03 August 2009

Knife Edge

Saturday night, just before eight, the local Mr. Special supermarket. The big one out on Road 100, not the small one in the middle of Carbonell Hell.

As the small man with the Teamsters cap pulled out his wallet to begin self-service checkout, something fell to the floor. I bent over to pick it up and his foot slammed on top of a six-inch butterfly knife with orange tape around the skeleton handles. He quickly retrieved it, We straightened up and I had a small smile on My face as I watched him begin his checkout.

After a couple of items, he says to Me: "That's for fucking Puerto Ricans, if they decide to get fucking stupid like they do. Fuck them up for being fucking stupid around here."

I stared at him. 

He said at Me: "That's for fucking Puerto Ricans, if they decide to get fucking stupid like they do. Fuck them up for being fucking stupid around here." Again. Word for word.

"Fuck you too," I said, smiling. 

"What was that? What'd you say?" He leaned in, sharp.

"Fuck you too." Still smiling.

Unless you know Me or have seen My picture, you will miss the point that I look really really like a gringo.  And the small guy's comment was offensive in two ways: He thought I was an "American," not a Puerto Rican and he...is...Puerto Rican. Or that sub-species known as NuYorican, who are Puerto Rican by birth or direct ancestry, but loathe everything about Puerto Rico except the goddamned welfare checks they get for being useless. And if he thought I was--as I am--Puerto Rican, then his comment was the rat fart of a coward and deserved a put-down.

Thus, Fuck you too.

He blew up at Me. ""Fuck me? Fuck you! And your mother!" I kept smiling. He started yelling. Half his words were lost in his attempt to put Me down and as he postured, I waved My hand at him as if to a small moth and said "Back off. Your breath smells like My dick."

Stunned him. "What did you say?" He leaned towards Me, angry and puzzled. I let him have it again. "I said move back because your breath smells like My dick."

He stiffened. "Fuck you!" he yelled. "My breath?! Fuck you!" People around Us started staring. I was holding a half-gallon of juice and two cans, watching him get angrier by the second. "You want to start something? Want me to to fuck you up? You telling me my breath smells like your dick? I'll fuck you up! I will fuck you up!" His voice rose.

A pot-bellied man edged around to My left and I tried to catch his movement. As the "fuck you up" guy was trying to pay--asking for an assistant manager's help in perfect boricua Spanish--I noticed the rotund man was staring at knife boy, not at Me.

I put the half-gallon and the cans down, My heart thudding hard. I wanted My hands free, but I also wanted the yeller to grasp that I wasn't taking him or his threats seriously. He had to edge back to avoid touching what I placed on the checkout ledge. He swiped his credit card, his wallet showing a Banco Popular ATM debit card and an out-of-state driver's license. He signed his name with the electronic pen, something starting with a J, then stepped back, slammed the pen to the edge of its leash, pulled out the knife, opened it and yelled "I'll wait for you outside, motherfucker!"

Uh-oh. Witty don't mess with crazy. I gave him a small smile.

"Outside, motherfucker!" He brandished the knife openly, holding it up like it was torch of reason, unlit. "I will...fuck you up!" He pointed the knife at Me.

My smile had faded. "You're welcome to try."

He grabbed the two bags a clerk had nervously tossed near him. He walked a few paces, turned and yelled "You fuck with me and you get fucked up!" He stopped at another checkout counter, waved the knife in My general direction and yelled even louder "I am tired of being fucked around here! Every day it's some fucking thing or the other! I am tired of fucking Puerto Rico fucking me around! I will wait FOR YOU OUTSIDE!!"

Some 50 people were looking at him and when his scream ended, I was leaning against the laser panel. As all eyes turned to Me, I smiled.  

I swiped My items and paid. As I bagged them, I noticed a small tube of crackers the knife jerk had left. I picked them up, knowing that when I saw him I would give them back with a "You're crackers" bon mot.

Everyone watched Me walk out. The exit area was empty except for a mother and her toddler coming up to get a cart. I looked around at the empty space and kept going to My car.

"Are you okay?" I stopped and turned. Three men, one with a security guard uniform, another with similar uniform pants and T-shirt and the pot-bellied guy were calling to Me. "Are you all right?"

