Posts tagged “Phoenix

Four Peaks from afar

That “Four Peaks” ridge in the distance is literally at least sixty miles from where I made this image along the Northern Parkway just east of the Loop 303, in the west valley of Metropolitan Phoenix.  At ten minutes before 6:00 am on this Saturday past, the air was full of desert dust, vehicle emissions, and whatever other crap builds-up in the lower atmosphere between the parched land and the morning sky.  This photo-making spot is along the route that I take to work every morning and I had been admiring the silhouette of the mountains in the distance for some time now.  The quieter and less-busy morning seemed like a perfect time to stop and make some photos.  Those sixty miles ‘twixt here and there are chock-full of western civilization’s offerings, as some five or six cities, two Native American Indian Communities, thousands of miles of city streets and freeways, multiple hundreds of acres of agricultural endeavors, and the exhaust of tens of thousands of vehicles and hundreds of thousands of people can be and are found in between.

I haven’t been hiking in the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, but might make it out there later this year or in early Spring of next year.  It’s not something that you do in the summer months unless you camp nearby overnight and then launch up and back down from the peaks a couple of hours before noon.


exposed…again….

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 –

Hello?

“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


City Paint Phoenix 3 – Flowers…with a Salt Lake City connection….

I’ve been traveling the streets of Phoenix for the past five months with a new eye that is open and welcoming of things that I had never noticed in my earlier years of living here.  If you’ve been following this blog for at least a little while, you might know or recall that I’ve recently returned to this desert home after living in the Salt Lake City area for about four years…after having lived here in Phoenix for over 20 years…and you might remember, too, that I started a City Paint series in Phoenix that was similar to a series that I had going in Salt Lake for a couple of years.  Well…this is the third post in my collection of graffiti and street art displays that I’ve discovered while driving about my new/old home.

Flowers mural 5th St and Roosevelt

This flower shop is located on the south-east corner of 5th Street and Roosevelt Street, just south of the center of town in an area that has become something of an art district over the last several years.  From all appearances, the flower shop has closed its doors for business…the rooms were empty as I looked in from the street…and as you can tell by looking at this second image, the plaster is cracking on the wall and the paint is beginning to peel…which is understandable, given that the mural is on the west-facing wall of the building and in near constant exposure to the desert sun.

Flowers mural closer

When I did a Google search of the artists (as provided by the names under the “E” in the first photo), I found that El Mac had created another image that I had seen in the past…which I had shared in another blog post almost three years ago.  I featured the below photograph in In the Heart of the City and in City Paint 4 – Tucked-Away Alley-Wayand provided a third glimpse of it in the first image from City Paint 17 – Gallenson’s Gun-shop Elk Mural.

heart-of-the-city 2

You can find these murals on El Mac’s web site at Ave Maria and Kofie and Mac…pages five and eight if you want to visit from going to his home-page.  After you get to his home-page, click on the “Spraypaint” subheading…and be prepared to be amazed at what you’ll find.  If you’d like to view more posts on  the street art, building murals, and related graffiti that I’ve discovered in both the Salt Lake and Phoenix areas, you can scroll to the bottom of this page and click on Street Art – Graffiti under the Categories widget to see the earlier other posts.

 


More new friends in Arizona….

My little one and I were out exploring again the other day…we drove about 15 miles from the house and found ourselves near and around Lake Pleasant Regional Park…a man-made reservoir that captures the waters from the south-flowing Agua Fria River and the Central Arizona Project canal system.  I will likely share a few photos from the lake in one of my next posts, but I wanted to first introduce you to some other critters that we encountered while taking a short hike in the surrounding hills.

Wild Burro, Lake Pleasant, Arizona

My son and I had seen some “horse-like” droppings along the trail and figured that they were actually from horses that were ridden through the area, so we were a little surprised to find these wild Burros out grazing among the trees and bushes on the northwest side of the lake.

Wild Burro baby, Lake Pleasant, Arizona

Looks like the little one above still needs to grow into his or her ears….

Mama and baby Burro, Lake Pleasant, Arizona

You can click on this link for the Wikipedia article on Lake Pleasant…and this one for more information on the wild Burros if you’re interested.


Image

desert heights

Saguaro and Hot Air Balloon over North Phoenix


desert morning rising

We rode into a morning sky that was dusty with flour-like earth from yesterday’s wind…colors were muted and the shapes of the distant landscape lived only in silhouette form….

desert morning rising

Heading east on the 303 in north Phoenix, Arizona.

 


Image

Phoenix Mountain Silhouette

Phoenix Mountain Silhouette


It never ended….

It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen?  My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.

The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas.  The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest.  And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer.  The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings.  The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished.  The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.

When the sun goes down, more people come out.  The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless.  Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious.  In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies.  Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim.  In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:

West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality.  On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue.  There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver.  The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree.  A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old.  The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital.  Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.

South City Precinct – Death of Child.  On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue.  A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house.  The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand.  (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours?  How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?)  The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department.  Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide.  On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting.  The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend.  The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery.  No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home.  Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out.  The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene.  When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.

West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting.  Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road.  On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house.  The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times.  The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd.  One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1.  I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.

9-1-1, Where is the emergency?

“4321 West Why-Not Lane.”  The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.

Is this medical?

“It’s kind of…yeah.”

Do you need paramedics?

“Yeah, probably.”

What’s going on?

“I shot my wife and children.”

When did you do this?

“On Friday.”

This is Tuesday morning.  You shot your wife on Friday?

“Yeah.”

Where is your wife now?

“She’s in her office, or my office.  She’s laying on the floor.”

And where are the children?

“I don’t have any children.”

Is there anybody else in the house with you?

“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house.  They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”

Ok.  Let me get this straight.  You shot your wife on Friday, right?

“Yeah.”

And she’s dead?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  And are your kids there in the house with you?

“I said I don’t have any kids.  There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”

And the dogs…they’re ok?

“Yeah, the dogs are fine.  I like them.”

You like the dogs.

“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”

And you said you might need paramedics.  Are you hurt or something?

“Yeah.  I shot myself in the chin.”

You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?

“Yeah.”

And you did this on Friday?

“Yeah.”

What’s your name?

“John Xxxxx.”

And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?

“It’s there in the office.  I put it up on the desk.”

Are there any other weapons in the house?

“Oh, yeah.  I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”

And where are you in the house right now?

“I’m in the living room.”

Are you going to be ok when the officers get there?  We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.

“No.  I’m fine.  I’ve already fucked-up my life enough.  I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”

Ok.  It looks like officers are in the area.  Can you see any police cars outside yet?

“No.  There’s nobody here yet.”

Ok.  You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?

“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office.  I can see a police car out front now.”

Ok.  Are you outside?

“Yeah.”

And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?

“Nope, just the phone.”

On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.

“Should I put down the phone now?  She’s telling me to.”

Yes.  Set the phone down.

My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children.  He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids.  When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call.  He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.”  The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.”  He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.

It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things.  They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?

**This is a Favorite Re-post from July, 2010.


Arizona Sunrise

Driving home from a visit to Phoenix last month, we had to stop the truck in a hurry to try to capture as much of this as possible.  We were still about 40 miles south of Flagstaff and the road was winding and dipping around and below trees and rocks…and after probably another half mile or so, I was finally able to find a relatively unobstructed view of this amazing sunrise.


Yellow-Brown Afternoon

Eucalyptus trees with silver-dollar leaves shaded the chocolate-hued men, those with the ancients’ lines around they eyes and steel and yellow-gray crowns upon they brows, slow and stony and tumbling-down voices, and gnarled fingers like busted-up tree limbs that moved the ivory tabs of black-dotted things this way and that along the scarred and pigeon-shitted table top.

