I’m coming out of my building and there’s a young boy lighting matches.
“Hey kid, what are you doin there?”
“Are you playing with matches?”
He thrust them in his pocket.
“Comere, I want to talk to you.”
He took off like a shot with me in hot pursuit. Couldn’t have more than eleven, and my instincts for trouble took the lead.
You never know how fast you can run until you need to. Why did I chase him? There has been so many fires in the 5 boroughs of New York lately it’s chilling. Seven kids died because of a faulty hotplate in Brooklyn just a month ago. Fire scares the hell out of me, and my own truant tendencies knew this little fucker was up to no good.
As I ran after him, Peter the doorman was standing outside. “What’s the matter Susannah?”
“Stop that kid,” I screamed. So without missing a beat he grabbed him by his waist.
The kid squirmed like a fish on a hook, but Peter, no slouch, held firm.
“No one’s gonna hurt you, ” I said, “but I want to know what are your plans for those matches?”
Are all of you ready for this? He spit at me – a big wad of saliva soaking my right cheek. Before I could even move, Peter went into action. “Hey you little shit, would you rather we call the cops so you can talk to them?”
I knew a frightened boy when I saw one, so I wiped my face off and tried to be kind, as difficult as it was.
“You were standing in front of my building lighting matches. Why were you doing that?”
“Look, you can’t play with matches. You could hurt yourself. You could hurt me or someone else.” He was a kid from another neighborhood alright who looked as if he hated the one he was in. The assumed opulence maybe? Knowing it was an affluent part of town? I don’t know, but he had the smell of mischief sprayed all over him.
“You apologize for spitting at her,” said Peter all but unraveling.
“You wanna hot chocolate so we can talk?” I thought Peter was going to faint. I waved his disapproval away.
“Come on. You can tell me your story.”
The minute Peter let him go he ran like a scared rabbit. We watched as he careened in and out of traffic like he’s done it a million times.
“I don’t believe you Susannah. He’s a punk kid who spit at you, and you’re taking him out for drinks?”
“It was hot chocolate, not champagne,” I said, trying to be funny.
“He needed a good crack, not a treat.”
“You know Peter, he’s young, and you don’t help a kid that age by overtly punishing him. You talk to him first. I was wild like that too. If I didn’t have a grandfather and my Auntie Ida, I could have been Squeaky Fromme.
“Never mind – would you like a hot chocolate?”