News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: You Got Guns, We Got Guns

Monday, October 30, 2006

You Got Guns, We Got Guns

One of the stupider things I ever saw on the subway was in the Summer of 2000. Anyone who's ridden the NYC subway in summertime knows the smells, the sound, and most often the heat. The time I saw two guys almost shoot it out on the subway, though, added a more than surreal--albeit comic effect when I remember it now--to the humid stench of that day. ...

To make a long story short, I caught the eastside subway to Penn Station and it was hot. The car was packed, but not overly so. When I got on I noticed that many people were staring at a black man in a seat near the door. They were cowering away from him since he was spewing a lot of anger around, mostly an incoherent rant. All you could tell was that the guy was pissed off.

Hanging on to one of the upright railings was a white guy. He was listening to this rant in a somewhat bemused if increasingly antagonistic manner. He just kept glaring at the black guy who at first took little notice.

But then the guy standing finally caught his eye and he started going off on him. Again, the white guy just stands there smirking somewhat. Finally, the black man gets off and gets into the white guy's face.

Of course, everyone including me is getting ready to either duck or run out of the car, away from who knew what.

This went on for several stops. Finally the white guy says something that I forget but that really set the other man off. Again, they were closer to whatever was going to happen. Just then the doors open and the white guy steps out of the car and begins screaming, "You got guns? I got guns." He stood there with hands out--not exactly looking like he was going to draw but defiantly and comically.

The black guy just stood there. What or if he was thinking I don't know. I expected him to get out. He glared and didn't say a word. Then the doors closed. The white guy's left standing there with his arms out. There's a silent sigh of relief.

Then the doors open again. (Someone getting on or off in another car.) The mental screams are heard--if only to the dead.

Everyone's expecting the white guy to get back on the train. But he doesn't he just stands there... waiting. And the black guy stands there too. Silent. (Mulling it over? Stewing in his rage? Fermenting?)

The doors close again and the train finally gets going to the next stop.

As I stand there not knowing whether to get down on my knees and thank God for delivering me from death or breaking out in the laughter of the demented, the black guy retakes his seat and begins his stare-down job again. Daring anyone, everyone, to look at him. By this time, of course, augmenting his rage is the awareness that some on the car might be questioning his courage.

Fortunately, the little farce ends when he finally gets off a few stops later. Whether to backtrack and find the other guy and take him up on the showdown or to get away from the ignominy of having 20 people witness his impotent rage, I certainly don't know.

As I said, now it's one of the funniest if stupidest things I've ever seen on the subway. The stupidity, needless to say, is magnified by the realization that in one way I and the others on the train that day dodged a bullet.

Don't ask me why, but this story came to mind today as I thought about the controversy over CNN's airing of an Iraqi insurgent video showing snipers killing US soldiers. That story of the subway encounter came to mind when I read over some blog postings and pictures at The Sniper Eye, the blog of a US sniper.

The outrage expressed over the decision to air that insurgent video led me to think about moral equivalences. Of course, it's horrifying to watch as the insurgent snipers talk about identifying the target. And when the shot finally rings out and the soldier falls, the pit of the stomach revulses. That's one of our guys. That's one of us. That could be my kid.

Yet--perversely perhaps--I think about the situation in which the sniper is a US soldier taking out an Iraqi. Would those who find the airing of this insurgent video be as horrified by the imagery were it shown on TV? Then again, why isn't video shown of events like that?

The rhetorical nature of these questions should not leave unsaid the fact that in most cases many people would not want either video to be aired. They'd rather have such events occur unseen and unmentioned. One of those silent affairs of war whose despair is covered by that despicable phrase "collateral damage."

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