I was in my car. I had just gotten to a light after a grueling forty minutes of intense traffic. It had take three light changes on this block alone for me to finally prepare for another block. I was on Ninth Avenue at Forty-Third Street. Hot smelly trucks and hot buses surrounded me. The desperate traffic in line flanked me for the tunnel entrance was still four blocks away. The traffic ahead was as thick as the traffic behind and it was hot. I sat at the light looking at pedestrians. I was being calm. I was under control.
Crossing from the left, following Forty-Third Street, a young woman, probably thirty years old, wearing a thin-strapped black sheath dress and high heeled sandals, provided my exhausted eyes and taut nerves with a moment of pleasure. She was slender and attractive.
However, from the other side of the street, crossing, was another woman, dressed exactly alike. She was a larger woman, almost voluptuous, soft, and about the same age. Everything in their walks and their dress was similar. They were equally, in opposed direction, varied from the gymnastic perfection.
They really first saw each other directly in front of me, in front of my car. The stopped. I kept watching while they stood directly in front of me staring at each other. They seemed to say nothing to each other, but they stopped and just looked at each other.
The light changed. Three cars behind me immediately began beeping. I waited a moment, but they weren’t moving, and I beeped. Usually I hesitate to beep at pedestrians. You don’t know what they’ll do. Often enough they’ll simply move more slowly. In another situation would have probably been more patient and I was curious about them, but it was hot and traffic was insistent.
I beeped. A timid short blast. I was going to point at the changed light. I knew they could hear the other car horns.
Apparently they pick up the tension of the street. From nowhere, for no reason, the car horn set them off and they began to scream at each other. I couldn’t hear them through the windshield, but they apparently weren’t complimenting each other’s wardrobe. I felt responsible and I felt guilty. My horn had create this situation.
I’ve live in New York a long time. I’m as uncomfortable watching an argument as anyone, even if I felt responsible for it, and the light was green, it was going to change red, and everyone was beeping behind me. I beeped again.
There was no way to drive around them in the traffic.
The slender woman turned her face toward me. I saw her hatred. A flash of emotion that predates the written word. I put my hands on the window knob and watched more closely. I felt responsible and I felt vulnerable. I knew she wanted to hurt me.
At that moment, when she was distracted, the larger, soft, woman attacked her. Attacked. Not a punch or slap, but she leaped and wrapped her arms around her eyes and butted the woman’s head with her own forehead.
The slender woman went down.
The assholes behind me were still beeping.
Both went down. I couldn’t see them, but I felt their bodies jolting the front of my car. No choice. Nobody from the sidewalk was moving. I had to get out the car. When I opened the car door, I was the spattering of blood on the pavement around my tire.
The women were still locked in a frantic struggle when I got out of the car. The drivers behind me were playing a medley on their horns, frantic to move on despite any activity. Nobody looks to see what’s happening . They just beep and beep.
I expected to feel a bullet whiz through the air from a stoned driver upset at the delay.
Both women had knives. They held each other’s arms like dancers and they were rolling around in the street kicking at the front of my car and screaming at each other. I wasn’t going to step between them.
The slender woman had already been slashed across the face. Blood was pouring from her nose. They’d both lost their sandals.
As happens in these situations, someone from the crowd that was beginning to gather stepped up to them and grabbed the more slender woman’s arm. He tried to peel the knife from her hand. It was the opening that the other woman needed. She slashed out and jabbed the slender woman in the stomach. Two. Three times. She was screaming and her eyes were wild and she kept slashing and stabbing. The slender woman stopped. The shock was reaching the expression on her face and she looked hurt. The observer still held her arm and prevented her from retaliating while the more voluptuous woman kept slashing. She was running the edge of her blade back and forth across the stabbed woman’s face. I stood in absolute shock. I was frozen.
The observer who’d attempted to help tried to step back. The armed woman was wildly swinging the knife back and forth in the air. No discrimination. She was anxious to slash anyone and the helpful observer had become her target. Personally I think he deserved it. Maybe he had been a boy scout. Maybe he felt a social obligation to bring human emotions to the elevated niceness of Disney’s Times Square. Maybe he was simply a macho ass.
Anyway, she finally connected. She slashed him across the groin. That worked. He immediately let go of the other woman’s arm, and he crumpled like an eastern mystic into a seated posture.
I was about four feet away. I couldn’t just stand in shock anymore.. I had to do something, and jumping back into my car, even if I could, wouldn’t satisfy my own sense of social interaction. Already the formidable crowd that had gathered was jumping away and shouting and pushing. People behind were pushing to get in front to see, and people who could see were pushing to get behind somebody else.
Meanwhile, the light changed to red. I knew my car was going to overheat and stall. If I had to have it towed, it would cost me $250, and I didn’t have it. All the pressures were building in me. I wanted to be uninvolved.
Two people were on the street bleeding. The man was screaming from his seated lotus posture and trying to hold his blood in with his forgers. The slender woman was convulsing on the street with her shredded face staring straight up into the sky. Her eyes were open but blank. Even if she lived, her face would never again be the same. The other woman was still screaming and slashing at everyone within arm’s length. The crowd was pushing and jumping, and arms from indecipherable bodies were jutting out like Shiva in attempts to grab her knife. People were yelling and banging on the car. The; light changed to green and the medley of horns began again.
The crowd kept growing. That simple four feet distance between me and the crazy woman was impossible to cross. At least nine people were jammed against my open car door. Someone was trying to push past me to get into car to the front seat. I could hear sirens. An EMS truck was back in the traffic and couldn’t get through. It was probably on a different mission altogether, but either way, it was stuck about two blocks back and making no headway at all.
The woman began slashing the air up and down instead of back and forth and she caught someone across the chin.
