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New York, New York

Defending My Wall

In a world controlled by fear and terror, unemployment, and 24-hour news channels, it is not entirely unlikely that one Brooklyn resident could be attacked by al Qaeda.

From the desk of Dave Prager, a slight shift of the head is all that’s required to look out the bedroom window. Following such a shift, one’s view is then dominated by a picturesque cement wall—a sideways monolith, capped by chain link fence, five feet past the bedroom wall, separating Dave’s property from the wilds beyond: a sliver of city park (a weedy wood chippy area, a sidewalk, a fence between the two), another cement wall, a sunken expressway, and some currently leafless trees on the far side.

Hours pass every few minutes daily as Dave sits, his head slightly shifted, admiring the time-lapse of sunlight across rough cement, waiting for email to arrive, or HotJobs to update, or CNN the website to panic him into watching CNN the TV show. Sometime after his fourth month of this jobless vigil, Dave’s prepositional use when referring to the wall shifted from impassive nominative to effusive possessive.

With that in mind, imagine Dave’s rage when his wall was attacked by al Qaeda.

Now, imagine Dave’s sheepishness about his foolish reflexive attribution of the attack to al Qaeda.

But don’t stop imagining Dave’s rage—because regardless the culprit’s political affiliation, Dave’s wall was still under attack.

Peeking over the wall: a face! White, black stocking cap, headphones, round glasses magnifying eyes focused intently on the wall in front of him. Standing in the wood chippy area (an area clearly demarked by fence as off-limits), arm moving side to side. A vandal! Dave’s only uncertainty: whether the medium was spray paint or urine.

The responsibility for maintaining order falls to the diligent citizen—Dave knew this firsthand. On the September 12 after September 11, a suspicious-looking character hovered around Seeley Street, staring through the fence on the bridge above the expressway, looking suspicious. In the first manifestation of his new lifestyle of vigorous paranoia, Dave called the police, put a steak knife in his pocket, and confronted this potential evildoer (white, backpack’d and headphone’d, non-ironic nerd glasses, plaid shirt) whose sinister manner was resentfully defended as lawful impatience —an overdue neighbor, a stoop with no steps upon which to sit, a lack of a nearby Starbucks.

False alarm or not, the cops never came. Had Dave’s suspicions been even the slightest bit founded, who knows what might have happened if not for his bravery? Dave learned the lesson: the responsibility for maintaining order falls to the diligent citizen.

A knock on the window and a menacingly waggled finger would teach this lout a thing or two. The brute would hear Dave, see Dave, turn and run. But then the fiend would know where Dave lives—and a hooligan with no respect for society’s laws is not someone Dave wants to know his address.

Outside, then! From the desk of Dave Prager, Dave leapt. No time for a jacket! No time for shoes! OK, time for shoes—but no time to tie them tightly! Out the door (no time to close it!), down the steps, around the corner, and—there! The evildoer, caught in the act, paint can in hand. Cornered, no escape! Eyes that knew no morality met the eyes of unequivocal ethical superiority.

A stare! A stare! Dave Prager: twenty-five-year-old, comically curly hair, high green belt in Tae Kwon Do, from Aurora, Colorado, his eyes flaring, his nostrils flared. The villain: skinny, pimples, fourteen. Fourteen! One for each quarter-second of that interminable stare.

In the coward’s pusillanimous brain, sirens already howled; somewhere under inches of skull, the cold teeth of handcuffs already bit trembling wrists which, he was obviously realizing, had moments before committed the most grievous mistake of their young lives.

Three-and-one-half seconds of staring was all it took. Dave’s point was made.

Turning his back on his adversary, Dave began towards home. Twelve stairs would soon put two doors and four locks between him and his new archenemy—but evil has eyes, and evil eyes watch, evil minds plot evil deeds, and Dave didn’t want to go up those stairs because evil would know where he lived and we already know how Dave feels about that.

Passing his wide-open door, Dave continued down the block, following the sidewalk to the right as if he meant to do that all along. Only when a neighboring brownstone hid him from view did he stop, turn, pause, and slowly creep back to see what the young fellow would do next.

The little cretin—obviously too frightened to run—had crossed the street and turned left at the intersection where Dave had turned right. Bravely stepping from behind a parked car, Dave watched his nemesis slink away, stopping at a stoop halfway down the block. His lair? Perhaps—but then he looked back, saw Dave watching (Dave’s stare just as piercing from a hundred feet away), scrambled back to the sidewalk and kept on slinking, as if he meant to do that all along.

Dave locked his locks and returned to his desk. He sat, shifted his head slightly, tried to admire the time-lapse of sunlight across again-unbesmirched rough cement, then stood, looked to see if anyone was out there, and closed the drapes so no one could see in.

A few minutes later, Dave meekly lifted a corner of the drapes and peeked out, and a few minutes later, did so again.