For reasons unknown to me, this story about a St. Paul man threatening a 62 year-old woman with a sword over a borrowed book has gotten way toomuch press. As a fan of St. Paul, and in the spirit of promoting the Midwest as a fairly decent place to write, I’d like to dwell on some of the story’s finer aspects.
Books matter to Midwesterners. As far as I can tell, the whole ruckus began when the suspect threw the book he had borrowed onto the floor, and the kindly loaner of the book gave him a little shit about it. Not only does the woman here acknowledge the value of books by suggesting they don’t belong on the floor, but the borrower, by his swift decision to get a weapon, suggests that he, too, knows the import involved here. If the guy didn’t think it was a big deal to throw a book on the floor, why would he bother brandishing a sword? It hard to imagine any of this happening over a Gilmore Girls DVD.
Midwesterners have Scandinavian impulses regardless of whether they are actually Scandinavian, and Scandinavians are insanely afraid of getting called out on something they did poorly. Scandinavians are also almost godlike in their ability to bring shame on others. We have here the genius of seemingly innocent Midwestern passive aggression: the woman suggested he just throw the book away if he were going to leave it on the floor. She doesn’t accuse him directly of doing something shitty but suggests that he might as well have done something shittier. Most people have likely expected the worst from him his entire life. And the poor guy, who later in jail admits he is an idiot, can’t help but get emotional: he, too, is caught up in the Scandinavian shame cycle.
And then there's his choice of weapon. A sword. Really? Most people I hang around with aren’t really prone to take an unsheathed sword as a threat. A gun? Sure. A big knife? Oh yes (more on that in a second). But a sword? From a kid who also has ninja stars and nunchucks? If it weren’t for the sword, there would be no story. Whatever the guy’s intentions, he has succeeded in provoking a great amount of curiosity. He might not be a good neighbor, or a good criminal, but he has proven that minor criminals can still surprise us, and that sometimes people’s small quirks get the most attention.
Saturday's frightening incident in Times Square lies on the opposite end of the blade-wielding spectrum. While our book borrower's actions provoked lots of trashy curiosity, the killing of Darrius Kennedy brings up a whole lot of actual fear. His standoff with the cops, the bystanders, and the rolling cameras of a hundred smartphones was not funny; it was chaotic and very sad. For all we know, both men might have begun with the same small, dumb impulse: a trigger response to a mix of panic, fear, helplessness. Our book borrower only briefly acted on the impulse. Mr. Kennedy took it to the limit.