Amnon Ben Ami, Flip-Flop, 2004, rubber

This story originally appeared in Expressions Journal, Winter 2001-Fall2002. It appears here reposted.

The Bum

David Stromberg

I was living in a state of what some people—what I myself—called a state of home-deficiency.  That meant that, at night, instead of lying uncomfortably in a second hand bed, on a second hand mattress, trying for half an hour to find a position that wasn’t painful, a position where the spring coils didn’t jab me in the thigh—instead of sleeping in a room disconnected from the truth outside, I had the entire city as sleeping ground.  I could, essentially, sleep anywhere I liked, at my leisure.  People really underestimated the comfort.  I found parks bewitching at night, silent cheerleaders that rooted for the struggling home team: my slumber.  One might have said there was an inherent level of peril in sleeping outside at night, a vulnerability to the elements, both natural and human, but one might have said the same thing about golf.  In fact, one might—

Excuse me, my stomach has given itself yet another opportunity to interrupt my train of thought.  It seems I’ve forgotten to introduce it again.  That used to upset Judy, too.  You see, my stomach was sore at me.  Perhaps I had allowed someone to punch it (I never was much of a fight), or perhaps I had ingested something quite disagreeable, something which caused it to be upset—I still don't know exactly what it was.  Whatever its reasons, it never let me forget its anger, and that was the trouble.  Those days, all it did was roar and rumble, and twist and knot, and release strong acids inside—all to get back at me, of course.  Did everyone have such temperamental stomachs?  I doubted it.

Of all the things I tried to do to appease it (sleep helped a bit, physical stress irritated it more), only one thing seemed to satiate its unending rage: swallowing any sort of digestible matter.  Anything, really, I’d never known my stomach to be picky.  No more than twelve hours after I had eaten the last foodstuff I could afford, the disquieting times began to show their mangy faces.  Once or twice my stomach had become very enraged—it knocked me out for a lengthy period of time.  Someone, a Girl Scout or a Community Helping Hand (I don’t know which) came and mercifully stuffed me with some digestible matter, washed it down with a non-caloric beverage, washed it down the tube to my cursed stomach , and went on their merry way to tell their friends and mothers all about the needy individual they'd helped that day.  Their help usually brought me back from blackness.  My stomach, however, like a loyal, Pavlovian dog, was conditioned into believing that knocking me out was a rewarded behavior.  In some ways I liked it best when my stomach overpowered my strength; I liked having my consciousness sent on vacation.  But as much as it wanted to believe the contrary, the truth was it didn’t have the strength to do this on a regular basis.

Overwhelmed by its unending reign over my pain cells, I gave up.  I realized that I had no choice but to offer my servitude to my stomach, that it had the power to run the show until I could devise a way to empower myself into a class above it.  I had to prioritize my time, focus my energies on filling it, on busying it with digestion, to stop its perpetual pestering.  Then I could finally read Success for Dummies, or build small, wooden jewel-boxes—somehow get back on the other side.

Of course, a lot of people in my condition begged. Let me say this now: I wish I could have brought myself to that.  It’s a tried and proved method: it works.  People walk by, they feel guilt, they feel fear, they figure if they put a little change in you cup, their kids at home will be safer.  But there was something that someone once said to me, something I will never forget.  They said this: “beggars can’t be choosers.”  If I had started begging for money, I would never again have a choice.  I couldn’t bring myself to give up the one power I still had.  I exercised that power instead: I chose not to beg.  I chose to choose.

Another option that wasn’t available to me was going back.  I didn’t know then that that was the way it was.  I had thought of it as an experiment.  “If I don’t like it, I come go back,” my mind rationalized.  But that’s not the way I found it to be.  You get to this side, and that side lets you go, dismisses you.  The things was, I got here and found it was just like being there; a new set of rules, perhaps, but it meant nothing more than a new way of doing the same old thing I was doing before: living.  I thought I’d have more luck on this side; I though on this side you needed less luck.

And then my stomach began acting up, began to take over.

