Zero Plus 376
Missing Fingers &
The Cross Of Terror
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, September 23--I am sitting at Union Square, on a park bench in
front of Lincoln's statue, next to a babbling man talking to himself, who
is sitting next to a Middle Eastern young woman reading a book.
is perhaps 20 or 22 at the most. She has olive skin, and wears
hoop earrings with Arabic inscriptions on them. She is very
attractive, and holds the spine of the book in the wedge of her left hand,
somewhat hiding it from sight. Her left hand is badly
deformed. There is no middle finger. What is left of her
thumb looks as
though it had been honed by an electric pencil sharpener. The
are fragments of flesh and bone, appearing as though someone whittled on them with
a sharp knife long ago. Her other hand is perfectly normal.
I am drinking my morning Starbucks,
watching the people passing by--some hurried and harried, others wandering
souls so lost they have given up finding themselves. I have
just deposited my granddaughter at her preschool and am looking for
today's story. I was told long ago everyone is a story
and everything is the background for it.
A homeless woman with unkempt grey frizzy hair and
bloated unwashed skin deadened by the grime and filth of the city, asks for a
cigarette. She approaches timidly. I nod and offer her one.
I am careful to take it out of the pack and hand it to her by the tip, so
there is no physical contact. I have learned the
wandering souls carry with them the bacteria of the city. She
thanks me and shuffles off.
I am taking notes of the man next to me,
trying to comprehend what he is muttering under his breath. It is
intelligibly understandable. He is having a conversation with
himself, but it is nothing one can understand except to catch the word
"wimpy" and "whiney" and "whiner" that slip out of the mutterings.
Another wandering soul approaches. I
think he is coming to me for a cigarette. Instead he swerves
to talk to the man next to me. "Good morning, Robert."
His Voice is soft, and he doesn't wait for an answer. He keeps
moving toward the intersection of 18th and Broadway, where humanity is
congested like the traffic, coming and going to all points of the compass.
The girl looks over at Robert whose Voice
rises slightly. Robert's head is hung or bowed, and he seems to
be talking to the asphalt or his knee. She offers him no disdain or
disgust in her glance, but rather a look of compassion, and then
immediately shifts her eyes back to the book she is reading.
She has Puma tennis shoes on, Cordova colored with white trim, and a purple shirt
and jeans--the sign of NYU student. She keeps her left hand
under the spine of the book, cradling it as she turns the pages with her
beautifully sculpted right hand, a stark opposite of the other hidden
under the book.
A squirrel scurries up the tree in front of
me. Two days ago
on the way to school the kids and I saw a squirrel without a tail. I took
pictures of it. It appeared to be born that way rather than having its
tail bobbed in some accident. It looked quite different than
the squirrel running up and down the tree in front of me today. It
reminded me of an
airplane without tail, or a boat without a stern--so off balance.
The absence of a tail did not affect its behavior. It
performed as any squirrel might, dashing here and there for
food, scampering when it found something to quickly bury it and then returning
to forage and hoard some more.
I glanced at the Middle Eastern girl,
wondering if she was born that way, or whether she was the victim of some
tragic accident--a land mine that exploded, or perhaps a hand grenade.
I had seen many hands blown to pieces by
hand grenades when I visited hospitals in Vietnam. The
disfigurement was similar, chunks of flesh carved away, whole fingers
gone, tips gone. One Marine had grabbed a live
enemy hand grenade and was throwing it back when it went off behind his
head, at the top of his throw. Fortunately, it blew off major
portions of his hand rather than his head.
The urge to ask the young woman about
her hand grew in me, as did the urge to engage Robert in a conversation
to find out how long his soul had been lost. I felt a
closeness to Robert because my real name was Robert before my father
changed it to his, Cliff, just after I was born. He preempted
my mother's choice which the nurses had used until the preemption.
Robert's head lolled. I
figured he was on some Thorizine-like medication, the kind that
short-circuits the brain and tongue, and dredges one of the will to move, to
interact in the space of normalcy. He was
probably in his mid forties, but it is always hard to say when a person
becomes the tread of life, letting the world run over them.