“Don’ be lookin’ over here, you ol’ cheat, don’ be looking over here; git you ol’ yella eye-balls onto you own side a thisyer table.”

“They’s only echoes now,” like the cars and trucks on the overpass, like the train that rumbles slow down on the city track, ‘neath the palm trees on the other side.  “They’s only echoes now, them memories that still live and rattle yon in you brain.”

Images alive in the past and yesterday with a scorched-grass and dusty smell that rides in the nose-hairs for a long day; they’re like swollen and knobby coffee-milk fingers reaching into those lost recesses of tainted dreams, scooting those domino pieces to the side again, sliding them face-down and around, picking-up five or two again, and lining them up sideways at a slant.

“Pass me that bag, Mistah Scott…’f you don’ mine.”  If it were my can in the brown bag I’d have offered me some sitting there, just to see what I’d have done, to see how colored the skin of my soul was on that yellow-brown afternoon.

I fingered the blue card in the manila coin envelope and slid it back and forth, took it out and brought it in again, watching lazy mouths work their chew, work their salted seeds and spitting shells; I thought about the places they’d been, the lies they’d heard, and the promises failed, as the lines wore deep into their chocolate and honey-colored skin.

“You don’ know how to play this, do you, Mistah Scott?”

I used to play it some as a kid with my sisters, said I.

“Yah…maybe so, but not like we doin’, though, ain’t that right?  Not like we doin’ out here ‘long-side the overpass with pigeon shit all over the goddamned place, not like that, didn’ you?”

No, we played inside on the kitchen table…sometimes in the living room…but that was a long time ago.

“Couldn’ be too long ago, Mistah Scott, you just a young man.  You couldn’ tell me ’bout no long time ago, not yet no-how.”

No…not yet, no-how….


Floating

Back in a pool again for the first time in over a year, my little one ran and jumped and splashed and swam on top of the water and under the water and ran and jumped again and again and splashed his sister and sped away…and found time in the waning day to be still again…to be still again and enveloped in the quiet that informs our physical existence….


Kissy

The skinny black man sat in his tumbledown chair and stretched his legs out long and long across the patio there.  He was wearing a tattered straw hat that had a bright red and frayed ribbon laying droopily around the brim; it might have been attached at some point in its various pasts, the ribbon, but today it was laying loose against the hat’s crown with its thrice-tied knot to keep it all together with itself.  A hot breeze stirred through the patio columns and caused the screen door to complain with a creaky voice at having to move so when it was content not to at this time of an afternoon and summer day.

“I tol’ you and your partner the other day that I don’ know nothin’ ’bout no Peaches,” he said from below his hat brim.  His mouth moved like he was holding pebbles inside his cheeks, keeping his lips all in a pucker and moving still; I couldn’t see his teeth, as they were hiding behind his fleshy and purple lips, but I knew from a young lady’s description, that he was missing top and bottom twins on the left side of his mouth.  He had caught a tire iron or a bottle there during a mid-alley brawl on a last-July evening; said people started calling him “Kissy” after that because of the way he always pursed his lips when talking so nobody could see the remnant and damaged teeth within.

 – I never said anything about Peaches, Kissy; I never told you who sent me looking for you; I just said I talked with someone….

“Well, I still don’ know nothin’ about her; ain’t seen her none, leastways not in a long time, not this summer anyways.”

– Well that’s ok, really, we don’t need to talk about her.  We just need to get you to the clinic and take care of those spots on your hands, that’s all.  You need some medicine, Kissy.

“Yeah, you tol’ me about that before, you and that other Lionel boy from your office, but I’m ok; Kissy’ll be jus’ fine.  These spots come and gone once before and I ‘spect they’ll do the same again, so you can go on now, Doctor Scott, don’ try and reason with me none either, just leave me set here of an afternoon, cuz it’s too hot to move and I’m waiting on my check besides.  So go on now…and if you’ll ‘scuse me, I’m goin’ to have myself a little nap….”


This New Place Called “Home”

In contemplating this wondrous place, I thought of the many things that might be the same or different from the places I’ve been before, the places where I’ve lived and dreamed, stumbled into happiness or fought against raging rivers of sadness or woe, where I considered the options when evaluating mistakes and misfortunes, wrong turns and stupid decisions and thoughtless acts…I pondered those places of hearth and home, those comforting domiciles, living arrangements, quarters, and other stopping places along the way where my life has become what it was and is, those sundry places filled with memories of tender smiles and belly-laughs from little ones and big alike, where that first picture of that first three-month-old has become several walls and picture-walls of photos and portraits and captured moments of these and our many lives, where the echoes of celebrations and sounds of sadness mix and mingle like tasty and alluring aromas from the kitchens of our minds where peace and harmony become one with the rest of life and cause us to know that it’s going to be ok, whatever comes, because we have each other and we live and love and that’s what matters.

I also thought about the view on my way home from work yesterday as I looked eastward toward the mountains and couldn’t find them because of the foggy inversion substance that covered the sky, that blocked-out in its whiteness anything that might be beyond some hundreds of yards.  I looked up and out to where the mountains used to be and found the blanket of white extending to the gone place, so I looked higher to where they could be and found them there, yes, above the mist of commerce and progress and upside-down air-streams.  I found that the milky white yielded in the up-above to allow a vision from a different world where other planets exist just beyond our reach and where sister moons adorn the heavens in their orbit above us.  These and my mountain tops were revealed in their peachy glow from the setting sun, through that vapor below; they were their own white and rocky selves sitting and suspended in the white nothingness, hanging there rich and immense and like little else that has existed in my life.  Mountains have been there, yes, in childhood and young adulthood alike, but many years ago and rarely with the immediacy and full presence as these are in their heights and wonder.

This place has become a mix of many things and an absence of others.  We are two families from one that now live together and see each other in a constant weekend visit and continuous marvel that it is so.  There are many dishes in the sink and different foods in the fridge, four (or three) cars in the driveway and many pairs of shoes about.  Tiny footsteps mix with older foot-stomps and dog toes and nails and slippered feet that slide and move about the dark wood floors and lead us and each other around the chilled and warmed and windowed house that is home with its ice-cold tap water and scalding hot, hot water that is there immediately to warm icy fingers and digs deep into the muscles and bones in a morning shower or “hot bath” that soothes a certain trembling soul.  The holidays brought a pan or pot of desert cacti to bless the shared home office of a little one and his mom, calming a sad memory of a place that was and is in the used to be, a place that jumped onto the TV screen as we watched Forrest run-ning, that deserted and desert-ed place that somehow pulled on the heart-strings of that same cactus-loving little one, tarnishing an otherwise happy few hours…as life is life and sometimes sadly borne…but happy now on the following morning as he watches his cars racing through an animated image of the same place and then, his joy speaking loudly in the quiet house, full of glee and happiness, and that’s how it is right now.

I dreamed the other night of my return to that former place, plugged-in and along-side those who used to be in my charge.  We laughed at how little I remembered and knew, marveled at how slow my fingers had become in typing into the screen those letters and numbers and words that would send help on its way.  They thought it was funny that I had returned, funny that I was with them and there again, and funny that I was down from the pod, that elevated place where commands were given, where eyes watched and ears listened to the goings-on from the phones and radios and people who worked them and do.  It was funny and light and strangely comforting, and when I awoke I wondered at what had happened to make it so.  There was a big empty space between what happened and then, no indication as to what had caused the return from here to there, from this life to that life, from these mountains to that desert-place, and from now to then.  It was a dream, of course, but from whence did it come, which part of my psyche spoke loudest in that sleeping place…hope or despair…longing and sadness, expectation of what might come…or simply missing that and those in the familiar?  I know where my heart is, but it has many places within it, many places that are touched and can be touched by those other loved and loving ones who live in this tender place, this home in home, this wondrous surround that is marked by adjustment, realignment, compromise, the unknown, and hope. 

