Silly Strings That Entangle
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 11/15/03
About 4 years
ago I was tooling around the city of Minneapolis on a weeknight evening. The sun
had set & I believe it was late summer/early autumn. I forget whether I was
on my way home or killing time on the way to meet someone. Nonetheless, I
stopped in at the Cub Foods supermarket off of Minnehaha Avenue. I don’t
recall whether I was looking to buy something or merely dawdling. I was down an
aisle where they had pet food & was comparing prices when a band of 5 or 6
10-13 year old kids came running down the aisle holding cans of Silly String.
They were spraying each other with it & making a mess down all the aisles
they ran. 1 little punk tried to spray some of the gunk my way & I swatted
my arm at him & they ran off. What took me aback was that not a single of
the grocery store employees intervened & asked the kids to leave the store.
1 employee even came to clean up a mess with the kids making still more a few
yards away. The schlub dared not approach the kids. I could only reason that he
felt he might be accused of harassment or child abuse if he interceded, or even
chided the children. Off they ran into more mischief as I shook my head at the
blue collar coward. I bought something & checked out as the kids ran out of
A few minutes later I was exiting the store when I came upon a terrible scene. A young mother- early-mid 20s, blond, attractive- & her baby (in a stroller) were covered head to foot with this Silly String gunk, as the little hellions went wild. The SS was all over the mother & the stroller as she shrank in fear & murmured. Other customers went in & out of the store staring at the site, but dared do nothing, lest be labeled abusers. Another Cubs employee brought out empty carts for the cart corral & also said & did nothing. Perhaps it was the remanent White Knight in me, but I’d had enough. The ringleader of the Junior Hellions was the biggest kid- a fat little brunet ass. I grabbed him by his shirt collar, took his can of Silly String, threw it onto the grocery store roof, & pushed him down onto the asphalt. Cried out the globular punk: ‘Hey, Mister, you can’t do that to me- I’m a kid!’ I replied: ‘Listen up, you fat little fuck, I just did it. What’re you gonna do? Someone should have done that to you years ago, & if you’re smart you’ll stop acting like a little shit or the next time someone knocks you on your ass they’ll hurt you alot more than I did. Besides, you’re fat ass is big enough that you’re not hurt. Now why don’t you apologize to the lady?’ The other kids in his posse were terrified, & had abandoned him to ‘the man who took it no more’- as they probably referred to me later. Fatso got up, but instead of apologizing, tore ass after the pals who had abandoned him. The Cubs employee & the other customers did not applaud, nor chide me. They merely stood & gaped in silence. I don’t know whether it was out of shock or approval. Even the young mother was stunned. I tried to pull some of the SS off of her, but she said, ‘That’s OK.’ & waved me off. I went to my car & drove off without even so much as a ‘Thank you’ from the mother, or any of the other folk.
I still wonder whether the PC Minnesotan Nice nonsense may have branded me a child abuser in the minds of those cowards. Still, that no one would stand up to this little punk & his minions really disturbed me. It also brought to mind an earlier incident where I was in the role of the little fat punk. When I was 12 or 13 I recall 1 winter evening when my best pal Ricky Gerhardt & I were tossing snowballs at cars that passed on the 80th Street overpass in Glendale, Queens. This was an elevated bridge that passed over the railroad that connected to the notorious drug haven of Atlas Terminal. Ricky & I would hide on the stairs to the street below & chuck up snowballs in the air to see how the cars would react when the snowballs smooshed on their front windshields. Most cars just kept on driving. Ricky & I felt smugly superior, not realizing that we could potentially cause an accident. After a few dozen cars went by 1 car we hit stopped. Seeing the red brake lights come on sent Ricky into a panic & he went running down the stairs & a block or 2 away to his home. I saw this dude get out of the car & survey the land. For some reason I did not run. I stood there, like some little punk trying to muster enough manhood. The guy came towards me. He was an Italianate looking guy, scruffy- I cannot honestly recall his features- not that it matters. He asked me where my little pussy friend ran to. I said I didn’t know. He asked me if I thought I was tough. I rejoindered: ‘Don’t know.’ I was scared, but the time to run was when Ricky tore ass. I was stuck. The guy grabbed my arm & took me to the car. I did not resist- even though my mom had drilled in to me the need to run from strangers. I guess because I felt I had stopped him, that I was the progenitor of what was to come. At the guy’s car, on this deserted snowy overpass (3-4” had fallen), the guy opened his trunk & showed me a little case inside. He then opened the case & pieced together what seemed to be a 3 piece gun- a machine gun, perhaps. I’m not sure. He stuck the barrel’s end under my nose, as he held on to me- by now I was trying to back away. He then said something to the effect that he could blow me away & no one would know a damn thing. He laughed & told me to get the fuck out of there. I went back to the stairs & down them. Not too quickly, as I did want to show I was not as pussy as Ricky was. I don’t recall if I looked back, at least not until I heard the car take off. At the bottom of the stairs Ricky was heading back & asked me what happened. I never told him about the incident. Had I imagined the bizarre little incident? Was the ‘80th Street Gunner’- as I later dubbed him- a fiction, a bad guy turned Good Samaritan? I don’t know? Was he a hitman trying to dissuade that part in me he recognized in himself? Was he….it does not matter. I rarely thought of the incident in the intervening years.
Perhaps, that night at Cubs, I was returning the cosmic favor to the little fat punk, albeit in a kinder, gentler 1990s way. In my book, despite whatever crimes the 80th Street Gunner may have committed before & after that night he scared me, a part of me feels that his life was generally worth more than those gray, scared little people that scurry about the aisles of glowing supermarkets in anonymity. Does this mean that his method of dissuasion was proper? No. But I turned out better than I might have because of him- whoever he was. Perhaps the little fat kid, now nearing majority, thinks of that mean guy in the Cubs lot in the same way. Better than being shiv’d in the dark over some reasonless, & transient, argument.
Still, the differences in approach of the Gunner & me, to our little antagonists, marks quite vividly the turn society has taken- at least in this small regard. & I am a noted optimist who ridicules the Chicken Littleism of recent vintage. But, responsibility is a thing of the past- whether it's corporations that pillage & abuse at will, people who fob off all their weaknesses on others, or people who refuse to even stand up against the smallest of injustices. Yet, I remember the sulfury end of that gun. What sticks in the minds of the people who did nothing that night at the Minnehaha Cub Foods?
Return to Bylines