(This true-crime event took place the night of Nov. 13th 1981.)
A duck hunt loomed in the morning so I hit the bed early, where my wife Shirley (six-months pregnant) was reading. Elaine, her sister, was due home from the show any minute……
Suddenly all hell broke loose downstairs— door crashed in, shrieks, bumps, whacks. “Shut-up!”
“Oh NO!! NO!!”
“SHUT UP, I SAID!!”
Geezum! Somebody broke in?! And I could hear Elaine screaming. I leaped from my bed to the gun rack, grabbed the pump shotgun and started slipping in shells.
“Don’t shoot!” came Elaine’s cry from the darkness downstairs. She could hear the loading (sha-wuck—sha-wuck.) She knew me. “Don’t shoot, Humberto! PLEASE!”
Geezum, I thought. You rehearse these things all the time in your head — at least in high-crime cities like New Orleans. Now it’s happening! And I’m standing here in my underwear with a loaded shotgun, finally facing game that can shoot back. I swear I wasn’t scared at the time (that came later, and big-time.)
“Don’t shoot, Humberto!” my terrified sister-in-law shrieked again.
To heck with that, I thought. I’m gonna shoot up a storm! Not every day you get the jump on some scumbags, and a legal excuse to splatter their guts around. The saps had no idea they were walking into an armory. Hah! Can’t wait to see their eyes when they look down this barrel. I’ll scatter their brains all over my den. Heck, we’re insured.
The hallway was dark as I moved toward the stairway. My finger was tense on the safety and trigger. “Under fire, a man’s powers of life heighten in proportion to the proximity of death,” writes Phil Caputo in Rumor of War. “He feels an elation as extreme as his dread. His senses quicken.”
Phil has a point. This was a far cry from combat. But there was some of that feeling here. I swear I wasn’t scared (that came later, big-time). I got to the stairs, hit the light switch, and aimed--ready to start blasting away.
But that would have been very stupid. At the foot of the stairs stood my sister-in-law, a grimy hand covering her mouth, and two dreadlocked savages gripping her from each side. They’d been staked in the bushes and grabbed her as she opened the door. One held a revolver to her temple. The other pointed a .44 straight at my face. He looked like Snoop Dog, his partner like Bob Marley. Elaine’s eyes looked like cue-balls. Hmmmmm.
My sweet 16 pump was aimed at Snoop, who was aiming at me. He was about 30 feet away. The bead covered his ugly, filthy head, everything but the dreadlocks, which came to his shoulders.
“Put it down man!” he snarled. “Put the (expletive deleted) gun down man!”
I didn’t budge. The bead was steady. The safety was off. My finger was tensing. I swear I felt no fright, right then. “In combat he attains an acuity of consciousness at once pleasurable and excruciating — an elevated state of awareness.” That’s Caputo again. And again he’s right. I simply don’t recall being scared at the moment. But I definitely felt that “acuity of consciousness.”
And the same applied to them. They sure as heck didn’t look scared either. Elaine? Well, that’s a different matter. Her eyeballs dwarfed Marty Feldman’s. Snoop was even starting to smile, displaying some fancy gold bridgework. This confused me.
“Geezum,” I thought. It’s not supposed to go this way? In the movies criminals are always cowards. Now here’s a guy who should be jailed just for his looks, he’s got a shotgun pointed at him, and he’s smiling. In fact he’s walking up toward me! So what now?!
He took two steps and stopped. He adjusted the grip on his gun for a split second, waving his fingers around the grip just like Lee Marvin as Liberty Valence. These guys were pros.
“I can’t believe this,” I’m thinking. My bead was on Snoop’s nose now, barely covering from his eyes to his mouth ... time for a decision. “I know what you’re thinking,” but the Dirty Harry dialogue was in my own head. “This is your Teal gun, right Humberto? With the open choke, right? Is it tight enough at this range? Will it blast the scumbag’s face into black-bean chili? Or will it also riddle Elaine? And you can’t take both thugs out with one shot. Either you or Elaine will get it. Elaine for sure. So you might ask yourself: Do I feel lucky today? Well do....
