I was walking down the steps of Penn Station on the Seventh Avenue side, where the Madison Square Garden entrance is located. In keeping with the spirit of today’s tech zombie culture, I was eyeballs deep into my phone. As I made my way farther down the staircase I noticed I was approaching two homeless guys: one, smoking a cigarette, was on my right, and the other, standing idly, was on my left (like proof that humans can survive substance abuse, insanity, and the beauty of capitalism). The one on my left turned his head to me as I got closer. I looked up from my phone to acknowledge his presence. There was a little side-eye action exchanged. He may have muttered something, but I couldn’t hear it. My headphones were blaring “Baby” by Biebervelli the Don (that’s Justin Bieber for you lames). I kept it moving. I didn’t think anything of this little encounter, until I noticed his red-and-white sneakers.
Earlier this month, it was reported that three people around Union Square had fallen victim to a razor blade attack (two other individuals, both women in their 20s, were reportedly punched or slapped). The suspect — who has since been apprehended — was said to be a “heavy-built and clean shaven black man with a missing tooth, 5-foot-9, 180-pounds, age 20-25.” Aside from the missing tooth, this is just a general description of a fat black guy in his early twenties. Even his wardrobe was common: a black-knit hat and a gray hoodie. The only article of clothing in the description that set him apart was his red-and-white sneakers, a faintly rare commodity for New Yorkers with a sense of fashion.
The details of the attacker were too vague and the surveillance photo was too blurry, but it’s likely that I was face to face with the razor blade attacker from Union Square. I could’ve caught a buck 50 that night if that was the same man. It’s a good thing I made the decision to not stop and find out.
“80 stitches across the cheek, 70 more ‘cause talk is cheap.
A buck 50 even, nigga. That’s regulation on the streets.”
— The X-Ecutioners Ft. Big Pun & Kool G Rap, “Dramacide”
I don’t remember when I first heard the term buck 50; it just seemed to always be in my vernacular. A buck 50 scar got its nickname because, originally, a cut that ran from the corner of one’s mouth to their ear would require 150 stitches to close. However, a scar of any size across a person’s face can be referred to as a buck 50. This type of slashing is usually applied with an ox, better known as a razor blade/box cutter.
Some scars in life stay with you and tell a story — your story. People will attempt to connect an anecdote to your scar based on its location on your body. Let’s say you have a scar on your knee. It could be assumed it’s from surgery or a sports-related injury. A scar on your face, however, tells a significantly more terrifying story.
The grimy details surrounding this profound event in one’s life can be too intense for some to listen to. Some might not care for the circumstances that placed a person in the position to receive that scar. For the victim, the psychological aftermath could be too delicate to discuss. And so, they bear a social flaw on their face for the rest of their lives. These victims are treated differently. Why? Is it because it may represent a flaw in socioeconomics? We like to disregard humanity’s proficiency to inflict pain on another human for personal gain, so when it’s placed on someone’s face for us to see at all times, we’d rather look away. Ignorance is bliss.
Whenever I saw someone with a buck 50, it let me know the type of life they may have led in the past, the life they’re currently leading, or the life they will be leading. It also let me know the type of environment they called home. Finally, it let me know that they did something someone didn’t agree with, and that scar on their face was a consequence of that action.
This wound can humble you, and it can instill you with paranoia. The fallout, mentally, can cave someone into isolation out of fear or lack of trust. The outcome may even lead to the emergence of a highly aggressive individual. If this all sounds like the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s because it is.
“There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from.
You could run, but you can’t hide forever.”
— Prodigy of Mobb Deep, “Survival of the Fittest”
Unfortunately, if this is not an isolated incident, it’s only the beginning of a vicious cycle of violence. If you provoked the attack, your reputation is now on the line. Your identity has been violated and sliced open. Your ego has been assaulted. The next logical move, if it’s possible, is to exact revenge…in time.
If you were handing out the punishment, however, you’ll always have to keep this person in mind. It’s not a question of, “Will they come back?” it’s a matter of, “When will they come back?”
When a person’s identity is forever tainted, there’s this underlying sentiment that they can no longer be accepted by mainstream society. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. The romantic depictions of a scar on your face through novels, films, and television are just that — romance. You’ll never know what it’s like to have your face slashed, with your attacker advising you to “hold your cheek, keep quiet, and don’t move unless you want to die.” It might be cold outside, but I hear Riker’s Island is a lot colder this time of year.