A Modest Proposal

It has been many months since the American people saw a wave of youthful illegal immigrants break upon our southern border.  Thousands upon thousands of children were swept up in the near vicinity of our borders and were warehoused in whatever large buildings were available to lay down a steel bed, a cot, or a pad on the floor.  There they passed their time, with virtually nothing to do as they sat idly biding their time while politicians fought over why they were here and what to do with them.  These children may still be in those soulless warehouses but we have moved our national attention on to weightier issues; ISIS, the midterm elections, the four-team NCAA football playoffs to name a few, so I don’t really know.

This status somewhere between life and death comes after a nearly two thousand mile trek in which rape is guaranteed, exploitation in all conceivable ways is assured, hunger, thirst, physical abuse and sometimes death are common.  The level of despair endured by parents that would induce them to entrust their precious children to the tender mercies of demonic ‘coyotes’ who run the immigrant railway from Central and South America through Mexico, and who then throw their children at the border like shooting a shotgun, figuring that a few might get through to burnish their coyote credibility, is a level of despair which I cannot even begin to assess.  I would do anything I could to alleviate this level of suffering, and I believe that there is a way that I can suggest to at least try to help some of the sufferers.  I can do that by making the following proposal.

The nation which consistently holds second place for sending immigrants towards ‘El Norte’ is El Salvador.  The reason is easy to see.  Crime and violence and hopelessness are the very bread that Salvadorans eat.  The power of violent street gangs, known as ‘Maras’, is far greater than that of the police and other government agencies which are tasked with ensuring tranquility and an environment in which a parent might raise his or her children and hope to enjoy their children’s families in their old age.  Sudden and purposeless death are regular visitors to Salvadoran households and cleaver and creative ways of dealing out public and painful deaths are common and even recreational activities for the Maras.  The government treats with the gangs in the same manner in which governments normally treat with other governments, and the police and law enforcement establishment are thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by the Maras.

This is couples with a government which discourages any foreign investors who might be foolish enough to try to engage in honest business (if there is such a thing) in El Salvador.  International business has virtually ceased trying to invest there, and take their business and their money elsewhere.  If I lived in El Salvador, I would try to make it to El Norte too.

My proposal is to examine whether or not it would make sense to offer to the people of El Salvador the opportunity to become an unincorporated territory of the United States in the same manner as Puerto Rico.  Under the U.S. legal system, even with it’s flaws, crime would be challenged head-on and an effective counter to the power of the Maras would at last be visible on the streets.  Realizing that the Maras are attractive to young people because opportunities for advancement are not available in other areas, a revamp of openness to foreign investment, plus investment from a Unites States which would no longer be foreign, would expand job opportunities and give young people jobs which do not include the possibility, nay probability, of dying a violent and premature death.  The infusion of input into the education system to train young people to fill the new jobs would also result in the production of Salvadoran jurists, educators, writers and scientists; people who would use their skills to benefit their people and, beyond them the world.

Is my idea sheer madness?  Possibly.  It is the result however of my revulsion that I feel when I consider the pain which Salvadoran parents must feel when they kiss their children goodbye and send them to hell in order to escape the even greater hell of remaining in El Salvador.  If I have the ability to help somebody and do not help them, I bring judgement upon my own head and richly deserve it.  What do you think?

It’s a Lion, and I Aint Lyin

March of 1977 saw my brief return to northern California after a few months of playing the construction gypsy in New Mexico and Colorado.  My friend Wes and I tried our luck in New Mexico first but the construction standards were very poor there, at least with the contractors we worked for, and that combined with the footloose place in life which Wes and I both occupied at that time led us to throw our tools into the back of our respective vehicles and head north to Colorado.  We did this with almost empty pockets, since we had just returned from Mexico where we both had spent our last dimes.  Wes had worked in Colorado before and was certain that we could get on with somebody quickly upon reaching that land of promise.

We left Albuquerque after breakfast one morning and arrived in Fort Collins Colorado in the early evening.  We purchased a couple of bottles of wine and went to the dormitory residence of two girls whom Wes had known on his first pass through this territory several months earlier.  The ladies broke out glasses and opened the wine while Wes looked up contractors’ phone numbers in the Yellow Pages and called them from the dormitory phone, looking for work.  Wes’ word was sound and before the wine was gone we had work in Greeley, which is about thirty minutes drive away from Fort Collins.  We thanked the ladies for the use of their telephone and drove through the night towards the construction site in Greeley, where we would spend our first night in Colorado sleeping in our vehicles.  I unrolled my down sleeping bag that had been state of the art long ago, and stretched out as much as my six-foot frame would allow on the bench seat of my Ford truck.

That night was cold.  We had arrived in Colorado at the end of January and the temperatures trended towards the teens at night.  I slept fitfully that night, awakening frequently and rising up to peek into the black eastern sky, hoping to see some sort of glow on the horizon announcing the end of the seemingly endless night.  Seeing no such glow I would change positions and try to return to sleep, to pass the night more quickly as much as to gain refreshment for the next day’s work.

While I lay there my mind drifted to the realities of my recent past and the hope for my near future.  My first marriage had ended in May of the previous year and I lay on the seat reflecting on how my fortunes had changed.  My warm bed next to a wife in my own home in northern California where I co-owned a drywall company with one friend had been traded for a cold and lonely bed in the cab of my truck with another friend sleeping in his Mazda parked next to me waiting for daylight so that we could work for somebody else.  The funny thing is that apart from the lingering sadness over the demise of my marriage, a sadness mitigated by the woman in Albuquerque who I had met and who within a year would become my second and last wife (a condition which Happily continues to this day), I was not the least bit disconsolate.  I tend to take the view that things can always be worse and look for a bright side.

The bright side came at last in the eastern sky and before very long Wes and I were lifting heavy sheets of drywall and nailing them into place, and hit up the boss for a draw against our first day’s labor so that we could secure the comfort of a $10 per night fleabag motel room.  It wasn’t much but it contained a shower and two beds, which was all i really needed after a night of shivering in a cramped position in the cab of my truck.

This began our brief climb to prosperity in Fort collins.  With our first week’s pay we rented a higher order of motel accommodation, one with two rooms for sleeping and a tiny kitchen, and opened bank accounts to hold the money that we knew would soon be flowing in.  When we were not working we were looking for the apartment that we would rent to move us further towards respectability.  And then this rosy picture began to fade.  I do not know if there was a prejudice against California workers or if our work was just not up to Colorado standards (we did OK everywhere else, but who knows?), but the jobs dropped off and we began to go through the money that we had already made.  Whatever the cause, we had no interest in either starving or begging so we threw our tools into our vehicles once again and drove back to northern California where my old partner had promised us work.  And that is how I ended up back in my old home town hanging drywall all day and trying to drink all of the beer in Sonoma county; a combination I had tried before and which had contributed to the end of my marriage.

