This is a true story, or as true as I can tell it, based on my memories from over thirty years ago, and from what I was told by various individuals, regarding the no good, very bad beating I took at the hands of some very bad men. You see, I likely wasn’t conscious at the time my rescuer took the action that saved my life or prevented even worse injuries to me from occurring. My personal memories of the violent assault that three known criminals committed against me, which left me hospitalized due to severe brain trauma, are limited and sketchy at best. Before I get into the details of that violent crime, however, let me provide a little background and set the stage for my little tale of violence, as it were.

This all occurred in August of 1980 when I was 23 and living in Denver, Colorado. Specifically, I resided in the Capitol Hill district, so named because, the state capitol building is in the area. The state capitol building and grounds are bounded by Colfax Avenue on the north, Lincoln Street to the west, 14th Ave on the south, and Grant Street to the East. Here’s a nice picture of the Colorado State Capitol Building for you. That’s real gold on the dome, by the way.

I lived in an apartment complex just south of the Capitol proper on Sherman Street near Tenth Avenue (you can tell Colorado became a state in 1876 just from those street names – but I digress). Capitol Hill is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Denver, with large deciduous trees lining many of its streets and 1930’s era apartment buildings intermingled with stately homes and mansions originally built for the members of Denver’s upper upper class during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here’s a picture of my apartment building from the Sherman Street side. It looks much the same as I remember it.

In 1980, the “Hill” was not as fashionable place to live as it is now. At the time, it still contained a number of rundown, somewhat seedy restaurants and bars. Though the overall population was quite diverse with many single young people who worked downtown or were students at one of the city’s local universities and colleges, Capitol Hill was known as the “queer” part of the Queen City of the Plains because that’s where a large percentage of the LGBT community of Denver lived (and still do). Denver’s largest gay bar and dance club (and it was a pretty seedy place at the time) was roughly five blocks or so from my building, and Cheesman Park, a popular cruising ground for gay men, was due east of me.

I mention the latter because it was well established by the late seventies that Capitol Hill was Denver’s local gayborhood, the one area of the city where LGBT people could be open about their identity without fear of ostracism, or worse, from their neighbors (well less fear anyway). The landlord of my building was gay, and he lived in one of the ground floor apartments. I was married and living with my second wife, but my marriage was crumbling around me.

My wife had been instrumental in encouraging me to explore my bisexuality, but that process had gone farther than she perhaps initially believed or expected it would go. Many nights I went to the local dance club, either with her or alone. I was quite thin, had narrow shoulders and my facial bone structure gave me a very androgynous, even somewhat effeminate appearance, which I accentuated with make-up (mascara, eye shadow, blush, etc.) and dressing in some of my wife’s clothing, primarily items such as silk camisoles and satin halter tops. I grew my hair long and curled it before going out dancing. I wasn’t exactly a drag queen, but I did whatever I could to feminize my features.

My second wife and I had many other issues that contributed to our marital discord, as well, notably our mutual drug and alcohol abuse. My wife also received treatment from a psychiatrist for borderline personality disorder and depression (she had attempted suicide once during our relationship, which led to a two week stay in a psychiatric hospital). In other words, I don’t want to suggest that my coming out as a bisexual was the sole reason for our marital difficulties. Nonetheless, it certainly played a part in our ultimate separation and divorce.

In the days leading up to my physical assault, I was alone at our apartment. My wife was taking some time away to visit a girlfriend, or so she told me. In actuality, she was having an affair with an older man and was staying at his home in Evergreen, Colorado, a fact that she later confessed after she left me.

I was, to be charitable, somewhat of a mess in my early twenties. I knew my life was in a downward spiral, but I was at a loss as to what to do about my situation. I was very much in love with my wife, but I had become, for lack of a better word, addicted to the experience of going to the local gay club and getting picked up by gay men for sexual encounters. It would be fair to say I was in denial about the impact my behavior had on our marital relationship and my wife’s frame of mind. I was also frequently numbed by my constant abuse of recreational drugs. Here’s a short list of what I used on a regular basis:

  1. Hashish
  2. Marijuana
  3. Crystal Methamphetamine
  4. MDA
  5. Nitrous Oxide
  6. Cocaine
  7. Jack Daniel’s (and other alcoholic beverages)
  8. Amyl Nitrite

As you can see, I was no piker when it came to drug abuse, and my wife used all of the same drugs, in part to self medicate in an attempt to control her mood swings. She’d take meth when she was depressed, and drink heavily and take sedatives on days she was too manic. I did much the same, using drugs to avoid dealing with my own stress and emotional issues.

The day before I became a crime statistic, an old friend from high school visited me. We spent most of the afternoon getting high on weed and coke. He left in the early evening, so I dressed up and went out to dance and possibly hook up with someone because I didn’t want to be alone. A man did in fact pick me up and I went to his apartment after the club closed. I spent the rest of the night at his place, but I chose not to sleep with him. I left around five am, and, exhausted upon returning back at my apartment, slept for almost twelve hours. I awoke around five or six in the evening.

