The Knife's Edge

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:21

    So there I sit, gleefully bidding for my first head cold of the year, when there's this strange smell in the air. This is not the smell of autumn. This seems more like the smell of garbage, but that's impossible. It's true that my office window opens right above the trash cans that sit on the property. But that's never really been a problem. I made it through the entire sweltering summer without even noticing the garbage outside. Here it is all briskly cold, and now I'm smelling the stuff?

    I look outside my window to see the most peculiar thing. This may seem hard to believe, but I swear it's true. There is an actual grown man sifting through my garbage. And he's doing it slowly and methodically?which is stirring up the smell of trash right outside my office window. This arose in my brain such a clatter that I ran outside to see what was the matter. That is, after I reached in my bag that's kept hanging by the door.

    The guy is still at it when I step outside. "Get away from my garbage!" I yell.

    The man looks at me with slight comprehension. Slowly, he begins to put back the garbage. That's only half of a reasonable response. I'm a nice guy, though. I let him finish before yelling at him again: "And stay away from my garbage!"

    This, for some reason, gets him in a conversational mood. "You don't got to talk that way to me. You want to be an ass, I can be a bigger ass."

    It's a small comment, but loaded. That's good, because here's one I've been wanting to try. It's Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator. Eyes dead, face expressionless, voice a monotone: "What was that, a threat? Did you just threaten me?"

    I pull out the knife, and start improvising from there: "Because, you know, if you're some kind of a badass, then maybe I should just kill you right now. You know, before you come back and kill my wife and family. I'm sure the police will understand if I go ahead and slit your throat. Only one of us has a criminal record, right?"

    Drew Carey would have given me several points. The jerk literally climbs a wall to get away from me. Clumsily, too. I could be using his femur for a pool cue now. Although, in retrospect, I was also pretty clumsy. Not in pulling the knife. There are too many crazy homeless people not to carry some protection in a confrontation. You never need more than a knife. If a bum ever gets a gun, he just sells it for drugs or booze.

    No, I was clumsy in not considering that the guy could have come back later in the day. He could have tipped over my garbage cans, or taken a leisurely piss on my windowsill. Fortunately, he made the mistake of reminding me. You should have seen his face when I pulled out the knife. That guy isn't coming near my building ever again. He probably won't even come near my block.

    He may not come near your block, either. There's a reasonable chance we might live in the same neighborhood. But don't all thank me at once. In fact, don't thank me at all. Let's instead thank the first Miss Subway this city has seen in decades. I'm talking, naturally, about Dawn Lorenzino.

    This 24-year-old marketing analyst is more than just another sexy blonde. She's the only real feminist hero of the 90s. Dawn was standing on a subway platform back in January when she began to be pestered by mumbling schizo Andrew Goldstein. Dawn didn't have any patience for this man of ill intent. She stared down this drooling psycho and said, "What are you looking at?"

    Faced with this simple opposition, Goldstein stalked his way over to another pretty girl. At least Kendra Webdale used to be a pretty girl?Goldstein pushed her in front of an incoming train. Kendra isn't so pretty now. It was probably a closed casket, thanks to Goldstein turning her into a paté fit for an ACLU benefit dinner.

    Tell your daughters about Dawn and Kendra. Treat it like a "Goofus and Gallant" tale. Kendra didn't speak out against the crazy muttering man. She kept her nose stuck in a book. Perhaps she didn't want to seem unsympathetic to a poor crazy person. Dawn did not play that. She understood the situation, even without the particulars. Dawn didn't care about any greater shortcomings in our city's mental institutions. Two jurors recently refused to convict Goldstein of murder, but Dawn had a much better understanding of this nutcase. A crazy person on medication = good. A crazy person off medication = evil. Dawn recognized the presence of evil, and spoke out loudly against it.

    Dawn Lorenzino is a very brave woman. A Village Voice columnist could have been standing on that subway platform. Dawn might have very easily found herself being cited as an example of how terribly we treat our society's most vulnerable element. Dawn's entire reputation could have been ruined.

    I can certainly relate. After I was finished protecting my precious garbage, I turned around to get back to work. There was a young fellow using the payphone outside the bodega next door. He was giving me a look that, to be honest, should only be reserved for the kind of people who go sifting through other people's garbage.

    The boy seemed in need of some guidance. "Don't," I suggested, "be a faggot."

    That's a Beastie Boys reference, you know.