Wes and I were in Santa Rosa for three months and it was in that time that we were sent to do a remodel job at a residence in the semi-rural area north of the city.  We pulled into the driveway and got out to knock on the door and introduce ourselves.  Both husand and wife were at home and took us to see where the work needed to be done.  We walked around the back of the house to where a garage and porch were being enclosed and converted to living space.  Wes and I took stock of the scene and quickly noted an adequate supply of drywall and nails, a mix of new wood and old, the latter of which would be rock hard and certain to bend many nails, and in a cage directly behind the project – a fujll grown male African lion!

I have known people who keep exotic pets; rats, snakes, tarantulas, etc.  I tended to not spend much time in the houses of those people.  Lions, however, are of a different order of magnitude.  One reads or sees reports in the news of people who keep pythons and alligators and apes and other such creatures.  Many times we learn of these people when a large snake or alligator escapes or is released when it gets too large to feed or safely live with, or when a chimpanzee ripps somebody’s face off. The point is, these exotic creatures oftentimes end up being more problem than pet.  What was this homeowner thinking when he acquired a male African lion for a pet?  I can only guess, but I can tell you the story of that lion as far as it touches me.

Wes and I thought and spoke about that lion all day, and at lunch we sat out by the lion’s cage.  All the time that I sat there eating my deviled ham sandwiches and chips that tawny, straw-colored beast sat silently on his side of the bars looking at me in the same way that I looked at my sandwich.  That broad feline nose measuring six or seven inches across, the great shaggy mane that made me think so much of Tina Turner, the long sharp teeth all made me nervous as we sat just a little further than a paw’s reach away.

The most unsettling feature however was the eyes.  They did not blink, at least not when I was watching.  Measuring probably an inch and a half in visible diameter and amber-colored just like the lion’s coat, those eyes just stared at me impassively, communicating to me the message that I did not have a history, I did not have a personality, I did not have hopes or dreams.  I did not work as a drywall hanger or have a mother or father.  To that lion the totality of my existence could be summed up in one word:  Dinner.

This did not appear to be the case with the lion’s owner.  This mad man entered the cage and fed and then roughhoused with the lion the way that I would play with my pet cat.  The lion did not make any kind of threatening move towards its owner, and that was a very dangerous thing for Wes and me.  Both of us enjoy telling a story, and waving before us the possibility of being able to tell the story of standing in a cage with a lion was like throwing red meat to, well, a lion.  Wes and I both declared early on that we intended to do this very thing.

As the day wound down and we finished our part of the construction job the time came to poop or get off of the pot.  Wes and I stored our tools in my truck and returned to stand outside of the cage, working up the courage – or stupidity – to take our step inside the cage.  The owner went in again to stand next to his lion and told us we could come in one at a atime.  I looked into those eyes again and they had not changed; still without passion, without soul, without pity.  I then looked up at the eyes of the owner.  They were not as malevolent as those of the lion, but they did nook a little bit demented.  Hell, little bit?  The guy was standing in a cage next to a lion!  I had seen “Psycho”.  I had read “The Island of Doctor Moreau”.  I had no guarantee that the owner was any less dangerous than the lion.

I signaled my decision to decline the offer to make myself a snack for Leo and the torch was passed to Wes.  Wes seemed to be even more drawn to the magnet of being able to tell this story than I was and I could see him wavering before the barred door.  Wes wanted to go in so bad he could taste it but some vestige of common sense, and perhaps the image of my own crazy self not taking the lunge, worked on him to the point that he declined the offer as well.

But Wes couldn’t quite leave it completely alone.  The lion hadn’t actually done anything aggressive; no roars, no growls, no swats with those huge paws.  Maybe it would be safe to reach in and touch the lion.  Who do you know that can say that they’ve done that?  Wes extended his hand slowly, aiming to touch the long hair of the lion’s mane and the lion, in a move that looked like the intersection between a cobra and silk, effortlessly, efficiently, and very quickly flicked his head to the side and took a nip at Wes’ finger.

Wes howled and jumped back, holding a hand which now sported a finger missing a chunk of meat.  A string of ungentlemanly swear words issued forth in front of the owner’s wife, but I suspected she had heard them before.  The owner emerged from the cage expressing sympathy but there seemed to be a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of his lips.  A bandage was offered but I kepty some in our first aid kit and we elected to put an exclamation point at the end of this particular sentence, and gert as far away from that lion as we could just as quickly as we could.

To Serve and Protect, Part III

The year 1976 saw my last encounter of a negative nature with any law enforcement agency.  Four and one half years had passed since my case of mistaken identity had occurred in El Cajon, California.  Clarice and I were married a year and a half later and three years after that were divorced.  During that time I gave up my quest to earn a bachelor’s degree and formed a construction company with a friend in northern California, and poured half of my time and almost all of my energy into making it a success.  The plan was working but my wife grew tired and bored with lying around at home waiting for a hungry, tired, and frankly self-centered husband to come home late nearly every day and ignore her for the period of time between dinner and bed.

The separation and divorce were amicable but nevertheless painful in an extreme, and over the stretch of the next seven months my previous dedication to a plan was now traded for a new dedication to forgetting my problems.  My self-centeredness continued unabated and, if anything, grew.  Those seven months were filled with parties and childish antics and pranks and two dangerous episodes in which I could well have gotten myself shot.  One of my lapses in judgement was when I lent my drivers license to my twenty year old roommate Ralph so that he could go to a bar one night, and forgot to retrieve it before one morning when I woke up disgusted with my life, threw a few necessary items into my truck, and headed towards Albuquerque where I proposed to start over.

The new plan was that I should stay at my brothers house until my friend Wes could join me a day or two later, at which time we would run off to a seaport in Mexico, board any freighter going to Saudi Arabia, and get rich working in the oil fields.  The story of that fool’s errand may be read in my earlier tale entitled “Do You Know The Way To Veracruz, Parts I-III”.  Wes duly arrived and we both camped out on my brother’s living room floor while we made our plans for our getaway.

Before we boarded any Polish freighter to Saudi Arabia however, my brother Brad was determined to show us some of the New Mexico that he loved.  The first part of that New Mexico was the package store at the Piggly Wiggly Market on Isleta and Rio Bravo where we purchased and made considerable damage to a couple of cases of Budweiser Beer.  All three of us considered ourselves to be accomplished drinkers who could “hold our liquor”, whatever that means, but the next morning I had one of the more monumental hangovers of my adult life.  Brad proposed a trip about an hour north to the spectacular city of Santa Fe.  Wes was up for it and I, with head pounding and stomach doing cartwheels, agreed to come along.

