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The Time I Shot a Guy and Ran Away From a Fight (Plus Gratitude)

This is the story of how a cowardly act of mine led to a life-changing experience. In this article, I discuss how traumatic events can be used for self-improvement, and how the secret weapons I relied on to win fights taught me to question everything. I also talk about my experiences with guns, and how I owe gratitude to those who taught me life's most important lessons, even if I didn't realize it at the time.

My Cowardly Encounter with a Hammer-Wielding Attacker and the Gratitude I Gained From It

By Michael Levin

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Most names are changed to protect the innocent. But if you’re guilty of me loving you, I have not changed your name. This article is dedicated to above all others, Guy Bruchstein, my lifelong friend, no matter how distant and separate our lives have become over the years. Sometimes there’s someone who taught you just about every lesson you ever needed to know, and you didn’t even know it. Guy, you’re that guy.

Let’s open with an important generality and platitude: those things you hate most will serve you best. From the devastation, both physical and emotional, that those defining moments in your life have (and not always for the better), you can learn the most. Don’t fall into the trap of embitterment, self-pity, or the belief you’re somehow “scarred for life”.

Don’t shut your mind to the positive outcomes. Be open to the possibility that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ve noticed actual contempt from today’s youth at that particular platitude. It’s sort of like the opposite of the Batman complex I’ve talked about so much recently. Instead of drive and self-improvement, traumatic events can isolate and weaken the soul.

It’s a trap! The angels betting against you and your vibe-type want you to despair. Despair is the feeling of your enemy winning. And it’s not true! It’s a trap of the mind. Escape that rabbit hole, Forrest! Run and don’t ever stop. No, take that and reverse it (in the words of the great Willy Wonka). Don’t run from your problems.

Instead, make a meal of your angelic enemies’ lessons and digest and draw nourishment from their best parts, heinous the meal may otherwise be. This is both necessary for best results, and divine justice. I’ll leave the afterlife and eternal soul fufu for other posts. In this post I talk about practical application.

Many people in your life will give you exactly the opposite advice than what you need to hear. I may be doing it right now. I’m not, but entertain me. Question what I’m saying just to get in the practice of questioning everything.

Often, trusted relations will give you bad advice unintentionally “because they love you” and they need you and they don’t want you leaving. Look at motivations. What do they get out of you taking their advice? That’s now detectives like Sherlock Holmes and R. Daneel Olivaw (the inspiration for Mr. Data) solve crimes: look for motivations.

One OZ character I really hated was Wrong John Silver. Wrong John was a schiller. Per Urban Dictionary, a shill is a person who publicly attempts to increase credibility and approval for some other entity without disclosing that connection. In other words, someone planted in the audience to boo and heckle and generally undermine someone else’s credibility.

Little did I know, Wrong John was a shill, and I walked right into the booing and heckling. But that’s for another Magnum Opus. That first trip to OZ was to my to a spin-off of the legendary Commodore Computers, inexplicably in the burbs of PA where I grew up. It was after graduating college and finishing with a year of running a check-cashing business I had to take over when Dad died.

Little did I know the rich tech-history of where I was born and grew up. It felt like dull, grey, drought-ridden Kansas to me. But it was the birthplace of the first computer, ENIAC, the first portable OS UNIX and the first home home computer enabling integrated circuit knockoff, the MOS 6502 out of Norristown, PA. I did not know I was already at the birthplace of magic. And I qualify that with “US” because the Brits did most of this stuff first, such as the codebreaking at Bletchley Park and BCPL, the precursor to C that made UNIX possible. We Americans love rewriting history. Yippee-ki-yay mudder fudder!

I would have probably lived my whole life in a 30-mile radius of that grey dreary little ideally desolate corner of suburbia, with such wonderful characters as Namby Cruller who told my sister she was adopted before she herself knew. Way to raise your kid there Crullers! My life then became miserable.