That precious one, my precious one, told me the other day, that two times in that day, not once but twice, she felt that she was home.  She felt that the rooms were hers and this place in its place was what she wanted and where she wanted to be; it was an emotion and sensation that was fleeting and strange, yet welcome to her mourning soul, her saddened spirit, that longing heart that wanted to return to that former place in that earlier time, that place where the place was comforting and dear, even in its discomfort and un-ease, simply and only because it was that home-place and familiar, that spot in her physical existence where she had been for so long that it was natural and right to belong and long to be there…even though she had wanted to leave for so many reasons, so many reasons that are still real and valid and real and important and immediate and then, yes, and conflicted in emotion and want, desiring the place and the time of the past for what it held, while wanting the place and time of the present and future for the hope that it holds, for the hope that it holds.  She said that, then, my precious one.

So this new place called Home is and is becoming that sacred place and sanctuary, that harbor in the storm of life where we lash ourselves to the docks of security while we replenish our supplies of strength and endurance for what lies ahead, those things that come without our bidding and assail us so, and bind us tighter to those we know and love and with whom we weather those storms when back out on those seas and tempest tossed…and here we are…in this new place called Home.


A Christmas Letter to a Friend…or Two….

As I sit here in this enchanted place that filled my dreams in my yesterdays and look around at what has become the reality of my everyday, at the white covered mountains and winter-bare trees, I reflect upon the things that I wrote in this season of the past year and marvel at what has changed and what has remained the same.  I am thinking, too, of the friends that I spoke to in “Yes, I Spoke of You,” those noble and precious people who peopled my past and still live in my memories as I live in this new and present place.

When I read those writings from this time last year, I reflect on the workplace happenings of the holidays in “Postscript to a 9-1-1 Christmas.”  It’s crazy, now, how my Christmas and this season are so different than they were last year.  Instead of participating with my friends and co-workers in that Christmas morning banquet as we and they answered the call, I am sitting at home with part of my family, part only, as those friends are away from theirs for a bit, taking care of their citizen callers and officers for a shift of so many hours and then.  They are writing more workplace holiday memories into the stories of their lives as I sit on the outside and remember what used to be.

There won’t be any or many Christmas cards sent from our house to yours this year.  Life is still busy and crazy and boxes remain unpacked in their various places throughout the house as we’re trying to reassemble our uprooted lives and find places for those pictures and things that bring comfort to our hearts and souls when that need is real and upon us.  Not many cards sent, but friendly faces and friendships remembered in this faraway place, those intangible tokens of an enjoyed and lived life.

So I wish you all happiness and peace in this holiday season, and I thank you again, as I have thanked you before, for creating those new worlds within me that are our paths walked together, the stories we’ve shared and lived in our workaday lives, and the experiences that have bound us together as friends.  I thank you all.


Still In-Between

Several years ago, a friend asked me to write something about my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the transition from employee to supervisor within our workplace, from 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher to Radio Supervisor.  When contemplating the paper, I thought I would discuss the relationships with my immediate co-workers, the relationships with peer supervisors from other shifts, the relationship with my supervisor, the aspects of the performance of my job that my supervisor evaluated, the relationships that I had with my employees and the employees of other supervisors, both on my shift and other shifts, and related to and intertwined with all of the above, the political nature of written communication, things said and/or not said, actual and implied or perceived intent, and the ever-present need to actually consider and weigh one’s reaction to any other word, intent, omission, look, possibility, idea, etc..

After discussing the changes in relationships and interactions with all of the people in the workplace, and when considering those changes, there was also the immediately personal aspect to look at – my evaluation of myself inside myself, the changes in my thought processes that included moving from a solitary person to one of community and all that it entailed, i.e., what I lost and gained, etc.  And then more – my thoughts of the bureau, the department, the officers, the citizens; my responsibilities to my co-workers, my employees, my boss, the department, the citizens; how my perspective of liability had changed or remained the same; my dedication to the job; my thoughts of other people’s dedication to the job; my sense of belonging and not belonging; it was just a job, a means to a nice paycheck that provided for my family and the commitment I had to making sure I deserved what the city gave me for compensation;  and then my occasional thoughts of demoting, or other thoughts of trying for another promotion where I would supervise my then co-worker supervisors.

All of that processing of my transition within that particular workplace got my mind going in similar yet unassociated areas and caused me to wonder about the different and many transitions that one undergoes in a lifetime – which I then applied to myself and the many aspects and experiences of my own existence that have led me from one place to another, both literally and figuratively.  My mind went in directions ranging from being an innocent in every sense of the word and passing into and through the stages of gaining knowledge that removed the innocence and replaced it with experiences that changed me forever, even if only in the slightest ways.  My thoughts wandered, then and now – if I’m going to have this current and up-to-date, down the trails of my childhood turning into adolescence and adulthood; the paths that led me from the Air Force to the health department, from the health department to the police department, and from there to my present workplace in another health department in an altogether different state and locale; from carelessness to concern, or selfishness to awareness; the journey from being a solitary person, as I mentioned earlier, to one who out of necessity or yearning became one of community with a participatory audience, be it large or small; the change from being a young father with little children to being an older father with young and older children; from being a Believer to being a non-believer or disbeliever…and….  So I wondered at change and transition.

And then a friend of mine sent me a link to another article about a man who tossed caution to the wind and left his steady and secure job that paid well, but wasn’t fulfilling, and bought a boat and started a charter business and sailing school…and changed his life.  He left the security for something he loved, something that spoke to or moved his “soul” or the core of his being.  And I thought of transitions again and still.  I thought of how I have done something similar to the guy who “quit” his former job and bought a boat so he could pursue his dreams, however unsteady they might have been.  I thought of pursuing a simpler life, one less complicated, without and within, one that was rewarding and fulfilling and wrought with a different and compelling potential that didn’t exist in another place, for me and mine, anyway.  I thought of how making that change will cause other transitions to occur within me as so many transitions and changes were occurring outwardly in my life.

Yes, I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but I actually look forward to going to work in the morning.  I also look forward to waking and seeing that big beautiful mountain down at the end of my street, knowing that at the end of my work week, or even some afternoon after work, I will be out there driving or hiking among its hills and valleys, listening to its streams trickling or rumbling over its rocks, and hearing its scolding squirrels and singing birds touching the otherwise quiet and clean forest air.  No…the monetary rewards won’t be there at work; I’m not going to be rich or even “well-to-do” after working there…but then I don’t have dreams of making millions.  I’m looking for peace that lives within.

So the other day, when I was in the turn-lane to merge into the lane of traffic that was going to take me out and into Mill Creek Canyon, I suddenly saw and heard, racing toward me, three police cars in a line with their lights and sirens going full blast, “Code-3,” with a fourth one coming a minute or so later, flying so fast that they shook my truck in their passing.  In my mind, and in my memory that has formed over the past eleven years, that many cops heading in the same direction, so close together, with lights and sirens screaming and blaring, could only mean one thing…someone got shot…some police officer got shot and the others were driving there as quickly as they could so they could render aid and catch the bad-guy.  My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. 