We saddled up in Brad’s little Japanese sedan, I do not remember which model, loaded up a cooler with the remaining beer, and headed east on Rio Bravo towards the Interstate leading north to Santa Fe.  Brad and Wes already had two of the Budweisers open by the time we got to the freeway and several more downed by the time we got to Santa Fe.  Brad and Wes enjoyed what must have been a wonderful meal – most meals in Santa Fe and indeed all of New Mexico are wonderful – but my head and stomach were still locked in mortal combat and I only ate some chips and drank some water or iced tea or something like that.

We turned the car south after their meal and took a two lane road behind the Sandia Mountains, through quaint mining villages and high desert valleys and finally joined up with the Interstate highway that had replaced Route 66.  Just before merging onto that highway Brad pulled the car over and announced that he was to inebriated to safely continue driving (an understatement, probably).  Wes was equally soused so the lot fell to me, being the only sober body in the car, to drive the rest of the way home.

Things began successfully enough with me putting the car into gear and nosing it into traffic.  Soon we were speeding west through Tijeras Canyon and onto Central Avenue in Albuquerque.  I don’t remember how we came to be stopped behind a line of traffic at a street light with Brad deciding that we should be going in the opposite direction.  I assume that a tankful of Budweiser might have had something to do with it.  There we were however with a couple of double yellow lines between where we were and where we wanted to go.

“Make a U-turn” said Brad.  “I can’t do that here” I replied.  “That’s not just a double yellow line, it’e two double yellow lines”.  “They don’t care about that stuff here” said Brad.  “There’s a lot bigger fish to fry here in Albuquerque than people making U-turns.  Go ahead.  They don’t really care.”

I was not at all convinced but Brad knew Albuquerque and I did not, so when the first break in the traffic came I punched the gas pedal and spun the steering wheel and flew across the multitude of yellow lines painted on the asphalt of that Albuquerque street; right in front of a patrol car of the Albuquerque Police Department.  It didn’t take long at all for me to learn that the Albuquerque Police Department really did, in fact, care.

The lights went on and the utterly idiotic first impulse of Brad and Wes was that I should somehow outrace or loose the cop.  The probability of this being successfully accomplished hovered somewhere between the Pope not being Catholic and pigs flying.  I turned down a side street and traveled maybe half a block before I announced “screw it, I’m stopping”.  I rolled up next to the curb, shut down the engine, placed my hands on the steering wheel and waited for the policeman to walk up to the driver’s side window.

“Can I see your license and registration” he asked.  “I can show you the registration” I said as Brad was pulling it out of the glove box.  “But I don’t have my license”.  “And where might your license be?” asked the officer.  I saw no advantage to be gained by telling him the truth and instead said “I just moved here from California and I lost it somewhere between there and here.”  I suppose that there was a grain of truth in that story.  I really had just move from California and I really did lose it in the “there” part of that equation.  I went on to tell him my sob story of the last year (not the last time I would use that strategy, and sometimes to good effect) and told him that I intended to get a New Mexico license at my earliest opportunity.

The patrolman was impressed with my tale of woe but decided that he did after all have to take me downtown.  It had been obvious that my first impulse had been to evade him and the officer felt the need to check and see if I was wanted anywhere for anything.  This was before the era of the computer, and such background checking took time.

“Can we work this thing out right here?” asked Wes as he was extracting his wallet and thumbing through some bills in it.  “Looks like I have eighty dollars here.  Maybe we can just clear up our misunderstanding without going to all this trouble?”  The patrolman put the stink eye on Wes and said “I am going to pretend that I misunderstand you, and I advise you not to try to clarify your previous statement.  Why don’t you put that wallet back into your pocket and drive home.  Mr. Durden here and I are going to take a drive downtown.”

And downtown we went.  As with my other encounters with policemen, this young officer was polite and as we proceeded towards headquarters we spoke of my sad story and other things.  He listened sincerely, and I believe that by the time we arrived at our destination he was convinced that I was neither a bank robber nor a serial killer.  Still, rules are rules and form had to be followed.  I was fingerprinted, photographed while holding a tray full of numbers below my chin, and placed in a cell to wait for the necessary phone calls to be made and for Brad to come and bail me out.  Knowing how Brad’s wife Ginny would receive the news of the day”s activities I wondered if I would be bailed out at all.

The cell was pretty much what you see in the movies; metal benches bolted into concrete walls behind gray steel bars.  The clang of that steel door closing and the clunk of the lock was the stuff of nightmares.  Inches away was the world where you can live your life in freedom, to one degree or another.  On my side of the bars freedom was just a cruel memory.  You were captive, you had no freedom in any degree.  Your very life depended upon somebody else’s pleasure.  I was in hell.

I sat down on the bench and leaned back against the concrete wall trying to look bored, as if I had done this a dozen times before.  Being a rookie in the slammer does not always guarantee a good time.  Not for the rookie anyway.  Without looking obvious I scanned the other occupants with whom I shared the cell.  It was a scurvy lot of about a dozen who looked like life had not been especially kind to them.  With my long hair, beard, and overall scruffy construction worker look I fit in with the crowd to some degree.  There was however one fellow who did not seem to belong there at all.  He was white, middle age, dressed in a sort of tacky used car salesman sort of way (with apologies to any used car salesmen reading this story) who was running his mouth about how people in America should speak English, and if they don’t know how they should learn it.  I suspect that the only reason he survived his evening in the pokey, assuming that he DID survive his evening there, is because half of the guys in that cell had no idea what he was saying and the other half weren’t listening and just wanted him to shut up.  He was still alive when my stay at the Graybar Hilton came to an end, but I would hesitate to wager on how the rest of his evening went.

The end of my ordeal came about two hours after it began.  The police in the northern California city where I had previously lived had no outstanding warrants for me and Brad arrived to pay the ridiculously low $20 fee to spring me loose.  My wallet and belt were returned to me and quickly I was breathing free air once again.  I knew however that one battle had been won but another remained to be fought.

“I know that Ginny is going to be pissed” I said.  “I think that Wes and I should get a motel room”.  “No, not at all” Brad lied.  “Ginny wants you to come back to our place.  She understands that it was just a mistake”.  I knew that Ginny would not be mad about the license thing.  For me to be driving when everyone else was alcoholically impaired was the smartest thing that I could have been doing  under the circumstances, which makes one wonder how we ever would have thought of doing it in the first place.  What drove Ginny crazy was the way that Brad became somebody different when we were together, and how the tenuous hold that either of us had on good sense when we were apart evaporated instantly once we were together.  This made Ginny furious and always there was this thing which separated her and I, and we were never really able to close that gap.

I slept on Brad’s living room floor that night, but within a couple of days Wes and I had done a little construction work, made a payday, and departed for Veracruz to find that freighter that would float us away to find our fortune in the Arabian sands.  I never heard from the Albuquerque Police Department again.  Apparently my brother’s $20 was adequate to whatever administrative needs were generated by my brief incarceration, or maybe the clerk just pocketed the Ben Franklins and called it square.  I don’t know.  There is one thing that I do know with crystal clarity however.  The police in Albuquerque really DO care.