When I wasn’t being ostracized for being smart at school, I was being beat up or accidentally killing cats at home. I love you Scooter and Nermal, wherever you are! Thank you for the lessons you each taught me. Head job after head job pounded into me, pushing my sensitive ass out back into to woods and the wonderful world the creek. Ever watch the amazing Matt Burnett and Ben Levin cartoon Craig of The Creek? Yeah that was me except for the happy family life part.

Did I mentioned my being hopelessly naive? I AM a Yankee Doodle Dandy Lion! I just didn’t know it yet… this is the sound of self-pity, waaaaaa! Okay, there’s something about being able to bootstrap yourself and fix your own damn problems that’s special and unique about being a human being… isn’t there? Yes, I think there is. I certainly thought so then because like any good raised-on-movies 70s/80s kid, I took Karate and started punching people in the face.

However, I didn’t just learn how to fight. I learned how to not fight quickly. It just took a little fighting to get there. I developed this clever technique all quick and innocent-like. Snap it from the waist. Don’t let them see you coiling your muscles. Just snap! Up and in, all accurate and aimed-like, lining up the two knuckles along the force-line of your forearm into a stick-like jab. It was a trick. It was a miracle. It turned around my situation with my sister immediately, and I started carrying around that big trick inside of me.

It’s all magic tricks. Everything’s a trick backed up with practiced muscle memory so you don’t really have to think much when the time vims. I suddenly reached Solla Sollew and hadn’t any more troubles… at least, very few.

Newly equipped with this “wait for them to throw the first punch then bop ‘em hard on the nose attitude”, I picked fights. The confidence of secret weapons gets under your skin and you think you can do it in all situations with anyone. But then I ran into passionately driven little entrepreneur Michael Rubin. I use Michael’s real name because he’s a famous Undercover Boss billionaire and can take it.

Also, I was a coward and for the first time in months took the school bus home missing the time and place I was “called out” for a fight. It’s going to sound like a wussy excuse, by my macho macho 1971 metallic blue BOSS Mustang convertible with a 351 Cleveland stick car racing engine was in the shop that day and I would have had to walk home from high school after the fight.

I felt like shit on that schoolbus. I looked out the window and saw Michael Rubin and his flying monkey walking to the designated fight zone and knew he was not going to see me there. I knew I was going to tell him I was there. And you know what? I was there—for ever so briefly before I did the car calculation in my head and asked myself if it was worth it.

I felt I could have taken Mike. If I got the initial fast from the hip swiveling snap-punch in on his nose after some aggression was made, I would have floored him as I had several humiliated kids before. But if it became wrestling, as my good friend and lifelong roughhousing buddy Guy Bruchstein will attest (another name I’m proud to use), I would have locked Mike in the fight-ending scissors.

Let me make a point here. These 2 fighting techniques I relied on, the punch that couldn’t possibly come from me, and the breath-denying diaphragm crush of no escape are not child’s play. They are secret weapons. Ever read Ender’s Game? Later in life I learned I was a lot like Ender Wiggins but not so killy. Win a fight once.

Had Michael been a few minutes earlier, by life would have probably been quite different. But as it was, I actually programmed a whole e-commerce system myself… a few times! He just bought one and got some sweet deals with Toys R Us that made him a billionaire. Mike Rubin is good at all the things I hate. And I do all the things he needed. Yes, things could have gone different had our paths merged in that fight that day. But I was a coward. I am Ensign Picard.

You don’t always fight. Secret weapons go bad if you use them too often. The secret is blown. Other people either expect what you’re capable of and reframe the encounter to nullify your tricks. And external weapons are stupid.

When I took over my Dad’s check cashing store, a business he had to get into when textiles dries up on him in Philly, I had to start carrying a gun because there really were bad guys painting a big red target on your back. This was Philly during the crack era. So if it wasn’t the good ol’ South Philly always happy gang pulling a heist, it was the junkies. I carried a gun.

And lo and behold, on a money pick-up one day to have enough cash on hand for an unusually busy Friday, a bad guy came up being me in the parking lot of Mellon Bank in Penn’s Landing and I was lucky enough to hear the triggering footsteps, get my gun out, turn and pop him a few, twisting and dropping as the hammer was coming down on my head.

