About two miles from my house, in the same city, there's a convenience store. It sells coffee, liquor, beer, lottery tickets, sandwiches wrapped in plastic and disposal lighters, and it offers two aisles of canned goods, toilet paper and disposable diapers.
There used to be a Hindu temple across the street, located in a former paper-box factory, but the Hindus moved out as the neighborhood got worse. Junkies beg out in front of the store. I used to go in there to buy beer after a newspaper night shift because it's open late.
Not long ago, a guy with a knife tried to rob the place. He showed the clerk the knife and demanded cartons of cigarettes. The clerk, who does not own the store, wouldn't give up the cigarettes.
The robber jabbed threateningly with the knife, and the clerk picked up a wooden chair from behind the counter and began to defend himself and the store's cigarettes, not that many of which are major brands. As the security footage shows, it went on for a while. The guy with the knife would poke it at the clerk, who would fend off the knife with the legs of the chair. Eventually, the guy with the knife ran out the door, and the clerk called the police. No one was hurt. The cigarettes were safe. Law and order prevailed, at least after the chair vs. knife combat stopped.
But lurking at the edge of the store's lavishly asphalt-ed parking lot, far from the light of the "Cold Beer" sign, was a neighborhood junkie. To call him the "neighborhood" junkie is a little pushy. A man who sleeps in the long weeds behind the dollar store isn't really part of the neighborhood, even if everyone in the neighborhood knows him.
The junkie from the weeds had some troublesome business with the cops, and he lightened his load considerably by identifying the fellow with the knife. In the official police department press release, he is referred to only as an "informant."
And some admire the $1-over-minimum-wage clerk, who fought fiercely for the off-brand cartons of smokes. Others think the clerk should have had a gun.
Some others wish the knife-wielding robber had been killed by the clerk, or by the cops, and a number of people, many of them from that neighborhood, think the informant is a "snitch." No one knows what the informant thinks. He is out in the weeds tonight, a crusty baby sucking on a crack pipe pacifier.
And the cops, with pension plans and weight room muscles, tell the story funnier than I do. They have more practice at telling this kind of story.
And some people think the robber made "bad choices" in the matter of substance abuse. While I have no data, there's a good chance he wasn't trying to steal cigarettes so he could sell them and buy flowers for his ailing mother. The clerk, those people tell you, should just "get a better job." No on cares about the junkie in the weeds, except to say that he needs to "make better choices." The cops, everyone agrees, are heroes who put their lives on the line every day.
Yup. Everyone in this grimy little story provides a lesson, a reason to feel that you are nearly at the top of the moral pyramid. Only the cops are higher up because they put their lives on the line every day and often march in parades.
The paper-box factory has been closed for 30 years, and shows no signs of life.
But it doesn't matter. The lesson is learned. You are better than everyone involved in this story, except the cops, and they're so much like you, you might as well be a cop. You have a gun, too.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, "The Land of Trumpin'," is a collection of his highly moral columns, and is available in paperback from Amazon.com and for Nook, Kindle, iBooks and Google Play.