Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Wrong Guy

In my last post ("Doctor Evil") I mentioned someone whom I realized I once had in my taxi back in 1999. You know this person, too, or at least you know of him. You may have never seen his face, but you have spoken of him from time to time.

Has something like this ever happened to you? You are walking on a crowded city sidewalk in a pretty good mood, just minding your own business, when someone walking in the opposite direction bumps into you and knocks you off balance for a moment. But instead of apologizing to you or asking you if you're all right, he turns back and says, "Get the fuck out of the way, asshole."

Or this? You are waiting in line at the QuickChek and someone a foot taller than you blatantly cuts right in front of you with his beer just as you were about to step up to the cashier. You think of saying something to the guy but he looks like a thug, so you just keep your mouth shut and stand there with your half-gallon of milk.

In both cases your urge to react in a forceful way is suppressed by the consideration of what the consequences might be if you did. You might be injured. Hell, you might be killed. You might be arrested and charged with assault. You might have a lawsuit on your hands.

So you stand there and take it. But you soothe your anger by thinking this thought: "Someday that guy is gonna meet the wrong guy." The wrong guy is not you, so you let it pass. But you know he's out there somewhere and it's just a matter of time before he evens the score with this sub-human who was just so incredibly rude to you.

It was the "wrong guy" who got into my cab that night in 1999. I had taken a fare out to Jackson Heights in Queens at midnight on a Saturday night and was heading back toward Manhattan on Northern Boulevard. Suddenly a man came running to the street waving his hand at me. I stopped the cab, he got in, and we drove off.

The first thing I noticed about him were his physical characteristics. He was short - maybe 5 feet, seven inches - thickset, muscular, probably close to fifty years old. He appeared to be Hispanic-American and spoke without an accent.

The next thing I noticed was that he was in a state of extreme agitation. Without any prior conversation these alarming words came shooting out of his mouth: "FUCKING BASTARD! DAMN FUCKING BASTARD!"

"What's the matter?" I asked.

His answer startled me again. Not only because of what he said, but the way he said it. He actually started to cry.

"Oh my god," he sobbed in a lowered voice, "I hope I didn't kill him."

"What happened?" I asked.


"What happened??"

My passenger began crying again. "I think I killed him," he blurted out as he covered his face in his hands. "Oh, God, I hope I didn't kill him."

To say that this guy was "upset" would be an understatement. He was riding on a wave of emotion that went up to anger and down to grief like a yo-yo, back and forth. He was literally inconsolable. It took the full ten minutes of the ride for me to piece together what had happened.

He'd been sitting in a bar, alone, minding his own business. Just having a couple of drinks and brooding to himself about his own troubles. Three rowdy guys entered the bar and sat nearby. One of these guys decided it would be a good time to have some fun at my passenger's expense. He began making belittling comments at him while his buddies laughed. He wouldn't let up and it led to a brawl.

The fight was no shoving match. It was an outright slugfest which ended with the rude guy collapsing on the floor from a chop to his neck which may have crushed his windpipe. He gasped desperately for air before slumping over, unconscious, possibly dying. My passenger ran out of the bar to the street looking for a taxi. My cab became his getaway car.

What the sack of shit didn't know when he decided to forget his manners was that he had finally met "the wrong guy". His object of ridicule was an ex-Marine who knew martial arts and was in no mood to take crap from some punk.

When we arrived at his destination, I advised him not to talk to anyone else about this incident other than a priest. Not to let his feelings of guilt put him into a jail cell. He thanked me and disappeared into the night. I never learned any further information about what may or may not have happened that night.

I found it interesting to observe that, although he may have just killed someone, I felt no fear in being alone with him in my cab. He wasn't my wrong guy. I don't have a wrong guy because I don't go around intentionally insulting strangers.

But we've all met people who do. And it was fascinating to meet the guy they will eventually run into.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Doctor Evil

Halloween is a special time in New York City. It's one of the most celebrated holidays of the year (even though it technically isn't a holiday at all), right up there with Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. If it falls on a weekday, as it did this year, there are actually two Halloweens. The first is the Saturday before Oct. 31st, and the second is Halloween itself. The Halloween parties occur on the Saturday. The Halloween parade in Greenwich Village (which drew nearly a million people this year) and the children trick-or-treating take place on Oct. 31st itself (a Tuesday this year).

