I took my younger son Michael on a tour of New York City;  Center of the Universe, web of all connec­ted­ness and meaning.  The return of the native.

            Wandering the familiar downtown, we came upon an gangly, animat­ed man hawking Swiss Army knives.  I had always wondered about the Swiss Army's reliance on such a small weapon.  What if the Salvation Army got real ammunition? 

            Our street salesman and his wares seemed rooted to their spot, two permanent fixtures on East 34th Street.  He had a straight ahead look of assured desperation and spoke as fast as I could listen.  He was selling full size specimens for only $3.00, a fifth of their indoor price, which took my greedy breath away.  While he aggres­sively made his pitch to a busi­ness­man, I examined one of the knives.  It was made in China (is nothing sa­cred?) but was still seri­ously underpriced.  I felt I was in Mexico, taking advantage of the locals, with all of the shame and thrill associ­ated with that vanishing American privi­lege.           

            With a sudden look of disgust at his client, the salesman exploded: "Oh, just take it!" and stormed off, leaving his knives.  Wasn't it usually the disgruntled custom­er who leaves a counter full of merchan­dise?  A mooring had broken, and the curious surface tension dance between buyer and seller was mysteriously removed. 

            The buyer shrugged, pocketed the knife and disappeared. 

            I was left with one of the abandoned knives in my hand and

watched dumbly as they both split.  What should I do?  I deli­cately held it up in my fingers so as to high­light the purity of my intent.  A butter knife wouldn't melt in my hand.  I felt fool­ish, exposed.  I watched the vendor's back as he disap­peared up the street, expect­ing him to turn around with a New York smirk and make fun of my bewilder­ment; or a confed­erate to say that I was part of an experiment testing people­'s street honesty.  What was the hustle here?  What was the scene? 

            I put the knife back on the stand and started to walk off with my child, scanning for the vanished vendor.  I kept glancing back at the knives, longingly.

            Two men appeared out of nowhere, folded the stand and packed the boxes into a van parked at the curb.  I judiciously decided that this was a work-release program and these men were monitor­ing the vendor's progress.  So he, not I, was being tested. 

            In which case, I could have kept the knife.

            But their van said "New York Police Department" on it, so this was just a floating bunko hit in which a guy managed to keep a few feet ahead of the police. 

            My child said how lucky we were that I hadn't kept the stolen property.  I spat out my heartfelt agree­ment, and we logged another New York story. 

            But like the vendor ejected by the police from New York's streets, I, too, had no real place there.  My native New Yorker's instincts had abandoned me, and I could only watch the sort of show I used to star in.