gary shot

I believe in Karma, and am hip to its historic and theological origins. But in real life it works like this: I was a PR guy during the dot com boom visiting New York on business. The guy, vice president of a major telecom company, now defunct, was a gregarious New Yorker, lived in Manhattan, grew up there.

The ‘Zoo York’ accent was strong with him — he stretched my name “Gary” into many syllables and told stories with his hands, wore french cuffs, and bought his suits from a “suit guy” he knew.

It was a brief visit, mostly business, and then back to Chicago the same day. And when our business was over, I noted the amount of Yankees gear adorning his skyline office. He finally smiled, and lightened up even more when I made a few Chicago Cubs jokes at my own expense.

After our interview, we went down to Park Avenue to shoot a portrait of him, Penn Station bright against the autumn sky in the background.

I got a nice shot, he approved the image, and then Mr. Baseball insisted I walk with him to the official Yankees store so he could buy me my very own FITTED Yankees baseball cap, which I figured I would never wear or display.

On the way, I started talking, looking back at him when — mid step into a busy intersection in Manhattan — he violently grabbed my suit collar and yanked my body backward.

I actually heard my neck crack with the force of it — a sound followed by the roar of a city bus less than a foot in front of my face.

The Yankee saved my life. Real as a paid obituary; or real like a soldier jumping on a live grenade and everybody living and buying ball caps after. I wore mine the rest of the day with pride.

Now, 15 years later, I’m sitting in traffic, with my fiance at a busy intersections in my hometown. We are listening to music over the roar of the defroster when, in between cars parked at a red light, a young woman with obvious mental and or physical impairment begins staggering between them — it’s as if she’s in some sort of Frogger game. Except that not all the lanes are stopped …

The final lane, the turn-lane directly next to us, is wide open. We both look at the woman be-bopping across the highway. I look in my rear view and see a delivery truck bearing down, just as she staggers out of my right headlight’s glow. “What the…”

I hit the power window for the passenger side and barely get it down a crack — this happening within about 3 seconds — and yell “Watch Out!”

She pauses — not at the oncoming danger, the headlights and the tons of metal moving at 45 MPH — but to look back at the crazy man. The truck roars by in a hail of exhaust and road salt. The lucky woman turns and resumes her travels, never, apparently, aware of anything more than someone screaming at her.

Her sudden appearance leaves us stunned when the light turns green, so sure we were about to witness the horror of airborne body parts, days before Christmas.

So Karma: A life saved and a life given. I believe it comes from the Divine, but even if you don’t, you have little to lose by heeding its gentle warnings, even if it’s to grab a dude you barely know or yell at someone like a crazy man.

Gary Mays is a veteran freelance writer, editor and investigative reporter who has worked for The Chicago Tribune, The Wisconsin (Madison) State Journal, and other, smaller but no-less- important publications.

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