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The Bullet Meant for Me

The Bullet Meant for Me

by Jan Reid, Jeffrey Gitomer (Narrated by), Ed Sala (Narrated by)

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On April 20, 1998, Jan Reid was shot during a robbery in Mexico City, where he had gone to watch his friend, the boxer Jesus Chavez, fight. In The Bullet Meant for Me, Reid powerfully recounts his ordeal, the long chain of life events that brought him to that fateful attack, and his struggle to regain the ability to walk and to be a full partner in a deeply satisfying


On April 20, 1998, Jan Reid was shot during a robbery in Mexico City, where he had gone to watch his friend, the boxer Jesus Chavez, fight. In The Bullet Meant for Me, Reid powerfully recounts his ordeal, the long chain of life events that brought him to that fateful attack, and his struggle to regain the ability to walk and to be a full partner in a deeply satisfying marriage. Reexamining the whole trajectory of his life, Reid questions how much the Texan ideal of manhood shaped his identity, including his love for boxing and participation in the sport. He meditates on male friendship as he tells the story of his close relationship with Chavez, whose career and personal travails Reid details with empathy and insight. And he describes his long months in physical therapy, during which he drew on the unwavering love of his wife and daughter, as well as the courage and strength he had learned from boxing, to heal his body and spirit. A moving, intimate portrait of a man, a friendship, and a marriage, The Bullet Meant for Me is Jan Reid's most personal book.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"In an instant I went from drunk to sober. A gun in your face does that to you," writes Texas Monthly's Reid (Close Calls) about being ambushed by pistoleros after leaving a Mexico City prizefight in 1998. But his Raymond Chandler tough-guy style quickly changes when he takes a punch at the robber, is shot in the spine and diagnosed a probable paraplegic by doctors. Reid's memoir is more than just the story of his recovery with enormous pain, luck and physical therapy, he does recover but a serious and illuminating meditation on how his life has been influenced by images of masculinity: "I have to ask if precepts of manliness, ingrained almost from birth, led me to insert myself in a place and a predicament I need never have known." Reid charts how popular culture shapes masculinity via examples like Lawrence of Arabia, the Marines and, particularly in his case, the culture of boxing, which he discovers during a mid-life crisis and takes up as a "new addiction." The book's most moving passages explore his relationship with Jesus Chavez (the young Mexican boxer whom Reid went to Mexico to see fight) and it is here that the author evokes the possibility of alternative ways for men to relate, particularly while chronicling Chavez's difficult career (and its attendant immigration issues) and his own attachment to the fighter as compensatory for his feelings of inadequacy. Elsewhere, the use of Viagra and the injectable Caverjet are described. Border culture plays a huge supporting role in the book as Reid wonderfully describes its beauties, dangers and daily life. Reid has written a striking, intensely personal and emotionally honest record of his life. (On sale Mar. 12) Forecast: Since it lacks a how-to angle, this may not be the next Iron John, but men (and women) who appreciated Fight Club will find this real-world story a positive, humanist, unadorned yang to the former book's nihilist yin. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Memoir by an American journalist shot and paralyzed in a Mexico City robbery. Texas Monthly writer Reid (Close Calls, not reviewed) begins with the 1998 shooting, backtracks to the events leading up to it, and then covers it again in more detail. Born in 1945 in Wichita Falls, Texas, Reid suffered with a "girl's name," a skinny body, and no football skill. Two warm adult relationships provide the backbone of his story. In 1980, Reid met Dorothy Browne, an ACLU worker and mother of a four-year-old girl. Their happy marriage survived the stress of his injuries and rehab. Reid develops paternal feelings for Jesus Chavez, a 22-year-old world-class boxer he trains with in a dumpy Austin gym. Jesus is hiding from the immigration authorities in Texas after serving a prison term for an adolescent robbery in Illinois (where his name was Gabriel Sandoval). Perpetual Mexican/Texan tensions are exacerbated by the harsher 1996 immigration laws, which lead to Jesus' deportation. Reid and friends travel to Mexico City to see him fight, unaware that the State Department has classified the city as a dangerous foreign destination. Hijacked in a green VW Beetle, Reid provokes a gunman and is shot. In recovery scenes reminiscent of those in Joseph Heller's No Laughing Matter, a multitude of friends provide support, but it's Reid's own hard work that heals his body. Kind, pretty therapists and the desire to box again ease the pain and frustration. The stimulation of sexual desire with a Caverject needle creates a hilarious, if painful, scene. The memoir wraps up with Reid redux, returning to the scene of the crime and Jesus, green card in hand, anticipating a bout with featherweight champ Floyd Mayweather Jr.Honest and likable, paying tribute to the love of family and friends that helped Reid survive.
Washington Post
"Simultaneously haunting and heartwarming, this memoir brings the horror of random (or almost random) violence fully to life and demonstrates how one man used that experience as a stepping-stone toward his own intellectual enlightenment."
Denver Post
"There's a wealth of strong imagery in this memoir, but what truly generates its power is the magnetism of decency that allows the writer, and vicariously the reader, to rise beyond fear and the chaos of rage."