Blood spurred from the chin like a public fountain and spattered across half a dozen people. Screaming and shouting in the crowd increased. The slashed chin whirled around and around spraying everyone with his blood. The front of my car had drop-lets of blood covering it that were dripping down the fenders.
All I could think of was AIDS.
Then, I heard the inevitable sound of breaking glass. I was still locked into the spot next to my open car door. I couldn’t close the door and I couldn’t move without some asshole jumping into my front seat. Only four feet away and I could barely see what was going on. And I was thirsty. I had become an onlooker. My guilt at initiating this mess hadn’t caused me to do something completely stupid and it was now under control. I was just another trapped driver.
The breaking glass was my headlight. Two giggling teenage kids with a rock were casually working their way through the crowd and smashing at my car. Neighborhood teenagers. I couldn’t yell above the din of bleating horns and the screaming crowd, and the two kids just glared at me, giggling, and smashed in the passenger side of my windshield. One of them had the rock and the other one was kicking at the passenger door.
As soon as I saw what they were doing, others in the crowd also saw. There was a lot of tension in the air that was being released. Shouts and pushing and car horns and sirens and blood and breaking glass and a dying woman with her dress pushed up above her navel and blood pumping from her stomach were all contained within a small bit of pavement by the progressively growing crowd. Drivers caught behind my car were attempting to maneuver around the mess and get out of there. When the others in the crowd saw the kids smash my window they presumed that I was involved, or at fault, and they began to shout at me and smash their fists on my car. A small sector of the crowd had turned their attention to me. All those close enough to feel trapped in the crowd but too far away to see the woman who was still attempting to slash her way out turned their attention to me.
The siren was still trapped in traffic two blocks back The crowd still prevented me from moving either into or away from my car, and now there were eight or nine people pounding on my car with their fists and shouting at me. The crazy woman had still not been subdued As far as I could tell, she’d hit a few more observers across the arms and faces, and it looked like there was more than a single knife slashing through the air. The pounding fists on my car sounded like gunshots.
People will defend themselves. In the crowd, there was nowhere to go. Those in front, in the inner circle, were trapped in confrontation with a blood stained psychotic swinging a knife in the air above the stack of downed bodies at her feet. Knives were slashing back. That was four feet away. I personally was much more deeply concerned about my car and the mindless idiots who were anxious to take it out on me.
This is something I have always feared. I’d thought about how it would feel to be trapped with my car somewhere while hostility grew in direct response to me. I felt terrified and powerless. I couldn’t shout and I was not looking at a crowd of reasonable people. I didn’t even know how many of them spoke English. Ten minutes ago they were pleasant people. Now, it was different. I carry a can of mace in my car. I knew that I’d need it. I was terrified of the crowd, of the woman, and of the teenagers. I’d always felt a little guilty about the mace under my front seat because it seemed so effeminate. Yet, I either wasn’t gruff or scared enough to carry a gun. The mace was my personal compromise.
In three seconds I had the mace can and I was spraying it at the crowd who had turned their attention to me. I sprayed it at the kids and just kept spraying. Mace cans aren’t very big. I’d done in about a dozen people, and myself, and the can was empty. I’d cleared as much space around myself as the woman with the knife had. In fact, I was beginning to see her point. My eyes and the skin on my face and hand burned. I really couldn’t think clearly. My emotions had finally unlocked. They were ruling without the guiding hands of reason and fear. I don’t know what happened to the kids with the rock. They’d successfully bashed in, with their volunteer corps, the entire side of my car. The rear side window, headlight, and windshield were shattered.
I’d had enough. The siren was still blaring two blocks back. New sirens were locked in traffic along Forty-Third Street and having the same amount of success making the passage. The crowd was still pressed in around the small space I’d cleared. Nevertheless, the kids were gone and the banging on my car had ceased. The person trying to get into the front seat was holding his face and coughing out “You son of a bitch.” I now had maneuvering space. I leaned against the car for leverage and with all the force my frame could channel, I kicked him in the left knee. I’m not that strong. There was no tell tale cracking sound. His leg didn’t splinter like a falling tree, but he did go down.
At this point, it was impossible to tell how many knives were in use. The inevitable boom box had arrived and the churning of the crowd elevated to choreography.
There was a lot of blood.
I didn’t know what else to do. Now that I had space, I leaned into the car and got back in the driver’s seat. I turned on my radio.
I listen to the oldies station a lot I have an old car, and I can never park on the street without the antenna being snapped off by somebody, so I can usually only receive the largest stations. Oldies are a pleasant break. And, like a metaphor in a bad novel, the station was playing “Against the Wind.” That’s always been one of my favorite songs. I sat in the car, listening to “Against the Wind,” watching knives flash and blood spurt in the center of a volatile crowd still pressed against the front end of my car.
The engine was still running and, fortunately, the car hadn’t over-heated.
Without thinking, I began to beep my horn again. I guess I thought that if this is what started everything, this can finish it. One continuous blast of horn. For some reason, old cars have good horns. Along with the rhythms of the song bouncing from the walls and returning mingled with all the other sounds, there was the pleasing blast of my horn reaching out to infinity in a straight line, cutting through all the confusion and crowding and noise. It was a message.
No decision was required to put the car into gear and drive. The light was green. I ignored the bodies and bleeding victims and screaming Samaritans and greedy onlookers. I simply began driving ahead as is my legal right to do when the light is green. People bounced from the front of the car and the tires thumped over the body of the first victim but I drove through the intersection before the light turned yellow. I kept driving as I had been before all this happened. I had been driving home and I continued driving home. The song ended and a commercial for Coca Cola came on and I remembered that I was still thirsty.
- Bloody But Living