I had to do something to earn enough money to keep it busy.  Lately, I had hardly had a sleep to myself.  I slept for it—to quiet it, to escape it.  I wanted to sleep for me, to know there was nothing I had to answer to when I awoke.  I wanted to enjoy the loud nights, the city noises came together to form a sweet song that helped me sleep a sleep that could be real, undisturbed, alone.  A true sleep.

I decided to recycle cans.

I had been surveying the trashcan on 86th Street and Park Avenue for three days.  Here, on Park Avenue, were the only trashcans—public, that is—that had trash bags in them.  The rest of the city had nothing more than inverted, metal cages.  Every day, the trash collector had come to empty this trashcan some time between 12:00 and 12:30 p.m.  Then he regularly proceeded to take the used bag, full of trash, out and, in its place, put a new, clean one.  Recycling was a new thing for me; I had never done it as a kid. We had left that up to someone else, someone we never saw, but who always left their mark—usually either a discarded, torn grocery bag, or a stinky pool of spoiled beer that leaked from their shopping cart onto the road.

I saw the truck three blocks down, blocking the right lane in order to pick up the filth that filthy people left behind.  Today, before anyone would have had a chance to soil the clean bag with a half-eaten sandwich or empty plastic cups—anything they might have imagined should be thrown away—I would jump out and grab the clean bag for my own device.  Then I would be ready to start my can collecting and fill that loudmouth stomach.

At 12:13 p.m., according to The Private People’s Bank across the street, the trash man jumped out of his truck, tied the half-full bag tightly (wouldn’t want that stuff on his overalls), slung it across his back and put in its place a fresh, new, clean one.  The people that lived on Park Avenue paid a tax, in addition to federal, state, and city taxes, to have these bags on their trashcans.  It was the Park Avenue Tax.

The area looked vacant enough for me to “take care of business”.  I could walk over, swiftly take the bag, and be out of there, a clean, new trash-bag richer.  “Keep your eye on the bag.  Keep your eye on the bag,” I kept hearing.  I was so fixed on the trashcan that I almost ruined the whole operation by making a spectacle of myself: my attention being focused on the bag, I walked straight into a street-lamp, causing my head to become as enraged as my stomach.  Fortunately, no one seemed to have noticed.  I ignored my head’s diatribe and continued on with the mission at hand.  I kept my eye on the bag.

Approaching the white receptacle, I reached out my arms, wrapped my fingers around the black-gray plastic and yanked it out, stuffing it under my shirt so that suddenly I looked like a man who’s stomach never bothered him.  I began to walk away, the whole business having gone quite smoothly, unnoticed, when—

“You put that bag back, son!”  An old, shriveled woman was taking her old, shriveled anger out on me.

“Excuse me?  I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me.  Put it back.  Go ahead.  Put it back.  I pay a tax to have that bag there.  Your kind can’t just sneak in here and steal from me,” said the angry old lady.

“Arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, arf!” added her little, sweatered dog.

“Look, I don’t, um, I mean, whoa, look at that.  Time to go.”  I started stumbling.

She started following.

I picked my pace up to a light jog.

She released her dog.

I ran.

And ran.

And running, just behind me, was her dog.  Behind the dog she followed, slowly, would catch up after it had done her dirty work.

I turned a corner.

And kept running.

The dog had ceased following me at about 80th Street.  It hadn’t made it across the street as safely as I had.  I heard the old lady’s screech over the screech of the brakes, which had silenced the screech of the dog—her little, damned dog.  I was glad the car silenced the screech of the dog, although I wish it had done it a different way, a less messy way.  I was gone before I could see exactly how it all ended.  So was the car.  There was no second car to come and silence the lady’s screech—her’s kept on and on.  Under my shirt, the crumpled bag was clean, unscathed.  It was ready to serve its purpose.

I kept running, from the East Side to the West Side, to 79th and Amsterdam.  That was where I would find my cans!  Near the delis, liquor stores and newsstands.  Amsterdam, the home of cans!  I could work my way down from 79th down as far as I could to cover the west side of the street for the first half of the day, and then make my way back up the east side for the second half.  It was an uncomplicated plan and, dammit, it was going to work!  It was supposed to work!

