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May 09, 2005

The Moment of Death

(from the archives, may 2000)

so let me tell you a story.

i have moved to new york and it's about 2 months into my stay. i am becoming familiar with the nabes in and around park slope brooklyn. i'm enjoying the proviciality and the crust of the people and the architecture, especially the stark desolation of the 4th avenue - 9th street F. the F is probably the most used, yet slowest and therefore most frustrating train in the mta. foggy mornings headed inbound found me staring across double sets of deserted tracks at odd individuals who for reasons known only to themselves and god were headed deeper into the bowels of brooklyn. this was an attractive mystery which i contemplated often in the piss aroma of the stairwells of the 9th street F.

one evening i was going by train to festivities somewhere in manhattan that required my homeboy suit. the homeboy suit in early 90's brooklyn involved black silvertab levi's, tall matte black leather laceup boots fashionably splayed, a tight fitting black or stark white tee and long flowing black duster. at times the duster could be exchanged for a 3/4 length leather coat, but it was not that cold this early evening. in previous incarnations of the homeboy suit i had fingerless gloves; this occasion was lighter, yet my bowie knive was ever present. years later i would reflect on the fact that this knife made me and my homeboy suit the most dangerous man in the thames river valley, but this was 90s new york. i was considered unarmed.

if i had ever considered arming myself more seriously, what happened that night changed my view forever. i still hadn't memorized the trains and retained a bit of anxiety about the frequent yet petty crimes i had already witnessed in my first 8 weeks; the occasional, even gracefully choreographed chain snatchings, the in-your-face threatening mendacity of panhandlers and the wicked yet almost comic squabbling between two ham-fisted nigerian watch peddlers the other day on 42nd and lex. yet my anxiety was a product of my willingness to step in and stop that violence which was still only verbal. i have a gut instinct for stepping between combatants. i don't know where it comes from, but i must fight myself to resist stopping fights between others. i'm like the fonz, believing a well place 'hey' will cool hot heads. yet i know deep down that i should know more kung fu in order to satisfy my interventionist urge. i want to be a bhuddist cop because i hate the destruction.

so this on night, headed more or less fearlessly downtown i was shocked. a young black kid on a dirtbike heads up the ave towards my position and stops at the back door of a chinese takeout as the man steps out. the old chinese man and his old chinese bicycle are preparing their way to deliver a handlebar-bike-basket full of food somewhere in brooklyn, but they are stopped by a 9mm pistol aimed straight at his head. the dirtbike kid's heft of the glock is practiced as he pulled it from his backpack while coasting to a stop. he is as focused as any 14 year old can be, silently laughing his ass off at the terror he sees in the old man's eyes. he barks something threatening as i move slowly out towards the curb, nearly parallel to the chinaman yet still behind him enough to see over his shoulder the grinning face of his deadly teenaged adversary.

within the space of 2 seconds i realize three things. one, the kid was paying no attention to me at all - all he wanted to do was scare that man. two, i could have gotten at least three bullets into him and used the fire hydrant for cover before he realized what was up. three, if i had my own gun there is absolutly no question that there would have been another dead black teenager in brooklyn this evening. i would have killed him without hesitation.

the event was so clear, so perfect that it felt like a scenario described on usenet as a strawman. as the tears welled up in my eyes and the kid turned his bike and rolled back downhill, with his 'ha ha made you flinch' laughter, i asked myself if this was what i was put on earth for. my desire for peace led me to the unequivocable destruction of the kid with the deadly sick sense of humor.

i don't know where i went on the F train that evening. i kept playing the scenario back in my mind, a prisoner of the moment. yes. yes. no doubt yes. the answers kept coming back in the affirmative - i would have shot him, i would have felt good about it. if the situation presented itself again would shoot again. the only thing that saved that boy's life was the fact that i didn't have a gun.

some people tell me that i think too much. perhaps like a bhuddist, i am constantly refining my mind so that in every moment i can act with the discipline that my moral soul requires. i do not live in the active moment, it simply procedes from the many rehearsals in the passive hours. such is the well-considered life i hope to lead. i am never one to look back in regret - it is the great benefit i have discovered now in middle age. tears spent promptly and properly never cleanse in vain. this is one of the lessons of mourning my younger brother's death. and so in that moment, while i felt powerless, i soon realized that power was not properly mine. i didn't lose the moment, it was as it should have been and now serves as a powerful lesson to me.

it's almost cliche to think about great efforts being worth it if their benefits changed just one life. so too must go the thinking of the assassin. the one life properly taken justifies a life of disciplined struggle. i can respect the ethics of a warrior - there are those whose duty it must be to engage battles. in my longing for kung fu intervention, i have felt the pull of that duty. but oh the mindless ranting of bourgie american voices defending deadly force at their fingertips. these are not warriors, they are cowards, afraid to even live on the same side of the bridge as places where dirtbike drug couriers are known to operate.

god does know why people take the desolate train deep into brooklyn on foggy, lonely mornings. there are human beings there who must be cared for. it may be a complete turnabout from our standard notion of rush hour into midtown, or perhaps it's a contiunuum of the same idea of daily work. as proud as we are of our job struggles, our creativity, our productive lives, we must realize this as our great contribution. for most of us, this aggregation of work does not result in life or death of our creation outside of our own families. this is as it should be, for we are not all warriors or shaolin priests. so taking the gun in hand cannot be a part of the same rote commercial exchange as the rest of our consumer activity - because the most disciplined mind i possess or can imagine possessing will, mastering the moment, use it for it's ultimate destructive purpose, without hesitation. even if we had no such mental mastery, the gun directs all of our passion to the single end of spitting deadly projectiles. we, like the dirtbike kid, are not meant for such things. our contemplation is too shallow, the meaning in our lives would be shattered and squandered by killing. killing is simply too large a deed for us to bear. we would be rightly crushed by our own action.

and so, almost ten years later, i have finally put these thoughts to the page. i suppose i would just be getting out of prison now, hopefully with the same wisdom. or perhaps i would have been released long ago, or perhaps never even arrested by a society eager to see me as a 'warrior'. but my mamma didn't raise me to kill black children, or any other kind of human being. so i reject such instant, fake honor. and i reject it when people tell me it is my right to bear arms. that's not what my arms are for. i could only accept the honor of being a warrior as my duty, and i know that this is not my life's duty.

i might hope to learn a little more kung fu, but perhaps if these paragraphs can touch just one person...

Posted by mbowen at May 9, 2005 09:14 PM

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you certainly do not think too much. not at all...

Posted by: kirsten [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 9, 2005 09:31 PM

you dont think to much, and the story was chilling. i have been in a similar situation which thankful came to a peaceful ending. but guns and quick reflexes can be a very bad thing.
i think that kid could have used a good ass whoopin, and lecture, but nothing positive would have come from his demise. i iwsh mor people had an inner shaolin monk!!!

Posted by: taleia jones at May 26, 2005 03:38 PM