I, Witness
Tuesday, Jan 17th, 2012

Thin Ice

I once got a ticket for walking on thin ice.

No, really. It was deep winter in Brooklyn, 1986, and I took my dog for a walk in Prospect Park. It was a weekend ritual. The park was graveyard quiet before nine in the morning, and it was okay to walk your dog without a leash.

Nick and I dodged syringes and crack vials on our way to a large pond on our side of the park. There was a tiny peninsular island that insinuated itself into the much larger pond. The pond was covered in ice, but there was a police sawhorse barricade out in the center of the pond warning ice skaters away.

I led Nick around the island. It was so thick with scrubby bushes and gnarly, small trees that you had no choice but to skirt the margins, which meant stepping on the frozen ice along the shore. So, yeah, I did the deed.

Walking home, I noticed a blue-and-white cruiser with two cops in it, idling on one of the park’s main paths. They were clocking Nick and I as we made our way up to the street and back home. When we came up the slope to where they were parked, they called me over. I figured they were going to hassle me about Nick. Sometimes cops new to the precinct wouldn’t know about the no-leash-before-nine rule. I got ready to straighten them out.

Instead, they took my ID and started writing up a ticket.

“A ticket for what?”

“Walking on thin ice.”

“You’re kidding right?”

The miniature cop in the passenger’s seat—I swear, there was no way he could see over the dash, which, digression here, maybe should be a basic entrance qualifier for the police academy?—the one writing the ticket and answering the questions, puts on his best stern voice. Well, as stern as someone who hasn’t started shaving yet can be.

“You could fall in and then we’d have to risk our lives to save you.”

At this point, I’m putting a full-nelson on my sharped edge tongue trying my hardest not to tell this pipsqueak excuse for an officer of the law what he can do with his ticket and how maybe the circus needs midgets. His partner, who actually looks like an adult and a cop, is dying of embarrassment. He has that look on his face you have when your really pretty date comes out of the bathroom with her dress tucked into her stockings. You can’t tell her, but you just wish she knew.

Long story short, walking on thin ice is actually a criminal offense in good old Brooklyn. You have to go to court. A month later I find myself among the various miscreants comprising the circus in a Brooklyn lower part criminal court. Without going into a lot of detail, my little charge brought more merriment to that dour space than it has ever seen before or after. I’m sure, absolutely positive, that it was the hardest a sitting lower-court judge ever laughed. Justice being a subjective matter, I found some solace in his lecture to the cop (who showed up promptly for the proceedings, thus proving he was in no way a real cop) that—paraphrasing here—he should pull his tiny little head out of his tiny little ass and concentrate on matters of greater import to the dispensation of criminal justice in New York City.

All that’s to say, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about walking on thin ice.

A career in writing is like that. The writing I do, for publishers on contract, ghostwriting for clients, it’s walking around the margins of that island. Yes, I could get myself in a little trouble, but basically, it’s not a real big risk. Wet shoes maybe. Nor is it exactly the thrill I’ve always looked for in writing.

The real thrill, the real risk and the real reward lies out there near the police sawhorse barricades that clearly read, “Danger Beyond This Point.”

It’s taken me 15 years to put together a book of short stories that I feel is the best writing I’ve ever done. Yes, I’m a slow learner and it takes me a long time to get where I’m going. But 15 years? Really, that’s all about an unwillingness to walk out on the thin ice. I love writing fiction and I’ve done it since I was six-years-old. But I’m always leery of letting someone read it, like it’s a measure of who I am. Staying off the ice. Foolish.

So here, for anyone who wants it, is the title story from my book, The Blind Man’s Mirror (TBMM). Is that ice cracking I hear?

This is the type of writing I’ve always wanted to do to the exclusion of everything else. Who knows, maybe it’s not late to point myself in the direction I’m supposed to be going. It may still be against the law, for all I know. But frankly, maybe walking on thin ice ain’t such a bad thing.

All content © 2016 Chris Peterson. All Rights Reserved. Website development by Jonathan Farrell in 2011