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Recorded Books, LLC
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Read an Excerpt


Mexico City April 20, 1998

In the lambent sprawl of Plaza Garibaldi mariachis stood about with slim hopes of anyone hiring them. It was a little after one a.m. But the roving beer hawkers were still busy yanking cans from ring-tops of six-packs and offering singles for a few pesos. Mike Hall noticed that we were the only gringos anywhere in sight. I was oblivious to that but I winced on seeing John Spong and David Courtney buy two more Modelos. I was ready to call it a night. I was fifty-three, the only one among us who was married. Mike, the next oldest at forty, was a thin, soft-spoken man who had tanked a small career as a rock songwriter and recording artist so he could make a better living as a magazine editor and journalist. His laugh was both soft and explosive, and during the long weekend we had gone from being colleagues to friends; with fine wit he had briefed me on the ups and downs of his life as a musician. The lark in Mexico City had been like that for all of us, except that John and David were already close friends, best friends it seemed. Their banter had that timing, the practiced knowing of what the other was about to say.

The younger of the two, John was a dropout lawyer breaking into magazine work as a fact-checker. John was six feet and slender, with auburn hair and long sideburns. People noticed him; he had the air of a wiseacre, a funnyman. David, a freelance writer who specialized in music, was in the second hour of his thirty-second birthday. He wore a ridiculous straw bowler he had bought on the ZÃ?calo, the city's vast central square. David swigged from a fresh beer and pointed out a troupe of norte's--musicians from northernMexico who were distinguished from the black-clad mariachis by their brown suits. He and John started to amble over and check them out.

We had come to Mexico City to watch a prizefight. The night before, we had watched my young friend Jesus Chavez stop a Mexico City opponent. The arena where he made his Mexican debut was in a dark and dangerous barrio on the periphery of Plaza Garibaldi. I knew we were pushing our luck to come back here. But the others argued that one more night in the Tenampa Bar would give our trip a symmetry--where it began, where it ended. I kept silent, went along, relaxed after downing the first beer and shot of tequila, and soon held up my share of the talk and laughter. But the whole trip had been a bittersweet affair for me. Jesus had gained a number one world ranking the same month the U.S. government ordered him deported. In a few hours we were going home, and I had growing doubts that Jesus ever could.

Watching John and David wander off toward the norte's, I said to Mike: "Let's get these guys out of here." He told me later it was the first time he had ever heard me sound impatient, and it was the only time this trip I invoked whatever authority that came with my years.

In Austin I worked out in the boxing gym where Jesus emerged as a contender. These days I did it just for exercise, sparring rarely, but I had sweated and banged myself into the best condition of my life. Among the young fighters, I was respected as one of the old guys who could make the big bags pop. Jesus lived in a dusty little room at the gym for several months, and it quickly became apparent that we were in the company of a real talent. With undercards that showcased the novelty of skilled women boxing, Jesus's frenetic main events in a converted rock music hall breathed raw excitement into a town with little history in the sport, and for Jesus, with it came the regional titles, then the television, and the climb up the rankings. But Jesus was more than just a star athlete to me, and to him I was more than an aging hanger-on. When I walked in the gym he would call out "Zhannreeed," and at the end of the days we often sat on the ring apron talking about things far removed from boxing. Then, suddenly, his dream and prospects were crushed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and a massive new federal law. Lawyers and federal judges would be analyzing the new immigration guidelines for years, trying to determine exactly what they meant, but one aspect seemed certain: if noncitizens had ever committed a felony in the United States, they not only could be deported--they had to be. The law allowed the INS no discretion, leniency, or, it seemed to me, common sense.

My friend was deported to a country he scarcely knew. He hadn't lived in Mexico since he was ten years old. As the day of his departure got closer, for a couple of hours we could forget and escape it in the gym. Jesus used to train me, and I was fascinated by how much the little guy knew. One day I was trying to make my left uppercut into more than a clumsy shove. "Relax your hand," he told me, "and raise your right heel just a little." The heavy bag popped loudly and danced on the end of the chain. Explain that. Jesus refused to patronize or humor me, though. Calling and taking my punches with gloves that resemble catcher's mitts, he would pop them together loudly, as if to wake me up, and poke me between my heaving ribs and wheezing lungs.

"How you gonna hit me standing way out there?" he ragged me for my cemented footwork. "You've gotta step up in the pocket, then throw that jab."

Those words would come back to haunt me.

I can't remember when I first heard about the peril of the green cabs. It was one of those buzzes that suddenly pervade the conversation of travelers bound for a common destination. In the Mexi- can capital, drivers remove the passenger bucket seats of old-style Volkswagen Beetles to make room for more fares to pile inside, they paint the cars bright green with white roofs, and hit the streets. You see them by the thousands--unregulated gypsies and, lately, predators in collusion with armed robbers. Residents swore these urban bandits were cops or ex-cops. My friends and I had discussed the hubbub about the green VWs. How much was real, and how much was gringo paranoia? Logistics had divided us and forced us into the green bugs a few times, and nothing had happened. We spoke some Spanish and were veteran travelers. We were big strong guys. We figured we had strength in numbers. We were unaware that the U.S. State Department had just added Mexico City to its list of most dangerous foreign destinations.

