LAPDPTSD

For several weeks I’ve struggled with images that recall a time in my life, where the fortune of not being a young black male allowed me to live in relative peace the last 30 years.

I’ve spoken of it to total strangers this month. A failed attempt to ease my stress. I understand what has triggered everyone. It’s triggered me, as I see young people reacting in the present, what I reflect in my past. The fear. Anxiety. Stress. It doesn’t go away.

I’ll try again by the written word. See if it can clear the discomfort and emotion that this time in our collective lives has brought roaring back.

Herman the Austrian Bodybuilder

That’s Herman, the Austrian Bodybuilder who I briefly met one afternoon 30 years ago on Sunset Boulevard in the Tower Records parking lot. He sold me that car, a 1969 Olds 98 convertible. It nearly caused the end of my life.

I’d totaled my truck on Coldwater Canyon recently. Herman wanted $3600. I needed a car. It was over in 10 minutes. My proclivity for not asking too many questions would betray me.

Within a few weeks on a Saturday night, my friends Bobby Kennedy and Michael Paul joined me for a June cruise, top down. Turning right off Stanley, eastbound down Sunset Boulevard we saw some young ladies on the sidewalk that distracted from seeing two LAPD cruisers on my rear. They got my attention when they lit their lamps.

I heard a booming order from the heavens “put your hands up in the air! do not move!” In the rearview mirror I could see several officers, guns drawn shielded behind opened car doors. I was then commanded to use my right hand to open the door to my left, lay face down on Sunset Boulevard. My companions were ordered the same. A third cruiser arrives. Commander? Their doors still opened. Guns drawn on us prone on pavement.

At that time there wasn’t a moment to consider what would happen if we were young black men, young brown men, or if we moved indiscriminately in any manner. This was preRodney King.

For whatever protocols these four officers did not approach rather they had us crawl into the sidewalk gutter, only then allowing us each slowly to stand, fingers interlaced on our heads. Individually proceed to the brick facade of a store steps away. They approached, searched and started the questions.

Staring straight forward I heard, “driver you ever been arrested before?” Briefly I thought, damn that’s an Ice-T rap. I responded in that deep Ice-T vocal , “no neva”. Bobby wanted to giggle but swallowed it.

The questions continued but thanks to the reflection in the store window, Michael Paul broke my concentration, alerting me that the other officers were “going in your trunk, Max.” I couldn’t dare tell him, I can see that. And that it was fine. (Michael and I had spent the prior weekend up the coast shooting my guns. Guess he thought they were still in the trunk.)

As Michael repeated the warning, a very large LAPD motorcycle cop who had joined the interrogation fun stepped up behind Michael. In one fluid motion he asked, “what are you nervous about punk?” while simultaneously grabbing Michael’s interlocked hands a top his head and pulling them slowly behind Michael, as he tried to tell the cop, “you’re hurting me. You’re hurting me. You’re hurting me” until Michael’s left shoulder popped out of place and the cop pulled him down to the sidewalk.

Bobby Kennedy and I remained quiet. Michael wiggled and wailed in pain on the concrete. Watching in the reflection, several officers emerged from searching inside my new ride and another emerged frustrated, slamming the trunk shut and throwing my wad of keys on it for affect.

We couldn’t catch badge numbers. We just tried to survive the episode. Finally, in the reflection, officers securely seated in cruisers and on motorcycle, the one, the questioner half in, half out the passenger door, threatened us to never be seen by him again on “his streets”. He sat and they all drove off.

It wasn’t until Monday morning that I found the punchline that almost killed me. I went to my mechanic in Norh Hollywood. He fixed the cars of DEA and LAPD officials. I had him ask to run my Arizona plates.

Herman, the Austrian Bodybuilder hadn’t disclosed that he acquired my car at a LAPD Impound auction. He flipped it to me without putting it in his name. My new car had been used by the last registered owner to commit a spree of liquor store 287s around Hollywood until his apprehension.

The plate traced back to the title holder in Phoenix. When I called him asking for the title, he informed me that, “ I want nothing to do with that car.” He added “LAPD [had] detectives knocked on [his]door a month ago. I knew I shouldn’t have sold it to that guy! Who uses traveler’s checks at a car show?” and hung up on me.

How had the LAPD data processors not clear that all points broadcast for my Olds after the perp was arrested and the asset impounded and sold?