To Serve and Protect, Part II

In the spring of 1972 I moved into an apartment in downtown El Cajon, California, with my long time friend Wes and Clarice, my future first wife. I was now three years out of the Army and any evidence of the smoothly shaved and close cropped soldier who accepted his discharge papers and flew home one spring day in 1969 had long since vanished. I had cut neither hair nor beard since that morning in Oakland Army Terminal and usually ran around with as little clothing on as the law and the weather would allow. Going formal, to me, meant putting on a tee shirt. Of course, I had to comply with the requirements of many businesses and other establishments so sandals, shirt, and even jeans occasionally were draped over my gangly frame, but whenever I could get away with it a pair of shorts and a leather headband was all that I was likely to be wearing.

I also loved being out of the city at this time in my life. I found myself drawn to the quiet hiking trails of the Laguna Mountains or the open wastes and parched draws and wadis of the Anza Borrego desert, where I would hike and explore by myself or with Wes, who in many ways was very much like me. One piece of equipment that I always carried with me when I hiked was a stick about five or five and a half feet long which served both as a walking stick and also what I called a ‘snake stick’. My father had taught me to cut or find such a stick when we would go camping in the Lagunas in my youth. I would then use the stick to rustle the undergrowth in front of me when walking away from the trail or to tap on any large rocks that I might be climbing over to alert rattlesnakes of my presence in time for them to return the favor and alert me to their presence as well. Many very unfortunate encounters were avoided that way.

As a result of all of the above, on any given day my new neighbors were very likely to see my skinny self (about 140 pounds) walking barefooted and shirtless, in shorts and headband, scruffy as a mountain man, cruising down the street to the tap-tap-tap cadence of my walking stick hitting the asphalt as I sauntered along.

I was in just such a fine state of ignorant bliss one day while walking the two blocks which separated our residence from a supermarket where I planned on buying a quart of beer to nurse on the way back home. It was the middle of a warm day and I had somehow scrounged up sufficient change to afford a quart. I was feeling on top of the world and was not the least bit put off when a police cruiser rolled slowly past me, pulled over to the side of the street and stopped, and a large police officer emerged from the car.

At this point a little more background is needed. About a week before we moved into our apartment a bank was robbed in El Cajon, not far from where we now lived. The robber did not wear a mask (did robbers ever really wear masks?) and there was no such thing as a hoodie back then. At least I don’t remember them. The robber was a scantily clad white male of about 140 pounds, long brown hair and a red beard. To the best of my knowledge, he did not carry a walking stick. In any case, the El Cajon Police Department had been keeping their eyes open and now the officer had found somebody who looked like a promising suspect walking down the street in the middle of the workday, unemployed either because he was a student (which I was) or independently wealthy because he had just robbed a bank.

“Good afternoon” said the policeman with a disarming smile. “How are you doing today?” “I’m doing just fine officer” I replied. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” the officer continued, as if making casual conversation. I had no idea whatsoever that there had been a robbery and so thought that it was at least possible that the policeman was just making contact with someone new on his beat. “It is a great day” I replied. “I never get tired of it here”. “Have you lived here long?” the policeman asked. “All my life in San Diego. I only moved here a few weeks ago.” “I thought that I hadn’t seen you around before” the officer said, and this reinforced the idea that he might simply be greeting a new face on his neighborhood patrol. That notion received a splash of cold water however when, after a few more moments of pleasantries, the officer invited me to avail myself of the air conditioned comfort of his back seat.

All of my years as a kid who was familiar with the streets of San Diego, and after two years in Vietnam, I had a very good grasp on where the power lay when two people were of a different mind but only one has a gun . I knew that this was more than just a social chat and that the only thing that I could do to help my cause was to be as nice and cooperative as I could. I climbed into the back of the patrol car and yielded up my walking stick, which went into the trunk.

The police officer, still very quiet spoken and polite, climbed into the driver’s seat of the cruiser and proceeded down the street and turned onto the broad avenue which led to the police station about a mile away from where we started. All along the way I was cudgeling my brains, trying to figure out what I could have done to get me into this fix. I had taken plenty of drugs in the last few years and had sold some too, but only to other people whom I knew in the drug subculture. I was not in the habit of standing outside of a school and trying to entice newcomers into the lifestyle with the old “here kid, the first one’s free” routine. No, it couldn’t be that, unless some undercover narc needed a bust on a slow day and had ratted me out, but I was such a small fish that this scenario didn’t make any sense.

I had not done any harm to anyone either, not that there weren’t episodes of violence around me from time to time and not that I did not have an angry, violent streak in my personality. I had been a skinny kid who hated to fight when I was young because I would usually lose. Also, I grew up in an authoritarian household with a very strict, very physical father. I was famous in the neighborhood for the frequency and quality of the whippings I would take at home (author’s note: My father later apologized for the severity of his discipline and I forgave him. I loved the man dearly in his later years and remember him warmly even to this day). Now, freed by my age, discharge from the Army, and from any moral restraint as a result of my copious ingestion of recreational drugs, my anger would flash out every so often. But I had not hurt anyone seriously, although it was a close shave on a couple of occasions, and so I did not believe that it could be related to anything like that.

We arrived at the police station and the officer, still chatting politely, exited his car and extracted me and my walking stick from same. I was not handcuffed and for an instant I had a wild notion of making a run for it. The doors of the station were just in front of me and I knew that once I entered them I would have to let the process play itself out, regardless of where it was to go. That moment of shining idiocy passed uneventfully and I walked next to the officer as we entered the building together.

We bypassed the desk where names were written down and pictures were taken and went back to a small room with a table and a couple of chairs on each side. The officer said that two men wanted to talk to me and asked if I wanted something to drink. My mouth was as dry as paper and I assumed that a shot of tequila was out of the question so I asked for a cup of coffee, which he produced in a minute or two and then left me alone to think even harder about what I might be in trouble for. Nothing obvious came to mind.

Eventually two men in plain clothes came in to the room and sat down across the table from me. I am sure that you have all seen the movies where they do the ‘good cop, bad cop’ thing. Nothing like that happened. The two detectives did however ask me to account for every second of my life for the last couple of weeks. I knew that a faithful recounting of my activities over that period of time would put me into a heap of trouble so I sanitized the story considerably, but ended up giving them as good an account as possible without letting them know how stoned I usually was and which drugs I was using during the time period that they were interested in. One detective took copious notes and, after an hour or so of going over my story again and again, they thanked me and left me alone in the room. Soon, a uniformed officer came in and asked me if I would like another cup of coffee, which I accepted gratefully. I asked him what was going on and why I was still waiting in the room, but the officer deflected my inquiry and told me that I would find out what I wanted to know in good time.