    It was barely a week later when I was again reminded of our moral responsibilities. I was spending Halloween in Jersey City, watching Turner Classic Movies with my girlfriend. It was a nice holiday bill of Freaks and Mad Love. Afterward, I'm strolling along York St. to hit the local grocery. I come across a couple who seem to be having an altercation. She's a pretty young gal who looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar. He's a thin guy with long greasy hair parted in the middle. There's a resemblance to the lead singer of Type O Negative, except rock stars have better Halloween costumes than a raggedy old kilt. This guy would be your usually sad parody of a metalhead, except for the way that he has a hand around the girl's throat. Still, he seems inherently laughable. It almost takes too long for me to realize the situation is serious.

    Then he draws back his hand. I step forward, her eyes cut over to me, and he realizes he's being watched. The hand comes harmlessly back down.

    So I'm Hero of the Bystanders. Whoop-de-do. This doesn't mean that I've done anybody any good. But it does move things on to a new level. If a guy was simply drunk and out of control, a spectator would surely bring the moron back to his senses. He would be a little ashamed and immediately walk away from the whole situation.

    This guy isn't like that. Beating up a girl is part of his usual routine. I know this is true, because he's angry at my interference. He takes a few steps toward me.

    "What are you looking at?" he shouts. "You want me to kick your ass, too?"

    I like that word a lot. "Too." That clears up a lot of things. People are weird, after all. You can never really be sure what's going on between them. Sometimes, this allows women to get hurt. I'm still ashamed over how I once simply observed as a black lady was terrorized by a crazy homeless man. I didn't notice there was a problem until the poor woman ran into a restaurant for protection. I thought he was her boyfriend doing a Busta Rhymes impersonation.

    But this Halloween weasel has simplified things. One simple word has removed any gray area.

    "You want me to kick your ass, too?"

    "Gee," I reply with a smile, "it would be awful to see you try."

    Sorry if that sounds kind of lame. It's not from any movie. It's just the kind of thing a normal guy would say. In my case, a normal guy with a knife. It's not a normal knife, though. You can't just pull it out, and that's good. Keeps you from doing anything rash. You have to be methodical with the thing. There's a casing to remove, and then a safety guard. You also have to get your hand in a proper position. All of this had kept me busy back when the guy was just choking the girl.

    People say that once you pull a knife, you have to use it. That's only true if your knife lacks esthetic impact. I generally prefer to use mine for defusing tense situations. This time, however, I'm keeping it hidden as a big surprise. I am, remember, in a unique moral setting. This guy is really evil. While not particularly good, I'm in a great position. He's fairly muscular and about my height. Still, he seems like a bit of a spazz. That kilt would probably trip up a Jersey boy, too. I could probably take him in a fair fight.

    But why bother finding out? I'd rather just cut him very badly. His neck is long, and the veins on his arms are pronounced. It would be easy. I'd make it back home in time for the 11:30 showing of Femalien 2. At the very worst, I'd end up in a Jersey City holding cell with other Halloween lightweights. Afterward, it would be a walk. I can afford a good lawyer. Even if Buffy screwed me over on the stand, I'm pretty sure I could stroll out of any courtroom as a free man.

    Did I mention how great it is to be back here for Halloween? It's a beautiful night. I'm not even wearing a jacket. The chilling breeze is too good to miss. Everything seems so frosty and blissful. There isn't even the usual annoying adrenaline surge that can make a person do something stupid. Honestly, Bernhard Goetz never had it so good.

    But, sadly, the night's happy coupling is not meant to be. It's a Halloween miracle. The same gal that this guy could effortlessly manhandle now has the physical strength to pull him away from a fight. She also seems to be free to yell at him about how he's a real asshole. Off they go on their merry way, and he'll probably end up strangling her in a few hours. That's no longer my concern, though. You can't be worrying about what women allow to happen behind closed doors. If you do, you end up defending murderers like Hedda Nussbaum.

    Some readers might be thinking that there's nothing particularly brave about a person with a knife provoking a confrontation. I wouldn't know. Bravery isn't exactly my strong suit. I do, however, know a lot about cowardice. And there's nothing more cowardly than refusing to take action once a line is drawn between good and evil. Dawn Lorenzino is no coward. She recognized evil and reacted against it. Personally, I'm not enough of a coward to ignore evil when it's plainly in front of me. I still can't believe that creep was going through my garbage. My garbage. Mine.