The view of the big beautiful mountain in front of me was suddenly absent as my former life and concerns came crashing and screaming into my very real and present and different life.  I almost went back to my apartment to await the news flash on the television.  But, I didn’t.  I did, however, ask the mountain “Why?” and then sat there for another half-minute or so before venturing out into the traffic on the road that would take me away from my immediate concern and anxiety and out into the green embrace of that lush and welcoming “other world” that exists a few miles down the road from the everyday.  I did watch the news that night, which I normally don’t do…and…regarding all the cops in a line with their lights and sirens and my imagined tragedy that struck or befell those brothers in blue…nothing.  It was a “Big Fat Numba-Three.”

And today, with the “new employee” orientation that touched on emergency preparedness and the talk of 800MHz radios and interoperability and incident command and chain-of-command and what if our cell-phones won’t work and the radio towers are down and they’ve got two new fancy trucks with mobile antennas for the radios and stored rations and a cache of this and a cache of that and a 72-hour kit and we need to get help to those in need and 9-1-1 will be out of business and so will we and…and…what does all of this have to do with gonorrhea?

So…I am still somewhere in-between the past and the present, the “used-to-be” and the “is.”


That place in the used-to-be

My ears are still ringing and my head is still buzzing or humming from the road-wind and travel and my arms and legs can still feel the pulling and turning and little bumps in the roadway that have embedded themselves into the corporeal memory of my day and afternoon.  We have traveled, I and me, from the south to here again and have resumed the new habits and routine that have become mine in these last days and week.  I have returned to here from there, from my home and home to this place of preparation and waiting.  The long road and miles took me back to that place that has been mine and ours for these many years, that place of rest and sanctuary from the world and its assailing us and me.  I have found myself here again after being there for only a couple days and my mind is still there as these keys type and start and stop and wonder at the words as they come and go and form and don’t and retype themselves as the clothes tumble in the dryer and I wonder at who’s sleeping and not.  I wonder at who has cried today and not.  I wonder at the quiet here and the eyes in the pictures and the empty pillow and the couch that used to be there in our bedroom and is now here in my living room.  It’s tall and large and greenish golden brown and fit in that first and intended place and is now huge in its occupying of space and then.  It looks like it belongs somewhere else as I think of tomorrow and the people who will be in mine and the other people’s tomorrows in which I will not be in substance and form.

Words came to me in the turning of the wheels and the passing of the wind and sahuaros and stands of shoulder-high sunflowers in their patchiness and grounded and monster junipers with their blue-berried cones all jumping and a-gaggle in their hodge-podge placement and positioning on the hills and passing landscape with the prickled-pears and cow-tongued cacti that clung neatly and a-jumbled along the side of the carven hillsides that bound and bordered that twisting ribbon of concrete and asphalt for those many miles from there to here.  Those many miles that spoke in sundry tongues and painted images with their palate of words and thoughts that fled in happenstance at and in their impermanence, their scattered thoughts and round again and between glimpses at the guardrail and the mountains that command in their presence, Do come and stay and make anew that home and home and prepare the way for those to follow like the earlier pioneers who made their trails and forded streams and were the first and first as they went away.

I pondered the thought of this not being home yet and the gentle pressing of keys that told of hating the place where lonely lives, that ghosted realm of things and people gone from where they used to be, gone from where they’ve always been and not within reach or touch or the distance of a cross-room glance, but gone…and it lives alone there and waits the knocking door, the familiar step, the simple look, and the…rolling tears and the empty chair.

And the images of faces known and voices left behind, those Sunday mornings of yesterday and what they held and laughter and friends and none await me yet and the past is full and the present bare and the mountains beckon me and tell me that they will be my first friend here, as I think of my first friend there and my last one, too, and note the passing of time that was short and the leaving soon…and here we are, wondering at what tomorrow will bring.


It Never Ends….

It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen?  My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.

The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas.  The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest.  And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer.  The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings.  The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished.  The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.

When the sun goes down, more people come out.  The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless.  Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious.  In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies.  Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim.  In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:

West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality.  On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue.  There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver.  The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree.  A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old.  The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital.  Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.

South City Precinct – Death of Child.  On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue.  A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house.  The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand.  (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours?  How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?)  The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department.  Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide.  On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting.  The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend.  The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery.  No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home.  Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out.  The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene.  When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.

West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting.  Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road.  On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house.  The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times.  The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital.  Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.

And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd.  One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1.  I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.

9-1-1, Where is the emergency?

“4321 West Why-Not Lane.”  The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.

Is this medical?

“It’s kind of…yeah.”

Do you need paramedics?

“Yeah, probably.”

What’s going on?

“I shot my wife and children.”

When did you do this?

“On Friday.”

This is Tuesday morning.  You shot your wife on Friday?

“Yeah.”

Where is your wife now?

“She’s in her office, or my office.  She’s laying on the floor.”

And where are the children?

“I don’t have any children.”

Is there anybody else in the house with you?

“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house.  They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”

Ok.  Let me get this straight.  You shot your wife on Friday, right?

“Yeah.”

And she’s dead?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  And are your kids there in the house with you?

“I said I don’t have any kids.  There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”

And the dogs…they’re ok?

“Yeah, the dogs are fine.  I like them.”

You like the dogs.

“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”

And you said you might need paramedics.  Are you hurt or something?

“Yeah.  I shot myself in the chin.”

You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?

“Yeah.”

And you did this on Friday?

“Yeah.”

What’s your name?

“John Xxxxx.”

And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?

“Yeah.”

Ok.  Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?

“It’s there in the office.  I put it up on the desk.”

Are there any other weapons in the house?

“Oh, yeah.  I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”

And where are you in the house right now?

“I’m in the living room.”

Are you going to be ok when the officers get there?  We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.

“No.  I’m fine.  I’ve already fucked-up my life enough.  I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”

Ok.  It looks like officers are in the area.  Can you see any police cars outside yet?

“No.  There’s nobody here yet.”

Ok.  You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?

“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office.  I can see a police car out front now.”

Ok.  Are you outside?

“Yeah.”

And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?

“Nope, just the phone.”

On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.

“Should I put down the phone now?  She’s telling me to.”

Yes.  Set the phone down.

My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children.  He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids.  When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call.  He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.”  The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.”  He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.

It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things.  They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?


What is today?

I noticed the date and thought of the things that it has represented, the things that it has been to me and others I have known or know.  I drove my several miles to work and then stood on the steps later and watched those people come and go as they will and do at the beginnings and ends of their shifts here, taking calls and sending help on its way and I thought about the beautiful morning and the green trees and the birds that come by and leave and their drops of scat and whatnot that mark their passing.  I thought about the dirt and desert crags that line the southern horizon from my perspective and wistfully recollected green and white and black monstrosities of splendor and cloud nests way up there and high on eastern horizons of different perspectives and then.  I thought about the date again, about it being a wedding anniversary of a loved one and how that matches now with other anniversaries that will be remembered from tomorrow onward when today has finished and fallen below earth’s distant rim, when it has been tossed like a torn calendar’s page into the waste-can of the past and will live again only in retrospect.

Yesterday morning, a frantic mother called 9-1-1 to tell us that her three week-old baby was cold and blue and the father was trying CPR as the Fire call-taker gave him instructions and the Fire dispatcher rolled the big red fire-truck and our police dispatcher rolled the patrol units to make sure things were only horrible in that the baby died and not horrible in that the baby was made to die.

