|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
5, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 449
Where's The Blind Man Selling Pencils When You Need Him?
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
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.
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
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
I kid you not!.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.
imagine you finding a wooden pencil up here. They're hard to
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
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
Dec. 4--Russian News & How It Looks
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