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In Times Square, a Bizarre Clash of Weed Man Versus Beer Man

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Wayne Semancik, a busker, was stabbed five times with a pen that left puncture wounds on his face, scalp and chest. A sign he carries asks for "Spare change for pot, pizza and beer."

By VIVIAN YEE Published: June 25, 2013



, began wandering around the pedestrian plaza at 46th Street and Seventh Avenue, a cardboard box on his head and a sign over his chest, cajoling cash from tourists with a simple pitch: “I am the weed man. I’m too sexy for you to see me.”

As charming as this tactic may have been to some, his appearance rankled the other creative panhandlers of Times Square, who make their living not by donning Elmo suits or coating themselves with metallic paint, but by simply advertising their need for marijuana, beer or both on handwritten signs.

Busking being serious business in Midtown, long-simmering tensions between the box man and one of his rivals erupted into violence on Friday night, when the box man was said to have stabbed a competing panhandler, Wayne Semancik, five times in the head and chest with a pen.

Mr. Semancik, 56, said the man who is charged with attacking him (whom he knows as Andre but who the Manhattan district attorney’s office said is named Dwight Laird) had committed the offense of telling a local newspaper that all of his competitors were con artists, drug addicts and thieves.

“I’m not a drug addict, baby,” Mr. Semancik said Sunday, though he acknowledged a passing familiarity with marijuana. Rather, he said, he is an entrepreneur, claiming to have saved enough money in 14 years of Times Square panhandling to buy a small place in the Pennsylvania mountains. His office is a fire hydrant and a post outside the Thomson Reuters building on Seventh Avenue.

Mr. Semancik’s sign, which asks for “Spare change for pot, pizza and beer,” takes a more comprehensive view than Mr. Laird’s box, which, in its single-mindedness, could give politicians a lesson in message discipline. “Weed all day weed all night,” one side of the box reads, according to a video posted on YouTube.

Relations deteriorated further when, Mr. Semancik said, Mr. Laird hit one of Mr. Semancik’s friends on the head with a bottle of frozen water.

Even so, things had settled into a steady, if tense, détente until Friday, when, Mr. Semancik said, Mr. Laird spat in his face.

“You know what? I’m going to hit you. I’m going to hurt you,” Mr. Semancik said, with a steely blue-eyed stare. “Enough is enough. So I walked up and wham — I hit him.”

Mr. Semancik knows how to take care of himself: he said he has an arrest record, including felony convictions. But the box man had a pen in his pocket, and Mr. Semancik ended up with ink-stained puncture wounds on his nose, chin, scalp and chest.

Questioned on Monday, several of the costumed figures — including Buzz Lightyear, Mario, Luigi, Hello Kitty and an assortment of Elmos and Cookie Monsters — seemed puzzled to hear about the violence.

One Cookie Monster shrugged, as if to say he had no information, and offered a hug instead.

Yet if the worlds of the costumed and plain-clothed in Times Square are normally separate, two of the characters found themselves crossing over Friday night: a photograph in The Daily News showed the police interviewing Alien and Predator as witnesses after the episode. (Mr. Semancik said that, far from being adversaries, they are brothers from North Carolina who work together.)

Mr. Laird, 30, has pleaded not guilty. A judge released him on his own recognizance.

The attack has had ramifications for Times Square’s other weed men: at least one news outlet, the blog Gothamist, named another sign-toting entrepreneur, Joshua Long, as the stabber, though Mr. Semancik said he was not involved. Yet another one, who gave his name as Superman, said he wanted all the weed men to get along, lest the police shut them all down.

Meanwhile, Mr. Semancik’s business is as strong as ever.

“Hey, you know where I can get some good bud around here?” a passer-by asked after dropping a dollar in his cup.

Mr. Semancik grinned, but kept his secret.

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