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About the author:
She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband/best friend, two gorgeous, talented, spectacular kids, and a bratty, but cute Shepherd pound hound. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Got home from racquetball, flopped on my bed and flipped on the TV. A middle-age White male reporter spoke in this very excited tone “—that two of the three cops were acquitted of all charges, and one was acquitted of all but one charge in which the jury was hung.” He stood on the steps of the L.A. courthouse yelling over an angry crowd. “We are expecting an official statement from Mayor Bradley on this obvious miscarriage of justice…”
I switched the channel. Another reporter standing outside the Simi Valley courthouse was repeating the verdict. He spoke in the same amped manner, like he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “We’re all shocked. This is unbelievable,” the young, White reporter exclaimed. “I don’t know about you folks out there, but after seeing that videotape there is no doubt the police used excessive force. The results were obviously prejudiced by the all White jury in this upper middle class neighborhood of Simi Valley.”
So much for unbiased reporting.
It got worse station to station, minute by minute. The press retried the case, live, and found the jurors guilty of racism, the courts suspect of jury rigging for moving the venue, and convicted the cops for excessive force. Reporters stated opinions as if facts, made Rodney King into a hero, even though he was a violent, thieving drunk. It was insanity, like watching A Clockwork Orange.
Click. On ABC a bunch of people were shoving each other in back of a reporter speaking excitedly into the camera, and a part of me hoped that reporter would get his head bashed in. My phone rang and I clicked off the TV.
“Are you watching this?” my mother asked.
“No, it was making me ill so I turned it off.”
“Well all hell’s breaking loose downtown. They just dragged some poor man out of his truck, and there’s a bunch of Black men smashing his head in. Oh my god…” her voice trailed off. Someone on my mom’s TV in the background was screaming, “Terrible, terrible pictures! The only thing this guy did was enter the area. Being White is his only crime!”
I couldn’t resist. Click. POV from a helicopter, circling above a red Mack truck stopped in the center of an intersection. A White man was on the ground, on his knees a few feet from the open door of the truck. Several Black men moved around him, then one ran up behind him and slugged him in the back. He stumbled but managed to get to his feet, then another Black guy came up and pitched something into the side of his head.
“Ah! The man is down again!” the reporter yelled over the thrumming chopper blades as the Black guy pranced away with his arms in the air like Score!, both hands flipping the bird. “What was that?…Some sort of rock, possibly a brick,” the reporter mused as camera pulls in on the man laying in the street, blood now appearing near his head on the pavement.
“Can you believe what is happening here?” I’d forgotten my mom was on the phone. “I don’t want you going out tonight. They’re dragging every White person out of their car. Stay in your house. Do you hear me young lady?”
“Mother, no one is dragging everyone anywhere. The media is sensationalizing this to death.” I sat on the edge of my bed feeling my blood boil witnessing this beaten, bloody man on the ground reaching out for help while passersby just watched him.
“The man is obviously seriously wounded. And no one is helping him,” the reporter yelled as camera pulled in closer on the guy’s bloody face. He grasped at the air as if he was blind. Some Black guy stood just beyond the man’s reach, filming him.
“What is wrong with that cameraman?” I seethed, disgusted. “Why isn’t anyone helping this guy? What the hell is wrong with these people!?”
“Listen missy. Black people are very upset right now. And they have a right to be. We all saw that tape, what those policemen did. They deserved to be punished and weren’t.”
“Rodney King is an asshole, mother, a violent felon, arrested multiple times for beating on women and robbery. This is a guy who clearly doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself. I don’t know what really happened that night from what we saw of that video. Every one of those jurors saw that tape in it’s entirety at least five hundred times. The public saw a five second clip from the media’s point of view. I wasn’t in that courtroom, mom. And neither were you.”
“I know what I saw,” she said definitively, which was good enough for her.
“No, you don’t. That’s my point. And even assuming a miscarriage of justice happened here, then we have the right to peacefully protest the ruling, even file a civil lawsuit, but it doesn’t give anyone permission to arbitrarily attack people. And the press, and our dear mayor, don’t have the right to yell fire in the theater because they don’t like the outcome of this case. There must be a better path to justice than inciting a riot.”
“I’m not going to discuss this with you now. You always make things so complicated. Don’t go out tonight. You hear me? Stay home! I’ll talk to you in the morning.” She hung up. No, “bye,” or “chow.” Just click.
