Where Is The Blind Man Selling Pencils When You Need Him
Where are the blind men selling pencils in New York City?   They are all with Osama bin Laden, I think.   When I face the panic of finding a wooden pencil for my grandson's homework, I enter a world of Terror--there aren't any.   Searching through Grand Central Station reveals no pencil.   Asking people doesn't.   What's the lesson I learned? Read and Enjoy



Thursday--December 5, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 449
Where's The Blind Man Selling Pencils When You Need Him?

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 5 --Ever try to find a blind man selling pencils in a city of 9 million people on a cold, wintry night?    I did.  Last night.  And, there aren't any.

       When you think of New York City, you see lots of images in your mind--from the super rich and powerful living in palatial apartments on the Upper East Side, to the homeless and disenfranchised rattling cups on corners for alms.  Humanity is packed together so tightly on this little island that anything one can imagine is for sale by someone somewhere, except that is, wooden pencils, sharpened not dull, with an eraser.

      I know if I asked enough people on the streets of New York where I could find a three-toed South American loris sloth for a Christmas present, someone would point me in the right direction.    Or, if I wanted a one-legged man who was world champion in ass-kicking contests he'd probably be having a cup of coffee around the corner at one of the trillion Starbucks dotting the city.

     But finding one single wooden pencil with an eraser and ready to write--ah, that's about as easy as the CIA finding Osama bin Laden's lair, or the weapons inspection teams in Iraq finding weapons of mass destruction so we could raze Baghdad on Christmas Day.
       I kid you not!.

Sheriff of Vigilance

      Each day, I wake up around 4 a.m. to launch my daily Terrorism Hunt.   Somewhere out in that world is the Beast of Terror scuttling here and there in the shadows of humanity, trying to elude the Sheriff of Vigilance and his posse.   I have more luck finding him than the Blind Man, or for that matter, anyone, selling pencils.
       It started last evening--my quest for the Blind Man with a pencil.
       My wife and took our two grandkids, Matt, 6 and Sarah, 4, up to Grand Central Station to see the laser light show and Transit Museum holiday train display.  New York is bracing for its first snow and sub-zero weather has settled in, forcing one to don thick jackets and four layers of insulation, gloves, hats, scarves and a brisk pace to keep warm as the wind blasts shut our pores.
       In my youth, I spent eighteen months working in Goose Bay Labrador, a jutting piece of land not to far from Greenland where temperatures with wind chill would drop to minus 100 in artic storms, so I wasn't unfamiliar with the cold.  What I was not prepared for was the absence of pencil salesmen.

       We toured Grand Central with the kids, craning our necks as lasers ignited the main concourse's majestic celestial mapped ceiling with different images such a birds flying, a man sweeping the floor, and various cartoonish creatures dancing over the sculpted dome.  

Grand Central Light Show

         The lights danced along the ceiling accompanied by seasonal music.  Six different holiday shows rotate throughout the day. Grand Central has become a fashion plate compared to its past.  Back in the early 80's I remember walking through it late at night with a buddy.  We made the wrong turn and ended up in a great hall full of homeless, freezing people who glared at us.  There must have been five-hundred of them sprawled here and there, some sleeping the cracks of decaying plaster along the walls, others fixing us in the sniper scopes of their eyes as intruders or potential sources of holiday income.
       My friend, a big guy like me, whispered in my ear:  "Walk like a cop and we might get out of here."   I stiffened my back and pretended I had a .357 magnum strapped on my hip and strutted like a king until we exited the hall, forcing the sweat to not leak down the sides of my face as hands reached out for offerings and dark death eyes glared angrily at our presence.
       Grand Central today is Disneyland in comparison to what it was.  Shops glisten with fine ware, music wafts about, people move about with a sense of security and business void of being targets for muggings and pickpockets.  

Holiday Train Show

        The Grand Central Holiday Train Show at the Transit Museum was O.K., but nothing compared with the Victorian train depot in the Atrium at Citigroup Center.   But the kids enjoyed pressing their faces to the glass and watching HO model subway and metro trains chugging along a 50's setting where McDonald's showed the price of hamburgers as fifteen cents and there were no wanted posters for bin Laden.

       After our sightseeing, we exited Grand Central and made our way across the street to a McDonald's where hamburgers have gone up by more than 250 percent since the 15-cent price.  Our grandson was planning on doing his first-grade homework after consuming a Happy Meal except for one problem.   He had no pencil in his pack.
      "I'll get you a pencil, Matt," I boasted.    "I'll save the day," I muttered to myself, puffing out my chest and feeling like the Knight in Shining armor, once more ready to prove to my grandkids I was their Sentinel of Vigilance, great protector over all Terrorisms, including the thought that homework couldn't be done without the right tools.   
       So off I went back into the cold night in search of a pencil--not a pen--a wooden pencil with an eraser for a six-year-old boy who had to finish his homework.


     Up and down 42nd Street I cruised.  "Excuse me, do you carry pencils?  Actually, I only need one, sharpened with an eraser.   I'll pay you a dollar for it."
      I went into deli's and shops and restaurants packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the two blocks around Grand Central.   Nobody had a pencil.  Lots of pens were available, but alas, no pencils.

      Out on the streets, jammed with people also wearing heavy winter gear, it was a linebackers dream.  People were bumping and nudging each other forward, heads lowered, scarves limiting their vision.  I'm a giant in relation to most New Yorkers who seem to have been genetically bred to negotiate sidewalks without bumping people.  When I turn sideways to avoid a collision, I am at least two-and-a-half the average New York pedestrian.    At 6-4 and 270 pounds, I spend a lot of time saying, "Excuse me...I'm sorry...Wooops...Sorry about that."   I often choose to walk in the street rather than endanger a little old lady bent over with a cane whom I might not see ahead of me.

