There was a certain feeling of nakedness and vulnerability that came with being the only visible white person within several blocks…who was also standing on the second-floor landing of an outside staircase in front of a faded and worn, black security door and having an invisible dark-brown voice coming out from somewhere on the other side of the door telling me that I needed to leave…telling me that I needed to go, to be gone, to be absent, to be somewhere else…anywhere else…and away.

It was full daylight on a bright desert weekday in some kind of month when the sun was making my face run with sweat, smack-dab in the middle of the neighborhood at 15th Avenue and Buckeye, easily within the perimeter of the inner to mid-city boundaries of central Phoenix.  The address used to be 1502 West Buckeye Road, but the two-building, two-storied, and L-shaped apartment “complex” has gone the way of urban-renewal and no longer exists.  It was deemed to be part of the blight in that particular city-council precinct.  The corner was now home to just a traffic-signal pole and an empty and graveled lot that sparkled with the detritus and glass of a Mad-Dog and beer-bottle graveyard.  People parked there sometimes when they were visiting the tent-revival meetings at the “church” on the south-side of the street and a little east of there…other people parked their taco-wagons and multi-colored, plastic patio chairs there and sold those spring and summer-time evening tacos and birria (goat-meat) burritos to passers-by with a middle-loud to real-loud loud-speaker playing various folk-tunes from south of the border.  If you’ve heard them before, you know what I mean when I describe them as sounding like they come from a Bavarian Oktoberfest celebration with the polka-accordion-esque tunes that seem foreign and absurd in their central Phoenix surroundings.

As I said, there was a certain feeling of vulnerability, standing there, elevated as I was, on the back-side of the complex on that four-by-six foot metal platform at the top of the stairs.  There was nothing to hide behind and no porch-cover overhead, no posts or poles to hold an awning or sun-shade that no longer existed.  It was just my tall-assed, white-male self standing there beneath the sun with that soft dark voice talking to me through the security door.  I didn’t even have to knock –


“Hey,” I said, as I was held-up my ID tag.  “I’m with the health department….”

What do you want?

“I work at the clinic and I’m looking for So-and-so….”

I know who you are, he interrupted, put that thing down.

“Oh…ok….  Well, I need to talk with So-and-so.  Is she here?”

I said you need to put that thing down…really…you need to leave, man.

“Ok…it’s really important that I talk with her….”

I know that, man, but you need to leave…please.

Yes, he really said “please.”  He was articulate and warm and kind and sounded like he didn’t belong there, either.

I almost whispered, “Alright, can I leave a card for her?” as I was pulling-out a card and envelope and pen and turning sideways to look back and around and into the neighborhood.

No, man, you have to leave, and don’t be turning around like that.

His voice was urgent, yet gentle…like it was coming from someone who was almost my friend…someone who, if he was in a different place, would be my friend, big brother, or mentor.  It felt like he was trying to protect me…to urge me away and back into some kind of safety where I belonged.

I tried to hand him my business card, not the one that I would have had to stand there longer to write on, but just my card.

Put that down, man.  Don’t try to give me anything.  Just go.  I’ll tell her.  Go on now.

So…I left.  I walked back down the sun-faded and shiny and greasy and dirty staircase and out through the alley and toward my car.  I fought against the urge to turn and look back at the door I had just left, so I occupied my mind and eyes with slowly panning side to side, searching for other people and eyes that might be looking in my direction.  Maybe they were inside other houses or buildings and sitting behind the partially closed mini-blinds that faced the sunward side of the alley and street where I walked…maybe they were in the truck or van that drove down the street and turned away and gone.

What was there?  What was going to happen or might have happened…what did I walk into…or away from on that long desert day in that whatever month where the sun was hot and bright on my face?

you need to leave…please….

****This is a Favorite Re-post from March, 2010


23 responses

  1. So . . . any more information?

    June 23, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    • Nope…just drove away….and that’s it….

      June 23, 2015 at 11:39 pm

      • Not sure I could do that job.

        June 23, 2015 at 11:48 pm

        • It’s similar to taking 9-1-1 calls and dispatching, in that it requires something different of you, but you get used to it after a while…most of it, anyway.

          June 27, 2015 at 5:18 pm

        • Let me rephrase . . . I would want to do that job. Could I do it? Probably.

          June 27, 2015 at 7:06 pm

          • I would think so…..

            June 27, 2015 at 9:57 pm

  2. I really enjoy your writing, Scott. These short stories tell just enough of the story to know how hard that job really was…

    June 24, 2015 at 1:00 am

    • I’m glad to read that, Shimon….thank you very much.

      June 27, 2015 at 5:18 pm

  3. One of those scary situations that has a hint of menace despite the politeness of the verbal content. As a doctor I’ve been in similar situations where I was watching my back. Walking down dark alleys at night on an emergency call-out. Visits to mentally ill patients. An occasion where within ten seconds of arrival my medical bag got thrown out through the window (fortunately the window was open). Situations where you have inner panic but have to show a calm exterior.

    June 24, 2015 at 1:50 am

    • And it’s probably that calm exterior that serves us well into “safety.”

      June 27, 2015 at 9:59 pm

  4. I really enjoyed reading this Scott!

    June 24, 2015 at 2:39 am

    • Thank you, Adrian…I’m happy to share it. 🙂

      June 27, 2015 at 10:00 pm

  5. It must be hard, not knowing the outcome, especially since you cared enough to put yourself in possible danger. It sounded as though the voice beyond the door cared too, if only in a different way.

    June 24, 2015 at 3:08 am

    • I can only imagine that it was that people were watching, Laura, as I know they do out in the neighborhoods…especially when they need to know if the police are going to be arriving….and yes, I believe the voice beyond the door cared, too…that’s why he was so urgent for me to leave, because he knew the potential harm that might have come to me….or him, after I left.

      June 27, 2015 at 10:02 pm

  6. Your skill as a writer in conveying the context and emotions is greatly admired by yours truly. Do you write longer pieces, Scott?

    I never was as self controlled as you seem to be and the fear would have had me getting out of there pretty damn quick. Hmmm, I can remember that in my own working context I was assured and confident, but outside of that, completely the opposite…….I can see that you might have felt assured by your official role. Interesting. Please write some more……

    June 24, 2015 at 4:50 am

    • I thank you for your kind words, dear John…and am so glad that the context and emotions were so clear. My writings aren’t usually much longer than this one, no…maybe a couple of more pages, at most.

      I think the parallel here is that I was confident in the context of my job…but would likely have been stumbling and stuttering if you had put me in front of a class of students and told me to give a lecture on art history, technique, etc…. 🙂

      And….thank you for your encouragement, my friend….always.

      June 27, 2015 at 10:07 pm

  7. Yes indeed, you write well… a pleasure to revisit this!

    June 25, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    • Thank you, Gunta….so glad you’re here visiting. 🙂

      June 27, 2015 at 10:09 pm

  8. Liana

    “an invisible dark-brown voice coming out from somewhere on the other side of the door telling me that I needed to leave”

    seriously, Scott, that is so feckin’ brilliant.

    June 26, 2015 at 10:42 am

    • Wonderful words, Liana….thank you…seriously.

      June 27, 2015 at 10:10 pm

  9. Your old job, right? I bet there were eyes on you. Well, you did what you could. And then writing about it, that took it to another level. Thanks for re-posting!

    June 27, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    • My old job and same job currently, Lynn. The incident took place close to twenty years ago, but I am back out on those same streets doing the same job now. It seems that we’re not in that neighborhood much anymore, though. And you’re welcome for the re-post. 🙂

      June 27, 2015 at 10:14 pm

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