I started down towards 78th Street and saw a good, stable trashcan, waiting eagerly for me to rid it of any sticky cans it may have undesirably acquired.  I started to inch toward it, my mind tempting the savage stomach-beast with images of gustatory delight, and dug my right arm deep in the trash.  That’s when I learned my first lesson: gloves.  I took my arm out.  With two small plastic bags that were flying around, I made a pair of makeshift gloves.  I had seen that trick somewhere on the other side.  This precaution was taken for one reason only: to lengthen the time until which I might need to clean myself again.  I had a special place where I could do that, but I was afraid that if I used it too often, the park officials might catch on and deny my access to it.

Returning to the trashcan, my arms now safeguarded from the filth within, I began to dig inside.  I decided that the best method would be to feel the garbage while it was still in the can, and pull out whatever felt like it might be an aluminum can.  The rational was not as successful as I had hoped; out came a pair of eye glasses, two broken syringes (good thing I had my gloves on), half of a running shoe, a set of keys and a short metal rod.  I kept the keys and the rod.  I kept on and, after all the preparation, the chasing, the searching, as if it had been avoiding my grip until I would truly appreciate its sacrifice, out came a small, petite can.  I had forgotten how fragile they were.  Mesmerized by its promising sight, I held it up; it was a few seconds before I realized that someone had been tapping me on the shoulder, and that each tap was stronger than the one before it.

“Hey, buddy, ya’ deaf?  Hey!  Hey!”

I turned around to find a man, home deficient as I was, but much more candid about it, holding his fist near my chin, too close for comfort.  “Excuse me?” I said.

“Yeah, sleezbag, what do ya’ think you’re doin’?”

“Well, my stomach has been bothering me tremendously the last few weeks, and—“

“Oh yeah, well how about this to help it out,” he said, and proceeded to give me a strong blow, right at the center of my stomach, where it hurt most.  “We have boundary lines, here.  This space has been reserved by ME, so all the cans that go into this trash belong to ME, and if you don’t take a hike, you’ll be in that trash with those damn cans!”  As I stumbled away, clutching my stomach (why I was trying to console, I don’t know), I heard, “I own this corner.  This trash is mine, got that?  And If I were you, I’d be careful who’s can I mess with.  The rest of the guys might not be as nice.”

He kept on and on, but I couldn’t hear him anymore.  All I could hear was my stomach yelling at me.  “Stupid!  Why didn’t you stand up to him?!  You like to watch me suffer—“ yelling and yelling.  I sat down in a doorway that was boarded up and let it finish its rampant abuse.  It took much longer for it to calm than I had expected.  It was extraordinarily upset this time.  “You think I like being hit?  Is that it?”

I snapped:

“Yes!  Yes!  Ok?  I think you like being hit, and I think I might indulge that desire a bit more,” and I gave it a few more strong jabs.  You may find this to be inhumane, a bit savage perhaps, picking on a defenseless stomach, but don’t fret, stomach-lovers, it got me back for every hit.  In fact, I think I was put in more pain than I deserved.  I didn’t hit it that hard.  It really has no mercy.  None at all.

As the pain began to subside—my stomach was beginning to tire of torturing me—I could slowly get up, begin walking to the next trashcan.  I was forced to continue; I knew who was boss.  I had been shown who was boss.  There’s no arguing with inflicted pain.

Approaching the next trash, I knew I couldn’t just start digging through it.  I wasn’t going to go through that again.  I thought there may be a little sign, a small placard, perhaps saying, “This can is under the sole harvestship of The Juicy Kid.  Any questions regarding the leasing of this property can be addressed directly to him.”  None was visible, but I had to ask, had to make my attempt public.  I turned to the sidewalk and, raising my voice so that it could be heard a ways up or down the street, I said:

“Hello.  I’d like to dig in this trashcan in the hopes of salvaging some aluminum cans so that I may recycle them and use the proceeds to quiet my savage, unsympathetic stomach.  Is this trashcan under the direct ownership of any person of whom I should be made aware?”  No one spoke.  All I got was a series of questioning stares from people walking by.  I didn’t bother explaining; they would never understand.  “No?  All right, then.  I am about to put my arm in and take out any cans that may be there.”

