August 24, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Gary was an Army pal who returned to New York after his discharge. I was stationed in Philadelphia and took the train up for weekends.
Before the Army, Gary was a doorman for a disco. After the Army he was the outdoor manager. Seeing him meant seeing the hottest club in the city when it was the hottest disco in America.
Adam’s Apple was an oasis surrounded by cement, a Garden of Eden where everyone knew the moves. Gary was the gatekeeper. At six-foot three, two hundred twenty pounds, he was the gate and the gatekeeper.
This was a man who didn’t start problems. He was a finisher. With a fourth degree Judo black belt, he had all the finishing tools he needed.
I called one week to say I’d be up for the weekend. He called back and said he was in the hospital. I went up anyway.
He told me about the problem with the drunk guy in front of Adam’s Apple, and what happened afterward.
“Most people know when it’s time to go home. The one’s who don’t know the time are the ones who don’t listen to anyone. This guy, this Tony, was one of those. I’d seen him before and we always got along.
The night he comes with a girlfriend didn’t turn out like the others. He was ready to leave, but she wasn’t. The she turned him on me. He was too drunk, too wasted to do much except fall down, so I got out of the way. I could have held him up, but he had his chance.
The girl got into it and there was nothing left to do. It took its own course of action and ended with him telling me “it’s not over.”
You hear that from a guy that drunk, you don’t expect them to remember anything. The woman with him probably reminded him the next day.
So I close up a couple of nights later, and get ready to say goodnight to Felix. You’ve met him, he’s the guy inside the door at the little table all night. The owner. He likes Adam’s Apple. Everybody likes Adam’s Apple.
Fourteen guys show up. Felix counted them. All dressed similarly. All looking like they do the same job, or belong to the same club. They looked like the guy who warned me it’s not over.
I see them and figure they’re his friends. I run for the back of the place from the right side. Felix told me later someone put a gun on him and told him this was not his problem unless he made it his problem. He didn’t move.
I run for the back with half the guys following. We’ve run together, right? Am I fast? I’m running for my life, at least that’s what it felt like. I make the corner and focus on the front door. Two guys jump out while I pass the bar at full speed. I hook both their necks in my arms and keep running.
At the door I let their heads bounce on the jam and jump down the steps. I made it. I’m free. Except one last guy is waiting outside and stabs me in the stomach when I run by him. I grab my gut. I know what just happened. If I stopped then, I wouldn’t be here now.
I held my stomach and ran into the street. Not much traffic right then at 4:30 in the morning. I feel the blood, the pain. I can barely stand, but I need a taxi and no one stops for a guy waving from the sidewalk.
With my last energy I straighten up and flag a taxi. He stops and I collapse in the back, bleeding everywhere. Before he kicks me out I say “Take me to the hospital.”
So here I am. I had surgery. If the knife went in a little deeper, or a little to the left I think, I would have died in the taxi and left an even bigger mess.
You know the Spanish bullfighters? Sometimes they get the horn. That’s what I got.”
I looked at my friend in the hospital bed. He was one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met. He escaped from Hungary by crossing the minefields to Austria during the Cold War. He was the man you want around when you need something manly done and you aren’t man enough.
He was the best conditioned patient in Manhattan.
And it mattered.