“Put the (expletive deleted) gun DOWN, man!” Snoop snarled. “LAST time!”
Then he took another step, as did Marley, shoving Elaine along, the barrel hard against her cheek. Her tear-streaked face nodding helplessly, begging me to drop the gun, thinking it was over if I didn’t.
Up another step. Up another. Finally Snoop was ten feet in front of me. “Put the gun DOWN!”
And I did. I lowered it, and he jerked it from my grasp as Marley released Elaine. “Down!--DOWN on the floor! ALL of you! FACE DOWN!”
I was starting to regret my decision to surrender the gun. (A definite no-no, my cop buddies later insisted.)
“Well looky here!” Snoop suddenly whooped as his buddy whistled. They sounded genuinely thrilled, and surprised. Then I saw some sneakers walking toward my gun rack. Then the other sneakers walked over.
They emptied my gun rack. Then the sneakers walked back past us to the hall. We heard them clumping down the stairs while probably high-fiving. Then we waited a few seconds and got up. The front door was open, and they’d scurried off, obviously delighted with their booty.
Five minutes later, I was a trembling, stuttering wreck. And Elaine and Shirley were — I swear — laughing! The danger was over. The emotional dam had burst. Suddenly Shirley started cackling crazily:
“And there’s Dirty Harry!” she laughed, pointing at me. “Mr. Gunslinger at the showdown with his pump shotgun!”
Geezum, I thought. “She’s flipped! Strain’s too much for her, pregnant and all.” Shirley was red-faced and gasping-- but from hilarity!
“I could see your back through the hall, standing at the top of the stairs aiming down!” Shirley cackled, convulsed, dripping drool from her lower lip, leaning on her sister Elaine’s shoulder. Both were convulsed in hysterics now.
“And your underwear....your under—wear,” she cackled, “your underwear was rolled up your b*tt crack!”
I felt behind me. Geezum! She was right! I’d slid rather than jumped out of bed. The sliding did the trick. Dirty Harry as Gigolo, complete with G-string.
“Whooo-hooo!” cackled Elaine. ‘You sure gotta cute heiny, brud-n-law!”
When the cops came, we learned of a spate of similar armed robberies in the area — most accompanied by rapes. In our case, their unexpected haul of firearms probably altered their routine.
Oh, I know, I know, “Dirty” Harry Callahan faced a similar standoff at the end of his kick-off movie, if more appropriately attired. But he was quick on the draw and deadly with his aim. So he blew-away the giggling perp while saving the little girl.
The Monday-morning-quarterbacking/gunslinging by our family and friends lasted for years, mostly at my expense, especially at gatherings featuring booze. Dirty Harry, Josey Wales, Rooster Cogburn, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Audie Murphy, James Bond, Rambo, Robert De Niro in the Deerhunter, Tony Montana in Sacrface--they all showed me up big-time, I’m afraid. I made Woody Allen look like the Terminator. So be it.
How I’d love a different ending so I could end this column with a proper “moral” or “lesson.” But I cannot tell a lie. The above is exactly how it played out. But I’ll end with something “constructive” anyway:
For Americans of Cuban heritage the bit about “jack-booted thugs storming your house to grab your guns” is no joke. We saw it happen. “Armas para que?” (“Guns for what?”) Fidel Castro stressed in a speech in upon entering Havana in January 8th 1959. For some crazy reason the people who suffered through that gun-grab and today live in the U.S. remain the staunchest Republicans in modern U.S. history. Castro’s gun-grab combined with Kennedy’s surrender to Khrushchev (pledging not only to disarm Cuba’s desperately embattled and outgunned freedom fighters—but to prevent any nation in this Hemisphere from arming them) sealed Cuba’s doom.