We had nothing to eat in the house, so after some more coke and a joint, I decided to drive to the closest McDonald’s on East Colfax Avenue to get a hamburger. It was a Friday night; I remember that much because I was schedule to work the weekend as a Pharmacy Technician at St. Joseph’s Hospital (located off 17th Avenue, east of downtown). I walked down the back stairs to the parking lot for our building, plopped myself in the driver’s seat of my wife’s VW Bug (our only car, which she had left behind for my use). Many streets in Capitol Hill are designated one-way only, so I turned right out of the parking lot onto Grant Street heading south, jogged east onto 10th Ave, and one block later turned north onto Logan Street heading toward Colfax, where Micky D’s was waiting for me. It was sometime around 8 pm, give or take.

Here comes the point where my memory isn’t quite as reliable. I remember heading north on Logan and being cut off by a white paneled van. I then recall swinging around the van on the right, passing it and then pulling in front of it into the left lane. My driver’s side window was down (it was a warm evening, in the mid 80’s, and the VW had no air conditioning), and it is possible I may have yelled something of a derogatory nature at the driver of the van. I have no recollection of having done so. However, when I was cross-examined at the preliminary hearing for two of the men charged with assaulting me, the defense attorney for one of them asked if I had called the driver a “motherfucker” and flipped him off, suggesting to the Judge that was indeed just what I had done. It may have happened that way, but I didn’t remember doing that, and I still don’t.

The next thing I remember is the white van pulling out from behind my car, passing me on the right, then veering sharply into my lane to cut me off. I remember the van braking suddenly and the VW I was driving crashing into the van’s rear end near 13th Avenue. I felt pretty shaken. I saw people getting out of the van. I started to search through the glove compartment of my wife’s car to look for the registration. The next thing I remember was the angry face of a large red-haired man looking in at me from the driver’s side. The man had a long red beard and was shouting at me. I tried to tell him I was looking for the car registration.

The next memory I have is of lying in the gutter while a lizard skin cowboy boot attached to a leg wearing blue jeans was stomping and kicking me repeatedly in the head. I could see small reddish colored pieces of gravel while this was happening, and feel them being ground into my face (odd the details that stick in one’s mind). I also heard someone cursing me quite loudly – specifically calling me a “fucking faggot” several times. After that I lost consciousness, and I knew nothing of what happened to me until I woke up several hours later in the emergency department of Denver General Hospital (“DG”), where a ER doctor was sewing up a three inch gash that ran across the brow line above my right eye. Took 11 stitches as I recall. My eyebrow grew back, and covers most of the scar so it isn’t all that visible anymore.

I had numerous other bruises, scrapes and cuts that hurt like hell, but fortunately I had no broken bones. I did have a one terrific headache from a concussion, though. It was only hours later when one of the doctors officially released me and told I could leave the hospital, however, that I learned the true extent of my injury. As I attempted to go through two swinging doors that led to the exit, I fell flat on my face. I didn’t trip on a rug or other obstruction. I simply lost all sense of balance. A neurologist would later tell me this was likely the result of being kicked in the back of my head, where the cerebellum, the primary part of the brain that controls balance and motor control, is located.

I spent the next four days at DG having various tests performed and being examined by an array of neurologists. Finally, after I satisfied the head neurologist assigned to my case that I had recovered my balance, and after no signs of a more severe injury presented themselves, or were discovered by the various x-rays and blood tests that were done (e.g., such as a hematoma – bleeding on the brain), I was sent home. I had recurring headaches for the next few months, but over time those also went away.

To this day, I have no idea how I ended up out of the car and in the gutter so three thugs could play soccer with my head. However, I was told by my victim’s advocate (yes they had a victim’s advocates’ office in Denver back then), just prior to my testimony at the aforementioned preliminary hearing, that other witnesses had seen me being punched and kicked by three men next to my wife’s car, a beating that went on until police arrived on the scene. My advocate, a middle aged woman, also told me, that one man, allegedly the driver, left the scene before the police arrived. All of the men involved had criminal records involving numerous acts of violence, from simple assault to, in the case of the driver who escaped arrest, voluntary manslaughter. Indeed, that individual had just been released from prison three weeks before I had the misfortune to come across his path.

Unfortunately, none of the witnesses to my little ass kicking were willing to get close enough to get a good look at my assailants. Not that I blame any of them. These were very bad, very dangerous men. If I had to characterize the two defendants I saw at the preliminary hearing (one of whom I recognized), I’d say they most resembled individuals who could have belonged to The Hell’s Angels, that notorious motorcycle gang/social club. If I saw someone like that kicking the hell out of another person, I’d probably do the same thing those witnesses did – keep my distance – and for good reason.