I'm telling you, it's a big deal.

One of the things I find fascinating about that day is how quickly people can adjust themselves to a new reality. Some guy is walking around dressed up as a pack of cigarettes and some girl is crossing the street in a bumblebee outfit and nobody looks twice at them. Because it's Halloween. I think if suddenly the accepted fashion became wearing a red ball over your nose like a clown it would seem perfectly normal within just a few days.

Anyway, now that I'm blogging I thought I would take pictures of all the people in my cab who were wearing costumes

like these guys

and this guy

and maybe have a best-costume-in-my-cab contest. But an incident occurred at around 2 AM of the first Halloween night (Saturday) that took away all my enthusiasm for taking pictures of people dressed up like draculas, batmen, and wicked witches of the easts. And for a couple of days I was in a rare funk, hardly communicating with anyone at all.

Disturbing incidents almost always breeze right over my shoulders and glide on out into the universe. After 29 years of taxi-driving I have developed an immunity to them. I even look at the occasional jerk who gets in my cab as being a part of the Parade of Humanity and try to find something about him that interests me. But this particular jerk on Saturday night... this guy... he must have slipped in through a crack in the floorboard. He really got to me.

Even so, the truth is I wouldn't choose to write about it if I didn't have a point to make. And the point is this: the thing we call "civilization" is held together with a glue called "restraint". Here's what happened...

I picked up three thirty-something people - two girls and a guy - coming out of one of the trendy clubs on 27th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. They were all in costumes. The guy wore a red, white, and blue jumpsuit which I thought was supposed to be some kind of super-hero thing like Captain America, but it turned out to be an Evel Knievel (a famous motorcycle stuntman) outfit. In fact, the guy even looked like a young Evel Knievel. The girls - I don't know what they were supposed to be, but they were wearing fishnet stockings. Their destination was Murray Street in lower Manhattan.

I thought I would strike up a conversation with this group as I was interested in taking their picture at the end of the ride. But it was one of those fares in which the passengers were just into themselves and had set up a mental barrier to keep the cab driver out of their world. And most likely they'd been drinking or were on drugs. I asked the guy early in the ride if he was Captain America and got a reply not from him, but from one of the girls, that he was Evel Knievel.

But other than that there was no communication between us during the ride. I had already decided against asking them to pose for a picture and just drove along listening to the radio and wasn't paying much further attention to them, except to notice that the guy and one of the girls, who I assumed was his girlfriend, were bantering with each other and it was souding like an unpleasant, low-level argument.

It was when we arrived at their luxury high-rise on Murray Street that things suddenly got ugly.

The meter was $11 and the guy tells me he has to go into his building to get the money. This is bad taxi etiquette because he has waited until the end of the ride to make the announcement. If he'd been by himself the immediate suspicion would be that he's trying to beat the fare. But since he was with the two girls, it was no big deal. The girls wait in the cab with the meter running until he gets back with the money. Happens all the time. As long as he doesn't take too long, it's not an issue.

But then, without any explanation to me, he orders the girls out of the cab, telling them to wait on the sidewalk until he gets back.


In all my years, no one had ever done this. It struck me immediately as being completely out of bounds and I turned around in my seat a bit to tell them that normal procedure was for the girls to remain in the cab until the money arrived. I had to raise my voice slightly to be heard as I was being ignored. Then, quite out of nowhere, Mr. Knievel went ballistic on me.

Now I am not one to repeat vile profanity, but if I was, this is what I would tell you he screamed at me:

"No, they are getting out of the cab, you fucking piece of shit. They're getting out of the cab, asshole."


Needless to say, I was stunned. If anyone ever talks to me that way, which is never, I would probably know what had provoked it. But this came out of the blue. He ushered the girls out of the cab and told them to wait right there and then started walking toward his building.

