I went into the deli near my subway station in Harlem earlier this evening to buy a beverage and a pack of cigarettes. As I was paying, I heard someone yell “Go! Go!” and saw someone run in through the doorway and back out. At the same time, a flaming can of gasoline crashed into the middle of the store, about a yard away from me. Everyone in the room kind of stared in horror for a second, and I think I dropped my purchases as I backed away. The can had a burning rag stuck in it, and was leaking all over the place, so the flames started to spread quickly.
Some employees tried to douse the fire but only succeeded in spreading it further, and one man ended up running out of the store with his leg ablaze. I ducked behind a rack of potato chips in time to hear a loud “POP” as part of the can burst, sending more burning fluid all over the place. I decided that it was a Very Bad Idea to stay put, so I circled around the small room and made for the door. Unfortunately, there was so much burning detritus by this point that there were thigh-high flames in the way, so I decided to just run right through them. I made it out with just some gasoline burning itself off of my sneakers.
Nobody seemed to have any idea what the hell was going on, although one man said he saw “some crazy old guy” and there was general suspicion that it was a disgruntled patron of the deli. It’s a muslim-run establishment, but it didn’t seem to be a hate crime on the surface of it — just another crazy night in New York. I used my remaining adrenaline to help smother and stomp out the flames as they dwindled, and only the gas can was left burning by the time the fire department showed up. The most important part of the whole incident was that nobody really got hurt. Fortunately, it was a very amateurishly constructed gasoline bomb, and there were a bunch of locals around who were all very eager to help. Or try and help — please note that flammable garbage, racks of snack cakes and buckets of water are among the things you should NOT pour on a gasoline fire. On the plus side, I guess your average gasoline isn’t really designed to explode like movies would have you believe — at least not when it’s in unpressurized liquid form and puddling on the floor. It just burns a bunch, so you have to avoid getting it on you.
I am now 5% better at “running through fires,” something which I used to be fairly afraid of doing. I guess I think of this kind of thing as a learning experience, and the last year has been chock full of them. A little over a year ago, I was in a group of people who got pepper-sprayed by the NYPD for questioning their detainment of a young black man. Not long after, I was stalked and harassed all the way uptown from Times Square by a psycho loser who got mad when I wouldn’t give him my phone number, and only ran away when I went to get a subway station manager. Then in the spring, I managed to get mugged and scraped myself up trying to chase down the punk who robbed me.
I’ve lived here for over ten years now, and although I had one roommate who was mugged, I’ve never had such a spate of crazy semi-violent and violent incidents. It’s probably just the luck of the draw, and New York does tend to get a rowdier sometimes (moreso in the summer, but sometimes around the holidays) but who knows? Maybe things are getting worse, maybe they’re not. What crazy things happen in your neck of the woods?
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