November 05, 2013

Bernhard Goetz

Bernhard Goetz

William Shatner missed his calling.

It’s no secret that the Star Trek icon’s “acting” and “singing” make up a double-decker Dagwood sandwich larded with equal measures of ham and cheese.

But have you ever seen Shatner play talk-show host? As an interviewer, he’s a revelation: smarter than you’d think, and humbler, too”€”clearly content to be playing Second Spear Carrier again in the shadow of his guest’s Caesar.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that his A&E show Aftermath only ran two seasons ending in 2011. On the aptly named series, Shatner sat down with one-time newsmakers such as David “The Unabomber’s Brother” Kaczynski and Sydney “Mayflower Madam” Barrows.

His first-ever guest? Bernhard Goetz.

“€œBernhard Goetz, the unapologetic “€˜Subway Vigilante,”€™ looked like an especially depressed high-school physics teacher or the taciturn assistant manager at a low-end electronics store.”€

Flash back to 1984. The place was pre-Giuliani New York. The filthy, crime-riddled city of The Warriors and Fort Apache, The Bronx was still awaiting a real-life Travis Bickle, that brave outrider who’d usher in a “real rain” that’d “wash all this scum off the streets.”

When he appeared just before Christmas, he was no De Niro. He was no Bronson, either”€”the word “vengeance” made craggy flesh in the Death Wish (as in, fulfillment) series.

Instead, Bernhard Goetz, the unapologetic “Subway Vigilante,” looked like an especially depressed high-school physics teacher or the taciturn assistant manager at a low-end electronics store.

Today we’d call his affect “Aspergian,” I thought, watching Goetz speaking with robotic fluency to an enthralled Shatner.

Most details of Goetz’s story remain dryly familiar.

However, the seventy-something Shatner fairly squirms in his seat, bubbling with a toddler’s barefaced “but why?” curiosity. With the host acting as human defibulator, the story feels like it happened yesterday.

(Of course, it sort of did.)

On the subway, Goetz was harassed by four quietly menacing young men armed with screwdrivers (although he didn’t know that at the time). Like so many New Yorkers, he’d been a crime victim before: an attempted robbery by three youths. At a subway station.

Goetz later said he was “angered when the arrested attacker spent less than half the time in the police station than Goetz himself spent, and he was angered further when this attacker was charged only with criminal mischief for ripping Goetz’s jacket.”

Denied a permit to carry a gun, he bought one anyway in Florida.

That winter night in 1984, Goetz snapped. The young men demanded five bucks. Apologists after the fact bleated that the poor kids were just pushy panhandlers who simply needed to polish their banter. Street smart people knew better, and the youths admitted their true intentions in court: Being “asked” for smallish sums of money, or the time, is and was classic mugging foreplay.


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