A data processing error had us on the wrong end of 9mm barrels. It had injured my friend, Michael. (And for Bobby it played out again outside my apartment months later when he and a friend had a LAPD cruiser miss identify his license plate, receiving a false positive that he was in a stolen car. Laid out again at gun point on my street until it got clarified.)

As the years of police killings of unarmed young black men and women pass, the PTSD of such moments in my life come raging back. The absolute absurdity that if I was perceived differently by virtue of my skin, I could have never lived to tell you this story.

Epilogue: Weeks later some Crypts stole my car from that mechanic’s lot. His insurance policy paid me $3600. I was cool with it. But randomly a week later, LAPD called me that it was recovered. Like a bad penny it was back in my possession. In an attempt to scrub the crazy arch of this whole nightmare, I had it renovated and painted for the boys of blue.

Thirteen Inches

I’m certain that you’ll be disappointed once you get past the title. You see, I’m just writing about happiness and how it comes in small sizes.

Yea size matters but not when it comes to happiness. It is the simple happiness that a 13” television has brought me through the years.

Television was my only friend for a very longtime. A military father, who removed from the military, he couldn’t get the military out of him. We relocated often. Television was always there. My best friend.

Today I celebrate the USA Hockey team beating the USSR on the so called “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics.

I watched it on a 13” black & white enthralled at the edge of my shitty motel bed where I lived in 1980.

Hell I did the same thing with the 1968 Mexico City Games from my bedroom. These were my first “all-nighters”. John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Bill Toomey, Dick Fosbury and my thirteen inches.

Yea thirteen inch black and white hooked up to an antenna on the roof. I received UHF and VHF, Joe Namath and Speed Racer, the Three Stooges and Gumby. All cultural signals lost to that century (that’s not on ROKU or HULU).

Sure. If you were losing like Iron Mike, Tretiak or Fetisov, you had not one care about the happiness of youth and that 13” television brought. It brought poor kids the world right into their closet sized bedrooms.

My friend, Bobby Kennedy reminded me a week ago that it was 30 years since he and I watched Buster Douglas breakdown the legend of Mike Tyson… before the legal system. Naturally we watched on a 13” black and white television as we leaned against a wall with a leaking gas line on a Tijuana street

It was a life changing at a time on this earth.

It’s not so special to have fifty inches now but it was to have a thirteen inch at all the right moments when our “culture” evolved before our eyes. It felt like these kids rolling around on ice.

Times have changed.

Mose Allison & Early Mornings

I find jazz exceptionally beautiful driving in the dark wee hours of the morning. In its totality it’s greater than a clarinet driven composition of a miserably grey day of pelting rain.

I wholeheartedly relish desolate dark drives at these hours. These moments are soulful resurrections because at any other time, jazz can be bewildering busy like the day, and accompanied by others, it is taxing like a conversation with a stranger.

You desperately try to assemble a rhythm, find some thesis, a compatible spark that may connect to another. Not searching for anything enduring since, all great musical numbers have an end.

You simply wish to share perhaps a sublime moment of comfort and peace with a piece of god’s other art, a human, whose biorhythms sync effortlessly with you.

How that happened one late September Saturday evening at a Santa Monica pub, I will never know but it happened around sharing Mose Allison.

She knew what I was talking about and I felt the rhythm of our beat drive some improv into conversational places I’d only shared with my friend, Jackie White over cold San Miguel’s listening to Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Clarke in that comfortable, cold, dead dark countryside.

I never talk about Mose Allison, I thought, as I walked away to my car with Jeanette’s telephone number tucked in my pocket.

I hadn’t asked. Hell I’ve never asked. She’d felt the groove and offered to set up another gig because her best friend, she was playing sour notes. Our jam session interrupted.

I was seduced by our rhythm all the dark drive home. It was the right accompaniment to jam on another night. Yet, it betrayed memory.

The memory of how that seduction pacing like a ride cymbal in my head can abruptly end. It was once beating and squealing until I drove Jackie White that last night to pull an armed bar robbery.

He hit the road south as day broke and i lost my beat, as I turned course in the other direction.

Less ceremoniously and a decade later, this jazzy number ended abruptly with Jeanette as well.

I really never got to know her because after every subsequent gig, she became more acquainted with my bathroom floor, hugging my porcelain pedestal.

Though I wouldn’t leave them alone, I wasn’t jealous. I sat in the sink, drinking and jammed on about Chick Corea as he spun on my turntable.