Straight from the waist. Twist, snap, pop! Same thing as the nose-punch trick but with a tiny little Secamp 32. Now James Bond uses a 22 because it’s clean and all you need. But for self-defense you need something with a little more stopping power. Even 32 caliber isn’t enough were they not soft-points that flattened on impact, spreading out the kinetic force to the size of a quarter on exit. Stopping power.

And I needed it because this guy swinging the hammer down on my head was the size of a linebacker. Pop, pop, pop. I had the wherewithal to shoot him in the stomach and not the face because despite Dad’s repeated wisdom, there’s only one thing you pull a gun out to do, I didn’t want to kill this guy. I mean it was nothing personal. He was just trying to knock me cold and take my money.

Of course this was all on automatic. Have I mentioned muscle memory? Like with driving and vim and stuff? Uh yeah, the reason I believe all good tips should be timeless and internalized and like a part of your body so you don’t have to think about using them comes from a lifetime of being picked on and I guess occasionally maybe saving my own life.

Now I have a friend David Mays. He was one of my hires at the Commodore spin-off company I worked for and was a great example of the student becoming the teacher. He taught me about databases, entity relationship diagrams (ERD), 1-to-1 and one to many relationships—all the stuff I missed by not being a CompSci guy and taking shortcuts by being a graphic designer.

Well Dave likes guns. He’s bleeds Red versus my Blue. But I love Dave and he want homesteading to Alaska and is a badass and you should follow his videos on YouTube. Dave was fascinated by my check cashing days stories and asked me about owning guns. I said “don’t”. It creeps into your mind and you’re thinking about them all the time and it defines who you are. They suck. My flag waving NRA buddy didn’t listen and is a gun guy. But he’s also an Alaska homesteader, so you know. Don’t judge.

Had I stayed in the check cashing business my dad thrust on me by dying the week I graduated college as a graphic designer, or had I (on automatic) aimed a wee bit higher taking my Dad’s advice about the only reason to draw a gun and put the 4 shots onto his face instead of his stomach, I would probably be leading a different life today. Or no life at all, because murder and prison and all.

After the attacker fell to his knees (after my 3rd shot into his gut) and my head was streaming blood from the impact (I dropped to the ground reducing impact shooting up into his stomach), I got up. A little old red headed Jewish lady, think Dr. Ruth, pulls a gun out of her purse, levels it at the attacker who still looks like he might get up, and yelled “I’ve got him covered… GO!”

I went. I want right back into Mellon Bank with the money and shoved it through a teller window and said “Hold this!” Sirens went off. The cops arrived. And not until I asked the police officer how long he thought it would be before I passed out from blood loss that an ambulance was also called.

At the hospital explaining what happened to the officer, he asked “And you still have the gun on you?” I nodded my now sutured head and he asked “Can I have it?” I said yes and I asked if it was okay to pull it out of my pocket? He said yes, and I told him to be careful because Secamps don’t have safety’s. Those’ll get you killed in the situations a gun like this was made for. He asked me to join the force.

There were different stories regarding the exact events of that day and I think one of my bullets went flying past him into a hotsy totsie Queens Village home. Had I aimed a wee bit higher, had the stray bullet taken a wee different path, had an army of character witnesses not marched into the pre-trial (I was arrested) and had the judge not felt (he said it out lot) that the city needs more like me, things could have gone quite differently.

I hated Mike Rubin back then for forcing me to expose my cowardly side to myself, but I owe him my gratitude. I hated good ‘ol recently deceased Dad for thrusting the effing check cashing store on me fresh out of college, but he forced me to see I am not a coward, and I owe him my gratitude. And most of all, you Scarecrow! I hated Wrong John Silver from the Commodore spin-off who snidely told me I was going to have to take up vi if I was taking up Linux. He was right, and I owe him my gratitude. He also introduced me to Verner Vinge’s Time Wars. Read it!