“…No police or emergency personnel on the scene. None have been seen anywhere in the area,” said the reporter in his voice-over commentary with camera still on the bloody man as he slithered on his back towards his big rig. No one helped him. Two Black women casual glanced at him desperately groping for his truck door as they walked by.
And I wanted to hit those bitches in the head with a brick right then. These people weren’t human, and didn’t deserve to exist among our race. OUR race. The Human Race.
Click. I flipped through the channels, hoping the beating was an isolated incident. Another helicopter’s POV of a bunch of Black guys kicking another White guy on the ground. He lay faced down several feet from a white truck stopped in an intersection, the truck door open wide. A Black guy in a white t-shirt and black cargo pants ran up to the guy on the ground, lifted something large over his head then threw it down on the defenseless man.
“Oh no! NO! He’s bleeding, unconscious in the street,” voice-over of reporter as the scene unfolded. “Hit the siren, Doug.” What sounded like a police siren goes off. “Ah, this is tragic. The man is unconscious in the street. And people are still coming up and throwing things at this poor individual, whose only crime is being White.”
I stared at the screen, my growing horror overshadowing even my outrage. This was beyond crazy. This was L.A. What happened to the paradise I grew up in, filled with casual, friendly, sun-drenched locals co-existing in racially mixed neighborhoods. My public schools were predominantly White, but there were Blacks, Asians, Latinos. L.A. had never been divided by race— only income. Until now.
“Ah, no,” the reporter said. “They’re taking everything from his truck. The man is being looted…”
It was surreal watching a Black guy bend over the beaten man on the ground and lift his wallet from his pants pocket then run away. Several other Black guys were coming out of the back of the truck carrying stuff, running past the driver still motionless in the street.
“This isn’t happening,” I heard myself whisper. “This can’t be happening.”
Hal Fishman on KTLA news was in studio talking to reporters stationed around L.A. “What’s that, Carlos?” Camera back on their trusty reporter in front of the L.A. courthouse. “Okay. We’re getting some live reports down the street at the Criminal Courts building of rioting. What?… Stay with us folks. We’re live and unedited here…Yes. Yes. It’s been confirmed. A riot has broken out at Central and Vermont. We’re sending a sky unit there now…And wait! A woman has been shot in a drive-by in East L.A. at Lincoln…”
I flipped through every station including PBS, hoping one station had the sense to be showing Rosanne re-runs, but none were. Finally I turned it off. The silence that followed sucked me in and I stared blankly into space. Blackness descended, not the usual suffocating shroud of Lonely, but the bottomless pit of hopelessness.
I tried to work, lay out articles of drivel on loan rates and housing starts, and why in this depressed economy it was a good time to buy. Bankers were on par, maybe even more self-absorbed than thieving Rodney. They worked the system to legally steal. And I was helping them. I shook my head, disgusted. The notable artist and quotable writer I sought to become to contribute to our evolution was a delusion of grandeur. I was just a narcissist, and like most everyone else merely a cog in a twisted system beyond my influence.
The most powerful craving to cop a buzz that I’d experience since quitting consumed me. I needed to disconnect from the piercing, ugly reality. One call and Lee would bring over some bud. I’d have my best friend back to thwart the blackness. We’d get lost in playing Tavli the rest of the night— unplug from the world outside gone mad. I stared at my phone on the end table. Just pick up the phone…
Stay in that room another minute and I’d have called Lee. I abandoned work and took Face for a walk. It was almost 9:00 by then, a warm spring evening, but outside was eerie. There were hardly any cars on the road and almost no freeway noise, which was very strange, since no matter where you live in L.A., you can always hear the constant thrum of traffic.
Face went bouncing around from yard to yard, lost in the smells of squirrels, and mice, and pee from other dogs, happily searching for a playmate. Why couldn’t people be more like my dog? What is wrong with us? Where was our compassion, since we all knew sadness, loneliness, fear? I felt tears flow down my cheeks. Stop it! I dried my eyes with the back of my sweater sleeve, but when I blinked more tears fell. Don’t do this! It doesn’t matter. It won’t affect you if you don’t let it, I told myself, many miles, and light years away from the madness downtown.
“FUCK!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. I turned around, walked back to my house and curled on my bed in shame. My outrage, my anger towards the ignorant that were rioting and looting— reflected them.
