Thursday, May 21, 2009


I don’t even realize I’m alone until I stop near the corner of Fairmount and Lakewood. When I see the blue flashers, I realize I’m screwed. I drop my butcher knife without looking down, hear it clatter on the asphalt, hope it’ll slide down the storm drain, at least go unnoticed. It doesn’t.

The door of the cop car barely slams shut, and already he’s asking, “What’d you just throw down?”

“What?” I ask back, trying to play the fool, a role I can usually play to the hilt.

“This!” he says as he picks up the knife. “You’re under arrest.”

“But officer, you don’t understand—”

“Shut up,” he says as he grabs me by the scruff of my neck and shoves me against his cruiser.

What he didn’t want to understand, what he refused to listen to, was that I was simply standing up for my wife, myself, my neighborhood.

About thirty minutes ago the night had been like any other early summer night in Baltimore, too hot and too humid. Everyone that was still home this Friday evening on Rose Street was out on their stoop shooting shit and drinking their Natty Bohs. Business as usual until some kid, a stranger, started banging on the door of one of the houses across the street. “Teri!” he hollered, “Teri!” over an over again, louder each time.

Maria, my wife, still young and still stupid at eighteen, decided to get involved. “Don’t say anything,” I begged her, knowing her propensity to run her mouth when she shouldn’t. The first rule I learned when I moved to Baltimore was “mind your own business.” She had been born here and still hadn’t learned that.

“Why don’t you leave her alone?” She bellowed as she crossed the street, “She obviously doesn’t want to talk to you.”

The stranger turned around shouting, “Bitch, what’d you say?” and without warning cocked his arm back and punched Maria in the face. Immediately, I leapt from the stoop and jumped on his back pummeling him with my tiny fists. “Get him off me!” he shouted as he tried to shake me off, and as if on command I felt hands tugging at me.

Then I was on the ground, right in the middle of Rose Street, surrounded by the stranger and three of his friends, friends that I hadn’t even noticed. They held me down under a barrage, fist dropping like fat hard raindrops. All I could do is flop around like an asphyxiating fish. I could hear shouts all around me, my neighbors coming to my rescue.

It was over almost as soon as it had started. The four of them ran away from the small mob that had come together to protect their French Fry. But it wasn’t really over. We were all still gathered in the middle of Rose Street buzzing as I assessed the damage— nothing serious: a few bruises and a scraped knee, blood trickling down my shin, when they came back down Rose Street. The stranger began to posture. “We got a gun. Now what are you gonna do?”

Still pumped full of adrenaline, furious at seeing Maria holding her swollen jaw, not seeing a gun, I ran into my house while the rest of the neighborhood joined in the verbal standoff. I did the most Puerto Rican thing I know. I grabbed a butcher knife, and flew back out the door towards the crew—a tiny kamikaze yelling, “You better be fast with that trigger!”

They ran. Again. This time I chased. The neighborhood chased with me. It wasn’t until I had run all the way to Lakewood that I’d noticed I was the only one still running. By then, it was too late. Blue flashers.

I finally get to tell my story as I’m being processed at the Eastern District Police Station. The officers laugh. “Kid, didn’t anybody ever tell you, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight?” Obviously, that officer doesn’t know any Puerto Ricans.

I spend the night on a hard cot with an itchy wool blanket before I’m released on my own recognizance the next morning. I get home to find out that Maria’s jaw was broken. It would have to remain wired shut for weeks. At least I can rest assured that she won’t be running her mouth again for a while.

Meanwhile, no one knows who the stranger is, or his friends, except maybe Teri; but she feigns ignorance. I get charged with carrying a concealed weapon with intent to injure, and they get off scot-free. There is no justice for a half-crazed Puerto Rican running down the street with a knife in Baltimore.

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