The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, December 27, 2003  

Harmless Fun? Hardly.

Have you ever encountered a sub-culture of sorts, the traditions of which are nothing less than baffling? If not, here’s one for you: the annual practice of something called “celebratory gunfire,” or shooting one’s handgun into the sky on New Year’s Eve.

Somewhere along the way I missed this despicable practice, reportedly popular in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Detroit -- today, not 50 or 100 years ago.

What I missed Joe Jaskolka of Philadelphia five years ago took in the head, literally: a bullet in the brain.

In a heart-wrenching story by Steve Volk (“Shooting Pains”) in the latest issue of Philadelphia Weekly, I learned of Jaskolka’s terrible fate.

Just 11 years old then, Jaskolka was hit by a wayward “celebratory” bullet shot off by some cretin on New Year’s Eve.

Volk writes:

Five years on, he’s grown into a good-looking kid with curly brown hair and a bookish pair of glasses that makes him look like the smartest kid in class. But he still can’t walk more than a block without assistance, and climbing stairs takes both time and massive effort. He still needs a wheelchair for trips outside the home. When he dresses himself, his parents get him started 30 minutes before he needs to leave. He suffers from double vision, which he can overcome by concentrating, but reading or rapid movement of his head can trigger migraines.

With the right side of his mouth still partially paralyzed, Joe’s speaking voice is weak and halting. Thoughts come quickly, but they take their time coming out. [. . .]

For a time he simply sat in his room and cried for hours on end, but his tears laid tracks that carried him to a better place. “I’m over it,” he says, more than once. “Let’s move on.”

We should all be so strong as the teenaged Jaskolka, whose shooter hasn’t been identified.

His parents are the stuff of dreams:

After a few weeks of being told his son would die, Greg was called into the doctor’s office for a meeting.

“It looks like your son is going to live,” she told him, “but there will be days when you wish he hadn’t.”

“[Expletive deleted], doctor,” Greg replied.

Remembering that conversation, Greg raises his voice to the level of a factory foreman trying to be heard over machines and through earplugs. “He could be in a coma and it would be better than having to bury him!” he says. “And let me tell you something else! There is not a day that goes by when that kid doesn’t do something or say something, sometimes subtle, sometimes not subtle, that tells me he is still the same kid.

“My God,” he says. “I love him.”

Enough with the 18th-century stupidity. If you nuts want to aim for the sky to welcome the new year, try spitting instead.

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