This morning, I thought about how we used to be able to send call recordings to each other so we could share in the wonder and amazement or disgust or befuddlement or whatever at what our callers told us.  I remembered how we sent a call around the room that burned itself into our memories of what a newborn baby sounds like on a 9-1-1 call as the mom was sobbing in happiness and the dad was talking excitedly in amazement in the afterglow of having just delivered his baby in the back seat of his car…and it’s been too long since I’ve listened to that recording, too long since I’ve heard tender happiness on our phones here.

And this morning, again…I read the duty report from last night and learned that a “16 yr old male hung himself in his backyard after a verbal dispute with his mother over concert tickets.  The juvenile male was transported to the hospital and is not expected to survive.”  Yes, concert tickets. 

Entry number two said that a 46 year-old man crossed a certain street mid-block at around eleven-thirty last night and was struck by a Dodge Dakota.  The man was transported to a hospital where he “was pronounced.”  There were no signs of impairment of the driver of the Dakota.

Entry number three said that “A 32 year-old male subject climbed [Such and Such Mountain] and called Crime-Stop to report that he was going to kill himself.  Patrol and the Air Unit responded.  The Air Unit located the subject and observed him shoot himself in the head.  While waiting for Fire personnel, the Air Unit observed the subject flip over onto his stomach.  The rescue helicopter responded and transported police and fire personnel to the top of the mountain.  The subject was still breathing with a good pulse and respiration.”  The call recording said that he called police so we could find his body before it was discovered by hikers…on this very popular mid-city mountain trail.  I later overheard a conversation between another supervisor and the night-commander in which we learned that the guy was going to survive…the suicide hiker.  What will his life be like now?  Was it really that bad before?

And a dear friend’s father passed away yesterday or last night, at some time before the friend was supposed to be here at work.  The answer to that sometimes question – yes, they were close.  I’ve heard many stories from his gentle son…and if he is/was anything like that son, I know he was a good man. 

So, today is a day of anniversaries…things that will be remembered whether we want to remember them all or not.


Back in Jail Again…or…It’s a Small World Afterall….

More memories from the STD Clinic Journal….

November 8, 1996 – I spent a couple more hours in Estrella Jail this morning.  I conducted two interviews on patients for whom we had been looking since July of this year. 

Crystal B. was finally in jail long enough to receive her twice-daily doses of Doxycycline.  The last time I had spoken with her, she was released the next day and never made it to the clinic.  She had sworn that she would make it to the clinic so she could be “cured.”  It never happened.  Since August 7th, her blood had risen from 1:128 to 1:256, bringing forth new symptoms of the infection.  This time, she had vaginal and perineal lesions.  The chart said that she may also have herpes.

I mildly admonished Crystal, telling her how I had driven for hours, several times, trying to find her on the street.  I also told her that one of my partners had driven around looking for her, as well.  Even “ex” prostitutes have feelings – Crystal’s blue-green eyes filled with tears as she told me that she had made a mistake.  I wasn’t looking directly at her, and not seeing the tears, continued with my scolding.  I told her that I wasn’t concerned with all the aspects of her life, I was just interested in how this disease had come to play.  When I looked up and saw her tears, I felt that I should back-up and go more slowly.  “Can’t a person make a mistake, huh? We all make mistakes, don’t we?” Crystal asked.  Yes, I said; we all make mistakes.  I was just concerned that she was going to become sicker and possibly spread the disease further. She assured me, kind of, that she hadn’t had contact with anyone since both of her sex partners were locked-up.  She denied any contact with dates.  Crystal could have been acting, but she seemed sincere.

Crystal had been on twice-daily Doxycycline for about a week now, halfway to her cure.  The sores were healing nicely and she said she’s feeling better about herself.  She said that she is tired of this life, here in Phoenix.  Crystal said that she never had a record till she moved here.  Now, at 24yo, she is ready to move back to California where her family and children are.  Crystal told me that she will be released on November 21st and hopes to leave right away.  My proof of this move and restart on a new life will happen when the health department from her California town calls to let me know that she has had her blood tested again.  We’ll see what happens.

After leaving the jail, I went to the field to try to locate a person with 1:128 dilution blood that had just been released from another jail.  The person didn’t even know the results yet.  I had spoken with Stephanie at the jail this morning and she had given me the address and phone number, supposedly belonging to the patient’s uncle.  I had already called the number and left a message, so now, in the field, I hoped to be able to speak with the patient face to face.

Approaching the door, I wondered if this was really where the patient lived.  I am almost ashamed to say it, but the house did not fit the stereotypical house of a young, black male who was recently released from jail.  As it turned-out, the house was that of his girlfriend.  She, Nicole, answered the door, and to my question about whether or not Sammy lived there, she replied that he did.  After I learned that she was his girlfriend, I told her that both she and Sammy needed to come to the clinic.  Suddenly, Nicole’s face changed from a look of curiosity to one of fear.  Then, just as suddenly, she recognized me.  She said, “You came to my school and did a talk on STDs.  You’re from Maricopa….”

Nicole recognized me from the presentation I conducted at her school, The Center for Xxxxx, where my wife was serving her internship for the BSW program as ASU.  Nicole remembered the pictures of syphilis and gonorrhea.  The realization of who I was and what I represented slowly spread across her face.  She assured me that she and Sammy would be to the clinic that day, and they were.  Nicole ended-up having the infection and was treated the same day.  Sammy ended-up being the dog, having at least two other sex partners, completely unbeknownst to Nicole.

It’s now March 28, 1997, and I’m just now finishing this entry.  Nicole didn’t return to The Center for Xxxxx until just last week.  Five months have passed since she was there, working on her GED so she could become independent of her family’s support and get a job on her own.  Nicole never mentioned anything to my wife about that afternoon in November, she did, however, ask her to tell me “thank you.”  For several weeks after Nicole failed to return to The Center, my wife and I occasionally discussed the situation.  I had resolved to go past the house and check-in on her under the guise of follow-up for the syphilis.  I never made it to the house, and further, don’t know if that would have been a good thing to do or not.  Maybe things would have been too difficult for her in the face to face encounter that would have occurred in her doorway or in the front yard of her house.  At any rate, she is back in school and it’s almost time for me to get back to The Center for another STD presentation.  “Thank you” is a small reward, but in this job, it is often everything that we can hope for.  A few times in my almost eight years here with the county, a patient has ended-up dead, sliced to bits and tossed into a garbage dumpster after finding-out she had something and subsequently telling someone else of her situation.  I will take the “thank you” any day.  It means more to both Nicole and me than words can really describe.  Not that I thrive on the appreciation of my clients, it just doesn’t come often, and is, therefore, a real reward.  Thank you, Nicole.


Lulu and Martha – Two of a Kind

Here we go again….

