November 23, 2009

The "drifter" and the "bug man."

The Daily News reports, in straightforward prose:
The straphanger killed by an exterminator gone mad was a mentally ill germophobe who used his bag to keep people at a safe distance, friends said Sunday.

"He didn't like people to sit next to him," said Phenix Hall, a volunteer who befriended Dwight Johnson at a Manhattan soup kitchen years ago. "Dwight was famous for placing his bag on the seat beside him."

The 36-year-old drifter was knifed in the neck early Saturday after arguing with bug man Gerardo Sanchez, 37, who wanted to sit next to Johnson on the half-empty D train....
A passenger pulled the emergency brake, which meant that the train stopped between stations, with 20 or 30 people trapped with the killer and the dead/dying man. When the train reached the station, the horrible confinement continued, as the doors were kept shut until the police got the killer.

The Daily News has a poll: "Do you believe the authorities did the right thing by instructing the motorman to keep the doors closed when the train stopped, moments after a homeless man was stabbed to death?" Right now, the police are losing, but not by all that much.

The story is interesting for a number of reasons, including — in the text but not the poll — the retro term "drifter" instead of the usual PC "homeless man." Homeless suggests that if only this individual had a shelter of his own, there would be no problem. Drifter implies that there is something inherent in the man's nature that keeps him from putting down roots.

Drifter imputes some romance and mystery to a man's story:
"Oh, help me in my weakness,"
I heard the drifter say,
As they carried him from the courtroom
And were taking him away.
"My trip hasn't been a pleasant one
And my time it isn't long,
And I still do not know
What it was that I've done wrong."
Homeless sounds empty and needy:
I am homeless, come and take me
Into reach of your rattling drums.
But Dwight Johnson's problems are not embodied in either word. The man was mentally ill and terrified of germs. We slangily call germs "bugs," and Gerardo Sanchez made his living killing insects, which are also slangily called "bugs." Now, the Daily News calls Sanchez "bug man." "Bug" can also mean to bother and it can mean to freak out. There is a lot of bug in the story of the drifter and the bug man. Johnson and Sanchez were each concerned with bugs, they bugged each other, and they bugged out.

And now, poor Johnson is dead and Sanchez's life is ruined.

20 comments:

miller said...

Bizarre ending to a weird story.

I am of mixed opinion about the street people I meet. Most of them are simply dysfunctional. I don't know how they survive. They certainly don't have the skills to function in our society. They're like throwbacks to an earlier stage of civilization.

And then there are the few that just don't want to acquire the skills to survive.

I feel bad for them, but there's not a lot you can do for either of them.

Bissage said...

Just another ordinary day in Interzone.

Florida said...

"... and Sanchez's life is ruined."

But his life isn't ruined. And that you think so reveals your ignorance of how our justice system works.

He's already pleaded not guilty despite there being ample numbers of people who witnessed the brutal killing.

He'll get maybe 15 years of three free hots and a cot for voluntary manslaughter, assuming he doesn't escape punishment altogether on an insanity plea. They're already setting the stage to blame medications he was allegedly taking.

Once in the joint, Sanchez can demand, and he'll receive, a taxpayer-funded sex change operation in prison (at least in Massachusetts he can). Taxpayers will even pay for electrolysis sessions.

With all his new free time, he can study to become a laywer. This is how many lawyers get their start. They're scumbag murderers first.

He'll get maybe a seven years paid vacation, after time off for good behavior, and be out killing bugs and filing briefs again in no time.

Exit question: Was Sanchez even in our country legally?

MadisonMan said...

It took several reads before I realized the two knew each other, and had clashed before. That adds a lot to the color of the story.

Drifter certainly -- for me -- has a more negative connotation than homeless, even though they are essentially one in the same. So I wonder why one adjective is chosen by the press over the other.

pm317 said...

Notwithstanding the tragedy of the situation I like how you catch the different layers in the language usage to describe the events and the nature of the events themselves. May be the irony was too obvious here, the bug killer and the bug paranoid (even to the insipid reporters who have to report these things).

J said...

"It took several reads before I realized the two knew each other, and had clashed before"

That's what I thought too, but I think it was Hall (the friend) that he got in the fight with, not the guy who killed him.

I suspect we'll see a self defense argument, given the description of the deceased as a mentally ill man with an erratic temper and a history of fighting over this very issue.

AllenS said...

I'll bet both of them voted for Obama. Whether they knew it or not.

MadisonMan said...

J, you're right. I need to up my reading comprehension abilities, or read more often before commenting! :)

So they have a not disinterested party being interviewed for background color to the story. Hmm.

ricpic said...

One man murders another and they're both victims? Sheesh.

campy said...

One man murders another and they're both victims? Sheesh.

Sheesh indeed. Everyone knows women and minorities are the only true victims.

EDH said...

As Johnny Drama learned, when "bugging out," embrace it!

Henry said...

The Naked Lunch comes to mind. Death and exterminators. And claustrophobia.

Drew W said...

When this story was first reported, the account I read (also in the Daily News I'm sure) described in enthusiastic terms the decision to keep the subway doors closed after the train had pulled into the station, thus trapping Sanchez in the car.

When I read it I thought, was that really a good idea? I'm glad people are finally asking questions about that little gambit.

My 14-year-old daughter rides the New York subways by herself. As a parent, having your child locked in a subway car with a homicidal, knife-wielding man is one of those things you don't want to happen to your kid on her way to school.

former law student said...

The problem with public transportation is that it's too public. If you're travelling in say, a sporty German automobile, you can deny entry to any knife-wielding men who want to sit next to you.

As a parent, having your child locked in a subway car with a homicidal, knife-wielding man is one of those things you don't want to happen to your kid on her way to school.

The passenger who decided it was best to trap the killer with the passengers between stations had a screw loose too. But considering subways have no conductors walking from car to car -- only a motorman safely locked in a cabin -- what are the riders to do? To whom can they appeal?

class-factotum said...

Sanchez's life is ruined.

Passive voice. As if Sanchez had nothing to do with this. He was acted upon by an external agent. Sanchez ruined his life by killing Johnson. Just because you are mentally ill does not mean you are not responsible for your actions.

AllenS said...

I hate to come off as some kind of wild rightwing nut, but... Oh, who in the hell am I trying to kid, I am a rightwing nut, but I always carry a knife. Not a Jim Bowie knife, but a pocket knife with a 4" blade. One never knows when something like this will happen. I might have stabbed both of them.

PatCA said...

Sure, everybody who does bad things only does so because he is a victim of oppressive societal forces.

Since we are now a compassionate society rather than a punitive one, we let them live out their lives in peace...or, life out their lives.

Pogo said...

I once walked through Definitely The Wrong Street just out of downtown San Fransisco. I was being followed by one then two then four men, menacing as hell.

By acting like a crazed voice-hearing spirit-swatting lunatic (not unlike this guy), all four peeled off in short order. Safe.

Pogo said...

That is, cloud cuckoo land has its transient advantages.

blake said...

Depending on which meds and for how long, I think the stabber could qualify as a victim.

I mean, many of the various tons of psychotropic meds consumed in this country do have violent behaviors as "rare" side effects. But even if they're rare, when so many are consumed, they're pretty much inevitable, right?

So maybe one in a hundred thousand has these murderous reactions, but with a hundred million people on these drugs worldwide, that would give us a thousand people in that category.

Someone who goes to a doctor for help and gets one of these heavily advertised, completely unscientific medicines for an improperly diagnosed issue, and ends up killing himself and/or others?

Yeah, I'd call that a victim.