Hey Man Nice Shot

Thaddeus Gunn

The guy who pressed the gun against the back of my head said, What would you say if I blew your brains out right now? which is, I mean, come on, fucking hilarious on the face of it.

It was August hot. The slice of sky above the alley was like polished opal. The air smelled like roasted piss. It was all so acrid and beautiful. All I wanted to do was get a beer after a shitty day running a cigar store. The Backdoor Ultra Lounge was right across the alley behind the building. I locked up, shuffled through the alley, saw the door right in front of me – and then, this fucking guy. Comes up behind me. Puts his pistol against the back of my head. Tries to be tough and comes off sounding like a cheesedick.

What would I say if he blew my brains out right now?

I’d say, “Hey man, nice shot.” I don’t know what he said next. Probably some more punk-ass tough guy rhetoric, some hackneyed off-the-rack movie dialogue. I can’t remember.

I had my hands in the air because I’m not stupid. I interrupted his bullshit soliloquy. I said, “I haven’t seen you. I’m going to start walking toward that door over there. My wallet is in my back right pocket. You can take it.” Then it was my turn to say something really stupid. “You can come with me if you want. I’ll buy you a beer.”

I started walking. He left my wallet. And he started walking, too.

Spoiler: I’m not dead.  


I have an L5/S1 rupture that’s painful as hell, even more so when my masseuse puts her elbowsinto it. One time she dug into me and I burst out laughing. She stopped. “What’s so funny?” 

Between laughs, I said, “That’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

She said, “Aah. Trauma response. And went back to work.

I’d never heard those two words together.


Everybody thinks “Hey Man Nice Shot” is about Kurt Cobain, but it was written way before he pulled the trigger. Richard Patrick of Fitler wrote the song in 1991, the year punk broke into the mainstream with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It wasn’t released until 1995, which was about the time everyone got tired of dressing like cold, broke lumberjacks and started wearing babydoll dresses and jeans with legs the width of storm drains. So it served as a backstop of sorts to the grunge era, which, as I said before, ironically began the year punk broke.

The song peaked at number 10 on the alternative charts in May, 1995, the month after it was released. Dude With A Gun accosted me in the alley behind the Smith Tower in Seattle three years later, and since the world moved a whole lot slower then, I’d  bet money that  the song was still in recurrent rotation on alternative radio. I figured he might get the reference, but in retrospect, I don’t think Dude With A Gun consumed much alt rock. 

Wait’ll I tell you what this motherfucker was wearing.

A UPS uniform. Seriously. That’s all you have to know.


My brother Tom was ten years older than me. He bought me my first model rocket kit. It was a birthday present that our parents would in no way condone. He helped me build it, improve the design to make it more sleek, and launch it from our backyard in the backyard regardless of trees, tinder-covered roofs, neighbors, cops. When we got tired of perfectly flawless flight and recovery (the aim of any model rocketeer), Tom improvised a warhead for it from a shotgun shell and turned it into a mortar. The sound it made when it impacted the lawn, that satisfying whump¸ and the sharp smell of expended cordite, is still one of my favorite memories.

Tom was really good at that stuff. He built pipe bombs and tested them in our backyard. It was 1969. He was a teenager and he wanted to kill Klansmen. Or cops. Or our dad. Any authority figure, really.

I remember this particularly exquisite bomb he built once. He actually took the time to shorten the pipe and thread both ends. If you haven’t threaded a pipe, it’s difficult. It takes muscle. He and I had no physical similarities. Tom was near twenty and built like a silverback. I was a preteen and built like a milk sylph. I was tender and girlish. He was square and igneous. He had every muscle necessary to twist a pipe into submission. I was in awe.

I remember the times he and our dad would fight. They would go bare knuckles in the dining room. He was only two-thirds dad’s size but was solid enough to hold his own. I’d hide under the dining room table, listen to the punches land, and come out only when they were both too hoarse and spent to notice my presence.