But in the end; that, final day as I paid for some shitty Mexican meal on Santa Monica Boulevard for her and my roomie, I stepped into the parking lot to find them tongue wrestling. The musical klutz, my good friend, who was there at the pub, disinterested in Mose Allison and Jeanette diving in for a solo.

Day was breaking. It was the close to the night of the Hollywood Christmas Parade, a friend’s suicide in the day. I recoiled at the crescendo.

The glare; that, dissonance brought by coming light. The harshest of Light, reality. It ripped through that dreamy dark groove that I dig in the lonely, lovely sojourn of my life and all that jazz.

Self Serving

Another Veterans Day comes and goes. As I get older it’s harder to suppress my animus. But I cannot dare or it will eat me alive.

This time of year it rears the ugliness. The dark truth. It’s set off online and in line as I approach the entrance to shop benignly at Market Basket.

Those silver haired, VFW adorned veterans soliciting donations for other veterans. They form a charming, united front this pair, as they flirt with the 60 to 80 year old ladies that come their way.

The ladies eating up the suave advances of those gallant, once young, soldier boys. Those forever young devils. My mind spills into disgust as I imagine if this is sex after sixty-five.

But down deep, I battle my guttural instinct to ask if they knew the soldier boys who raped my teenage mother.

Perhaps they knew them. Occupying the Rhineland a good decade after death’s decay was sanitized from my Strasse.

Those fine young men who casually destroyed a young girl’s life before it had chance to start, leaving her with two baby girls and twenty months later with me. In a home with not enough food to feed us. I would have to go.

Yes. Those wonderful boys in uniform giving of themselves to have a good time away a year, maybe two from their wives and children back in the states, defending “our way of life”.

Imagine how many Vietnamese, Korean and European bastards they left littered about those lands this past century? Abandoned. No money. No husband. No father. They’re left to fend for themselves and their alienated child(ren).

Thank you for your service.

However you say, not all of these servicemen were such cads. They’re mostly kind hearted, well trained and mannered young men representing you like a high school football team playing at some one else’s field.

True, after my teen mother gave me away she found a half-decent serviceman who actually went back home and divorced his wife, abandoning his daughter to return for his foreign bride. How did they feel about his service in that small Pennsylvania town?

yes once again, he wasn’t so half-decent to destroy his little girl’s childhood. Nor was he anywhere near human as he molested his new bride’s daughters, once he relocated them back in the States.

They weren’t his daughters.

He left them without a single word or finances for a year hitch in the ‘Nam. Imagine what this monster did over there to young girls?

But hell. Those were children of that foreign land that he was entitled to by virtue of his armament and status as a freedom fighter for them this time.

They weren’t his daughters. None of them were.

The Veterans who raped our teenage mother are probably dead now. I can’t thank them for their service to the darkest instincts of humanity. For flag and nation. Duty.

No I can’t thank them for my mother and half sister’s brief lives, the other sisters’ drug addiction, their mother’s neglect and mental breakdown.

We just have to live with it until we die. And we are set free. Home of the free because we had to brave their (self) service.

A Cup of Critical Care

The weather’s been betraying the calendar and season until today.

Now it’s just cold, windy, raw autumn.

I realize I have my coffee mug raised in my left hand at the driver-side window as I roll down the same 10-mile stretch of Interstate that I covered to the pediatrician yesterday.

It must look like I’m begging for a java donation, refill solicitations at 75mph.

Why hasn’t Dunkin Donuts figured out how to perform mobile refueling mid-Interstate, a java driven roadway rescue?

There simply isn’t enough coffee for mornings or days like these. But I’m drinking coffee at three and six o’clock in afternoon anyway.  Who am I kidding?

I nap spontaneously at moments of sedentary silence on couch or chair. My best napping done in waiting rooms here and there.

But today, I’m cold. Numb. Tired. It’s silent in the car as I drive to a spurious appointment for my youngest, whose home a third straight day ill from ear or is it throat.

Yesterday it was my eldest, whom I took for shots.  Last week it was twice up another Interstate in the teeth of commuter traffic to see other doctors. She has as many as a neurotic septuagenarian yenta on the Upper West Side.

And they still can’t get the co-pays right!

I have had a relationship with this pediatrician for fifteen years. When I was a young – ahh, well middle aged – first-time father, he’d walk in, promptly asking “and how are you doing?” of me.  Stunned. I recall being unable to immediately answer. Shocked frankly.

