West Side Story
Between Us Stands a Wall
Notes: The situations and characters from the movie are not mine. The bartender and the story are. I'm writing this based on movie canon only, both from what's shown on the screen as well as the directions given in the script. I wasn't sure what to make of this character until I read through his scenes as outlined in the script. Then I started to feel some level of understanding and sympathy for him. In a production where the protagonists are the street gangs it's all too easy to villainize some of the other characters, possibly particularly this one due to some of his admittedly shocking comments. But the script gave some insight into that too, and I decided to take that and toy with it a bit. Hence, here is my own interpretation of the character. This takes place about mid-way through the movie, after the war council. Thanks to Ladyamberjo for plot help!
The door of the bar opened and another weary figure entered, his gray suit coat draped over his arm. No one other than the bartender, cleaning a glass, bothered to look up. He set the tumbler aside, leaning forward with his hands spread on the bar.
"You haven't been here in a while," he noted. "Rough night?"
"Every day and night is rough around here lately." The other man sank onto a stool at the bar, pushing his hat back on his head. "These street gangs . . . I don't know what to do about them. Nothing gets through to them except violence and more violence. What's the matter with these kids?"
The bartender sighed, shaking his head. "I've only been able to come to the conclusion that there's no one answer," he said. "What'll you have tonight?"
"Something hard," was the growled reply. "And make it quick."
The bartender complied, soon setting a shotglass in front of his customer. "So, do you want to talk about it?" he asked.
The man in the fedora reached for the glass. ". . . The gangs have been a problem in this city for years," he remarked. "When I was growing up I saw a lot of violence because of them. It scared the heck out of me, but I wanted to do something about it.
"I was a brainless kid when I first got on the force. I thought I actually could do something, to get through to the gang members and help them turn their lives around. But I couldn't do a thing. The more I saw of them and their rumbles, the madder I got. I could never understand them or their ideas. So all I managed to do was to push them further away than ever. And that's what I'm still doing now."
He took a long drink and set the glass down again, in frustration. "Those stupid kids are going to have a rumble tomorrow night, but I can't find out where it's going to be. I know what'll happen. It's always the same—some idiot will make a wrong move and someone'll get badly hurt, maybe even killed. And all Hell will break loose."
The bartender shook his head. "Tragic."
"Oh, and did I mention that I'm the bad guy because I can't understand their point of view?"
The bartender tilted his head to the side. "Something specific happened tonight, didn't it," he noted.
"I was just trying to find out where the rumble will be," the other man replied, much too defensive. "They wouldn't cooperate and I lost my temper. I . . . I said some things I shouldn't have."
Now the bartender looked thoughtful. "And so you yourself are wondering if you're the bad guy," he said.
The policeman stiffened. "I didn't say that," he retorted.
"No, but you are thinking it, aren't you?"
There was a long silence. "You know, when I first became a cop, I never would've dreamed of saying some of the things I said tonight," he said. "I'm not proud of it. Sometimes I don't know why I'm even still assigned to this beat. If they brought in someone who could actually relate to these kids maybe something would change for the better around here."
"Is it so impossible to relate?" the bartender asked.
"Could you?" was the reply. "Yeah, it's impossible. They say they want to own the streets. And they won't stand for other gangs nosing in on 'their' territory. But the streets don't belong to them. The streets belong to everyone in this crazy city!" He shook his head. "And yet that's what they're killing each other over.
"It was bad enough before. Then these Puerto Ricans moved in and added another gang to the mix. Now theirs is one of the two main ones causing trouble around here!"
The man behind the bar raised an eyebrow. "Do you wish they hadn't moved here?"
"Oh, I don't know," the other said in resigned disgust. "It'd probably be the same no matter what group showed up. They're all the same; they've all got kids who want to get in on the gang action." He ran a hand over his face. "I've just about had it with the whole lot of them. Why can't they be rebellious by listening to rock-and-roll music or staying out late dancing? At least that's not likely to get them and other people killed."
The bartender looked thoughtful. "I saw something in your eyes a moment ago," he said. "You're afraid, aren't you."
"Afraid?" Now the policeman was incredulous. "They're less than half my age. What would I have to be afraid of from them?"
"That you can't do anything to stop them," the bartender said. "They won't listen to you and you're both angry and afraid because of it. And you strike back the only way you know how—with a sharp tongue."
"You're crazy." But he looked uncomfortable now.
"Maybe," the other man smiled. "But we've known each other for a long time now, haven't we? I've listened to your tales of frustration over these street gangs and other criminals off and on for years."
"I guess you have." He stood, digging in his pocket for some money. "Here," he said, dropping some coins on the counter. "Thanks for the drink."
The bartender nodded. "What are you going to do about the rumble?"
"I'll figure something out," was the weary answer. "I always do."
The bartender watched him go. "Goodnight, Lieutenant Schrank," he bade.
Schrank half-waved in reply. "I doubt it," he said.
"That it'll be a good night." Schrank got to the door and opened it, stepping outside. The door swung shut behind him.
Again the bartender sighed, shaking his head. Around him the other customers continued to drink and talk, having taken no notice of what had been going on.
"He's probably right," the man mused. "It won't be a good night."
He reached for the glass.