A street vendor spoke: “Take and shut up, eh?”

“Ok, here I go,” and I was safely inside my second trash can.  Digging through the waste, I finally found one and put it in my bag.  Oh, the hope.  Oh, the ecstasy.  Oh, the—

“Excuse me.”  Someone was tapping my shoulder again.  This time the voice was softer, not forceful, but inquisitive, confused.  I turned to find a tightly packed, young, home-deficient lady addressing me.  Her hair was a bit messy but, besides that, she was relatively well kept.  She looked at a point just beyond and to the right of my nose when she spoke.  “Um, this is, um, my trashcan.  I don’t think it’s ok for, um—you to—t-t-t-t-take my cans.”

“Oh, well, I’m sorry.  I publicly announced that I was going to look through this trashcan, and asked whether it was currently owned by anyone.”

“I d-d-d-d-didn’t hear you because I was on my lunch—break.”

“Well, it’s by no means your fault.  What could you have done, really?  I’m sorry.  Here you are,” I gave her my one and only can, “and please forgive me for the intrusion.  Can I make it up to you?  A cup of water, perhaps, anything of that sort?”

“N-n-n-n-no, thank you.  I have to work.”

“Right.  Ok.  Well, then, I’m sorry again, and I hope to see you around.”

“Good—bye,” she said.  She turned, crossed the street against the traffic light, and squatted next to a building on the other side.  Her head twitched, and I wondered whether she even knew what do to with cans after she’d collected them.  With shoulders slouched like drapes, I turned and walked.

On and on it went, one trashcan after another, already owned, already called by someone else, already taken.  Nothing, up or down that street or any other street I tried, was available.  It was a tapped market, and old game, a good for nothing racket.  There wasn’t much money flow left in it, no room to expand.  My stomach was not pleased with the way things were going.  The only success of the day was a discarded half of a pretzel that was too stale for someone.   After I brushed the dirt away, I could still taste a hint of salt.  It was not enough to silence my stomach, only enough to turn down its volume.

I went underground for a change of pace.  As the one-train came to a stop, I jumped the gate and ran in.  Security never bothered stopping me.  What could they do, give me a ticket?  Sitting in the train, I suddenly smelled a foul odor coming from my left.  It was not any arbitrary odor, either.  I knew who it was, and I wished that I hadn’t come down here, that I hadn’t boarded the one car in the city on which Stan was already riding.

“Givenchipop, slydale gronsadeer blobishpok.  Keerlash brandijut fyte dug hutly joob?  Oh, gar la swertzkeer frantichlok granapalokiswita.”

“Yes Stan, I agree.”



We continued this way until I took the first chance to go back up top.  I could see Stan exiting too, far behind me, but gave it no heed.  I’d walk fast enough to get away from him.   We went through this every time we ran into each other.  I usually ended up getting off, running away, and he would get off too, and just wander around the area.  If I didn’t get away far enough, I would usually bump into him again, and the whole process would start over.

Needless to say, I disappeared as quickly as possible.

The heat up top was worse than the heat underground—the kind of heat that pushed everyone inside somewhere, usually somewhere air-conditioned.  No one wanted to be in that heat’s way.  Unfortunately, because of the state I was in, I wasn’t allowed in most air-conditioned places.  That’s why I was usually on a train.  They let you ride as long as you wanted, and the air there was as conditioned as any other.  But then Stan was on the train, and I had to get off, and now I was up here, trying to lose him.  Anyhow, I suppose it wasn’t all his fault I was up here.  My stomach had begun making quite a racket again.  It was pointing out the fact that I couldn’t have very well continued my mission from down there. I tried a new judo move on it, and managed to flop it on its back.  There would be a little time of quiet.