I never learned if the police who arrested those creeps found knives or guns or other weapons on them or in their van. I asked the victim’s advocate if they had, but she didn’t know (or wouldn’t tell me) and I spent less than five minutes with the prosecuting attorney to go over my testimony before the hearing. The question of whether they were armed or not never came up. The two public defenders who represented my attackers did ask me if I could identify the defendants (one I could, the other I couldn’t). However, nothing either the prosecutor of the public defenders said implied that these men had been armed. Indeed, the only thing that did become apparent from the questions I answered was that both defendants had decided to defend themselves by claiming all of my injuries were caused by the “third man,” the one who got away. Perhaps he was armed. Perhaps the other two were armed as well. I’ll never know. But if I had been a witness to my assault, and not the victim, I sure wouldn’t have wanted to take the risk that they weren’t.

But Steve, I can hear you saying right about now. Your title speaks of a weapon that was used to save your life. We’ve read this far and you haven’t spoken of it once. So, what the hell was it? Well, it wasn’t a gun, I can tell you that. But before I do tell you what it was and who used it, let’s look at the definition of the word weapon, shall we.

From the Free Dictionary:

weap·on (wpn)
1. An instrument of attack or defense in combat, as a gun, missile, or sword. […]

3. A means used to defend against or defeat another: Logic was her weapon.

The weapon that saved my life, wasn’t a combat weapon. It wasn’t a gun, a knife or a sword. No masked man suddenly appeared to save the day. No citizen with a concealed carry permit took our his or her handgun and waved it around in front of the faces of those three “bad men” to force them to stop kicking the shit out of my head. No, my savior was a lowly taxicab driver and his weapon of choice was a communication device: the two-way radio in his cab.

Now I can’t vouch for this personally, but that is what I was told by the police who interviewed me at the hospital. A cab driver driving up Logan Street witnessed the three men as they attacked me. He saw one of them hit me through my open window, and then all three of them pull me out of my car and start going to town on my skinny ass with their fists and their boots. He immediately pulled over and called his dispatcher who contacted the police. The cops arrived within two or three minutes later, and luckily got there in time to arrest two of my assailants. If that unknown cab driver (unknown to me, for I never had the chance to meet him and thank him for what he did) hadn’t acted so promptly who knows what would have happened to me, because by all accounts the beating I was taking continued until the police cars rolled up.

Now you have to remember that this was in the age before cell phones (I know some of you younger people may find that difficult to believe, but there was a time before cell phones – cross my heart and hope to die, it’s all perfectly true). CB radios and other two-way radio transceivers, however, did exist. I was extremely lucky that a person with access to one came along in time and used it appropriately, or I might not be here today to share this story with you.

Now is a two-way communication device, such as a radio transceiver or a cell phone really a weapon? Well, in the context of the crime committed against me, and under the definition I’ve provided above, i.e., “a means to defend against … another,” I contend it does, and a most effective weapon it proved to be, at that.

I do not know what would have happened had someone with a gun suddenly appeared on the scene and used it against my attackers, either by shooting at them or threatening them. Perhaps I would have been rescued sooner. Or perhaps I would have been shot dead by a stray bullet. Perhaps my attackers would have all gotten away and escaped justice. Or worse, maybe they would have pulled out their own guns and killed my would be hero. There’s no way to know, and besides how often do people who carry guns (who aren’t police officers) just happen to arrive at the scene of crime while it is in progress? Despite the millions of guns that people own or illegally possess in this country, we still have hundreds of violent crimes committed every day. We had armed guards and police at Columbine, Virginia Tech and other scenes of mass shootings and that didn’t do squat to stop the killings.

On the other hand, millions of us have cell phones. I’d wager that more people have a cell phone than own a gun in this country. So let me suggest to you that the best thing you can do in most cases when you witness a crime occurring or other emergency is to pull out that little thing you carry in your pocket or purse, the one with all its gazillion apps, games and whatnot, and use it to dial 911.

Let’s talk turkey, shall we. Not anyone knows how to properly use a firearm correctly, especially in tense situations involving acts of violence or potential violence. Most gun owners, if they will be honest with themselves, are not trained in how to properly respond to such dangerous situations. Even law enforcement officials make mistakes regarding the use of force, and they train all the time for just such contingencies. However, just about anyone, including your ninety year old grandma, can dial 911. And while millions of people may own guns, they are not carrying them around 24/7, unless their job requires them to do so. On the other hand, who doesn’t leave the house without a cell phone these days? All things considered, it is likely your best defense against violent criminals in all but the rarest occasions.

So that is why I chose the title I did. And whether you have a concealed carry permit, or own guns for the purpose of self defense, please consider that a gun ought to be your weapon of last resort, after you’ve used that other item in your arsenal first – your humble interpersonal communication device – your phone.

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