One thing I knew for certain was that the detectives were going to check on my stated residence and interview any roommates. That thought gave me considerable heartburn. Clarice was probably at school I knew, and Wes was most likely home. That was not a good thing. Wes had a problem with authority figures and would not hesitate to give them a family-sized ration of crap at every opportunity. One time when returning from Mexico the Border Patrol agent asked if we were carrying anything that we should declare, which was a reasonable question. Wes, who had a pretty good buzz on, replied “Yeah, we got a kilo of smack in the trunk”. We spent the next hour or so waiting under the beating sun while the agents searched every inch of my car for the heroin that they probably never expected to find in order to teach the smart-ass a lesson. At this time I did not need disrespected and angry detectives obtaining a warrant and seeing what I had in my dresser.

Fortunately Clarice was home early from school and Wes was across the parking lot in a neighbor’s back yard working in a garden which that neighbor allowed us to plant there. Wes saw the cops and stayed behind the tomato plants while beautiful Clarice opened the door. Clarice charmed them from the beginning; I know she did because she did that to me. They asked her of my doings and she corroborated my story to the smallest detail. After a short interview with our landlords (which didn’t help our relationship with them all that much) they returned to the small room downtown where I was cooling my heels and announced to me that I was free to leave.

“Would it be OK to know now what this has been all about?” I asked. One of the detectives proceeded to tell me about the robbery and the description of the robber. I was fascinated by this and then asked if I could see the composite drawing of the robber. The detective refused at first but I was persistent. “Please sir” I said. “I’ve been as cooperative as I could be and don’t have anything to say against how I’ve been treated. I’ve been here for a couple of hours sweating bullets though, and I would just like to see how much I look like the guy you’re after”.

At length the detective agreed and had me sit back down. He left the room and a few moments later returned with a three ring binder. He drew open the cover of the binder and there, staring back at me from the notebook, was – ME! I stared at that picture for a little while and then looked up at the detective. “I don’t blame you for picking me up” I said. “I would have picked me up too”!

The detective then asked if I would like a ride home. I declined, stating that it was only a mile and I needed the walk to clear my head of the events of the last few hours. I didn’t mention that it was also not always the best thing, considering my association with others in the subculture, to be seen being given a ride by the police. My walking stick was returned to me and I walked out of the police station a free man. A few blocks away there was a liquor store where I purchased the quart of beer that had been the object of my walk in the first place. I then strolled the rest of the way home in the warm El Cajon sunshine, sipping my beer, and by the time I got home I had let the whole unpleasant incident slip out of my mind. I have always been good at that.

To Serve and Protect, Part I

All to often we read of bad and even tragic encounters between police officers and the people who those officers have sworn to protect and serve.  No doubt there are instances in which the police officers overreact to a situation, and perhaps even do so with malice.  Police officers are, after all, human, and come with the full compliment of frailties and personality failures that all of the rest of us come with.  I am not apologizing for bad cops any more than I would apologize for bad ultrasound techs, bad politicians, bad parents or bad writers.  All should, and with some compassion (with the possible exception of bad writers) be shown the error of their ways and in circumstances where it is merited, punishment meted out.

Police officers do have a rather unique occupation however.  Except when they are addressing a class of kindergartners at a public school on how to safely interact with strangers or, well, I don’t know of any other such scenarios, tend to be dealing with the rest of us when we are at our worse.  When a police officer responds to a call concerning some sort of trouble, sees something in a neighborhood which looks amiss, or pulls a car over on a street, road, or highway for one reason or another, the result may be that a split-second decision will determine whether that officer and the object of his attention goes home to his or her family that night or departs the scene in a body bag.

It is for that reason that I tend to be slow to jump to judgement when I read or hear about another alleged case of police brutality.  I repeat, police officers can be brutal just like I can, and have, been brutal.  I am not making excuses for bad behavior.  Nevertheless, I will never know what happened moment by moment in the mind of the police officer or in the mind of the object of his attention when I hear of a reported incident of police brutality.  The best that I can do is to support a thorough investigation of any incident by as neutral a third party as is possible and then be satisfied with the conclusion drawn by that party.

All that being said, I do have personal experiences with being the ‘object of the police officer’s attention,’ and now propose to tell three tales which I hope will give a little insight on how this relationship between server and served sometimes looks at ground level.

In the fall of 1964 I was fifteen years old and found myself sitting in science class next to an extraordinarily pretty girl.  One day this extraordinarily pretty girl invited me to go see a guy named Billy Graham who was throwing some sort of shindig at the football stadium where the San Diego Chargers played.  The girl could have asked me to peel the skin off of my feet and stick them into a bucket of salt and I would have agreed instantly, so the next evening I found myself at the Billy Graham crusade and before the night was over, to my considerable surprise, I was a Christian.  As best as I remember I did sincerely responded to the message presented by Mr. Graham that night, but the most important thing to me at the moment was that I now was able to attend church with the extraordinarily attractive girl.

Nothing came of this mutual attendance at church.  The girl already had a handsome, athletic, studly boyfriend away at college, none of which adjectives described me in any imaginable way.   I did however meet Roy Maxwell at that church, and he and his step brother Marty Corbin and I became an inseparable trio, even though Roy and Marty attended a different high school than I did ( a thing which meant much in those days).  We hung out together and did all of the teenage boy things until Roy got a girlfriend.  I was initially annoyed by that since it interrupted our horsing around and also probably because it highlighted the fact that I couldn’t win a girlfriend if I had a hand with four aces.  Even worse, she was a student of Hoover High, which was my school.  Quelle horreur!  The traitor!

As it turned out, Carole Jenkins was a very nice girl and I came to like her as a friend very much.  In fact, our friendship lasted for several years until I fell off of the end of the universe after returning home from Vietnam, but that is a different story.  In addition to being very nice, Carole had the additional advantage of belonging to a family that was very rich.  I have no idea what Carole’s father did for a living, but the Jenkins family lived in a gigantic house situated atop Del Cerro, a hill on the eastern edge of San Diego.  I don’t suppose that you could call the Jenkins residence a mansion, but to a kid living in a stucco cube in a working class neighborhood of East San Diego it looked pretty much like a mansion to me.

I was used to other kids having advantages that I did not, but in one area I did have a leg up.  I had a driver’s license and my father was very liberal about allowing me to use the car.  At least once each week I would drive to the Maxwell residence and pick up Roy and Marty and drive up the winding road which climbed past rank after rank of large homes which got bigger and nicer as we neared the top of the hill.  After a few weeks of this we began to feel like we actually belonged up there.  We were soon to find out how wrong we were about that.

Not too long after we began to drive to Carole’s house a series of break-ins occurred on Del Cerro hill.  First cars and then houses were hit by people who knew that Del Cerro is where one was most likely to find treasure worth the risk, in their minds at least, of burglarizing cars and homes.  The good citizens of the Del Cerro neighborhood took predictable umbrage at such nefarious doings and demanded, and received, a heightened police presence in the affected area.

