Mr. Gene Perlmutter, 59, retired from the civil service, felt with satisfaction the sharp end of his tool bite down between the rubber and the rim. He was an ordinary man of average flesh but the long bar worked to his advantage and the tire was a bit underinflated.

Mr. Perlmutter leaned in. The average curb weight of a Ford Explorer, gassed and loaded, is about 4,500 pounds. There was some noise, a loud pop and a groan and hiss of air. Mr. Perlmutter thought of a large animal shot through the chest.

Alarmed by the noise, the night manager of Baby Gap put his head out the door to see what it was. "Hey," he said.

Mr. Perlmutter worked the bar in, then leaned hard against it once, twice, and once again for emphasis. Then he pulled out the bar, swung it over his shoulder and walked away.