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.

Swingers revisited

Twenty years ago last month I met my wife.

It was just after Christmas and my roommate, Jim had been AWOL all of December.

I was fairly certain he was hanging out with a young lady we had met at the Ye Old Kings Head in Santa Monica one night in November.

Jeanette and I had chatted about Mose Allison and Ron Hubbard over drinks, while Jim prowled the pub. Left out, her friend wanted to leave. She offered me her telephone number.  We went out twice, both times concluded with her hugging my toilet bowl.

Anyway, Jim had two gal pals due to arrive from Boston.  He had barely said a word about it but I’d been on business all month between Austin and Chicago. When I returned he was still absent. Yet I assured the cute voice on the other end of the telephone that, “if I have to make a sign and stand there like a limo dude, look for your name, Kim, that’ll be me”.  Oh, by the way where you staying?” I asked. “I thought your place”, she says.

Jim hadn’t spoken to me since December 3rd, the night he played tongue twister with Jeanette outside El Torito on Santa Monica Boulevard, while I paid our check.

It wouldn’t have been so bad but it had been a really hard day.  Though I saw Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger – my childhood hero – ride by in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, a good friend had committed suicide that morning.

One can only take so much. I was mortified a “good guy” had gone badly while petrified by the action of a “bad guy” I had thought was good. All senseless.

As I got in my car to leave the Valley for LAX, Jim showed up. “Where you been?”, I asked. Nothing. Nervous. He spoke gibberish about “women” while we drove.

His late arrival made finding Kim and Lynn easier on a busy Sunday night at the airport. They commented that they had noticed me. Vainly I wondered what they had thought?

I asked them what they wanted to do? They were game for going out to have drinks so I drove them to Hollywood, near where I lived for a decade, off Cahuenga.

I parked down the street on Fountain.  We started at the Dark Room or Burgundy Room, one of which was a bigger darker sister bar of the other small dark bar across the street, both without signs. Since the door was in the back, we walked up the alleyway.

I could feel the ladies’ tension with every step. We came upon some men, one on his knees blowing the other behind that hot dog kiosk down from the newsstand on Cahuenga.

As  I assured them there’s a gay bar at the other corner, the shrill crackle of a laughing street woman and the metal wheels of her shopping cart rattled off the ally walls. It made Jim and the ladies jump; just another night off Hollywood Boulevard.

Safely inside, crowded we had a couple rounds as my eyes transfixed at the taller, porcelain faced Kim. Her light brown eyes shined, reflecting the glow of those dimples. It seemed she couldn’t stop smiling at me while Lynn was in sensory overload.

I thought we should move on to a more lit bar. I suggested The Dresden on Vermont. Maybe Marty and Elaine were playing. They can do the entertaining and give us a chance to unwind.

The Dresden is an old glam club from the 1950s. Classic tuck-and-roll booths, chandeliers, long curvy countertop bar. Between Boarderners and The Dresden I had wasted years with my goofy friends drinking, killing hours, being stupid.

Marty and Elaine were playing “Staying Alive” and it seemed Kim and I were coming alive. It was magic but I had to make sure and called a friend who lived in Silver Lake “to  come down here for a drink… I’ll buy. I want you to meet this girl”.

We didn’t speak of movies or bands, drop names, kiss or hug, we had no contact; that, she was under the same roof sipping coffee once I was done posing as some hipster that night made it all the more real.

Days later we kissed at the Tiki-Ti and the morning after we packed up a rental El Dorado, Jim, Jeanette, and Lynn heading for New Years Eve in San Francisco.

One night a year later at our first home in Providence, we saw this movie by Jon Favrue. It was called “Swingers”. He traced our entire first evening together (without the alleyway oral sex of course). “All the cool bars in Hollywood have to be real hard to find and have no signs”, went a line.  We looked at one another in shock.

The jig was already up though. I was just an extra in the phony, over-managed, repetition of a screenplay called life going nowhere as a L.A swinger.

As I always said, it’s seductive. So near to stardom, one can reach out and touch it, yet so far away most can’t pick up the check.  At least over the years, I proved I could pick up the check, even if not the girl.

As much as she enjoyed the thrill, this woman knew the end of a good script; what was the furthest from the regular lives of people outside that bubble;  what was of real import.

She trusted I knew deep down too but allowed me to decide. 20 years, two children, two houses, thousands of miles away, we swing happily to our own script every day.

baby N me