A Hero Among You

By: Ralph Gamelli

Most people out there have no idea I exist, that I patrol the city by night, constantly on the lookout for crime or a new singles’ bar.

I don’t wear a mask and cape, although I’ll occasionally don a muscle shirt and sunglasses, and offer compliments to the pretty ladies who pass by the front stoop of my apartment building. When they give me the finger in response, they might as well be flipping off justice itself.

I don’t drive a sleek black car that shoots fire from its exhaust. My car is designed to blend in — the kind of rust bucket you might see scattering pedestrians in a crosswalk or cutting you off in traffic, and you raise your fist and swear at the driver, but what you don’t realize is that the driver leads a double life as a crime fighter and should maybe be cut a little slack.

My fighting skills may not be the best in the world, but I can take several shots to the head before I go down, especially if I’ve had a few to drink. And on my way to the floor I’ve been known to reach out and take a handful of hair with me.

The cops aren’t on my side. Without a doubt they consider me a vigilante. At various times they’ve also considered me a loiterer, a graffitist and a ticket scalper. Just last week when I was digging for information out on the street, they brought me in for solicitation. I played along and let them put me in a holding cell until I could post bail, all the while thinking it ironic that here I was, the antihero, the “defender of the people” they’re so desperate to collar, and yet they had no idea who I really was, or that I was wanted in another state for passing bad checks.

I don’t have an arch nemesis. That doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty of enemies out there, though, including the waitress at City Diner, assorted bouncers and bartenders, and anybody who uses the word “literally” too often. There’s also no shortage of people in my own building I can’t stand — so smug and superior just because they’ve never been caught naked in the laundry room.

My parents weren’t killed by a criminal when I was a kid, although they have disowned me, so in a way it’s kind of the same thing. And I do have an origin story of sorts, going back to only last month. I was in the middle of one of my favorite pastimes — which is to hail a cab, wait for it to pull over to the curb, then give the driver a rude gesture and stroll away — when all of a sudden I heard an old lady scream that her purse had been snatched. I don’t know what made me take off after the guy. Maybe it was some deep, natural instinct for justice, or possibly it was because the cabbie had gotten out of his car and was approaching me with a tire iron. Whatever it was, I chased the thief for three blocks until eventually I grabbed him, took several shots to the head, and yanked out a handful of hair on my way to the ground.

Even though he got away, I managed to take the purse away from him and bring it back to the old lady. The contents were gone, of course, but $47 in cash, a box of tissue paper and half a roll of Lifesavers could be looked at as a reasonable finder’s fee.

And that was how my crusade began. Nothing has happened since then, but I remain ever vigilant, ever watchful, usually from my front stoop. So if you happen to be a criminal yourself, you better watch your back. And if you happen to be one of those ladies who pass by, why not cut out the snob act for once? Some heroes are millionaire playboys during their off hours. Others would settle for just a friendly smile and maybe a compliment on their muscle shirt.


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