I woke to sirens at 7:00 the next morning and lay in bed listening to one after another blaring in a rush somewhere. The newsletter needed to go to the printer by 4:00p.m. Fed-Ex. I should have been out of bed already but felt afraid to get up. I lay there half awake, trying to pretend that it was just another sunny day in L.A., then my phone rang.
“Hi.” Lee said. “You alright?”
“Yeah. How about you?” I managed, my heart suddenly beating fast and loud, reverberating in my throat.
“Yeah. Well, sort of. Are you watching the news?”
“Nope. What’s up?” I got out of bed, went over to the drafting table, and started organizing what needed to get done.
“Turn it on. They’re burning down L.A. You won’t believe what is going on out there.”
“I don’t think I want to know.”
“Just turn it on. You’ve gotta see this.”
I retrieved the remote and flipped on the TV. KTLA usually had comedy news from 6:00 to 9:00a.m. Not this morning. All the usual faces were sullen. SkyCam was showing buildings on fire from the chopper’s POV. Roving street reporters were filming hordes of Blacks and Latinos stealing everything from electronic equipment to bags of groceries. Some had backed their cars up to broken windows and were cleaning out the store fronts, then driving away. No police were around, which the reporters boldly announced from one location to another. The way the media was showing it, it looked like we were living in Beirut.
“Can you believe this?” Lee asked.
“Yeah…No…This is too weird.” I stood glued to the set showing a helicopter’s perspective of a huge warehouse engulfed in flames somewhere near LAX. “Oh my god, I know where that is…Shit! Lee, I’ve gotta call my printer. The warehouse they’re showing is right near his shop. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
“Yeah. Call me back after you talk to him, assuming you talk to him.”
“Okay. Bye.” I hung up and dialed Lloyd.
“Southland Printing.” Lloyd’s son and business partner answered the phone.
“Steven! You’re there.”
“Yeah. You guys okay down there?”
“For this minute we are, but the police came by and told us to lock up and get out. We’re shutting down the presses right now. Don’t send the job today. It’s gonna have to wait.”
Great. For the first time in eight years in business on my own I was going to miss a deadline. “Yeah, okay. Do you know how long you’ll be down?”
“I don’t even know if we’ll have a place to come back to. They’re burning down buildings two blocks from us.”
“I know. They’re showing it on TV now. Are you guys insured?”
“Not for civil unrest. Look, I’ve gotta go. We were supposed to be outta here an hour ago. Call back tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll be back up by then.”
“Okay. Hey, Steven, take care. Be safe out there.”
“Right. Where is safe now exactly?” Steven gave a quick, sardonic laugh. “Take it easy, Ray.”
Lloyd and his son Steven ran a small print shop in the middle of industrial Inglewood. They’d started out small, had recently expanded and even took on a few employees. Black and Latino employees to be exact. They worked long hours, were honest, good people and didn’t deserve this shit. Why anyone would want to hurt them was beyond me, and cut deep, like someone stabbed me.
Don’t do this. It doesn’t matter. Don’t care. And the powerful craving for a buzz teased my pleasure centers again, testing my resolve to stay sober to this sharp new reality. One call to Lee… Then it occurred to me I was going to be late delivering to my client, so I called them instead.
“We’re sorry. Because of the riots we will be closed until further notice,” the recording said. “Please leave a message. Beep.” I left a message for my contact explaining the hold-up in completing the job and promised to call back with any updates.
On TV Skycam’s POV was showing thin plumes of smoke rising into the orange sky throughout the city as the camera panned from downtown to the coast. The phone rang again startling me from the strikingly bleak image.
“Hi.” Lee. “Is your printer alright?”
“Yeah. He had to close though. I can’t get a hold of anyone at the credit union either, so I guess I’m off the hook for today.”
“Me too. They’ve stopped all trucks and trains coming into the city so I had to tell my clients they won’t get their freight on time. Not a good morning. The dickheads looting and rioting are totally screwing with my business. I don’t give a shit what their problem is. I wish they’d all fucking kill each other and be done with it.”
“Jesus, Lee. Not enough violence for you already?” But I knew how he felt which is why the reflection put me on the defensive.
“Don’t give me shit, Ray. You’re right back there, aren’t you? Letting that black hole gobble you up again. You can’t control this, my dear. This really isn’t even your problem. Take a day off. Relax and enjoy it. Just let it go.”