"What do you think I'm going to do, drive away with them?" I said to him before he was out of earshot. Some sarcasm was the best I could come up with.

"That's exactly what I think you're going to do, you fucking piece of shit," he called back, and then walked into his building and was out of sight.

It's one thing if some moron is a semi-coherent drunk and throws an insult in your face. You know he's drunk and can be tolerated. But Evel wasn't semi-coherent. Evel was evil. The suddeness of his verbal assault and the perception that he knowingly wanted to humiliate, belittle, and degrade me restimulated an anger that was powerful enough to make my hands tremble. It's the kind of anger that can immediately escalate into violence, with the point to be made being, "You can't talk to me like that!" It's the kind of anger that brings you right to the precipice - the desire to strike back vs. the consequences of striking back suddenly becoming a monumental struggle. It's the stuff that manslaughter is made of.

The two girls who were now standing on the sidewalk up to this point had not said a word. I vented some of my anger by telling them their friend was the most insulting person I'd ever met and wasn't a candidate to live a long life. And then one of them shed some light on the situation. She told me that the other girl standing there had been in a taxi a couple of weeks ago and passed out in the back seat. She woke up to find her driver molesting her.


Okay, that was terrible and I told her I was sorry that happened. But it didn't excuse his acting like an asshole as, obviously, I wasn't that guy. And I told her that. Which maybe wasn't the right thing to say as now she felt a need to be defensive on his behalf and so she starts to critcize me for being mad at him. I was becoming numb with rage and realized I'd be better off just getting the hell out of there, so I told her to tell Evel Knievel he could keep his fucking eleven dollars and I shifted the car into "drive" with the intention of leaving.

But she wanted to keep the game going. She leaned her body against the side of my cab and latched onto my side-view mirror, making it impossible to drive away without knocking her over. And then she said something which turned out to be fascinating: "He can pay the fare and he can buy your cab, too, if he wants to, asshole. He's a plastic surgeon and makes plenty of money."

At this point Evel - "Doctor Evil", the plastic surgeon - returned with the money. He came up to me on the side of the cab, taking the space where the girl had just been. Now, in retrospect, you would have thought the guy might have cooled off and possibly might have even been apologetic for the way he'd spoken to me or would have at least offered an explanation for his incredibly bad manners. But instead he just continued where he'd left off.

"How much is the fare, you fucking piece of shit?"

A crisis point had been reached. My desire to strike back at this guy, to see him lying on his back in agony as my foot stomped down on his nose (requiring plastic surgery) had reached a crescendo. It wasn't really his words that infuriated me. It was the unmitigated evil I perceived in him. I wanted to hurt this guy very badly. But before I tell you what happened, I'm going to step out of this scene for a moment and do a bit of reflection.

Whenever I've had the misfortune to run into somebody like this, it has always amazed me how they could live past the age of, say, twenty-five. Because the odds are against it. You go around insulting total strangers - somewhere down the road you're going to meet "the wrong guy". And that guy is going to kill you, Charlie. Just like that. It's sort of a filtering process that the human race has installed upon itself.

Consider this: I am a total unknown to Dr. Evil. He has no idea what my tolerance for being insulted happens to be. He has no idea that, although it is illegal for taxi drivers in New York City to carry weapons, various objects that are associated with the operation of the vehicle, such as a tire iron, for example, can be used as weapons. And that I have just such an object at my fingertips. He has no idea that, although I am not a big guy, I have the ability to put him in either a hospital or a hole in the ground within seconds. And he is basically begging me to do it.

So... what did I do?

I drove away without saying another word and without accepting his money.

And, as I said, I was in a funk for about two days. You didn't really want to be in my cab during that time. Not that I was rude to anyone, I just wasn't my usual semi-cheerful self and certainly didn't want to have a conversation with you. I was too busy playing and re-playing every detail of the incident in my mind. But the mental mass associated with the episode finally did move away, and I was glad I had come away from it losing only some pride and not facing charges of aggravated assault or murder.

Plus I did have an insight that I'd like to share with you.