He filled the pipe with cordite, thermite, and homemade gelignite, impregnated it with bbs, drilled a hole in one end to accept the fuse. It was clean and sturdy. He placed it in a hole that he dug, which was roughly the size of a coffee can, in the backyard and lit the fuse. He told me to lay flat on the ground. 

The shrapnel tore the limbs from the mulberry tree. It shredded the quince, exposing sweet

pulp. I remember the way the confetti of all of it drifted down and blessed us both with ruin.

Sometime that year or the year after, he became old enough to purchase firearms. His first was a

Winchester .22. Then a 12-gauge. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, he would amass a whole goddamn forest of guns.

But some time that year that he first bought a gun or the year after, he started trying out new things. The old tortures – the Chicken Peck, the Pinkbelly, the Indian Burn – weren’t inventive enough anymore. So he started using more complicated tactics, like rolling me in a carpet and leaving me in the yard in the middle of the night. Or hog-tying me and hanging me in a locked closet on a hot day.

He told me about his plan to murder our father, how he’d hide in the back entry, wait for the old man to come home from work, and make it look like a robbery. He told me this plan in detail while he was loading his gun. Then he turned the gun on me with a warning of what would happen to me if I said anything.

From then on, pointing a loaded weapon at me became his preferred method of securing either my silence or cooperation. There wasn’t much I could do as a child but resolve myself to my fate and appease him.


There’s a joke sitting there about UPS Dude With A Gun “going postal, but, you know, heavier – because boxes and not envelopes”, but I don’t have time to write it well.

We were sitting at one of the side rails, not at the main bar, and Dude With A Gun was just seething. Everything on Earth provoked his wrath. Faces. The unrelenting grind of injustice. The lack of A/C in cargo vans and the ignorant cruelty of corporations who do nothing about it. Wind. Table grapes (“too sweet!”). He had just started to get into the details of his unbelievably shitty day when my fourth or fifth pint got a grip on me. I could swear he was rage-quoting lyrics:     

You’d fight and you were right / But they were just too strong / They’d stick it in your face / And let you smell what they consider wrong…

“I had a pretty shitty day too,” I said.

He scoffed. “What could possibly be so bad about your day, you privileged business-owning motherfucker.”

“Well, somebody tried to kill me in the alley.”

He stared at me.

That’s why I said, “Hey man, nice shot.”

He gave a muffled Oh, looked down, and absently traced the outline of the gun in his pocket.

The reverie was short-lived. He was soon rekindled to full blue-hot rage, and I was hitting myself in the face with beer as hard as I could because it had just occurred to me that, Jesus Christ, somebody had just tried to kill me.

And that’s all I remember.

Apparently there was a point in the evening where I called my wife from a payphone and begged her to let us take this guy in for the night, give him shelter, keep him from harm. She told me this the next morning.

“Who was the guy?” she asked.

“Somebody who tried to kill me.”              


“Hey Man Nice Shot” got massive airplay because of the public’s obsession with the suicide of Kurt Cobain. In reality, it was about the suicide of an obscure public servant. Pennsylvania state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer, convicted of bribery, killed himself on live television to avoid facing prison. He declared his innocence, railed against the unjust legal system, put a .357 Magnum in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Somewhere along the line, Richard Patrick saw a recording of that extremely graphic broadcast on VHS and was sufficiently moved to write a song about it.

There is an old black and white snapshot that has been in our family for over half a century. It went to me after our mom died. It’s a shot of Tom as a seven-year-old boy. He’s screaming in agony, mouth agape, shirtless, rolling in the dirt. There’s a cut visible on the bottom of his foot.

To have that photo developed, to keep the print for an entire childhood, even years beyond. What does it take to do that, I wonder. What parent does that.

But, you know. Hey man. Nice shot.    

What happened to UPS Dude With A Gun? I have no idea.

I know what happened to Tom, though. He’s a registered nurse on the Navajo reservation.

As for me, it’s no surprise that I’ve been diagnosed with Complex PTSD. It is surprising that the condition comes with an unexpected superpower: the ability to subdue an armed psychopath.  

I wrote Tom an email a couple of years back. Those guns of yours. Do you ever think of using them on yourself?

I still haven’t sent it.