However, all at once pleased, he had and always caught me off guard with his sincere attention. I’d stammer “I’m doing okaaayyyy”.

Today, he walks in, shakes my hand hello and says, “We’re getting older. We’re  turning grayer.” I remove my hat to remind him I shave my head. He says, “well at least you’re still handsome” and he turns his attention to my pre-teen.

He’s the greatest doctor since Marcus Welby.

Dr_-Welby

I always walk away from his office reassured, revived, totally rejuvenated.

Hell if he can support hundreds of children and their parents with a smile and quip,  I shouldn’t whine supporting just my two, I considered as I walk out to begin another long trip to a Newport dentist for my daughter’s appointed filling.

(Thoughts turn to) there’s a Starbucks on the corner of Thames! I have a Reward!

Reflections

The humidity was visibly laying in a wall of fog that reflected off car headlights as I drove to the rink along the canal at five in the morning .

When the temperature is lower than the dew point, the atmosphere has an uncomfortable chill; that, positively sticky skin yet with a chill that can grow to a shiver, demanding no coat or cover, however demands a car’s air conditioning.

At such an hour though it also requires an espresso clutched in my cold fingers. I sip, standing before the chained door. I wait like the padlock to be freed and drop down the stairs into the dressing room.

The ice rink glass was fogged by the humidity in the building.  The panes of glass sweat clear streams of water downward, since they could not freeze in the warm air.

This morning dressed in goaltender gear, I stepped through the door already sweating from the slight exertion to proceed to the far end, my net. Solitary. Team-less. An exercise in tenacity and spirit for which there’s no reward.

As the skaters churned up the air, spinning, deeking, colliding about the ice, I saw their various reflections come clearer – a mosaic of movement on the glass, and as their motion moved air, it reduced the fog from the panes.

Like ghosts, I watched them in the mirrors of glass.  They multiplied, solitary figures became two, three, merging with others as they triangulated on the ice.

I heard a voice behind me say my name. Twice. But the play was at the other end. I glanced back to my right, then behind the net. Emptiness. My eyes were drawn upward. Empty grandstand though briefly, a figure. A skinny man, whose vestige then disappeared.

In months past, I’ve seen an older man standing by the railing at the other end of these grandstands, though I knew he was not really there. A figure that did not move for minute upon minute, gone once I had moment to glance again after stopping multiple shots on my goal.

At moments I’ve thought it my father, twenty-five years deceased. My biggest fan, supporter.  He had never seen me play hockey. I’d seen that smile. Perhaps he was there again, as he was always in my youth. Smiling. Beaming.

It’s been recurring. I’ve rationalized it another ghost, whose soul rested at the rink perhaps his greatest love. He has stood there motionless many mornings.

The voice returned to say my name but I ignored it as the swirling reflections to my right multiplied, even though the boys were playing at the other end.

It was a projection of boys turned men now perhaps ghosts. Reflections of youth, which we no longer possess I was thinking as suddenly a half-dozen skaters barreled toward me like life, or maybe death were chasing, chasing our youth from our aging bones.

A Terrible Trajectory

broken glass

In the 21st Century, there is really no rational justification to promote defeated propositions of racial, or for that matter, religious superiority.

As the German bastard son, I’m acutely aware of a trajectory in American society’s perception of Fascism, in particular, German Fascism; that, most iconic, misguided fascination with “modern” racial superiority.

My introduction to America, schoolboys – the Baby-Boom in late adolescence, it was eye-opening.  Once identified as German, I was routinely machine gunned down in pantomime and spittle in schoolyards for years. (40 odd years later, it was no revelation when my long lost blood-sister shared similar experiences upon her immigration.)

(For context, Viet Nam was still a work in progress. Immigration a tepid “altWhite”. Civil Rights another man’s problem.)

It had been only twenty years since, in Hunter Thompson’s term, the “bad German” had been exorcised. A lot of “winning” was still enjoyed. Yet for me, it was a most ignoble –  frankly bullied introduction to my new alien status as a loser in the land of the free.

(It took another decade before enjoying Thompson’s post-war “Good German”.)

But boys will be boys.  Fast forward 50 years, the arc of American Society has become distorted as young white males, the descendants of my schoolboy acquaintances promote analog policies; that, I can only defer they believe is a “good NAZI”?

Built upon the blood and sacrifice of others, winning can easily be contagious over generations unaware and exceedingly displaced from the dirty work, the conflict.

