Coney Island looked unmade on that fateful day in September. My parents went shopping; and being 14, I, in my new bathing suit, frolicked in the shallow water. Tiring of that, I walked out backwards until the ocean was chest high, then, timing my jump with an incoming wave, I would try to "swim" to shore. That was a flop; the water was too shallow.
Now each swimming area was bounded by ropes attached to poles, forming a huge rectangle with the open end on the beach side. Deciding to do something else, I walked out to the cross rope, pulled myself up, and perched on it like a giant bird, observing the bathers.
The cool twilight air pimpled my skin as I suddenly realized that I was all alone. The surf was empty. On the beach, I could see the twinkling fires. Better get back, my parents would begin to worry. Seconds later would find me in a struggle for life.
Fear gripped my heart as my toes struggled to reach sand. What was wrong? I had walked out to the rope, why couldnt I walk now?
A paralyzing loneliness filled my soul. Yelling, swimming impossible. Strangely, a calm came over me, knowing I would make it, I always had. Just get to the rope leading to shore. Hand over hand became more and more difficult. Forgotten! The rope curved up almost vertical as it neared the pole. Now my hands began to slip. It was slimy. I kept struggling; one false step and the ocean would welcome me. Thinking of the sorrow and anguish I would give my parents and family made me frantic. I began using my feet and legs. The saving rope was tightly clenched in my tiring hands.
Safe? Fate would test my courage and strength once again. Then I saw it, the rope fading into the surf.
In the gloom, the beach looked forever. Three deep breaths, a hurried, "my God," and the ocean swallowed me.
Forever never came.
I had to breathe; I had to--I choked on the water, I kept pulling. I would die before I quit pull, pull, pull. Then I felt my shoulder caressing the sand. A few more pulls, now I lay exhausted, my heart fighting to escape its cage. I was cold and shivering but happy. Slowly, I rose to my feet, looked around, and saw my parents standing by their fire. I walked over, kissed them, and dressed. Then we went home.
They never knew.
My Father suffered from an acid stomach. One night he had a much more serious pain which went up his chest, and we all thought that maybe he was having a heart attack.
He asked me to go to the pharmacy and get this powder that he used to take for heartburn. It was winter with snow on the street, flattened by the traffic. I was so scared. I thought my Father might die. The pharmacy was on the 13th Street, and we lived on 15th Street. So I ran all the way.
The pharmacist had to mix the dry medicine, and it seemed to me that he took forever and a day. Finally, he was finished.
He gave me the paper, and I ran out and saw that the trolley, which had not yet made the turn, was stopped and passengers were getting in and going out. Next to the trolley was a taxi.
They were not allowed to pass a stopped trolley. There was a tire on the back of the taxi, so I jumped on it, since the trolley would be going the wrong direction for me.
When the taxi did start, it kept increasing its speed at a very fast rate. I knew that if I didnt get off soon, the next time he would slow down was the turn he would have to make at 23rd Street, because the river ran to the west. And we were on 14th Street at the time. He kept speeding faster and faster.
I raised up to look at who was in the back of the taxi: Two men who looked like they could be Mafias. That was in my imagination. Now the taxi was really going fast, at least I thought so. My mind said, "Your father needs that medicine. He may die." So I let go, fell to the snow covered street and slid at the same speed as the taxi for about 40 or 50 feet.
At the intersection I was finally going slow enough to get up and run to my house, but not before a policeman, who had observed my plight, yelled something like, "hey that was terrific. How about doing it again?"
When I worked for the Veterans Administration in Johnstown I was almost shot to death. We were located in the old Post Office. All the employees were at one level. I was in a corner. I had all glass windows on my office.
So Im sitting there doing my work, when I see our lawyer come out of the door across the hall. Hes all disheveled, you know. He comes in and says,
"This guy came in, he says he wants his money. I told him, we dont have your money. So he beat me up. Then he says, wheres the head, the Chief? So I point to your office.
"Then I said Look. You know the hospital you were at? He had a pass. I said, The bank, the moneys in the bank. We dont have your money.
"So he says, Ill be back and Ill put a bullet right through that tie. Then he left."
The patients name was Paul Lukas, same as the actor. Ill never forget it. Big guy. The first thing I did was phone his home where his sister answered.
"Does your brother own a gun?"
After a long pause she said, "Yes. He just left and took it with him."