His clothes were clean, his shoes new and fashionable, he wore socks, had
glasses and a haircut--quite unlike the man who had come by earlier and
greeted him. His greeter had been disheveled, and wore the
filth of the city as the woman had who bummed the smoke. His hair
was splayed out under his hat, and his skin a grimy soot-soaked color of
I had just delivered my granddaughter to
her school, and spent considerable time prior to taking her in combing her
hair. Today was school picture day, and my wife and older daughter
(the mother of my 4our-year-old grand daughter) are in
Montana attending my wife's mother's funeral. Before leaving they
had given explicit instructions on how to arrange Sarah's hair for the
pictures, and in numerous conversations reiterated how to do it.
Last night I had washed it and put conditioner on it, then sprayed it with
Shine and combed it and placed the hair bands in the proper places after
numerous clumsy attempts. I am no longer as skilled at fixing a young
girl's hair as I was when my two daughters were little.
I suppose the attention to cleanliness with the
grandkids sparked my awareness of the grime and filth of the city,
attached to those who had given up on living life in the mainstream, and
sought the fringes of existence to wait out death.
I found it also peculiar that there would be the
three of us sitting on a park bench in front of Lincoln's statue at Union
Square--a Middle Eastern girl with a deformed hand, a man muttering to
himself, and I, always in search of the wandering souls of life in hopes I
might better understand my own.
Both of the people next to me were rich stories,
I was sure. My hesitation to communicate with either of them was
based not on fear or intimidation, but rather on the belief that not every
story needs to be told. Some stories belong to their authors.
But there was no doubt in my mind that both
had been terribly Terrorized in their lives. The beautiful
Middle Eastern girl had a deformity she kept hidden, and I wondered how
she felt carrying it around with her, being forced to explain why the rest
of her was so attractive and her hand so mangled. I thought of
the Courage and Conviction it must take to overcome the victimization of
whatever had happened, and what destiny had in store for her, or she
thought it did.
The same was true with Robert.
He didn't have the appearance of the common street person. He was
clean and well-dressed, an obverse to the majority of wandering souls in
the city. Yet every outward action suggested he was mentally
inept, and obviously "one of the disenfranchised" yet not by appearance.
Casually, one might have thought of Robert as some eccentric college
professor talking to himself, but had they heard the word "wimp" being
used over and over, they would have known he was in the throes of
self-degradation, beating himself up inside, Terrorizing his self worth.
And there I was. I was sponging
it up. Listening, watching.
I thought of the Terror of Terrorism.
I thought of how it haunts us all, and in some, it breaks through into the
core of the soul, contaminating us forever with its bile. I
was hungry to know the source of each person's Terrorism today, but chose
not to pursue it. Both had adjusted to their Terror.
The girl wasn't afraid to sit outside and read a book. Robert wasn't
afraid to talk to himself. And I wasn't afraid to take notes and
Later, when I picked up my four-year-old
granddaughter from pre-school, and we headed toward her brother's school
to pick him up, she wanted to talk about my wife's mother's death.
"Is Ga-Ga on the Cross?" she asked.
I thought about the question.
"I don't know. I think she's in Heaven," I said.
"Did she have to go on the Cross first?"
Again, I hesitated. "No, I don't
"So how did she get to Heaven, G-Pa?"
"An angle flew down and gave her a ride up, just
like a taxi."
"Did she have to pay?"
"No...it's a free ride."
"Oh," she answered in a tone not complete in its
acceptance of my answer.
I thought about her question: "Is Ga-Ga on the
Cross?" I wondered if in a child's mind suffering was related
to sacrifice. Did a child relate pain to being crucified?
Or, the afterworld as a place where one hung in eternal agony?
I knew that many of us walked this earth in "crucifixion."
Regardless of our religious beliefs, we were stretched out on the Cross of
Suffering. Surely, Robert was this morning. He was
nailed to his Cross of Terrorism.
I couldn't say if the young woman had resolved
the Terror of her mangled hand. I hoped she had, yet often
that is wishful thinking that one can overcome such a malformation when
the rest of you is perfectly normal. I hoped she wasn't
hanging on the Cross of Terror.
The woman who bummed the smoke was on it.
She was carrying her Cross. It was written on every wrinkle,
and the filth of time had become her makeup, her Cover Girl.
Then there I was, observing
everyone's Cross, and wondering if we all were crucified on
a Cross of Terror and chose not to accept it.
I wondered if Vigilance was a claw hammer, designed to pull
the nails out of our hands and feet so we might climb down and
leap on the back of an angel and be swept up to Paradise.
I knew I'd never
know the answer. The only thing I knew for sure
was that I told my granddaughter her Great Grandmother wasn't
on the Cross of Terror.
Go To September
22--"The Terrorist Who Bites!"
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