Excuse me but I am dumbfounded to witness a controversy fundamentally revolving on the question, are some card-carrying racists “nice”?

Look, there are no “nice people” among their ranks, yesterday or today.  The use of  words steeped in NAZI ideology such as “blood and soil”, “Sieg Heil” or in race-baiting – “Jews will not replace me” should be obvious to rational people.

So abdominal,  sensible world leaders outlawed the use of these symbols and slogans in their countries once ravaged by the racial agenda.

assembly

The location that these “nice people” assembled was more signal than smoke screen. Rather than addition by subtraction, this protest sought numbers and to double down, as they assembled at an iconic symbol of failed American succession, mixing in the slogans and paraphernalia of  “Brown-Shirts” on Kristallnacht.

I’ve known this all my life as intimidation.

I’ve witnessed American youth evolve from shooting me, the imaginary NAZI in their midst to, later, deferring violence upon me solely because “You’re German. We won’t beat you up” as I rejected their White Power ideas at punk rock shows. (“You know we’re right”, they’d conclude. “Right” – a word steeped in German nuance.)

And, now, late in life I see them empowered, glorifying in the symbols of the “bad German”, acting out like the loser Nazi, justifying it under the valor of loser secessionists.

This is not a platform to return to “winning”, no, quite the opposite.

An astounding, terrible trajectory.

Vanishing Point

It’s a cold 39 or is it 39 days since I saw the Sun

My incision aches though the knots of flesh removed

My heart pained at the emotional knot of by my eldest child

A knot in my throat squeezes tight

There’s no air in my lungs to sooth my youngest suffering some virus

This cloud of ailments arrayed against my vision

A hearse passes by thankfully with out-of-state plates

We are all on our way

to some thing, somewhere

years or days maybe hours away

yet it seems without end

The respite is a moonless night

Spring is still not here today

The cardinal and the woodpecker don’t know

The gurneys sit jealous of them both

The sky a grey steel blanket above

It weeps cold drips of chilling reminder

The crocus purple and white know not to celebrate

They sense the failure of the daffodil and tulip

My pulse pounds down my shin in the knot that’s my ankle

I pace a cure for a sick child

Jack White blares in the aisle

Why is cauliflower five dollar per head

Fruit is cheaper anyway

I will buy it instead

Steady as you go

Fruit Suet and Seed

Spring is still not here today

The Roar of the Night

It’s assuredly late August. I just successfully escorted several crickets out of the house.

With such altruism I assure another evening, another year next of late summer night song.

Over the summer, weeding, pruning, I watch them grow, as I uncover their shade from brutal July sun. Like a farmer, a gardener knows these cycles from working the earth. The symbiotic rhythm of life.  These welcome signs confirm again that a cycle will not be broken. Nature is bigger, greater than any one person, any specie.

It also reminded me of a lovely editorial I read a decade or more ago in the New York Times. It comes to mind every late August. I’d like to share it here:

In 1899, Dr. Robert Thaxter Edes, a Harvard graduate and Civil War veteran, noted that “the tree cricket does not say much in the daytime.” Dr. Edes was trying to calibrate the change in the pitch of a tree cricket’s note as the temperature changes. F.H. Hall, writing in 1912, was more specific. The song is “a clear mellow whistle resembling the words treat, treat, treat, pitched about in C, two octaves above middle C, on a warm evening rising to D.” One species sings a half pitch higher and another “about F# on an average summer evening.”

The ensemble of those songs is what I hear these late summer nights. It is uproarious, a universal stridulation, as Dr. Edes might put it.  Unlike the first insect songs of summer, which come from the pasture grasses, the chorus of the tree crickets rises all around me, from bushes and from high in the maples and hickories. It sounds as though they are letting their songs fall from space.

It is, of course, not a true song, but the rasping together of wings held straight up from the body. For all I know, they could be playing tiny panpipes. The darkness seems to exult with song, and I find myself fearing the day when the sun will go down upon silence.

This chorus sounds like the end of a season, and yet it sounds like the start of one, too. It fills the night like a marsh full of spring peepers, whose ringing peep is said to be at E and F, four octaves above middle C. Nature may not intend this symmetry, but I can’t help liking it.

It’s encouraging to think that all this night song now will result in tree-cricket eggs that wait through the winter before hatching – the source of next summer’s singing.  Encouraging, too, to know that only undisturbed tree crickets sing. All is well as long as the night keeps roaring.