April 4, 1997 – I went to Estrella Jail this morning to talk with two syphilis cases.  I found there, two very different, yet similar, individuals.  Mary Lou, who my partner, Sylvia, knows as “Lulu,” is 40yo and has been prostituting for 27 years.  She started this mess when she was 13yo.  Mary Lou was either kicked-out of the house or simply left at that age and started dancing at one of the clubs in town.  She said that she carried herself like a woman and convinced the manager that she was really 22yo.  He never asked for her ID.  Mary Lou said that as she was dancing, some of the guys would talk about how they wanted to do things with her.  She said, “That’s fine, but if you want to fuck me, you’re going to pay for it.”  That began her 28 year career as a prostitute in Phoenix.  She said that she is ready to retire, though.  She is just waiting for that golden watch so she can quit in style.  Mary Lou is very straight-forward, a characteristic which Sylvia says has always been hers.  They know each other from childhood.  Sylvia said that Lulu had always been the black-sheep of the family, her sisters would have relations with several people on the side, but Lulu would at least charge for it.  This lady said that it is too dangerous to be on the street anymore.  When she first started, a girl could go out on the street and within just a few hours, make about two hundred dollars and there was nothing to worry about.  There were no beatings and no worry that one of the dates would turn bad and kill you.  Now, she says, the money isn’t very good because there are so many girls on crack who will get fucked or suck someone’s dick for five or ten dollars, sometimes even less. And now, too, you have to worry about AIDS.  In the old days, the worst thing around was herpes.  Syphilis and gonorrhea could always be cured, but not herpes, and now, not AIDS.  So, Mary Lou wants to retire and move up to Globe and get a job, something she’s never had, maybe working at “Jack in the Crack,” she says.  Mary Lou is about five-five or six, weighs probably 155 or 165, big-breasted and flat-bottomed.  Her mouth is foul and full of the street.  She and I are both surprised that she has lived so long.  When I asked if she had any children, she said no, “He (looking upward) has taken care of that.”  She has had two miscarriages and one tubal pregnancy.  Mary Lou said that He knew what her life was like and took care not to allow her to have any kids.  That throws a twist into my picture of what God does and doesn’t allow.  I know another lady of the street, Von, AKA: Lepizia, who is my age and has eight children; had nine, she said.  Being only thirty-five with her oldest child turning 21 this year means that Von had her first baby when she was 14yo.  What does God allow and disallow?  Who can tell?

Anyway, Lulu is looking to change her life, and that is good, we agreed.  She has been smoking cocaine, pot, crack, and all other types of things for these many years.  Her mind seems to be all there.  The whole time we were talking, Lulu was hitting on me, asking if I was married, telling me that I looked fine.  She is a character who, in herself, is a whole book.  She said she is going to look me up when she gets out of jail in June.  I told her that she, Sylvia, and I could sit and talk for a while.

The next person I talked with at the jail today was a 20yo Hispanic girl named Martha.  After talking with Lulu and having a pleasant time, it appeared that things would be different with Martha.  She seemed sullen and removed, almost business-like when I began telling her why I was there, explaining her test results, etc.  She appeared to be the “typical” hard-nosed Chicana from the street.  Her eyes had the dark underlining that is common with some of the Hispanic girls.  Martha’s eyes were also beautiful, very dark, almost black.  She was missing her top front four teeth, which, I later learned, were lost in a car accident that she had when she was high on crack.  Only a steel cable had prevented her car from falling from the overpass at Van Buren Street and the freeway.  As it was, Martha lost those teeth and cut a big gash in her right eyebrow.  The doctors told her that she was in a coma for seven hours following the accident.  When I asked Martha how long she had been prostituting, she told me that she started when she was 14yo, so that has been six years.  I also asked Martha why she started selling herself and she explained that an aunt had given her a hit from a crack pipe when she was 13yo and she had to have it from then on.  So the prostitution was a way of “earning” the money to buy the crack.  Where was Mom at this point, or Dad, or anyone else who could have made a difference?  Mom left her when she was six years old and she was sent to live with her grandparents in Payson.  Martha explained that she had two different sides of her family.  One, she described as living off of food-stamps and welfare, the others were very well-off.  Her grandfather or uncle, I forget which, is a judge and is living very well.  These are the grandparents with whom she lived after her mom dumped her and ran off with a boyfriend and Martha’s older sister.  What does that tell a child, Mom ran off with sister and not you?  Well, her mom came back when she was 11yo, and deciding that she was old enough to “wipe her own ass,” as a friend put it to me, she took her with her, back into whatever life she had carved for herself.  This became the introduction into the life which she herself now lived, but being of her own mind, having a brain of her own, she said, she is responsible for everything that happens in her own life.  Nothing that has happened to her is anyone’s fault but her own, she said.  I countered that with the responsibility that her parents, mom or whomever had to her when she was only 13 and 14yo, should have prevented half of the shit that happened to her.  Well, she responded, she was witness to her mother’s boyfriend killing her mother’s brother when she was only 11yo.  She was the only witness and ended-up testifying against the boyfriend. The mother then hated her, accusing her of trying to ruin her life by taking away her man, rather, having him put away.  If this isn’t enough for one person to endure, two years later, Martha watched yet another boyfriend of Mom stab a man and woman to death who were tied into their chairs.  Where is God, I wondered?  I like angels and have thought that they truly exist, but in situations like this, I begin to wonder if I am not mistaken and there really are no celestial beings whose jobs it is to protect the innocent lives.  I am beginning to feel strongly that my wife is correct when she says that there is no God.  What loving God could allow this shit to happen?  Tell me, Child of God, where is He?  Martha spent five months in the state hospital for “crazy” people.  “Those people were really fuckin’ weird, talking to themselves all day.”  She said that she uses the crack so she doesn’t have to think.  I can’t blame her.  I asked her what she was going to do when she gets out in August, the day after my birthday, and she said that she doesn’t know.  I said that she had been here for two months already and she hadn’t yet figured it out?  She said that her mind is just now beginning to get straight.  Martha said she was so sick from the drugs that she was down to 112 pounds.  She is five-feet eight-inches tall…and she was down to 112lbs.  She said that she has gained about 40 pounds since being locked-up and eating three times a day.  She wants to go back to the street because she is more comfortable there.  “People baby me,” she said.  Everything she needs is there and it is exciting.  She would go stay with her grandparents, but it is too boring up there.  Her grandfather did promise her, though, that if she stayed there for a little while, he would pay to get her teeth replaced, so she is considering that heavily.  As I sat there listening to Martha tell me things that had nothing to do with my syphilis investigation, I couldn’t help but just stare into her eyes, realizing how absolutely beautiful she is.  It is such a fucking shame that her life has come to this.  I know it isn’t over, by far, but where is it going?  She graduated from eighth-grade in Adobe Mountain, the state facility for juveniles.  She has never had a job and she has a two year old daughter who lives with the biological father.  When I was questioning Martha about the one steady contact that she has, a somewhat, but not really, boyfriend, she said that she knows he loves her, and she even admits to herself that she loves him, but she refuses to tell him.  She said that if she did let him know in words that she loves him, that is when things would fall apart. I suggested that this might be something that she really needs, to be loved and to love somebody back.  Martha agreed, hesitantly, but confessed that it is something that she doesn’t want to do.  She added that her boyfriend is probably the best thing for her, but he is too nice to her and she wants someone to keep her in her place.  Not someone who is going to be mean to her, mind you, but someone who is more assertive than she is.  She says that he’s always kissin’ her ass, trying to make her happy.  When I asked if something was wrong with that, she said that she didn’t know, but she probably should try to be with him.  The interview ended with her thanking me for making sure she doesn’t get any more shots in the ass, as the nurses had planned, and me wondering what was going to befall this beautiful young girl.  Life sure is fucked-up sometimes.


Don’t Make Me Come Looking for You

I found this in the file-cabinet the other day…from April, 1997….

We accuse our children, when they are little, of having over-active imaginations when they tell us that there really are bad creatures hiding beneath their beds or clinging to the insides of the curtains when we are finally able to turn-out their bedroom lights in the evening, but how much better are we, when suddenly, one of our kids isn’t where he is supposed to be at a given time?  How fast do our minds race when we are contemplating all of the horrible ends that they may have come to?  Unfortunately, we as parents have the unwelcomed luxury of knowing that our imaginations have every right to be over-active, given the headlines that our minds absorb every morning over that first cup of coffee.  Right, nothing will ever happen to our kid, he’s simply too smart to be taken by some stranger.  The world is too messed-up for our minds not to race.