Walking towards the 72nd St. One-Nine Station, I saw a man kicking another, older man out of his establishment, yelling with his accent into the street, “Need new dishwasher, NOW!!!”   He spit at the older man (the previous dishwasher, I presumed).  As I walked towards them I found that the establishment was Bill’s Burger Joint, where, by now, a small handwritten sign sat in the window, “Dishwasher need.  NOW!!  Will hire anyone.”  Well, I sat down right there on the street—sat down out of disbelief.  I think I may have actually prayed a thanks to God, too.  I don’t quite remember.

Taking a look at myself, I knew I was in no condition to walk in there and ask for a job.  I was filthy, my clothes were ripped, my breath needed help.  After all, if I were going to wash dishes, it would be of me to be unwashed.  A washer’s got to be able to wash himself.  There was only one thing to do: make a trip to my box.  My box was hidden near the river, at 114th Street, in the park just west of Riverside, under an old, large, broken-down, brick drinking fountain.  No body used it (it was rusty), and when I found it, the small space underneath, where the park cleaners used to keep their supplies, was empty.  I made a lock using thin wire, and put my box in there.  In my box were the few things I still owned: a comb, a toothbrush, a pair of light colored pants, a button-down, short-sleeved shirt, a pair of socks, a pair of shoes, and a pair of underwear.  Everything in my box was clean, unlike everything that was not in my box.  It was just what I needed to spruce up for a job interview.  I put the things in my box inside my box for an opportunity such as this.

Also in the small space under the broken drinking fountain were the old water pipes, cut off and capped.  I uncapped them when I needed to and I used them to wash up.  Usually, if I needed to wash up, I washed up at night, when there was less of a chance of being caught by the police or the park rangers, but this would be worth the risk.  I back underground, jumped the rail at 72nd, and got off at 116th, running to my fountain.

Sometimes things happen to people, though, that are undoubtedly unjust.  Maybe God didn’t hear my thanks; maybe there was no more good left in this city; maybe someone was worse off than me, I don’t really know.  I do know this: I found my wire lock pried open.  My box was ravaged.  Someone had taken everything—everything but my toothbrush.  I guess that was too gross even for them.  I had no shoes, no shirt, no socks, no underwear.  I had nothing.  Looking down at the empty storage cabinet under my broken brick drinking fountain, I wanted to cry.  Only one thing held me back: the prospect of the dishwashing job.

I picked up my surviving toothbrush and did whatever else I could to brighten my appearance up.  There wasn’t much I could do about my clothes; I rinsed my face, and rolled around in the grass to camouflage my stench.  I washed myself where I could and used my fingers and some water to try and calm my hair.  I told myself I could cry about my box later.

Nearing the restaurant, I checked myself one last time in a store window, and entered with the bit of dignity I had left. Walking right up to the hostess, I said, “Hello.  May I speak with the manager please?  I’d like to inquire about the dishwashing position he offered about an hour ago.”

“The position’s been filled, sir,” she dared to reply after sizing me up.

“No!  That’s impossible!  He was just out in the street yelling—and I just went to— and now you tell me—“

“Excuse, please,” it was that accent again.  “Is problem?”

“Yes!  You were just offering a dishwashing job an hour ago, and now this young lady tells me that I can’t see you about it, lying furthermore by telling me that the job has already been filled.  I may not look pretty, and I may not be in the cleanest state myself, but—”

“Mister—” he interrupted.

“But,” I kept on, “this is just my present situation, which I am trying to get out of by working here.”  I could see him getting fed up the way that foreigners do, but I kept on anyway.  “And I don’t appreciate this young lady trying to get rid of me by lying.  I deserve a fair chance.”

“Mister!”  He was practically yelling.  “Job is fulled.  Dishwasher found.  Go, please, or I call police.”

“No!  You’re lying too.”

“I not lie.  Look,” he pointed to the kitchen.  Awaitress rushed out, balancing three plates on each arm.  I looked hard through the double doors—maybe too hard—to find, of all people, Stan, standing with his dumb smile, waving and yelling to me, “Hud grof?  Kood ca ladripos flanafwipi chara.”  I think he said, “I don’t know what I’m doing here either.”