As a result of this elevated police vigilance Roy and Marty and I began to attract attention as we drove up the hill in my Dad’s 1963 Mercury Meteor through a forest of Cadillacs and Lincolns and the occasional BMW and Porsche.  Three young men – old men did not usually adopt the occupation of burglar – in a cheap car (relatively speaking) was going to stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, and we began to grow accustomed to being stopped by the police nearly every time that we went to visit Carole, and having our identification checked before being granted permission to proceed.   The whole thing took on the air of a routine until one evening when that routine came to a sudden, screeching halt.

On that night we were climbing the hill on our way to Carole’s house when the predictable red and blue lights snapped on behind us.  We were very used to this by now and so I pulled over and rolled to a stop next to the curb.  Having done this drill several times before I decided that this time I would make myself super helpful and maybe speed things up a little bit.  With not the slightest idea that my actions could end very badly I slipped my hand down to the handle on the Mercury’s door, pulled it up, pushed the door open and emerged and began walking back to where the police car was just parking behind me.  To make matters worse, as if that wasn’t bad enough, I reached around into my back pocket to extract the wallet containing the identification which I knew that they would momentarily be asking for.  That’s me: Mister Helpful.  Always looking for a way to make a bad situation better.

 

This was probably my first lesson in the importance of perspective.  The police officers did not see a citizen emerging from a car to save them a walk and reaching for his wallet to save them the trouble of asking for identification.  Instead, they saw a car that was out of pace, inhabited by three youngish males, with one of the emerging from the car and advancing towards them while reaching for, what?  A gun?

“Get your hands up” came the shouted command.  I was stupefied by this response to my good intentions and took another step forward while still pulling at my wallet.  Both of the officers pulled out their revolvers, with one going down to his knee and the other remaining standing.  Both barrels were pointed squarely at your’s truly.  “Stop moving and drop your weapon”  shouted the officer who was standing.  I had no idea what they meant by ‘weapon’, but I figured out what ‘stop’ meant right away and did.  “Drop the weapon!  Drop it!”  repeated the policeman.  I didn’t have a weapon, but I did have my wallet in my hand and reasoned that if I dropped it I might somehow keep from getting shot.

“Turn towards the car and put your hands on the trunk” came the next command, and by now I was getting into the spirit of the moment and moved just as fast as I thought would look non-threatening.  The kneeling policeman rose up and the two of them began to walk towards where I stood with hands on the trunk of the Mercury and within an inch of peeing my pants.

One of the officers patted me down, searching for any sort of weapon, and when none was found the other bent over and picked up my wallet.  The first policeman turned me towards him and asked “What the hell do you think you are doing here?  You just about got yourself into some serious trouble boy.”  “I was just trying to be helpful” I replied.  “We’re driving to my friend’s girl friend’s house and we’ve been stopped a bunch of times.  I just thought that I would speed things up a little.

At this point the officers knew that they were dealing with an idiot, not a criminal.  They holstered their weapons and breathed a big, long sigh of relief.  “Son, don’t ever do that again.  We don’t have any idea what you intend to do when you get out of your car.  When a police officer pulls you over just stop your car, turn off the engine, put your hands on the steering wheel where he can see them and let him do his job.  Everybody is going to have a much easier time of it if you will just do those things.”

The officers returned my wallet to me and let me get back into my car.  Roy and Marty were pale as ghosts and began to babble incoherently as I fired the little Mercury up and drove the rest of the way to Carole’s house.  That night I enjoyed the spotlight, a position that I was not accustomed to, as we told the tale to Carole, who was not used to being involved with people who were held at gunpoint and nearly shot by the police.

Roy and Carole would in fact end their relationship soon after this incident but, as I stated earlier, Carole and I continued our friendship several years more, long after I lost contact with Roy.  I hope that I might run into Carole someday, although that is extremely unlikely.  Maybe I will see her at my high school’s fiftieth year reunion.  “Hi.  Remember me?  The guy who was almost shot by the cops in 1965?  How’ve you been?”

The Joke’s On You, Part III

I have always had a unique love of practical jokes.  From the time that I learned what a practical joke was I have been drawn to playing them on other people and having them played on me in my turn.  Of course it was important to choose as my victims people who could take a joke, as some people just do not take them well.  I tended to avoid playing tricks on prickly people, even anonymously, since somebody was bound to run off at the mouth and there’d be a fight in no time at all.  I was never really interested in that.

Not all people were like me however.  Some of the guys in my neighborhood would pull off a  joke on just about anybody, and some of those jokes were not at all just in good fun.  Willie Starnes was such a guy.  Willie was bigger than most of the other kids and not at all afraid to cross the lines of propriety when it came to having fun at other people’s expense.

Willie’s jokes ran the gamut from simple fun to intimidation to outright sabotage.  For example, there were two slender trees growing at one end of our neighborhood park.  Willie one day took two lengths of surgical rubber tubing and tied one end of each to holes punched in opposite sides of a metal funnel.  He then tied the two rubber tubes to the trees and had in effect made a huge slingshot.  Willie then took a bag full of water balloons and began to rain them down on kids playing on the playground about 100 yards away.  Getting smacked in the head with a water balloon launched from half a block away was not a fatal event, but it was far from fun.  Willie liked it however, and that is all that mattered.

The boys in our neighborhood also had a little game that we called “Bam”.  In this game one could punch somebody in the shoulder, throw a basketball into their lap or hit them with a white bean shot through a pea shooter and be safe from retaliation if one would only say “Bam” out loud when the hit was delivered.  The effect was usually startling or embarrassing but rarely painful, at least the way that most of us played it, but Willie could be counted on to take it to extremes.  A punch in the chest, a football thrown at the head or groin, or a painful flick on the ear delivered by Willie to the accompaniment of a shouted “Bam” took all of the fun out of the game for the rest of us.

When Willie wasn’t annoying us he was sure to be somewhere stuffing a potato up somebody’s exhaust pipe or letting the air out of somebody else’s auto or bicycle tires or, as he once did, running a kid’s bicycle up the flagpole at the park and tying the ropes up high on the pole so that the little guy couldn’t reach it.  Willie was not the roughest guy in our neighborhood by a long shot, but he certainly had his own rough edge and was far from my favorite person to hang around with.

All of us guys looked for a chance to get back at Willie without taking a thumping on the head as part of the bargain.  Willie had a bicycle but nobody dared to mess with it for fear of being caught.  We would play the “Bam” game with him but always be sure to tap him lightly or telegraph the throwing of any object his way.  It was critical that we extend to him a sense of inclusion since he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon that we knew of, yet not make our actions aggressive enough to be interpreted as a challenge.  Walking that tightrope came to be a big pain in everybody’s necks.