Finally all of us were ready to call it a night. Despite my brooding about the immigration policy and my worry about Jesus, we had enjoyed a fine getaway in the Mexican capital. Now it was time to go back to our apartment and sleep and, the next day, board a plane and resume our lives in Texas. With self-assurance John Spong walked out to the line of taxis that served Plaza Garibaldi. He waved on a couple of VWs, then a mostly white Japanese compact pulled up. It looked fairly new and expensive, which made it seem reliable. But the lower fenders and doors were painted green.

I never saw the driver's face. I said hello to him as I slid across the backseat. He stared straight ahead and offered nothing but a vague grunt. We had already taken one cab ride from the plaza to our apartment, and I knew landmarks along the well-lighted way. Soon after leaving the cabstand, this driver made a sharp turn and raced through the dark barrio.

"This doesn't look right," I said.

Why didn't I lock the doors, if my presentiment was so strong? Or just throw my arms around his neck? I could have easily overpowered the guy. But you want it not to happen; you want to be wrong. And so you do nothing.

We reemerged on the Paseo de la Reforma and breathed easier. But in the detour we had picked up a tail--one of those green and white Volkswagen Beetle cabs. Mike rode in the front seat of our Nissan; in the back I was squeezed between John and David. The taxi driver carried us almost to our apartment--hen stopped abruptly in the middle of a block. Mike had noticed the VW, and he looked back and saw a nightmare. In disbelief's slow motion, two men jumped out and ran toward us holding guns. "Go, go!" Mike cried, turning to the driver, but he was hunkered down, stonefaced. The deliveryman.

The pistoleros threw open the doors and vaulted inside; with a lurch our taxi sped off. Both men appeared to be in their thirties. Their guns were old, scarred .38 revolvers. In an instant I went from drunk to sober. A gun in your face does that to you. The robber in the backseat was fat, doughy-faced, and nervous. He forced down the heads of John and David and tried to hide his own face by burrowing into an absurd, rolling semblance of a football pileup.

In the middle, pinned back by their weight, I sat face-to-face with the honcho in front. He had sharp, angular features and black hair combed Elvis-fashion. Possibly a ladies' man. "Shut up! Go to sleep!" he yelled. He sat on Mike's leg and stuck the gun's muzzle in his ear.

The last thing I needed was a lot of eye contact with this guy, but with all the weight and bulk in my lap, forcing me back against the seat, I couldn't avoid it. Responding to my gaze, Honcho leaned over the seat and pistol-whipped me across the cheekbone. He didn't hit me very hard. It was like he was asserting his dominance, controlling an animal. His English was pretty good. He was used to handling a gun and ordering people around. Even odds the robber was a cop.

But he was a bungling thief. Honcho took Mike Hall's watch, then seemed to get distracted. On and on we rode with the second gunman, this wordless, out-of-breath hooligan, in our laps. The preposterousness magnified the terror. I watched Mike lean over until his head touched the driver's shoulder. His expression was that of someone patiently bent on riding this out. For no reason I could determine, Honcho whacked me with the gun again. I was astonished by my calm.

"Well, so much for not taking the green cabs," reflected John. In the hassle and backtalk of telling Honcho that he had spent his last peso on beer, he also got his mouth bloodied by the gun. "I don't know, man," he said in high register, to no one in particular, "this has gone on a long time."

On my right, David was twisted like a pretzel under the second gunman's weight, yet he clung to his dumb straw hat. "I can't breathe, get him off me," David groaned at one point, sounding panicky. Moments later he announced: "I'm gonna open the door and throw this fat fuck out of here."

That's a bold idea, the others of us thought. We wondered what we would do with the driver and Honcho then, and the scenario did not look promising. Watching the muzzle of Honcho's gun, which was an inch away from Mike's temple, John told David, "You might hold up on that."

Copyright 2002 by Jan Reid

What People are Saying About This

Abraham Verghese
"Jan Reid's memoir is a powerful story of love, loss, and one kind of redemption. Living to tell such a tale is an accomplishment in itself, but it takes an even greater talent to write it so beautifully."
Bud Shrake
"This is an honest, enthralling memoir that hits with the impact of a bullet in the gut. Reading it will force you to reevaluate many things you take for granted."
Rick Bass
"How rare they seem in the world, these too-few stories of redemption and dignity. The Bullet Meant for Me is alternately nightmarish and light-filled, and impossible to turn away from."

Meet the Author

JAN REID, of Austin, Texas, is the author or editor of several books, including Rio Grande, The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, and Deerinwater. He is a founding contributor and writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and has also written for Esquire, the New York Times, Men's Journal, GQ, and many other publications.

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