Trapped In a Rolling Coffin
Curtist Sliwa is an activist and the founder of the Guardian Angels, a volunteer anti-crime organization. Founded in 1979 in New York, the group now leads unarmed safety patrols and spearheads educational programs in over 140 cities around the world. In 1992, Sliwa was ambushed by two gunmen from inside a stolen taxi in New York; he managed to escape but was shot repeatedly. John A. Gotti, son of the late Gambino family crime boss John Gotti, was charged with conspiring to murder Sliwa, but the case ended in a mistrial. Sliwa is currently a conservative radio talk show host.
Question: Tell us about how you survived being kidnapped and shot.
Curtis Sliwa: As a talk show host I comment about many things in life, but I particularly enjoy mob talk. I talk about the geriatric espresso-sipping psychotic killers of organized crime and if their names are Gotti and they’re in the Gambino crime family I have an orgasmatic verbal frenzy, because I know them. I know they’re degenerates right down to the marrow of their bone and when John Gotti senior was on trial for the last time, the fourth time when they stripped him of his teflon and he ended up doing triple life without parole at Marion in Illinois, I would critique the trial each and every morning after the day before's testimony. And I would talk about what an enemy of society, a cretin with chromosome damage and knuckle dragger, a jadrool, a muscle head this Gotti senior was and naturally every sycophant, Tony and lackey throughout the New York area would call up, disparage me, threaten me and tell me that I would soon be room temperature and I would say uffa to you and language that I can’t even describe here.
But you know what? They actually carried out their threats and so in April they decided to tune me up. They took out some baseball bats and laid in wait for me to come out of my apartment on the lower eastside to make my way to WABC at Madison Square Garden and they hit me about 32 times and rearranged my medulla and cerebellum so that all the furniture was upstairs and rearranged in the wrong rooms and assumed that I would learn the code of omerta, I would shut my mouth. Well the moment I got out of the ER at Beth Israel, I just ratcheted it up. Instead of a half hour a day of mob talk it was an hour a day and now I talked about unsolved crimes involving Gotti Senior and Gotti Junior and that obviously caused him to pop the top because I didn’t realize he was given an AM radio in federal prison, so he could listen to me every morning before he would go to trial and he ordered his son, the underboss of the Gambino crime family to whack me. He said, “You get little Nick-Nick Carazo who grew up with him in Canarsie.” “He knows every move.” “We know Sliwa was going to resist and this is the plot.”
They stole a yellow cab late at night, sawed the handles off on the inside and turned it into a rolling coffin and assumed that on one of those mornings I would pick their cab, which had their wheelman, a Gambino guy named Angelo Dundee Bundini Brown or something along those lines and the shooter, Michael Leonati. And they would go round and round the block and Joey DeAngelo looked like a cab driver and Michael Leonati was a killer extraordinaire, because he was an executioner. And on the sixth day that they went round and round bingo, lotto day for them. I picked their cab. I jumped in the back, told them, “Madison Square Garden, hurry up Mac.” He said, “No problem Sliwa.” And I thought wow, an English speaking cab driver, a guy who knows where he is going. Man, this is my day. I can max and relax, read the newspapers, prepare for the broadcast.
Halfway there instead of turning left and going west he turns right. The gabone goes east and I say, “Hey Mac, turn this sack around.” And all of the sudden he was putting the pedal to the medal and I could hear the transmission grinding and I said "I don’t think he is taking this to Amco for a transmission fix," and I said: “Hey Mac, I told you turn this sack around.” And then lickety-split within seconds all of the sudden some gorilla pops up in front of me who had been stuffed under the dashboard. He is popping a 38 right down at my three-piece set—my lower extremities, not the knife, spoon and fork—and all of the sudden he says, “Take this you son of a bitch, boom. And he fires and I could see the fire leave the barrel of the gun. Didn’t feel anything. I had never been shot before, so I assumed "Wow, this is just a bad dream or a misfire." And by the time I could come to my senses as my heart was beeping and I felt like Robby Robot in Lost in Space you know, “Danger Mr. Robinson, danger.” He raises the gun, fires a second time and now I feel it; the cramping, the blood is spewing, all of the sudden I’m in a panic and I immediately dive for the door, figure I’ll dive into oncoming traffic, risk becoming a speed bump—and they knew I would do that—and as I reached for the handle and pulled to yank it open it came off in my hand and pow, a third shot right through my legs like a hot knife to butter, had now been shot three times. I’m bleeding like a sieve. I’m stuffed beneath the driver trying to avoid the head shots. I’m fighting the gun off so he can’t pop two in the back of my head and then all of the sudden I pick up my Guardian Angel walkie-talkie. I say, “Angel one, code red, angel one.” And they start blabbering away and it distracts the driver, Joey DeAngelo who thinks maybe it’s NYPD 5-0, so he drives on the sidewalk. He drives back onto the street. He makes a radical turn going south towards the Williamsburg Bridge and I feel a gust of wind and I said feet don’t fail me now.
I got precious little energy, so I use the cushion in the back of the seat as if it were a trampoline, dived in the direction of what I felt was an open window because I felt the gust of wind. Luckily they had opened the window just moments before they had picked me up because the air conditioner wasn’t working. Lucky that the AC wasn’t working. I made it halfway out the window. The gunman panics. He realizes oh my God he is out the window, so he pulls me up by my belt. He puts the gun in my back. The driver at the same time crashes me into parked cars. They smash me like sardines, nut-to-butt. They pumped that final bullet in the back, pushed me out and figure I’m dead on arrival and now I’m sucking concrete.
Next thing you know they scrape me up off the asphalt, put me in a gurney, put me in the meat wagon, throw me on the emergency route of Bellevue and they start cutting and chopping and in an hour and a half, well actually hours later, days later I wake up in intensive care with every tube in every orifice of my body, the bells and whistles. I wake up slowly. I see that first face that indicates to me I’m alive, I’m not dead—and it’s Ed Koch my former nemesis, the former mayor of the city of New York who thought I was a hemorrhoid, and I thought I had died and gone straight to hell without an asbestos suit. When I came to my senses I realized I was alive. I took a licking and came back ticking. And let’s face it: It wasn’t my Martial Arts skill that saved the day or my street smarts. It was the man upstairs who decided it wasn’t... I wasn’t ready to by punching on the time clock yet and going out feet first.
Recorded July 8, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Curtis Sliwa recounts in vivid detail how in 1992 a seemingly normal cab ride turned into a near-death experience, leaving him shot and bleeding on a New York sidewalk.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
You can say 'no' to things, and you should. Do it like this.
- Give yourself permission to say "no" to things. Saying yes to everything is a fast way to burn out.
- Learn to say no in a way that keeps the door of opportunity open: No should never be a one-word answer. Say "No, but I could do this instead," or, "No, but let me connect you to someone who can help."
- If you really want to say yes but can't manage another commitment, try qualifiers like "yes, if," or "yes, after."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.