SHOT STORIES


by Tim Long
Reprinted with permission from SPY Magazine
Copyright (c)1994 (Sussex Publishers, Inc.). All rights reserved.
For rights and permissions information, please contact Sussex Publishers at (210) 260-7210.

Like most fads and trends, getting shot started with those crazy kids in the inner cities. Then university students adopted it, and then it was on MTV. Now everyone's getting shot. Well, not everyone. Well, okay, hardly anyone, statistically speaking. In fact, even with Brady Bill panic buying bad record gun sales, a solid plurality of us have never taken a bullet and never will. How, then, will we voyeuristic gunshot virgins ever know how it feels to have that little metallic nub take its fantastic voyage through our bodies?

As usual, great literature is of little help. Shakespeare and Sophocles wrote reams about princes rending their doublets and kings poking their own eyes out, but almost nothing about homies getting popped. Hemingway is slightly more helpful on the subject, but even he tends to smother the whole lead-eating experience in billowy layers of self-conscious writerliness.

No such artifice afflicts gunshot victims who may not have yet won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the wake of her unfortunate incident with Amy Fisher, Mary Jo Buttafuoco neatly and succinctly reported that her shooting made her feel as if her head were "exploding." She also claimed to remember saying to herself, "Shit, the little bitch got me," just before passing out from the effects of a bullet that is still, as SPY goes to press, lodged at the base of her skull. Slightly more verbose but just as compelling was Major League umpire Steve Palermo, who was shot in 1991 while attempting to foil a robbery outside a Dallas nightspot. Palermo told a reporter a year later that getting shot "felt like somebody was pouring hot water on my legs. There was a warm numbness, as if I was a chocolate bar melting into the hot pavement. Then I felt for my legs and they were like two hollow logs. It was like nothing."

Though he doesn't share Palermo's gift for multiple similes, retired Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy does win points for being one of the few gunshot victims willing to discuss their shooting with SPY. McCarthy threw himself between John Hinkley's gun and Ronald Reagan 13 years ago, winning for his efforts a bullet that entered the right portion of his chest and ended up in his lower back. The laconic lawman, now working for a private security firm in the Chicago suburbs, tells SPY that he knew right away that he'd been plugged. "I guess the best way to describe it," he reports, "is like a hot ice pick going in." McCarthy modestly refuses to take any personal credit for saving Reagan's life. "It was really probably more a function of training," he explains. "I don't know if I could do it again, but I was glad that I did it at that time."

McCarthy's pride in having defended our 40th president (with whom he remains friends) is matched by the regret of the notorious Rap-A-Lot Records recording artist Bushwick Bill, who lost an eye in an incident involving a favor, his girlfriend and a .22 pistol. Despondent over his mother's mounting medical bills, the lead rapper for the Houston-based Geto Boys cocked the gun and handed it over to his girlfriend, requesting that she shoot him. She refused, but as happens with such tragic frequency, the gun accidentally discharged, shooting him in the face. A chastened Mr. Bill tells SPY, "Handguns in the hands of those who don't have the foreknowledge to use them can cause a serious problem." He describes the sensation of getting shot in the head at short range as not unlike "a pinch, or somebody poking you with a needle." Asked whether his experience has made him more critical of violence in films and on television, Bill quixotically rises to the defense of the mass media. "The movies and TV are very accurate about handguns and violence," he insists.

Not all gunshot victims share Bill's sanguine views on media violence, which only proves that the people who take bullets are as diverse as the handguns that spray them. Thomas McDermott of Garden City, Long Island, tells us that he's become more acutely aware of the TV-violence problem since getting shot during last December's Long Island Rail Road massacre. McDermott also contributes handsomely to our understanding of what it feels like to have a paranoid lunatic shoot you on the train home from work. "I was shot in the left shoulder, and it was a clean entrance and clean exit wound," he recalls. "It's not like a lightning bolt hit you, but you know that something has happened to you. It was a very, very slight burning, and then you see the blood and you know that, hey, there's a problem here."

McDermot's description strikingly echoes the words to the greatest song ever written about getting shot, Marty Robbins's "El Paso":

Something is dreadfully wrong, for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side
Though I am trying to stay in the saddle
I'm getting weary, unable to ride.

Robbins's next verse probably says all there is to say about dying in a Mexican maiden-induced gunfight in the West Texas badlands:

But my love for Falina is strong when I
rise where I've fallen,
Though I am weary, I can't stop to rest.
I see the white puff of smoke from the
rifle.
I feel the bullet go deep within my chest.

home / maps / quiz / pro/con / more / interviews / ring of fire / discussion / tapes & transcripts / press / wgbh / pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

pbs

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

The Rise of ISISOctober 28th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS