The Dream came to me again. It came as it often does -- intermittently, without warning, just when I think it's safe to go to sleep again.
How long has The Dream -- which, actually, is more of a nightmare -- been with me now? Eight, nine years? Ray, my son, must have been 12 or 13 then. His mother and I had just bought him a bicycle as a reward for finally bringing home a report card we could live with.
He was riding along about a block from our house when a group of four or five hoodlums -- most around his age, at least one younger -- stuck a gun in his face and demanded the bike. They shoved him down a dirt path, told him they lived in the Park Circle area and dared him to come get his bike.
I heard about this sorry state of affairs when I got home from work. I grabbed my son and set out -- baseball bat in hand -- looking for the punks. This was a time of my life when I obviously had more macho pride than brains. Exactly what kind of match-up was a baseball bat against a gun? But there I was, huffing my way first down Park Heights Avenue with what I'm sure was a look of menace on my face (I noticed folks tended to give way rather eagerly anxiously? ) and then up Reisterstown Road, where one of the brigands brashly and stupidly yelled out, "We got that bike!"
Not exactly the kind of thing a 200-pound man with a bad attitude and a baseball bat wants to hear. When I confronted the punk his knowledge of a bike suddenly vanished. Several grown men gathered around and tried to defend the thief.
"Man, why you come around here with a baseball bat?" one wanted to know.
"Was I talking to you?" I demanded, stunning even myself with the icy surliness in my voice. It's important to understand what was going on here. I couldn't whip a Brownie if the lass gave me the advantage of tying one hand behind her back. But here I was displaying bravado I didn't even know I had. Having a son who has to face the cruel realities of the mean streets of America's cities does strange things to a man. Strange and downright frightening.
Because, you see, the issue here wasn't the bike. We could always get the boy another bike. The issue was, "Stay away from my son or folks will come looking for you."
Another man implied he had a gun and intended to shoot me.
"If you got a gun, you had best use it or shut the ---- up!" I shouted and stormed off up Reisterstown Road. There was that bravado again. Here I was daring a man to shoot me, but at that point I didn't care. I had resolved that even if I was shot, I'd stay alive long enough to choke the life out of the bastard.
The reality of it set in when I got home. The punk with the gun didn't feel like shooting his robbery victim that day. That was the only reason my son was alive. It was on that day The Dream started, usually having one of two endings. One was with my son dead or injured from some act of violence. The other was with my son in jail from defending himself from some act of violence.
The most recent occurred the week before Labor Day. In this nightmare, my son was with some friends who were firing guns into the air. Cops came and arrested the lot of them. I took a vacation to get away for about a week. I had to get this latest Dream out of my system and try to get some sleep.
I came back Sunday night, Sept. 8. This particular Dream had a bit of prophecy in it. According to police reports, at about the same time I was getting into Baltimore, police were arresting my son on a handgun possession charge, his second. He had one about two years ago after yet another thug who had robbed him at gunpoint promised to kill him. He'd also been robbed at gunpoint in Mondawmin Mall. He told me he bought the .32-caliber automatic handgun police found in his basement for protection against muggers. I can't well blame him. It doesn't take too many times to have a handgun jammed in your face to realize that neither the police nor Kurt Schmoke's platitudes about getting handguns off the streets offer you a tinker's damn worth of protection.
So the boy, who was first victimized by criminals at the age of 12 or 13, is now a man who has been branded a criminal by the same state and city that has failed to protect him and thousands more like him. The state says they -- and you, and I -- have no right to protect ourselves from armed robbers. We should all flip the state the collective bird and tell it we'll disarm ourselves when it can keep miscreants permanently off the streets.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Pub Date: 9/15/96