I screamed.  I screamed loudly, and further interrupted about twenty lunches.  Then I snatched a mint from the jar sitting on the counter, right in front of the manager and the hostess, and I left that dingy place.  I couldn’t believe I had ever wanted anything to do with that establishment to begin with.  The rudeness of the staff was beyond comprehension. 

This time, there was no hope to keep me from crying.  There was nowhere I had to be, no job for me to find, so I unleashed.  I walked up a few blocks, over a few blocks, I wasn’t really counting.  I didn’t want them to see me cry.  I thought the image of me stealing their mint, right in front of their faces, would be a strong one to leave them with.

As if humiliation and disappointment weren’t enough pain on their own, my stomach decided that it was time for it to step in and say a few things.  It wanted to be filled, and it wanted it now!  Of course, there was nothing I could do about it.  So I sat in the service entrance of an apartment building, crouched together small, small, small, so that no one walking by could see me.  I sat that way until there was nothing left to cry, until my stomach was tired of torturing me, and then I sat a bit more, just to enjoy the moment when I had spent all my pain and could sit and feel nothing.  Feeling nothing was just about the best feeling I could get.

I opened my eyes to find that a dumpster truck’s rear was about to crush me.  Really, I should have stayed right there; maybe even rushed forward to aid in my own destruction.  But my mind wasn’t agile enough to overcome my natural reflexes, and I jumped out of the way.  I could never take my own life— tragically, this was instilled in me as a boy—but I didn’t see a problem in passively allowing someone or something else to do the deed if it was so compelled to do.

After my unsuccessful brush with death by a dumpster truck, I went back to the hiding place of my precious box.  It was still no gone.  I was hoping that the person who’d taken it had suddenly felt an urge to bring it back; no such luck.  Really, I don’t know what I was thinking: I had no luck left for this life either.  I found some more wire, heavier this time, and attempted to “re-install” the lock I had on the metal door.  I suppose it worked fine, maybe even better than the first one, but I never really got to put it to the test because I never had anything special to put in there again.  It became my own secret safe, which held nothing more than a toothbrush.  At least it kept that safe.

I assumed that the dumpster truck had awakened me rather early that day, perhaps 6:00 a.m., because I could still handle the weather.  But by the time I got to my fountain, and finished cleaning up, the heat was again unbearable.  I guessed that it was already 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. by then.  At the station I had checked the clock.  It was 8:40 a.m.  I’d retreated back to the subway because, again, it was the only air-conditioned place someone of my standing couldn’t be denied.   Three rows away a young kid, a hipster, sat down.  He was bobbing his head to the music in his earphones, which were also useful as earmuffs.  His music was loud; everyone around him could hear it.  I don’t know what song he was actually listening to, but the bits I heard reminded me of a melody my grandmother used to hum when she peeled apples.

Now, I had watched the men on the subway do it many times, and I’ll never know why the idea hadn’t occurred to me earlier, but the thought of my grandmother brought it right to the idea-center of my conscious brain: I would become a Subway-Singing Man.  Suddenly, I knew how to go about filling that vile organ.

I though deep and hard for an enjoyable song to sing and, almost without my actually doing it, I stood up proudly, right there and then, and sang:

“A-B-C-D, E-F-G.  H-I-J-K, L-M-N-O-P.  Q-R-S, T-U-V.  W-X-Y and Z...”

I walked up and down those cars, eight in all, and sang my A-B-C’s as though there was nothing more in the world these people needed.  They didn’t agree.  As far as they were concerned, it had nothing to do with what they needed to hear.  The way they reacted to me, you’d think they needed to be on a stretching table before they needed to be there with me singing to them.  I thought my choice was a good one—nostalgic, sweet, gentle—but it didn’t go off well.  I was left penniless (well, I shouldn’t lie.  I was given three pennies to shut up and go to another car, which I wholeheartedly did), and by the end of the day, my throat joined my stomach in the fight against me.

I calmed my stomach, which had been bugging me about the singing failure, with a bagel that I found sitting next to the trash, lying quietly and patiently, as if it were waiting for me.  After I left it in water for five minutes, I was able to bite into it.  It did the job for the moment, but my stomach had bigger plans for itself, and I was at its mercy to do the dirty work.