He wasn’t in front of the library which could only mean that he was still at the school which was less than a block away.  I raced the engine of my little Toyota and headed-out of the drive-by loop of the library and bounced down the curb on my way back to the school.  Damn me if I sought relief, thinking surely he’s going to be there.  We had arranged to pick him up at 4pm and it was now 5:30 and he was nowhere to be seen.  What the hell was he thinking when he walked away, or was driven away from where he was supposed to be?  Seeing that the school was essentially deserted, I drove back to the library, impatiently slowing at the one stop-sign and giving a glance to the musicians playing in the parking lot of the coffee shop.  I sped through the drive-by loop in front of the building and grabbed a parking space.  Thankfully, there was one close so I didn’t have to walk further.  I was undecided as to whether I was angry or not.  I did know that my step carried fear as I hauled-ass into the library’s opening corridor.  I quickly glanced up toward the glass elevators and saw nobody that I knew.  The security guard just looked at me as I thought of asking him if he had recently seen a rather long-haired, blonde boy, skinny, carrying a green book-bag over his shoulder and a trombone case in the other hand.  Of course he just looked at me.  There is a performing arts school just around the corner and half of the kids who go there come here after school.  My developing rage didn’t allow me to be still enough to ask the man anything.  I feared that he wouldn’t know what a trombone case looked like anyway.  “What was he wearing today,” the policeman asked me in my imagination as I rode the elevator to the fifth floor.  “I don’t know,” I responded.  “I haven’t seen him yet today.”  He told me goodbye as I lay in bed on my day off.  The boy’s mom took him to school, but knowing him, he is probably wearing a pair of blue jeans that needs to be washed and a striped shirt.  The colors of the stripes don’t matter.  He is about this tall and has long hair – “to here,” I would point at my shoulder.

 The empty or busy faces coming my way hadn’t seen him either; you could just tell.  They were too busy talking to their friends to notice the fear that was forming on my brow.  None of the kids I saw were familiar.  You could tell that the lady at the information desk knew nothing that would be of help to me.  She looked like she was part of the desk, unmoving, unblinking in my glance.

We stopped at the second floor for the little black boy and the taller black woman with the business look to her dress and face to get off the elevator.  Just me and my thoughts now were being carried to the top floor.  They say it is the largest reading-room of any library in the country.  I thought of that, too, as I made my way down the left central aisle.  The largest one in the country hopefully holds my sleeping son in one of its study chairs.  It has in the past.  The fart was late coming outside for me to get him after school.  I had waited for 20 minutes past the pick-up time before I finally went up the same elevator to the same fifth floor and found him sleeping, head on his pillow arm, crashed and dead to the world.  Today he wasn’t there, though.  Goddammit!!  Where now?!  Will I find him torn to shreds, his blood splattered all over the bathroom floor if I go in there?  No, the doors were open and an unconcerned couple of boys came out as I walked past.  There was no blood spattering on their faces and their Nikes tracked-out no tell-tale footprints on the blue high-traffic carpet.

Up and down the aisles, north end, now south end.  The News Channel 12 helicopter still sat on its pad just south of the building, so I knew it wasn’t involved in spotting for our television audience the car that held my unconscious boy that was being chased by a veritable legion of police cars.  It was a legion.  A guy called the office the other day saying he had legions on his penis.  No, they were lesions.  The man in the line to check-out his books had a briefcase like mine.  Is he hiding my son in there?  Did he show him my briefcase and tell my son that he had to go with him because I needed his help?  How do I know where these thoughts are coming from?  They’re just there.  My son isn’t where he is supposed to be and I’m scared.  A week or so ago some freak started rubbing my son’s leg as he sat on a church wall grieving over a bird that one of our cats had mauled to death.  So, forgive me if I’m concerned.  I doubt that I really saw anybody as I searched the second floor of the library.  I remembered that one of the doors had been open at the school, so someone was probably still there that may have seen him.  I bounded down the two flights of stairs, feeling my fat stomach jiggle with each step.  I’ve got to lose weight and get in shape.  I thought the same thing a couple weeks ago as I was chasing the asshole that was hitting on my son.  I just couldn’t run fast enough and I was wondering if I was going to get there in time. 

The steps held and I made it outside, past the unknowing security guard and back into the Toyota.  I thought about what a mess I’d be in if the car wouldn’t start and I had to go looking for my lost son on foot.  I’d have to ask the cops for a ride home and then what would happen?  My face was glistening with sweat as I got to the car.  Unconsciously, I had chewed a hole in the side of my cheek as I was touring the fifth floor of the library.  Consciously now, hours later, it hurts.  Adrenaline and disregard for self allowed me to bang my head on the car-frame without too much pain as I hurried to get going over to the school.  Where is he?!  WHERE is he?!  Dammit!!  How many times have we told him to just stay where he’s supposed to be if I’m not there right on time?  How many times have we told him not to make us come looking for him?  The rule in our house: “Be here on time.  Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there!  Every time!”  If you’re not there, then I know something is wrong.  Don’t worry about me, I’ll be there.  I will get you, every time – so just STAY there!

I smell onions on my fingers now as I twist the raw edges of my moustache.  While I was racing through the library, I smelled its characteristic smell.  I haven’t been able to identify what it is yet, but it’s the library.  I can smell it on my son all of the way home on some winter days.  When it has been too cold to open the car windows to have the scent blown out of his hair, I could smell it for the full 20 miles on the way home.

The young drama teacher just kept talking on the phone as I stepped up to the counter in the school office.  I stood there for five seconds waiting for him to realize that a parent shouldn’t be standing at the office counter more than an hour and a half after school was dismissed.  Pardon me if you’re on the phone!  Just tell me if you’ve seen my son!  He never asked, I never told.  Down the hall, the lady was cleaning the floors, of course she’s black; it should be a white woman.  Will it ever change?  Down the hall further, past the open door to the girls restroom with that one really tall full-figured girl standing in front of the mirror with her hands over her head holding her hair in a bun talking to some other girl, I imagine it’s a girl, as I pass.  Is there a pink light in there?  No, he’s not at the other end of the hall either.  He’s not on the parking-lot side of the church school building.  Just where is he?  Back down the hall, racing my reflection in the large windows to my left, searching for his sometimes childish self out in the courtyard, where he could be standing behind a tree.  He’s 14yo now and should realize that this isn’t the time to play.

The good Doctor Lady is in the office; no, she hasn’t seen him this afternoon, “During the day, yes, of course, but not since school got out.”  Well, my wife called from a pay phone, said she looked all over for him and he isn’t to be found, I told her.  I drove down there to find him and I can’t.  Have you seen him, where is he?!  Can I use your phone?  “Sure, just pick-up the line and dial out.”  Nathan, is Caleb home, did he call?  “Yes, Mom said she’s got him.  She told me to tell you to just come home.”  Just come home.  Drive 20 miles home, alone, calm down.  It’s ok.  He’s home.  It’s ok.  He’s ok, really, he’s fine.  That’s good.

So, here I am sitting in the tub with my clothes on, the philodendron plant is resting on my shoulder as I write this, bouncing with each new word that leaves the pen to find its eternal home on this yellow page.  The fan in the toilet-room needs to be replaced, as it’s making that rackety noise that the other one made before it died.  My fingers still smell like onions, somehow, and I can feel my left eye burning where I scratched it as I tried to rub out that allergy itch earlier.  My ears are ringing with their familiar cicada song and the chains hanging from the ceiling fan in the bedroom are swirling like they’re doing a belly dance…and my not-lost son is downstairs with his brothers and sister and mom.