I walked over to them. They had gone out to get the knife maniac's description and license plate, but the guy, still yelling and waving his knife, almost ran to his car and gunned it out of the parking lot in reverse. Almost crashed into the fence and the embankment before peeling away to the south.

They asked Me what happened and I explained, in Spanish. I had barely finished repeating the guy's opening remarks when all three said "Ese es un NuYorican." I laughingly told them to not mistake Me for a gringo, because I was born in Aguadilla.

The three men, Nelson the rotund one, a truck driver who moved behind Me to help out if needed; Tony, the off-duty security guard and Quiñones, the guard on duty, are all New York Puerto Ricans. All three. Fully bilingual. Living and working in My part of the world. Not NuYoricans. Puerto Ricans. 

We chatted for a while, commenting on the jerk's attitude, the incident as it unfolded and how the maniac should have been arrested for waving a knife in public. I thanked them for the attention, gave the crackers to the poor assistant manager who had to deal with the moron and went home.

Yes, I am an idiot. My mouth got Me in trouble again. The situation went from merely insulting to out-of-My-control. Could have been worse, literally a knife's edge away from becoming a disaster. But I know I said what I said because I don't see any reason not to state what I believe in this kind of situation so long as I am alone and thus don't place a loved one or a companion in danger. And really: I can't stand stupidity.

Admittedly, not even My own.

The Jenius Has Spoken.


James said...

It is upsetting how quickly people can lose control. This has happened to me a couple of times while riding my bicycle. Somebody almost hits me, I yell at them to watch it. I usually say something sarcastic, like "Parece que usted tiene mucha prisa." And off they go into a litany of whore mothers, goaters, and a million other words that just have absolutely NO EFFECT. They sound ridiculous in English and Spanish. I stayed smiling at the last guy in disbelief. I honestly didn't know what else to do. It's so ridiculous. I remind them they are the ones that almost hit me, and it only seems to enrage them more. I swear one guy's head was going to explode. I wonder if men here are so beset, so powerless, so downtrodden, that these explosions are just inverse reactions proportional to their impotence.

The flip side: It's nice when other people look out for you, huh? I had a guy help me chase off dogs once while I was pedalling up a hill. Pack of dogs ran me down and I put my bicycle in between myself and them. Guy in a vehicle drove all over the road chasing the dogs away, and then politely offered that I should carry some sort of palo. hehe. Sweet guy.

Best and the worst, all in one day, eh?

GCSchmidt said...

James, you certainly run into more frequent problems than I do because a bike on Our roads is thisclose to daredevil spectacle. You've got guts, since I won't question your sanity (not while you're within earshot, at least.)

Let's just stay in one piece when We deal with the uncontrolled and manic, okay? Happy riding!

The Insider said...

Maybe he thought he was in La Perla. Butterfly knife might come in handy for some of those *Puerto Ricans*... er... the ones responsible for the death toll.

Now that it's all said and done, glad to hear you called his bluff Gil. I hope his girlfriend or wife made it out OK that night too.

But we'll need to get you some personal security if you're going to get in those high risk situations. You're not an expendable citizen. You belong in the sub-terrain nuke-proof bunker where we can continue to harvest ideas from your brain!

Whether he mistook you for a gringo or not, that guy was probably very dangerous. It's the scared ones that are more likely to cut. Glad you came out unscathed. I think you earned the tube of crackers. ;)

Prometeo said...

That's a classic case of a self hating Puerto Rican. Well played Gil but that was a close call.

GCSchmidt said...

Insider, some people would consider locking Me away for diametrically opposed reasons to the ones you presented. But I like yours better. And Prometeo, self-hate is right: a single-edged knife aimed inward.

Edwin Vázquez said...

Hi Gil. My mother would tell you that you should have kept quiet (so would my wife). However I have a theory that our tongues are cerebral appendages with ramifications extending down to our guts. Today I had a close encounter with specimens of the same species but it was of the first kind.

Good thing the guy was a pendejo.

GCSchmidt said...

Edwin, women are practical and don't see any upside to this behavior. But there's a reason men die younger than women and Our male masculine macho mentality is part of it. I'm glad your encounter with multiple pendejos ended well, but Let's not forget that not all of them do.

But, man, there are so many of them out there...