bring more towels.' Windshield-wiper towels, that's all they had. And I remember her yelling for him to dial 911.
"She and her husband were coming home from something at 3:30 in the morning, and her husband thought I was a drunk who had crashed his car, and he didn't want to stop. And apparently she saw the blood pouring down my face, and she made her husband stop the car.
"I kept trying to stand back up. I think what I wanted to do was see if I could find the kid. She said, 'You've been shot in the head, just lay back and relax if you can.' I had no problem with that, but I had to keep talking. As long as I could hear my own voice, I was alive."
Bob is a talkative guy. Even with a bullet wound, he liked to talk, and he says he told the cops plenty when they showed up.
"Oh, yeah! They had quick response time, I'll give 'em that. There was a helicopter flying overhead, and I know that I looked at four different cops' faces and told them there was one black kid that asked me for a dollar and one Mexican kid that shot me, and I described the gun."
The police got him to Maricopa Medical Center, where Bob continued to talk. An Officer Britt states in the police report that "Dr. Susan Gin-Shaw told me that [he] was in the emergency room as he was being prepared for more x-rays, and I could speak with him if I wished. He was very coherent and talkative." Dr. Gin-Shaw also told the officer that Bob had "suffered one gunshot wound to the upper part of his forehead. She stated that the x-rays showed that the bullet did not penetrate his skull, but had lodged in his head underneath his scalp."
Here is where, according to Bob, things start to get weird.
"Dr. Susan Gin-Shaw? I never saw a female doctor to my knowledge, and I never had an x-ray taken. I had an MRI done. And I was conscious from the scene to surgery."
In the narrative portion of his report, Officer Britt also states that Bob described his attackers as "a black male, approx. 5'6"-5'8", about 125 pounds. He estimated this person's age at 17-18 years. The second suspect he described as a black male or, possibly, Hispanic, 5'6"-5'8", 160-170 pounds."
Yet on the first page of the police report, which is supposed to provide a quick summary of the case, the suspects are both listed as definitely black, both become 23-26 years old and both grow to six feet tall. One weighs in at 210 pounds, the other at 225, for a tag-team weight gain of some 140 pounds.
If God is in the details, He must be getting a chuckle over these.
And as for that pesky bullet--the one that supposedly did not penetrate his skull--Bob offers this personal testimony: "The doctor [a Dr. Carrion, not mentioned in the police report but listed on the hospital's medical report] said, 'You have a bullet in your head. It pierced the dura mater, and you have a bullet about three inches in your brain.'
"They only pulled 80 percent of the bullet out of my head. I take my metal detector I use for gold mining and run it over the top of my head, and it screams."
After two and a half days in the hospital, after hours of brain surgery, 42 staples in his head and a painkilling journey from morphine to Tylenol Three, Bob found himself laid up in his sister's house, lucky to be alive.
"The doctor told me, usually when a guy gets shot in the head with a .22, it zips around inside of the skull. Or, it'll blow a hole inside the skull and ricochet around, which leaves you drooling in a basket. I take care of guys who have been shot like that."
Bob shudders, sips at the beer.
"It blew a hole through the dura mater into the brain tissue. What I was told was that your brain has a third of your body's blood supply in it. And the shit that flew out of my head hit the back of the doors and covered all the boxes of fish."
That's a big mess.
"My boss had to clean that up, and repack all the fishes. They were all covered with gore."
Bob stayed with his sister for 12 days, his legs not working too well, walking like "a jerky string puppet. After four days, she came in to ask me a question, and I said, 'Okay.' And she gave me a weird look and asked me a question again, and I said, 'Okay.' What happened was she was asking me a question that the answer wasn't 'Okay.' Then she asks me, 'Is your hair green?' And I said, 'Okay.'"
Back to the hospital, an MRI was done, and Bob says the doctors told him he had "dysflexia." He knew what to say, but it wasn't coming out. By the next day, this disappeared. The next problem was far from medical.
"I was getting cabin fever. I'd been taking little strolls, so I went next door to the Circle K and bought one of those little lizard caps. I felt real inhibited about my Frankenstein head."
Armed with a lizard cap, a thirst and a need for a little socializing to get his mind off his brain, Bob hit the bars.
"I picked four of my favorites," he reveals. "First place, I had two black-and-tans. Second place, I had two triple bypasses, large ones [22 ounces of cherry flavoring and grain alcohol]. Then, at the third place, I taught the bartender to make a brandy old fashioned like I like it, and I had three of those."
No, the point here is not to list what Bob got tanked on. The point is that Bob, a man who likes his drink now and again, did not get tanked at all.
"I felt nothing, zero. And I'm spending some good money. Then I went to the fourth place and drank five Budweisers. Nothing. Then I came back to the first place and had four black-and-tans. And I was out of money. It was pissing me off! What did this kid do to me?"
Actually, Bob did feel the effects of all of this drinking. But it wasn't until the next day. "Oh, God, yes," he says. "The hangover was all there."
That was eight months ago.
For the first ten weeks or so after the incident, every time a car passed, Bob "felt a bullet in my back. I was nervous as hell." But that has worn off. Other than that, his problems are not too severe. His head "itches a lot. I'm still getting pimples on my scalp; when you nail 'em and squeeze 'em, there's a bone shard in 'em. They crunch. It's like, 'Oh, that's a chunk of my head.'"
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He's back at work, down at the pawnshop, and caring for the quadriplegics, being "a blue-collar worker, an average guy who busts his ass for six bucks an hour. I've done a lot of not-good things in my life, but nothing that I deserve to have somebody walk up to me and assassinate me for."
And those guys who walked up with the .22 in search of a dollar--however old they are, however much they weigh--are still out there, probably.
If he had his way, what would Bob want done to his assailants? Over the course of our conversations, he says tough-guy stuff; he'd love to have a fully armed crack at 'em, send 'em straight to hell. The last time I asked him, this is what ex-Marine, ex-biker, current-gun- and sometime-booze-fan Bob had to say:
"The only thing I could think of for the first seven months was, if you put 'em in prison, they're only going to learn to do more bad shit. I didn't want 'em dead, because that'd be bad for my karma. So what does that leave? The only thing I could think of was it'd be nice if they found the Lord. That's the only thing that's going to change them. I've never been much of a religious person, but I know that God's kept His hand on me over the years. . . . Through the whole thing, I think my biggest trauma was seeing that kid smile.