Thirsty for a Glass of Milk

The patients were unremarkable on that particular day, July 17, 1996; however, there was one older man who we treated for secondary syphilis that might be worth mentioning.  He was roughly fifty years old and lived around 15th Avenue and Tonto.  When describing the situation of his meetings with the unknown people with whom he had sex, he said that it is similar to being thirsty in the middle of the night and going to the refrigerator for a glass of milk.  It was that simple.  He just goes out to the street, finds some female walking past and asks if she’s interested in having sex.  Of course, there are a few dollars that must change hands, and given that this wasn’t one of the more posh districts of town, there were literally only a “few” dollars that must be exchanged.  The prostitutes in this part of Phoenix did not require much in exchange for their wares, five to ten dollars, sometimes as much as twenty dollars, was all that one must have to find a willing sex partner on or near West Buckeye Road.  Any amount would help them get what they needed in the way of rock cocaine.  With the fee paid, they got down to business.  They cleared a spot on the alley floor, consummated the act, redressed, and went about their respective ways; the woman continued down the sidewalk and the older man turned the corner and walked back to his house.  Free enterprise, supply and demand, capitalism at its finest.  Thirsty for a glass of milk in the middle of the night….


What kind of day would it have been…?

I wonder what kind of day it would have been if it didn’t start with reading about a five year-old who died in her sleep…if I didn’t have to wonder if it was just a biological failing of her body, given that she was on a feeding-tube and had serious medical issues to begin with…or if maybe the caretaker, parent, mom, or whomever, had used a pillow during the child’s sleep to make sure she didn’t wake again.  The fire department transported her, with a police car following…and then the officer stood-by to relay the status update to his sergeant…so we would know if they needed to roll homicide detectives…just in case.  I wonder what kind of day it would have been if the next notification I received wasn’t that some adult child found their parent dead in their bedroom with their body wedged between the bed and the night-stand…or if another message that I received hadn’t told me about the dead body that the city’s building inspector found when he was making a visit to one of the apartment complexes in town…or that one of the fire department’s truck-crews was on its way to the grocery store to buy their shift’s food for the day and found a dead body laying somewhere…just laying there, out in the freaking middle of the day on a sidewalk or in the greenbelt between the lanes of traffic…or if the dispatcher hadn’t needed to tell me that an officer was assaulted by some guy he had pulled-over for blowing through a school zone….

I wonder what kind of day it would have been if another dispatcher hadn’t told me that there was a “real” unknown-trouble hot call being worked on the central tactical frequency…the caller, of which, had reported that he found a Navigator in the parking lot that had blood all over the driver-side door and steering wheel and seat.  Oh yeah, and about an hour ago he had seen a 50-some year-old white guy walking behind the buildings carrying a bloody bed comforter.  What kind of day would it have been if we didn’t end-up finding that 50-some year-old white guy with seven bullet holes in his chest…and then sent officers to the Navigator’s registered-owner’s house in another city to talk with the man’s wife…to check on her and then ask about her shot husband….  “He left for work a couple hours ago…maybe a little later than usual…yeah, he works around such-and-such an area.”  The officers thanked her for her time and then made some phone calls back to our dispatcher and patrol supervisors.  A little while later, the officers went back to the man’s house and asked his wife if they could come in and take a look around.  “Sure…come on in.”  They found blood and….  What kind of day would it have been, if when the medical center called the woman to come down to identify her husband’s body…it hadn’t taken her two hours to get down there…to learn that her husband had been shot seven times and taken two bullets directly in the heart…and then managed to drive from his home in that other city to his work-place in the middle of our city…what kind of day would it have been?

When a different neighboring city’s dispatchers called us and asked that we check a certain vehicle leaving their city and coming into our city with four or five people inside who didn’t want to be inside, but were being driven against their will out and around and wherever…and we broadcast the information and an officer thought he was behind the vehicle and many more officers arrived to watch and follow and help when and how they could…and somehow that vehicle turned in front of or behind and into an alley or neighborhood and parked in some dark invisible place and we lost them and didn’t know where they could be…but those four or five people had dark skin and said they had been kidnapped…what kind of day would it have been if that hadn’t happened?

Later that afternoon, what kind of day would it have been if we hadn’t come across a drop-house, a den or lair of human coyotes who steal and smuggle and rape and kill and extort and abuse people who trusted them to bring them to a better life across a river and imaginary boundary that exists on maps and in minds…and officers set an inner and outer perimeter to catch all of the fleeing coyotes when they ran…and we caught four bad-guys and rescued four good guys and gals and called ICE to come and get “their” people….

And what kind of day would it have been if a caller hadn’t found that little two year-old wandering the street in his diaper and striped tennis-shoes…hadn’t called us and said “Please come get this baby…yes, I’ll stay here until you get here, I couldn’t just drive by and not stop”…like so many people do sometimes.

What kind of day would it have been if the young man hadn’t called to tell us that his friend was going to kill himself…had a gun and was going to do it…and was going to leave the apartment door unlocked for us…what kind of day would it have been if he hadn’t refused to come out of the apartment when we got there…if he would have just come out on his own…but no, we had to call it a barricade and call-out the dogs and the SWAT guys and restrict the channel so the dispatcher didn’t have to work any other traffic…just listen to me…to us, as we work this mess…all for a guy who wanted to die, but was too chicken or too undecided to do it after telling everyone that he was going to…and we set-up our police camp and command-post outside his door and around the corner and pretended that there was a real boogey-man inside who was a threat to himself and others and we were coming to protect the “others” from him in case he decided not to hurt himself, but them.  What kind of day would it have been if we had packed our shit and just walked and driven away from that guy who didn’t want to come out…?

What kind of day would it have been if the mom or dad or aunt or grown cousin of that little diaper and tennis-shoe clad two year-old had come looking for him so we didn’t have to place him with Child Protective Services…if they had even noticed he was gone?

What kind of day would it have been if that other neighbor hadn’t called us to tell us that a woman was chasing her eight year-old son through the apartment complex holding a knife in one hand and a belt in the other…running and yelling “Get back here, you little shit-head…I’m gonna beat yo ass!”  What kind of day would it have been?  “I don’t think she’s right in the head,” the caller told the 9-1-1 operator.  She had left her one year-old and six year-old kids in the apartment as she ran and chased her older son.  An officer cleared after a bit and asked that we roll the counselor/crisis-team van from the fire department to take care of the other kids.

And what kind of day would it have been if there weren’t constant and insistent messages flashing on my computer screen all fucking day long about police needing to come to this school and that, this hospital and that hospital or this aunt’s house or grandmother’s house or CPS worker’s office to take this report and that report about some loved one or trusted one or some stranger or some assistant coach hitting or bruising or fondling or fucking some child who was just going about their days and lives trying to be a kid over the weekend or last week and he’s still got bruises…and the 16 year-old girl woke-up this morning and she was naked and groggy and it was burning and hurting between her legs and she doesn’t know what happened or how she got where she was and she just called her mom and she called us…and the Spanish-speaking father called us to say that his 14 year-old son was walking home from the store and a truck full of Mexicans had pulled-over and grabbed him into the truck and then stole his cell phone and wallet and had beat him and touched him “down there” and…what kind of day would it have been if another dad hadn’t called to report that he found text-messages on his 17 year-old son’s cell phone talking about how he was having sex with the dad’s 26 year-old girlfriend…what kind of day would it have been?

And those were just some of the things that happened in only eight hours of a single Monday at 9-1-1 and police dispatch…just one shift…in the fifth or sixth largest city in the country….


Exposed

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 –

Hello?

“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….