As my rugged Timberland boot made contact with the hobo’s grizzled visage, I could feel the aching in my temples. It wasn’t because my fellow ninja recruits had scarred my forehead earlier in our initiation rite. The feeling ran deeper: here was the raging pulse of the new urban American angst, the circulatory manifestation of a nation gone mad, a nation in which dressing up in black and ganging up on a homeless man with five or six of your new best friends represented the best sanity had to offer.
I watched Joe Stanzik’s last breath escape his lips that night. It was chilly enough to follow the mist as it raised from beneath his handlebar moustache up to the heavens in staccato bursts—poof. poof. poof.—until it all stopped. I knew then that I couldn’t do this anymore, that Paulo had been right all along, that there had to be another way. Stingy Pete handed me back the corkscrew. I realized in the dim light of the alley that the point was still covered in bile. The ooze was a familiar shade of green, but which shade, exactly? Forest green? Kelly green? Or could it have been Dartmouth green? It never would have mattered before, but then a lot of things hadn’t before that day at the old folks’ home and that night in the alley. Big things, future things, silly things. As Pete and I ventured into the night, and Tamika ambled after on her good leg, I could feel my world swelling. Also, I worked at a soup kitchen last summer.