When I was on the other side, I had done something drastic to get out: I had let go—had come to this side.  Now, I could see that I had to do something drastic again.  That much I’d figured out.  But that was really as far as I’d gone by myself.  I couldn’t really plan very much further than that.  My stomach, on the other hand, had very grand plans.  So, really, much of the rest of what happened wasn’t my idea at all.

I (really my stomach) concluded that, considering how every other attempt of mine had gone, there was only one place I could go and be guaranteed meals on a regular basis: jail.  I was obviously incapable of providing them for myself.  But then, if I killed someone and got a life sentence, there was a chance that I would get out before I was dead, and would have to start this all over.  Also, I didn’t have the faculty or the strength to kill two people, in order to mount up two life sentences.  No, killing a random man would not be enough to put me away for the rest of my life.  I’d have to commit a crime much more horrid than that.  I could go on a pet-killing spree.  But I didn’t have it in me.  I didn’t want to be killing one thing, let alone as many as it would take to constitute a “spree.”  If I had to kill someone, or something, I’d rather it was only one.  That would be hard enough.

The answer was simple, really, and there didn’t seem to be any other successful way to go about it: I would have had to kill a little girl.  That was horrible enough, wasn’t it?  I mean, that should have put me away for the rest of my life, right?  After all, what kind of society would let a “psychotic” man who killed a little girl out of prison?  Not ours, I hoped.  In fact, I was banking on the fact.

I remembered a little kid’s park in the Village, on Bleeker, at the intersection of three different streets.  I went down there to check it out, and just as had I suspected, there was a policeman standing, patrolling from across the street.  Perfect.

I entered the park with a book I found abandoned on the train and sat down to “read.”  Scopeing out the scene, I found plenty of possible targets.  I’d brought some of the heavy wire I’d used to make my new lock, and I still had the rod from the first trashcan.  Did poking someone through the eye kill them?  I wasn’t sure.  Maybe strangling was a better method.  But that may take too long.  Would this rod be long enough to go all the way through to the heart?  Maybe not.  Maybe through the eye was, after all, the best method.

I checked on the police officer.  He was just far enough for me to do what was needed, and then get caught.  All the parents were busy chattering about yesterday’s dinner and new releases in kids’ videos and the china they had inherited—none of them was paying much attention.  Now I had to pick the kid.  As I scanned the play-structures, my attention was caught by a big girl, with an obvious mean streak.  She was pulling on the left pigtail of another girl, half her size, urging her off the swing; all the other swings were occupied by older kids.  I decided that she’d be the one.  Might as well rid the world of at least one bully.

I put the bookmark I’d found in the book at a random page and got up, my hand gripping the rod in my right pocket.  I glanced over at the officer and gave out a yelp to get his attention.  That was to make sure I didn’t get away.  She was already on the swing, swinging higher and higher, when a new opportunity showed itself: I could start the whole thing by pushing her off, hopefully giving her a concussion.  All these thoughts were hard for me to keep track of, but my heartless stomach kept me going, reminding me of the invasion of my box.  I gripped the rod tighter.  I reached up to prepare to push her off, she was just at the top of her swing forward, I turned and saw the policeman cross the street yelling, “Stop!  Stop there!” I turned back towards the girl and—

She was gone.  She’d jumped off the swing, sending it vacantly hurling back at me.  I saw it coming, but I couldn’t really do much.  My stomach paralyzed me, I think.  It wanted to see me hurt.  It had known that I had failed it again.  The swing had connected with my face just above my left eye, splitting my eyebrow in two.  A large, bulky man with a heavy foot rushed over after I had hit the ground and showed me just how heavy his foot was by connecting it as strongly as he could with my face.  Then I found that I was being forcefully pinned to the floor, that my arms were yanked taught behind my back.

One part I hadn’t counted on was waiting for the police car, as my head spilled blood on the concrete that these kids, and others, would run on for years to come.  I wished I could be one of those kids, running on someone else’s blood.

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