Mike Fandal had sent the notebook to me. I've written about Fandal before. He's a former cop who went on to a career as a clown under the name "Ernest Desire." As a clown, he used a toilet plunger on his head for a prop. So in 1997, when police officer Justin Volpe rammed a plunger up Abner Louima's ass, Fandal was incensed?his gimmick had been ruined by a foul brute.
Anyway, a few weeks ago Fandal was out walking on a warm afternoon near his Upper East Side apartment. He happened to glance into a phone booth and see that someone had left behind a notebook. It was one of those old-school ones: a Mead Composition wide-ruled job with 304 pages. Fandal took the book home, not expecting much?obviously some student had lost it?and looked through it.
He was, to say the least, surprised by what he read, and sent the notebook on to me with an attached note.
"I was impressed with the art," the note read. "I turned the pages and noticed the recipe. Whatever you elect to do?let's curb a possible future bomber."
I leafed through the book. The art Fandal referred to was the young kid's attempt at graffiti. First the tag "Sport" was written in a bubble style. Then the kid tried writing a new name, "6 NORTH," in almost a calligraphic style. On the fifth page he got around to finally doing some schoolwork. He had two long division problems to solve. Jesus, I thought. I didn't think, what with the proliferation of calculators, that they even bothered to teach long division anymore. The young man divided 918 by 34 the old-fashioned way?carrying the numbers?and came up with the answer 27. The next problem was to divide 13,968 by 144. Here he stopped and tried out a new version of his tag.
Then I turned a page and saw it. On the first line was written, in a cold and serious hand, "How to make a baking soda bomb." Under the title were the words "What You Need" along with a list of ingredients: baking soda, sharp rocks, a small glass jar, a metal tube and a few other things.
Under that was "What To Do." Here the young man described how to cap the pipe at one end, where to put the baking soda and sharp rocks and small glass jar and the rest, and how to cap the other side of the pipe. After his little recipe for mayhem, the kid wrote, "Throw the pipe as hard as you can on the ground. Will explode in less than 5 minutes SO get the hell out of there."
I asked a few cops I know if they thought the bomb would work. I got a few shrugs and a "Who knows?" kind of look. Now I was in a bind. What should I do with this notebook? The day job I have mandates me to report any incidents like this, but there's wide latitude given.
I thought back to my teen years. I was a troubled kid. I hung out with a friend who was an expert in making sulfur bombs. He'd light them and we'd watch them explode from a few hundred feet away and then laugh as the neighborhood dogs howled and old men cursed us from their windows. I don't know if I would have wanted someone to make a big deal out of that back then.
But still. I thought, what if this kid is some kind of Dylan Klebold in the making? If I read somewhere that one of his shrapnel bombs had gone off and hit someone?well, I didn't want to live with that.
I called up Fandal.
Fandal was preoccupied. He told me that because of the shots he's been taking at Hillary Clinton on his cable access show, he's worried about being audited by the IRS.
"Forget her. What do I do with this book?"
"Well, we could hand it over to the cops."
"I'd feel like a rat, Mike. I mean, the kid hasn't committed a crime. He wrote a recipe for a bomb, but so what."
"If the kid put that much time into writing about it, I don't know. To me, it's a red flag. This could be a really troubled kid."
I left off with Fandal to think about this further. As a teenager I'd always wished there'd been one adult around who'd talk to me like a human being, instead of down at me. I never got that. In a lot of ways I'd had a wasted youth.
After thinking about that, I took the only option I saw available. I mailed the notebook to the kid's guidance counselor with a note suggesting that maybe someone should sit down with him to see what was going on. And if it was all a prank, I apologize, youngblood, but I had to do it.