I once made a man cry. He was a big tough guy, a punk, and he was on a crime spree. At first glance, he was not the sort you could picture breaking down and blubbering like a baby.
I was in my thirties at the time, living in the city, and I spotted this man out my window at about 2:00 in the morning. He was moving like a ghost in the shadows between the buildings. Burglaries were common around where we lived; as a matter of fact, our house had been burglarized just the week before. Fortunately, that job had been interrupted in the very act, by one of our housemates returning home late at night, and scaring off the intruder. We had found all my tools piled in boxes by the back door, ready to go.
You can imagine what I felt seeing that: "Sure, take whatever you want; it's all free!" I was working as a cabinetmaker at the time, and these tools were my livelihood. Plus, I had been collecting tools since I was a boy, and this was a very personal violation to me.
So, just a week after this event, I saw a suspicious character sneaking between the houses across the street at two in the morning, and I became furious; my heart instantly began pounding with adrenaline. I was wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and slippers, but I had no time even to grab a jacket. I slipped silently out the front door into the cold darkness, in pursuit of the pale figure which had slipped out of sight around the corner.
I followed him down the block, keeping within the shadows myself, as I watched him darting into alleys and inspecting locked windows. I had no thought except to keep him in sight, and maybe to dash back to my house to call the cops if I saw him enter a building.
This was the situation as we reached the end of the street, and he crossed the brightly lit but deserted intersection. I saw him crouch down and examine the lock of a bicycle which was chained to a lamppost. I had no way to stay concealed at this point if I still wanted to follow him, and without really thinking about what I was doing, I strode across the street right towards him and said, "Nice bike."
As I approached him he stood up and fixed me with an intense and venomous look of hatred. He seemed suddenly to tower over me, his eyes an ugly red and his body tense like a coiled snake. The first thing he said was, "If you called the cops on me, I'm going to beat the **** out of you while they watch."
I started talking fast. I told him to relax; I didn't call the cops, but I couldn't let him do what I saw him doing. He kept calling me "you little toad" and telling me how stupid I was and how little I understood my danger. I told him to stop calling me "little toad"; I told him I understood what I was doing, and that I was just trying to stop a crime, because this was my neighborhood.
We went back and forth in this way for a while. We were both still quite heated, although the dangerous intensity had relaxed a little. I wanted to get through to him somehow, and I began to spin a little yarn. I didn't want him to know where I lived, so I didn't tell him that we had been broken into just last week. So I made up a story, telling him I was an auto mechanic. I told him my shop had been broken into, and that all my equipment had been stolen. I said I was now completely busted; I worked hard all my life and now I can't even pay my rent. It was the best I could come up with on the spur of the moment.
"How do you feel about that?" I asked the man.
"I don't give a **** about that", was the man's response." It was your fault for leaving the door unlocked."
"I didn't leave the door unlocked," I said. "The guy broke the door in."
"I don't do B and E's" the man told me. I told him it doesn't matter if you do breaking and entering, you're still a thief and you're hurting innocent people. Doesn't that matter at all to you?
It didn't matter to him. Nothing seemed to matter to him. I was running out of things to say, when the man suddenly got quite emotional and blurted out, "I don't care about anyone but myself. Myself, and my mother."
So I asked him, "Well then, what would you do if you came home someday and you find that your mother has been hurt? Some punk knocked her down, cut her purse and ran away with it. All her money gone, and she got hurt when she fell down. How would you feel about that?"
"I would kill the **** who did it. I would kill him." he told me passionately, the red light burning in his eyes again.
"No you wouldn't," I told him. "The thing is, you never find the guy. By the time you find your mother hurt, it's already three hours since she was attacked, and you never find the guy who did it. Now, how do you feel? How do you feel, knowing that there are people out there who don't care about you or anything, as long as they get what they want?"
It was at this point that the man started crying. He just literally broke down in great heaving sobs, telling me he would be good some day, he was just too angry, he was so sorry but he would be good some day.
All of a sudden, reaction set in with me as well. I started shivering. I looked up and realized it was getting light out. The man was sobbing and calling out after me, but there was nothing more I could do. I was freezing there in my shorts in the cold light of dawn, and I ran home.
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