Bundled Up

         It was especially dangerous last night as I scanned the storefronts for a drug  or stationery store.  I found one that looked promising and they only had pens disguised as pencils.    Finally, after receiving incorrect directions, I found a Rite Aid in Grand Central, the place we had just been.   It's a huge building and it took me at least five minutes of moving up and down ramps, dodging people to find it.   I was frustrated by now, and my tolerance level for other human beings was drained.   My down jacket was causing me to sweat and I could imagine my grandson telling their G-Ma:  "Where's G-Pa?   I thought he was going to help me?   But he's not here?  I'll never get my homework done?   Help!  Help!"

      I could barely get into the Rite Aide store.   Commuters jammed it up.  There was a long line, maybe twenty deep and only one cashier--I'm sure a rookie.  She was slowly ringing things up.  I looked at the long line and imagined standing there with a single pencil in my had for fifteen minutes, growing angrier and angrier.
      I can't, I thought. I just can't stand in that line.
      I left without looking for a pencil.   Probably, they wouldn't have had any, or, would have just sold the last one to another harried grandfather.
      Now, I set my jaw.

      I began to look at the people passing by, and when I saw a likely suspect, a younger person with a pack, I approached and said, "Excuse me, would you happen to have an extra pencil with an eraser I could buy--it's for my grandson--so he can do his homework--I'll pay you a dollar for it....please."
      New Yorkers are suspect of about everything--a nature that goes with the city.   But a big guy like me stopping people and asking for a wooden pencil for my grandson...well that's pushing it.  
      There is a odd look in people's eyes when they hear a line such as mine.  It is kind of:  "Are you for real, Big Guy?   Are you going to hurt me if I don't have a pencil?"
      Maybe they read the desperation in my eyes, or smelled the frothing frustration in my plea.
      I grew more and more angry there wasn't a Blind Man Selling Pencils anywhere.

     Every cartoon you view on a big city has some blind person selling pencils for a nickel.   I got mad at the cartoonists.   They falsely represented the city.   They seduced me into thinking I would find a guy on a corner, or maybe two or three, with pencils and a cup.   None.  Nada.
      In a final act of desperation I stumbled into a Starbucks and ordered two coffees plus a plea for a wooden pencil.   The nice young woman at the register filled my order and then went into the back to search for a pencil.  Nothing.
      As I stood on 42nd Street waiting for the crush of cars to come to a halt so I could jaywalk across to McDonald's, the fleeting thought of throwing myself in front of one of the buses or garbage trucks chugging up the street dashed in and out of my mind.   I felt like the failed warrior, the great hunter coming home without the meat, sword broken, body wounded.  The Beast of Terror had won this battle.
      When I returned to McDonald's, I found my grandson gleefully working on his homework.  Only about ten percent of it required a wooden pencil, the rest he could do with color crayons which he had.   My wife and the kids were happy.
       "I didn't think you'd find one," my wife said as I sank heavily into the tiny McDonald's chair.
       "What?"  I gasped.

       "I couldn't imagine you finding a wooden pencil up here.   They're hard to find."
       I sucked on my coffee.   Here I was--great Pencil Warrior--attacking the underbelly of New York City for a pencil while my wife knew the moment I left I had little to no chance of being successful.    I began to laugh.
      There were no Blind Men With Cups & Pencils in New York City.
      But, there was Vigilance.
      I hadn't given up.  That was the good part--not until the last minute, the last desperate attempt at Starbucks.  I'd been in battle for a good 45 minutes trying to find a wooden pencil.  I hadn't grabbed anyone by the collar and angrily shaken them until they told me where the pencils were hidden.   I didn't pull a weapon on all the people at Rite Aid and threaten them as I moved to the head of the line to buy a singular wooden pencil.
      I didn't hit the deli guy who wagged his fingers at me as though I were some noxious Tse Tse fly when I asked if he had wooden pencils and he muttered--"only pens...you buy pen...better than pencil..."

      I didn't stand in the center of Grand Central and scream in agony under the celestial dome, a man gone mad in his search the pencil that probably Hussein had hidden in a secret site with his weapons of mass destruction.
      Nope, I was pretty good.
      I kept my cool.
      As a Terror Hunter, it's easy to get Terror-Sensitive.   After a while, all you see is the Beast of Terror's face looking at you through the bushes, spying on you, playing tag with you.    You can get a bit uptight after a while if you take yourself too seriously.
      In retrospect, I could hear the Sentinels of Vigilance above Ground Zero having a good chuckle over my search for the Blind Man With The Pencils For Sale.    Perhaps the quest was nothing more than their way of reminding me to take life with a grain of salt, and to learn, as I did last night, that it's the journey and not the destination that counts.
      But, as a Vigilance as well as Terror Hunter, I learned from my experience.
      In my pack I know carry a dozen wooden pencils with erasers, and a pencil sharpener.

      Perhaps one day a frustrated grandfather will grab me by the lapels and beg in desperation:  "Help me.  Help me.  I need a wooden pencil with an eraser.  Sharpened.  God, can you help me.  Please.  Please."
      I'll be ready for that day.

      I'll be a hero then.
      In the meantime, I'll just keep a smile on my face and a vigilant eye out for a panic-stricken grandfather.

Dec. 4--Russian News & How It Looks At Terrorism

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