We had an armed guard. He used to stay way in the back where the trucks come in and out. I said to him "Look. I want you to do something. Just stand by the revolving door; you dont have to do anything else. When this patient comes in, as soon as he walks past you, just grab him around the chest; just pin his arms to his side, well take care of the rest."
Well you know we couldnt find the guard anyplace after that.
Im sitting in my office and I see all the employees start to move back to the rear of the room. I lean over to see what it is. Here he is with a gun, pointing it to the ceiling. So I got out and stalked him step-by-step, thinking to myself " What the hell am I doing?"
I tackled him down to the floor. Soon as I went down on the floor, somebody else went down on the floor on top of us. It was his Father. And after that, I saw a couple of thick-soled shoes -- the police. Anyway, I took the gun from him; I sat him down; I calmed him down.
I always thought that he didnt shoot me because I was like a she-lion, stalking her prey. Years later I realized that since he was heavily built and had his right arm pointing to the ceiling he couldnt see me coming from his right side. I dont know what would have happened if he did see me.
He might have put a bullet right through me.
When I had to go on an errand, any errand, I rarely walked. I always tried to hitch a ride. I did this for fun, no particular reason.
We had trolleys that ran in the street in both directions. The trolleys had an iron step, so the patrons could more easily enter the car. Standing in one line, I challenged a friend of mine who would be the first to hitch a ride on the trolley?
We waited for the train to make a left turn; that slowed it down. Well, after he made his turn he began to accelerate. So we both started running to catch up. Being faster, I was first to jump on the iron step. I turned around to see what had happened to my friend.
The next thing I knew I was on my back between the two tracks
Another trolley passed, going the opposite direction. Fortunately, it did not hit me. Although I could have lost an arm or a leg, I didnt feel any pain and had no injuries, so I got up and looked around. I could see my friend about a hundred feet away on the sidewalk.
I ran over to him and said, "What happened to you?" I never told him what happened to me.
But, like I said, I did all these tricks.
My Father said to me, "what good is all this being so strong?" Well, it probably saved my life. I was driving this car. It was a Kaiser. I would put a cardboard box on the left side of me, so when I made a turn going very fast, I wouldnt slide over and hit the door handle. That almost cost me my life.
I have driven these roads over and over again. I knew them pretty well. When you come to the top of one road, you could usually see the top of the next one. Between the peaks the road goes perfectly flat.
In front of me was a truck with electrical workers going to work. I dont know why I should be in a hurry, or anything like that. I was alone and it was early in the morning.
When we came to the flat area I figured I could pass them. I accelerated the car, and got close. I looked up and I could see the mans jacket and elbow. Now, I had a habit of blowing my horn anytime that I was passing a car. This time I didnt blow the horn. I was going about 35 miles an hour when I went to pass him, just as he cut in front of me.
I swerved. The car started to slide. I remembered that when you get in trouble, just accelerate the car to straighten it out. I did not realize that the road was turtle shaped with a lot of rocks on the sides. As I went to the left I hit all these rocks, and was sliding sidewise. Then I hit a mailbox: the noise was incredible.
Then I knew I was going to have an accident; I knew I was going to be in trouble. I knew that across the road at this point, there was a chasm about 20 feet deep. I didnt want to go there. But suddenly I couldnt see anything at all.
I had gone lateral. The upright of the car where the windshield fits in was blocking my forward view. Then the car straightened and I could see again. I felt safe because I could see it. It was a flat space.
Im holding the wheel with all the strength I have. And I was ready for all the bouncing up and down in the world. But I didnt bounce at all; I was airborne.
I was over the chasm.
On the other side, they were filling this chasm with dirt so they could build homes. Truck after truck after truck. It was maybe another 30 or 40 feet before I would hit the other wall, at 45 degrees. It turned out to be rather soft stuff. As the front of the car hit, the steering wheel spun violently. I held it so tight that I went with the wheel.
I was upside down in the passenger seat.
I felt this terrific blow to the right side of my head.
I said, "now dont lose consciousness because that means you could be dead. But if you dont go unconscious you know youre still alive." Later my Father said, "That was what saved you."
My car went across the chasm, spun around, ran up the incline again and hit a telegraph pole with wires. It ended up between the wires and stuck there. The people in the electric truck stopped and come running over. My right leg was over the passenger seat back and I felt a lot of pain in my spine. I wiggled my toes. If I could wiggle my toes I knew I wasnt going to be paralyzed.
