Exposure & Aperture: Stories in Focus

I woke suddenly with a knee buried in my back, a size 12 boot on my head.

It’s fortunate I’m a “belly sleeper” because the weight of that policeman could’ve broken bones, caused internal injury. It was unfortunate that this vacant 1920s stucco Hollywood bungalow had been sold at auction that afternoon to a LAPD Captain, so said his street soldier, pressing my face deep into that filthy carpet one evening in 1986.

I’d been mistaken for friends, who squatted this property just a few doors off Melrose. (Earlier they had been) “told to get out of here”, screamed the policeman, as his partner flung me by the handcuffs off the floor crashing into a wall.

Prone, head and neck propped against the wall, I could now see four  LAPD Hollywood Division patrolmen as I proclaimed, “those were my friends (not me)!”

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A well groomed, mustached officer reached down, grabbed my throat and banged my head against the wall for the insolence. I was guilty but only of being homeless.

Within that year my longtime uxralocal relationship fell apart. Not only losing a girlfriend , I had also lost the one-room shack dwelling on her father’s property.

It was all my undoing. As “only-children” will, I’d been selfish. Worse, I’m the bastard son – look at me wrong, it was a fight or I was trying to bed you, mix with alcohol and stir (best not shake). I was fully employed, even mid-management by title. However, without first, last and security deposit, I couldn’t acquire an apartment.

As I flew from wall to wall, I understood the consequences of my actions, being exposed “on the street”. I could only afford to recuse myself on weekends at sketchy Sepulveda Boulevard motels.  My sleepy sanctuary – a flimsy dead-bolt door well worth investment, because on the street, you’re subjected to unanticipated drama and danger.

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Trying to catch my breath, I answered their inquiry regarding work.  Mistakenly I added that I was also a part-time Graduate student at CalState LA which doomed me to further abuse since I declared my major in Jurisprudence: “Oh! we have a lawyer here”, one said to the others.

And as one violently spun me by my handcuffs toward another, he tore my shirt exposing blood running down by left arm.

Earlier that day as I walked down Melrose toward Vine, an anonymous black two-door LeSabre likewise eastbound, windows down, fired a shot.

In a second my senses captured the muzzle sound, a barrel retreating into the LeSabre and sharp pain. In that fluid shocking moment, I pulled my jacket down.  Buried in my bicep was a projectile, the slimmest edge of a pellet exposed when I wiped away blood. My thick, old school biker leather slowed the disc. I could squeeze and tweeze it by fingernail from my arm.

It was shoot a freak Friday for some suburban kids in mommy’s car.  My orange, raggedy Andy hair a beacon for these pellet rifle toting toughs. Hours later, still bleeding, it was exposed to these LAPD toughs.  At the story, they howled, “Ahh! He’s a victim.

In 30 years since that day on one street in America, victims are still victimized. Nothing’s changed except there are now handheld cameras to testify to trespasses, be they black, Blue, brown or white.

Even then, the aperture and exposure to a public with their experience, creating their truth, their disposition enhanced by the guile and craft of their advocates, it dims the optics; that, what you see, it really is not what you see. Let me tell you what you see and share.

On the Periphery of Life

I took the Paris Metro to an underground garage to rent a car in the Place des Ternes.

It’d been a chaotic week in Paris enjoying the sights with thousands of foreign visitors who came for the European Football Championship.  My family tired traveling by foot.  It was time to drive into the countryside.

Driving in Paris is chaotic. Since I drive Boston, I was possessed to drive directly to the Arc de Triomphe for a wicked spin in its massive rotary. As I repeatedly screeched to halt at the veering Mercedes and Citrons, my joy transcended to the idea, I can get used to this.

Fun aside, my wife’s texts requesting an ETA brought me back to reality. My family was in the lobby of the condominium over in the thickly settled, one-way streets of the 17th arrondissement.

We had walked several evenings North to the Avenue de Clichy. My youngest, Lily and I walked there for a Metro station to Saint-Denis for the Germany Poland Match at the Stade de France (the suburb from which the jihadi cell resided who executed the November atrocity).

As one journeys along Avenue Clichy, one notices the population become more racial diverse, Middle Eastern, North African. I found that path with surprising ease; well, navigating was easy the traffic thoroughly congested.

The car loaded, I followed the trajectory of the Metro – station names I recalled from Match night.

I knew there was a Périphérique on the way to Saint-Denis. Paris has multiple travel bands, “Périphérique“, which ring the city; that, Americans might call “Beltways”.  They make movement easier, eliminating cross town travel, street gridlock.

I’m blessed with a German acuity, an intuitive, natural GPS that seldom fails me, and once again, didn’t let me down. Because as traffic worsened, I knew we neared the “Boulevard Périphérique“. Our escape was imminent.

Then my eyes spotted a makeshift settlement of tents and canopies. It was blocks long.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I’m familiar with homeless enclaves of refrigerator boxes, canvas covered street squats, the adept no cost shelter of the poor, the displaced.

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June had been an exceptionally overcast, wet and windy cold month.

The rain fell every day during our stay and this makeshift community built along the frontage street of the Périphérique was wet, mildewed and as dreary as the steel sky.

As we crept toward the on-ramp, we saw the human element under the corrugated roofs, tarps and tents. Tanned old men, browned, unshaven, grey beard stumble contrasting with their light, dead, staring eyes, they sat paralyzed on jersey barriers.

Behind them between the rows of shelters, children played safely from traffic. Old ladies walked up traffic lanes, Syrian passports raised in hand, pressing them to each drive-side car window begging for Euros.

Younger men, fathers held hand-written cardboard signs. In French they read, “we are Syrians. Please help us eat today”.  My wife fought tears.  In a daze at this sad visage,  I entered the Périphérique – the wrong direction.

I exited immediately.  Returning along the other frontage, there was a parallel settlement of hundreds, perhaps thousands of families along a periphery of life.

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