Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Monday, June 02, 2008
A Sense of Proportion
Sometimes I'm amazed by the things that upset me and the things that don't.
A couple of weeks after I moved to the Bronx, my sister Ella drove my old Mustang up for me. It was a 1990 LX convertible with high mileage, a scarred paint job and a missing back window. In spite of its shortcomings, it drove well, and I was hoping to sell it for a thousand dollars or so. I put an ad in Craig's list, lined up a few prospective buyers and looked forward to a quick influx of some desperately needed cash.
The morning of the first potential buyer, I got up with my wife and got her ready for work. While I was still waking up, puttering around the kitchen and whatnot, my cell phone rang. It was her. I was surprised, as she had just left, but figured that maybe she was sending me her love or missing me, or something like that. I answered the phone, a smile on my face.
"Hey, honey." I yawned.
"Hey. Have you gone outside yet?" Her voice was serious.
"No. What's up?"
"Somebody got to the car. It's bad."
"What did they do?"
"The top is torn, the windshield is shattered, it looks like they slashed the tires. I think it's totaled."
Given that my car had a bluebook value of about $600 and that the price of four new tires and a new windshield was more than that, she was probably right. I sighed.
Surprisingly, I was. "I'm fine. I'll deal with it. Are you all right?"
"I'm...okay." She sounded like she was about to cry.
"Hey, hey. Take it easy. It's just a car."
The funny thing was that I wasn't just being brave. Truth be told, I had already decided to get rid of the Mustang, so it was just a car. I was bummed about the loss of cash, but that was that.
A few minutes later, Ivan, my building's super, called out to me through the kitchen window: "Hey, Bruce!"
"Bruce, somebody fucked with your car."
"Yeah, I know. My wife just told me. How bad is it?"
"It's bad. I think it's wrecked."
"Yeah, that's what she said. Thanks for telling me."
"No problem, man."
When I finally got outside, the car was as bad as everyone had said. I felt a little anger, but I couldn't bring myself to be really furious at the people who had done this. Ivan told me that the perpetrators were probably some kids who didn't even know that I was the owner. They'd seen the "For Sale" sign, noticed the run-down condition, and had decided that the car was expendable. After I realized that the vandalism had nothing to do with me being the block's token gringo, I mostly felt bad for the kids. After all, this was it for them. This was what they had to offer, and this was the extent of their recreation and their creativity. This was their big contribution. Their mindless anger was sort of pathetic.
One of the guys in my building, Jose, was really upset about the vandalism and more or less told me that he would join me in any kind of retribution that I chose to pursue. Since there was no way I could find the actual vandals, any response would probably be against an innocent victim. I thanked Jose, but turned down his offer. I think that I disappointed him; ever since then, he's seemed a little doubtful of my manhood.
The next day, I convinced a local scrapyard to give me $250 for the car, a sum that completely surprised Ivan, who thought I'd have to pay to have the Mustang towed away. In the end, my only real regret was that I hadn't just given the car to my sister.
About a month later, I was walking home from the subway when I saw a guy huddled in the windbreak near my front door. We live in a basement apartment with a long walkway between our door and the front of the building. The neighbors call this our backyard, but I tend to think of it as a little courtyard or plaza. It has a concrete floor, a nice stone wall, and you can see the next door garden through the fence atop the wall. The greenery makes it look like a private little grotto.
To keep this "backyard" safe, there's a mesh-enclosed front gate that juts out like a box into the sidewalk. It's about eight feet high, three feet wide and two feet deep, and has a locking door on the front. Often, people huddle between the mesh box and the wall of the next door garden, as it's a good place to light a cigarette. When I got closer to the man huddling beside my door, I realized that he wasn't lighting a cigarette. He was peeing. On my home.
I was livid. Unable to decide between running for the cops and beating him over the head with the nearest blunt object, I decided to yell at him: "What the hell are you doing?"
"I had to go to the bathroom." He started to do up his pants.
I couldn't believe my eyes. This guy couldn't wait for a couple of minutes? I screamed "I live here! You're pissing on my house!"
"Sometimes you just gotta go, man," he whined.
"Tell me where you live. I'll stop by for a piss."
He finished fastening his pants and ran away.
Over the next few weeks, I couldn't get the man out of my head. There was something about the image of a guy pissing on my home that left me incredibly upset and enraged. My wife and I swabbed down the front area with bleach and water, but the memory still stuck in my head. I thought of what to do the next time it happened and had long, obsessive conversations with myself: Should I have hit the man over the head with my umbrella? Maybe I should have opened the gate door and imprisoned him by fastening it to the garden fence. My belt would have worked as a lock. And then I could have called the cops. Better yet, I could have pissed on him. Yeah, that would let him know how it felt...
About a week later, my friend John got attacked on a subway. He had lived in the Bronx all his life and had never been mugged; suddenly one day, a lady and her family tried to start a fight so they could sue him. He wasn't really hurt, but the whole event had jarred him. The police said that they probably chose John because he dressed well, worked in Times Square, and looked somewhat weak.
Like me, John couldn't stop thinking about what had happened to him, and we talked about it regularly. Finally, I told him my story. I expected him to tell me to man up, that this was minor, but he didn't. In fact, he seemed just as enraged as me and, as I mentioned the way that the peeing man still haunted me, I could see that he understood. Talking to him about it, I realized that we needed to let our anger go. If he held on to his rage, the people who had attacked him would win; if I held on to my rage, I would probably end up assaulting someone, or at least peeing on them. It was time to let it go.