I didn’t smell gun powder, just the usual traffic fumes.
Yet it felt more than a little strange walking through streets where gun violence is almost unheard of, and the greatest danger to life and limb is being trampled to death by rude foreign tourists seeking to take a picture in front The Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center.
I didn’t even see too many police – only the usual suspects, one Jewish guy with thick black rimmed glasses learning against the railing of some high powered office tower slightly uptown from where the shooting occurred. But the news reeled off over us and around us, spilling out the details of why this garment designer decided to shoot a fellow worker – almost a classic story of desperation, unemployed, and desperate for someone to blame, and so blaming some poor fool who still has a job.
All the newscasters kept going on about how unusual the shooting was for that part of the city, as if local government had zones for certain categories of crimes – pick pockets and hustlers allowed here, prostitutes and such there, and gun violence some place else.
I recalled a junkie once trying to mug me only a few blocks from where this shooting took place. I was a messenger then, and always on the streets, always a potential victim – although rarely actually one. My best friend seemed to dominate that market, once getting mugged in the Port Authority bathroom, once even in his own building, and another time going around the block from his apartment on East 5th Street to mine on East 6th. I mostly had trouble with the macho types, the bikers who liked to browbeat me – one hitting me with chains because I refused to be browbeaten and gave them the finger.
Junkies were no match for that, and this one was more pathetic than most, desperate for his fix, barely able to hold the knife so it was no problem taking it away from him. He nearly cried when I did.
And as I walked yesterday uptown to the museum, thinking of the poor fool with a gun desperately looking for someone to blame, I thought of that poor junkie, knowing that his life had likely ended not long after my encounter with him, and that my passing through his life had only humiliated him more, not helped him.
Others like him passed through my life, too, some I professed to love and tried to rescue, but could not. And walking that street, thinking of the gun man and his victim, I understood how hard it is to save someone, and how stupid it is to try, and yet, if people don’t bother, if all we have are packs of tourists running over people in the street, then there is nothing to live for.