In reviewing this guy's behavior, you might think, yeah, well, he was just upset because one of the girls he was with had been assaulted by a cab driver. But it doesn't ring true. Obviously, one person in a profession is not another person in the same profession. And this guy wasn't lacking an ability to distinguish that. What he was doing was seizing an opportunity to dramatize some kind of transgression that he himself was guilty of while trying to make himself look righteous in the eyes of his friends. His behavior was a facade.

How many times have we seen it turn out that the righteous person on a crusade against evil-doers was himself guilty of the same crimes he rails against? I had inadvertently learned that this guy was a plastic surgeon. Isn't that someone who might find himself in a position to molest unconscious females?

Dr. Evil would be wise to wear a sign around his neck that says, "The reason I'm insulting you is because I have committed crimes I don't want you to know about". That way, when he meets "the wrong guy" - as he will - perhaps his life will be spared.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Three Unlikely Intersections In New York City

There are certain signposts in this city that make you look twice...

In the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn people are wondering... Bill? Or Hillary?

Rumor has it that Larry Flynt is planning on opening a new Hustler Club at this intersection in the Financial District.

In Greenwich Village this street intersects with itself.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Living With Maurice

Here's a truly amazing observation about New York: I estimate that there are about 800,000 to one million dogs living in the city. This number is reached by figuring that roughly one person in ten has a dog (8 million people = 800,000 dogs). And yet there is virtually no dog shit on the streets. None!

And that is amazing. Hell, that's a miracle.

This was not, however, always the case. Way back when, dodging doo was a part of every New Yorker's day. But the pooper-scooper law (the living legacy of Mayor Koch) made not cleaning up after Rover a social faux pas. Today, every New Yorker walking a dog knows that the eyes of the citizenry are upon him. Fail to bathe for a month, root for the Red Sox, beat your wife, walk around with a Bush/Cheney button on your coat - hey, all right, these things can happen. But fail to clean up after your dog... you just try it, mister!

I actually think the level of civilization of the people of a city can be judged by this alone. Along with their pizza. Take Paris. I'm told that the streets there are a fecal minefield. And that there's no pizza.

All of which brings me to my latest taxi dog.

Maurice, a seven-month-old Boston Terrier, and Eric, his twenty-something owner, jumped in for a short ride from the East Village to Union Square recently. Maurice, like Julian the Maltese whom I wrote about in "Mail-Order Dog", is also a mail-order dog. Eric and his girlfriend found Maurice online and bought him from a breeder in Oklahoma. The price was $400 plus $100 shipping. The pooch was met at LaGuardia Airport, taken to his new home in the city by Eric and girlfriend and they've all been living happily ever after since.

Except for one thing. Although Eric described him as a good companion, he is walked three to four times every day, and he does use the wee-wee pad conscientiously, Maurice is still not completely housebroken. He may leave an occasional surprise in the apartment.

But never on the street!

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Usually when you pick somebody up at Penn Station, if you happen to have a conversation with that person, you will be told they are coming in from Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, or upstate New York and they are here either on business or to visit their sister. So when a young lady got in my cab recently and told me she'd spent the day hunting ghosts in Perth Amboy, it got my attention.

Her name was Lindsay May, and this was her story...

The Proprietary House, an old mansion in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, is haunted. Expeditions are available for people who want to get up close with the spitits. The house dates back to colonial days when it was used as the residence of the royal governor of New Jersey. The last in the line of the royal governors, by the way, was William Franklin, the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin, who sided with the British against his father's wishes. Franklin was arrested after the Revolution began, spent a couple of years in jail, and eventually went to Britain, never to return. (Who knew?)

Anyway, the house has had various incarnations since then, including being used as a barracks during the Civil War and as an orphanage. So it's had plenty of opportunities for disembodied spirits to settle in. And apparently they have.

Lindsay May told me devices called EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) are used to record ghostly sounds. And that during the day she at one point walked through a ghost and at another point was swept into a room. She had no doubt whatsoever that the place is indeed haunted.

I dropped her off at 5th Street and Avenue C in Alphabet City. An area of the New York which, I must say, by my own observation is also somewhat haunted.