The solution to the problem came to us unexpectedly when the older brother of Frank Cortner, one of the smaller kids in our group, got a summer job working at a movie theater in the suburb of La Mesa, which sprawls just next to San Diego.  This theater ran all of the old cheesy black and white “B” science fiction and horror movies; the ones we all loved and watched at the movie house in our own neighborhood.  Most of the movie companies produced posters to be displayed in the windows outside of the movie houses and wanted those posters back when the movie’s run there was completed.  Sometimes, however, when a poster got torn or soiled or in some other way defaced the company let go of it and printed up new ones to accompany their crappy movies to their next showing.  When this would happen anyone who wanted them could take these posters home, and that is how a poster from a monster movie came to find its way into the garage of Frank Cortner.

I do not at this time remember which movie that poster with a torn corner and a smudge of ketchup across the title came from.  I was certain that it was from “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” starring Michael Landon of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, but my friend Wes is equally certain that the poster was of “It! The Creature From Beyond Space”.  To add to the confusion another of my co-conspirators who still lives in San Diego, Ron Larimer, believes that it was the “Creature From the Black Lagoon”.  I guess it really doesn’t matter.  What is relevant to this tale is that we had at our disposal a nearly life-sized poster of a very frightening creature, and one fine day while we were all lounging in and around Frank’s garage a bright idea occurred to one of us concerning how we could use that poster to gain a small measure of revenge on Willie Starnes.

We carefully cut out the figure of the monster from the poster and glued it to a large piece of cardboard which had remained in the garage since Frank’s parents had bought a new refrigerator the year before.  We then cut away the excess cardboard so that we had a fairly sturdy, nearly life-sized image of a monster; trust me, it was the Teenage Werewolf.  The other guys don’t know what they are talking about.  Next we went to the hardware store a few blocks from my house and bought two eight foot 2 X 4 building studs.  We used a couple of strips of plywood as joiners and nailed the two studs together, and then tested it for height.  It was too big, so we took about four feet off of one end and now it was just right.

Willie Starnes lived in an upstairs apartment with his parents on the corner of Polk and 43rd Street, about five blocks from my house.  Willie always had his window open, wanting to see what was going on outside and liking being seen in return.  There was a streetlight on the corner opposite Willie’s window across the intersection, and a row of palm trees between that light and the window.  Those trees let a lot of light through but softened it so that things would not be seen outside in the sharpest clarity from inside Willie’s room.  We all knew that Willie had to be home on Thursday nights because his father insisted on family time, and Willie hated the thought of not being able to hang out at the park or prowl the streets with the rest of us so he would retire to his room as soon as he possibly could.

Darkness came early on the day that we got our revenge on Willie.  By 5:30 PM there was little more than a glow on the western horizon.  Willie was finishing his dinner and crafting his best effort at a credible excuse as to why he had to retire to his bedroom.  We were waiting in the shadows across the street when we saw Willie’s figure walk past his window, and at that moment we knew that our time had come.  Using a hammer that we had smuggled out of Frank’s father’s garage we pounded a couple of carpet tacks through the image of the monster, fixing it to the end of what had become a twelve foot pole.  We crossed the street, which was not a particularly busy one, and crowded behind a hedge which ran the full length of the apartment building in which the Starnes family lived.  Frank hoisted the pole with the image of whichever movie monster it really was and placed it squarely in the middle of Willie’s bedroom window.

We were probably not there for a very long time, but it seemed to us like we were there forever holding a long wooden pole with a silhouette affixed to it on a well lit corner in a big city.  We were worried that some curious neighbor would call the cops on us before we hit pay dirt, but all of those fears came to an end abruptly when we heard a terrified shriek come out through the open portion of Willie’s window.  Frank bobbed the pole up and down and Willie shrieked again, then we hauled down the pole and took off running, trying to stay out of the light as best we could.  We ducked into an alley, disconnected the cardboard monster, chucked the pole into somebody’s back yard, and trotted back to Frank’s garage where the monster was fixed in a place of honor on one of the walls.

Willie never did mention this event when he came to hang out with us at the park.  Frank or Ron or I would sometimes mention monsters that we had seen on the big screen at the Crest Theater on University Avenue and comment on how scared we would be if one of those creatures ever jumped out at us from the dark, but Willie would never take our bait.  I think that he suspected us, but that may just be the product of a guilty mind.  We never told any of the other kids about our prank, but all of the other kids went to the weekend matinees just like we did, and all of them would talk about this monster or that one, so Willie could never really be sure who had got the best of him.  That just made it that much better.

Frank and Wes and I are still in contact and we still laugh about that prank on rare occasions when we get together.  Nobody knows what happened to Willie however.  We have one clue only.  One day, many years later, Wes ran into Willie at Pacific Beach in San Diego.  Willie was living on the margins of society, probably what we would now call ‘homeless’.  Drugs had obviously wrought havoc on his life already and he seemed to be walking blindly into an alternate universe of delusion, paranoia, separation and eventually violent or drug-induced death.  I have no confidence at all that Willie still lives.  Nevertheless, Willie Starnes occupies the exalted position of recipient of the number one, all time best prank that I was ever a part of, and if for no other reason than that I wish him happiness if he yet lives and peace if he has gone to meet his Maker.

The Joke’s On You, Part II

Halloween was a special time in my neighborhood of East San Diego when I was a child.  I grew up there in the 1950’s and 1960’s when things were more simple, in my world at least.  These were the times when the elementary schools would have halloween carnivals in the evening at which one could fish for prizes from a tank, throw bean bags through a hole to win tickets redeemable for prizes, or win a cake on the cakewalk.  I will never forget how excited I was one time when the music stopped on the cakewalk and the paper plate upon which I was standing contained the winning number and some big, pink, three layer cake was mine.  And I didn’t even like cake!

Also missing in halloween these days is the homemade and natural goodies that we once filled our pillowcases with; brownies, fudge, apples and oranges and my all-time favorite, popcorn balls.  We knew most of the neighbors who were giving us these home concocted treats and the thought of them inserting something dangerous or gross into our treats never entered either our minds or theirs.  I really do miss the popcorn balls.

There is no doubt that I enjoyed the treats greatly, but I must confess that I really loved the tricks too.  Most people only said “Trick or treat” as a formality, but my brother Brad and I took that formula very seriously.  Our tricks originally were short on imagination.  Soaping windows, burning paper bags filled with doggie doo on the front porch and the like were our stock in trade at first.  As we grew a little older however the quality of our work was honed to a sharper edge.  My all-time second favorite prank was Halloween related, and was as follows.

Sometime right around 1960 Brad and I decided to make a dummy to hang from a branch of the pine tree which grew in the front yard of our house.  The branches spread out over the sidewalk and anyone walking up that sidewalk, and there would be hoards of people out trick-or-treating in those days, would have to walk under that pine tree.  We found an old pair of my jeans and stuffed the legs full of crumpled up newspapers, pine needles, dried weeds from a burn pile in our back yard, and dirty rags.  Brad then pulled an old shirt out of the rag bag in the garage and attached it to the jeans with safety pins.  The shirt was then similarly filled and a cotton rope attached to the collar with more safety pins.  We then glued a paper lunch sack into the collar opening of the shirt which represented a head and in the dark it made a pretty good likeness of a person hanging from a limb.

