It was a warm and perfect New York City Friday night. It was Fleet week so thousands of sailors were in town to whoop it up a bit. Among the many patrons in the bars buying them drinks was a guy who seemed eccentric but certainly friendly. His cowboy hat was making the rounds of the sailors and I even snapped a few shots of him posing among them. He was all smiles.
Not an hour later, while I was standing next to him seated at the bar, he turned to me and say, "what you are doing is fucked up. I saw you snapping photos. If you fucking take another picture of me, I'll fucking kill you. I know people in the this city. They got my back. I own this city." Impressive.
A few things go through my head at this point. First is probably, do I care about this guy or not. In this case, I cared. With care comes compassion and understanding so I listened and formulated my rebuttal keeping a nice smile on my face. It began, "hey man, I hear you, I won't take pictures of you anymore, sorry if I bothered you but hey, I've got some nice ones of you and the sailors." I touched his back with my open hand to reassure him and continued, "I didn't realize you were getting pissed. Sorry man." My pleasantries were met with amped up disdain as he continued with his attempts to dismiss me. So then I'm faced with the next decision. Do I give up and ignore the guy as a drunken idiot or continue my efforts at understanding?
before.) I wanted this fool to understand that simply taking pictures the way I do, isn't going to hurt anyone. And that earlier in the evening he was perfectly content to be photographed. Why then was I the one going to die because he changed his mind? Booze, of course, goes a long way to explaining his change of heart but it still bugs me that I was the first thing he turned on. I continued my efforts at détente. I asked him his name, I offered my hand to shake, I pointed out that we'd both been buying drinks for servicemen but he just continued turning his back and muttering threats. At one point he said he was "undercover" and I laughed. Any white guy who walks into a bar wearing his hair in braids, under a bandana, under a Rasta skull cap, under a big black cowboy hat and later screams out to the bar that he "got laid today" is clearly not incognito. I've seen and Alias episode or two so I felt pretty comfortable dismissing his claims.
So the decisions have been made and as patience wears thin at his unfriendliness and unwavering hostility, I make a point of shoving the camera two feet from him, snap a shot of his back and move away to another part of the bar. I watch him complain to the bartenders, bouncers and managers but they are all on my side. Clearly his "boys" that "had his back" and would "kill me" weren't in the bar that night. He gave one of the bartenders money to get my phone number which I almost honestly gave. Nevertheless, that's how my time ended at that bar. The night was young and the sailors still had and hour and a half until curfew. Off I went.
Tomorrow's installment of "How Photographs Can Kill" or "Friendly Photographers, and The Dangerous Felons They Hang Out With" or maybe "When Threatening Photographers Goes Wrong" will detail another near miss with violence. Thanks to Mike Dibugnara for those witty titles.
Take pictures. Stay out of trouble.