Before leaving on this trip, I took my car to my brother-in-laws garage to clean it and everything so I had grease on the bottom of my shoes. As I lay on my back, I saw the imprint of my two feet, perfectly symmetrical, on the ceiling. I then knew I was thrown into the back and the seat in the back got flipped over. I had landed on the springs.
And the only thing I could figure out is that my body was like frozen in this position.
On the passenger side was a large round clock about 7 inches in diameter very sharp, with points. I dont know why they made it sharp. I had once told my wife, "I dont want you to sit in the front seat. I want you to sit in the back. If I have an accident and your head hits the clock it will be very bad." We didnt have seatbelts in those days. "And if you hit that clock, youre going to fracture your skull, or something. " Well how prophetic. I almost went unconscious from hitting the clock.
Later, when I looked at the car better, I saw that my head must have slid underneath the dashboard, it was all covered with blood in there. After that I went flying to the back. I was conscious. I put my hand real fast to my head and could feel nothing but bone.
I said, "well, Im gonna live."
One of the medics came and put his hand under my belt. He was going to lift me up. I started to pass out. Finally somebody said, "Why dont you use the back seat for a stretcher?" He picked up the seat, slid it out of the car, and put me in the ambulance. Anyway, they got me to the Veterans Hospital.
Now this is difficult to believe. In the hospital I could only feel comfortable if I pulled my knees up to my chest. Thats the only way I could feel comfortable. So I was all curled up in the fetal position. I had blood in my right eye.
The doctors came I dont now if they were doctors or electricians they made the wrong diagnosis not once, but twice. They took x-rays of my skull and said there was no fracture.
A little while later, somebody says "youve got blood in your eye."
I said, "Yeah, in my right eye."
"No, its in the left eye, too."
So, how did the blood get from this eye to that side? Because I had a basal fracture at the bottom of the skull. Cracked. I could only sit very straight up with my legs off the ground. Thats pathenomonic of a basal skull fracture. If you walked in, and you see a guy like that, you say hes got a basal skull fracture.
I was in the hospital for quite some time and my thoughts were skipping around: What if I had been killed?
I remembered the moving pictures of my son Victor playing in the leaves on the hospital grounds. I bent over sideward to kiss my son, as thats all the movement my spinal fracture would allow. As far as my spine was concerned: the spinal bones have little tabs on either side I pulled two of them out on each side. It didnt seem to make much difference, they healed pretty good.
Before I went home they said the Orthopedist had to examine me. My head was tilted way to one side and stiff. They said, "How do you feel?"
I wanted to go home, you know. So I said, "I feel all right."
He says, "Turn your head to the right OK, turn it to the left OK, you can go home." Some exam; I could turn my head only about 20 degrees.
At no time did I think I was going to die. The minute I gained consciousness, I knew as strong as I was I could supervene anything. Which I did. That was about 1950-something. Was I scared? No, not during the accident. It was after the accident that I was scared.
I used to fly kites on the roof of our tenement in Manhattan. Once a sudden gust of wind quickly took my kite out. The string burned deep into my fingers and there I was racing towards the edge of the roof hoping to catch my bundle of twine.
It was all over before it started.
Losing the race with the wind, I threw my body forward as far as I could; one last attempt to catch it. I kept sliding and sliding. Closer to the roofs edge, I couldnt stop. I dug my hands and feet into the tar, but I kept sliding. Closer. Closer.
Finally I stopped. My arms were stretched out in front of me, inches over the edge. Quickly I pulled my face past the roofs edge and saw my bundle just before it hit the sidewalk. In one continuous motion I looked up and saw my kites twine tangled with another boys kite on the roof across the avenue. I rose, yelling, "thats my kite!"
Raced down and picked up my bundle. Flashed across the street. Bounded the steps to the roof. There, I retrieved my kite string, tied its broken end to my twine and coolly kept flying the kite all the wile talking to the kid.
I thought nothing of the event. Worse things than that were always happening in our neighborhood.
I built a home
With a special wing
A wing to sleep
My mother in.
But she was old,
She said she said,
Too old to fly,
But not to die.
The house, we sold.
But where, but where.
The town was old.
Tucson, the name,
Arizona, the state.