Our results were mixed.  It was Halloween after all, and people were expecting such props.  Some of the younger kids were a little bit spooked by our dummy but they were calmed down by their older escorts and not much came of it, so Brad and I decided to take the prank to the next level.  We tied one end of a string to a leg of the dummy and then climbed up into the tree, using the string to pull the dummy up into the tree with us.  Now we were able to wait for our victims to come walking up the sidewalk and let the dummy come swinging down right in front of them.

The effect was electric and hugely satisfying.  The first group gave out a shriek, and when they assessed the nature of the joke tore our dummy down and spread it all over the sidewalk.  After they walked on we repaired our masterpiece and regained our perch in the tree to wait for new victims.  The wait was not long and soon our dummy, now just a bit the worse for wear, went swinging back out of the tree.  The effect was identical, but this time we hoisted the dummy back up into the tree before our marks could recover from their fright and inflict punishment on the dummy like their predecessors had.  We received a few threats and verbal chastisements from our thoroughly punked victims but we stayed silent and mostly invisible in the dark recesses of the pine branches, neither moving nor even giggling until the party had moved on.  We then waited for the next party to stroll along, and the whole thing began all over again.

This prank generated a lot of laughs but eventually grew stale.  We climbed down from the tree after a while and removed our dummy from his branch over the sidewalk.  Several ideas were kicked around and we finally agreed to take the dummy a couple of blocks away where we would hide between two parked cars, wait for a car to come along, pitch the dummy in front of the car and then run out and snatch it up before the presumably startled drivers could react.  It seemed like a good plan, so we gathered up our dummy and walked to Chamoune Avenue two blocks distant from where we were.

When we arrived at Chamoune Ave, two blocks east and one block north of our pine tree, we found a pair of cars parked very close to one another and hunkered down to await the arrival of a passing car.  We didn’t have to wait long.  A car driving west on Wightman Street turned right onto Chamoune and began rolling slowly towards where we lay in wait.  When the car was very nearly even with our location Brad heaved the dummy out in front of the advancing car.

The driver hit the brakes and the car came to a screeching halt, but not until after it had rolled over our dummy.  The driver, an elderly man, emerged from his car and hobbled around the front to the passenger side.  While he was doing this Brad and I retreated to a row of shrubs, behind which we hid.  It turned out that we had no time to leap out, grab our dummy, and make our getaway.  The old boy quickly assessed the nature of what he had just run over and gave vent to a string of curses such as he had probably not used since he stood in the trenches of France in World War I.  He grabbed the dummy and threw it towards the sidewalk, yelled something about our mother, and then reentered his car and continued on his way northbound on Chamoune.

Brad and I howled with delight at the quality of our prank and recovered our dummy.  We replaced some of its stuffing with some of a newspaper that we had brought with us from home (it was a Thursday paper, and they were really thick with lots of pages), put a few new safety pins into it to keep pants and shirt together, completely discarded the paper bag which we had used for a head, and prepared for our next victim.  Again, we didn’t have to wait for long.

In the distance two headlights appeared and they kept coming toward us.  As the car passed Wightman we knew that they would be the next to suffer from our clever ruse.  We knew that we would toss out the dummy and go straight to our hiding place behind the shrubs this time, making no attempt to bolt out of our covert and flee with the dummy.  Worked last time didn’t it?  What could go wrong?

The car approached and once again Brad tossed the dummy in front of it.  The result was initially the same; screeching tires, grinding halt, dummy under the car.  That’s where the similarity ended.  Out of the four doors of the car boiled four large teenagers, easily Brad’s age or older, which meant a good deal older than me.  The four teens were not amused and we slunk back deeper into the darkened yard, trying to stay out of sight.  The attempt was a failure.  The four angry teens saw our movement and came after us with shouts and threats.

We retreated at a run into the alley and then followed it up to Wightman, then up that street and into the alley between Chamoune and 45th Street with the four teens closing the gap between us.  This alley was closer to our home however, and we knew that Mr. and Mrs. Larson had a big and intimidating dog that they kept in their back yard.  Brad decided to take our chances with the dog and hollered for me to stay close to him.  When we arrived at the Larson’s back fence we jumped up onto a wooden box-like structure where Mr. Larson put his trash cans and leaped from there over the fence, running for the fence on the front side of the yard like the devil himself was on our heals.

And the devil WAS on our heals.  Duke, the German shepherd, was taking his ease in his doghouse in the back corner of the yard when we exploded into his domain.  The dog was caught by surprise by two figures racing silently through the yard and did not get a good jump on us, and that was the break that we were hoping for.  Brad flew like an eagle over the fence on the other side of the yard and I made it most of the way before Duke clamped his teeth onto the heel of my U.S. Ked.  I lunged forward as Duke lunged back, and we traded my freedom from a mauling or a beating or both for my left shoe, and I considered it a bargain.

The four teens had no intention of entering a yard occupied by a full grown and thoroughly pissed-off German shepherd, and Brad and I flew through a passage which we knew of between two houses that led between 45th Street and the alley which ran between 45th and Highland Avenue.  We crept queitly through another passage and soon we were standing on Highland Avenue, close to our house.  Once on Highland I kicked off my other shoe and hid it in a bush, put my socks into my pocket, and we ran the rest of the way home.

Upon arriving at home we entered the house gasping and laughing, with me barefoot.  Our mother was not curious about this as we were in San Diego after all, and I was barefoot most of the time anyway.  We pretended to be stopping in to eat some of the candy that Mom was handing out to trick-or-treaters, but in fact we were waiting to be sure that the angry teens had given up the hunt.

After a while we ventured back outside and returned to the scene of our triumph by a roundabout way.  When we arrived we discovered that our dummy was nowhere to be found.  Not even pieces were seen in the street or in nearby yards.  It appeared that the teens had thrown the dummy into their car and drove away with it, probably to reproduce our joke somewhere else.  Brad and I returned to the Larson’s yard where he posted me in the alley while he went around to the front.  On Brad’s signal I began to make noise and distract the dog while Brad jumped over the fence and recovered my shoe.  Duke never saw him.  Mr. Larson raced out of the back door of his house just as Brad cleared the fence on this return trip.  I fled from my post at that moment and ran around to the front of the Larson house.  Brad was waiting with my shoe and we retraced our steps to the bush on Highland Avenue where we recovered my other shoe from its hiding place.

We walked home with me fully shod, enjoying a good laugh and only one old pair of jeans lost for our efforts.  We get a good laugh to this day every time we get together and tell the story for the umpteenth time.