Ever had a ticket that almost got you killed? I’m not talking about the occasional shoving match and drawn weapons with the officer who tells you they’ve already started writing. Who hasn’t been there? I’m talking about an actual life and death moment where one false move (or, for us white guys, 2) will get you killed and turn you into another justifiable shooting story. This is a story of just such a ticket, a ticket that some years back literally almost killed me.
Nothing rounds out New York City's diversity tour like the Greenpoint and Williamsburg bank of the East River. In between the deserted warehouses and pier shaped brick and concrete bunkers that house factories of unlabeled obscurity a few dead end streets will take you right up to the edge of the river. In the midst of that black and white wasteland that is often used for gang film movie sets or for a lovers lane, you can view across the river spectacular views of Manhattan's skyline. From the Chrysler Building to the shining crystals of Wall Street, there is a man made beauty that causes one to forget the next door power transformer station or sugar refinery or that Joel Rifkin dumped at least one body here. The Macy’s fireworks VIP boat anchors right out there, but here on shore parking signs were as scarce as people.
So when late one hot summer evening a friend and I drove through the tar and brick isolation of these factory deserted streets, we figured the complete lack of people made the place safe. We had no sense of the cartoon silliness of this stark lunarscape just half a mile from Oz, or that the towering emerald city whose magnificent glass lights reached across the river would grab a hold of us in a clutch of coincidences that only the wicked witch could have plotted.
It begins earlier in the day when my friend's son had been playing irresponsibly with a BB gun his uncle had given him. Why his uncle had given him a BB gun in the first place is its own sad story. It seems the dog out back that barked all night keeping his uncle awake, and whose owner was as deaf to his dog's noise as he was to neighborhood complaints, had finally been trained, so he no longer needed it. So now my friend’s son was jumping out of corners search and destroying the planet with this unexpected “gift.” It was after he pointed it at his brother, my friend took it away from him and hid it behind the seat of his truck. The aiming the gun at his brother had been too close a call and my friend decided to throw it away for good, gift and all.
That night, riding in his pickup along the river in Greenpoint looking for some remote dumpster to toss the thing, we turned the corner into one of those sun softened tar streets that dead end at a heap of rocks that bank the East River. No one around. Nothing but the long buildings that line the street and they were well secured behind barred steel doors. There was not a sound of life. Across the river, the great city shimmered.
We jumped out of the pickup and walked toward the concrete fragments and bizarre collection of city debris that gathers at the river's banks. I was never allowed to have a BB gun because my parents considered it the most dangerous of guns because it was often confused with a toy, so when I spotted among the abandoned children's toys, odd shapes of lumber and a discarded motorcycle, some bottles, I couldn’t resist the idea of having some last minute fun. My friend and I set a couple of bottles up on the rocks for a friendly marksman's competition with the confiscated BB gun (intending all the time, of course, to pick up the broken glass and properly discard it along with the BB gun). First one to break their bottle wins. Well, my parents were right about one thing.
To be continued...