“Right. Can you tell me how, exactly, it’s not supposed to bug me that our city just turned into a war zone?” I shook my head, disgusted. Of course he could relax and enjoy, getting buzzed all day, narrowing his focus to whatever struck him. I wanted some so bad I could almost taste the sweet smoke, and had to hang up to stop myself from asking him to bring some weed over. “I’ve gotta go. I want to finish the job I’m working on, just in case they reopen and I can messenger it over later. Are we still playing ball tomorrow?”
“Yeah. But we’ve got to be outta there and off the road by 6:00 with the curfew on,” Lee reminded me.
A curfew in L.A.? It was ludicrous. Part of me was with Lee, wishing the assholes tearing apart my city would all die. It took most of my will to go back to working. My better self would have turned off the TV, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. L.A. was coming undone just the other side of my windows but it was like watching the Gulf War unfold halfway across the globe. I had to stay tuned-in to find out who was going to get bombed next.
It was well after dark when an explosion rattled my window just shy of breaking them. Suzanne wasn’t home and I was scared out of my mind when I told Face to stay and went outside to look for the source of the noise. The street was empty, presumably from the curfew. A bright orange glow down the block turned out to be the Ralph’s supermarket on fire. White and yellow flames danced out of the huge glass storefront and lit up the night as a firetruck came blaring down the street, lights blazing.
Several neighbors had gathered in a tight circle on the sidewalk, their white skin practically glowing under the florescent street lamps. They talked quietly amongst themselves but as I approached they parted slightly and welcomed me in so I couldn’t avoid them.
“Stupid lowlifes,” my next-door neighbor practically spit. “Destroying their own neighborhood is bad enough. Now they have to come here and destroy ours too.”
“And the stealing! It just goes to show they can’t be trusted,” the old lady from across the street exclaimed.
“I’m not saying that the jury was right,” said my neighbor’s husband. “But that sure doesn’t give them the right to go out and hurt innocent people.”
“I don’t know what they’re trying to prove,” my neighbor said, shaking her head. “All it’s proving to me is these people are aggressive and violent and deserve whatever they get. Poor and ignorant is no excuse for barbaric. They should go back to the hole they crawled out of—”
“Ship em back to Africa and Mexico,” someone said.
I listened silently as I watched Ralph’s burn. A part of me was pleased the store befell disaster. The management sucked, the usual wait in line fifteen minutes or more. The produce was overpriced, and usually overripe. Served em right. I left the neighbors to snipe among themselves.
Back home every station was showing minorities looting business, throwing molotov cocktails at storefronts, or beating up White people. And as much as I’d have liked to hate my neighbors for feeling as they did, I could not discount that monster of blind, feckless rage now festering in me. I paced between the bed and the TV trying to rid myself my gnawing anxiety I wanted to peel my skin off, rid me of me. Face watched me, rocket ears straight up, her eye wide with wonder. My scalp prickled, my heart pounded. I broke into a sweat and felt as if I might pass out, or puke.
I went into the bathroom and splashed my face with cold water, then looked in the mirror. “Don’t do this, Rachel. Don’t believe what you see on TV. It is not reality.” I stared at myself but felt no relation to the person staring back at me. All I could see in my head were interviews with angry Blacks, their faces twisted with hate as they yelled into camera exclaiming adoration for their new hero Rodney King. “Those stupid sons-a-bitches,” I heard myself say to the person in the mirror, then covered my mouth in horror. I was my neighbors right then. “You’re the stupid sonofabitch,” I yelled, again filled with self-loathing forcing me to turn away from my reflection.
I went back into my room and turned off the TV. It was silent inside and outside.
Except for the sound of running water.
What the hell was that? It wasn’t raining. The sprinklers weren’t on yet. I checked the kitchen, and the back yard, then went outside, around the side of house and stepped in a muddy puddle. After clearing some bushes below the bathroom window, I notice a small geyser coming up from the crawl space underneath the house. A pipe had obviously broken. Shit. Tonight of all nights.
I went back inside and called the Department of Water and Power. My water bill was already over $100 a month, and I wasn’t about to spend another $100 for the broken pipe. “We can’t come out tonight,” the DWP operator told me, clearly annoyed. “All our available personnel are helping the fire department re-route water lines to fight the fires. We might not be able to get out there tomorrow either. You’ll have to turn the water main off to stop the leak.”
“Where exactly is the main line, and how do I turn it off?”
“It’s probably near the sidewalk in front of your house. Do you have a Crescent wrench?”
“Well, the best I can do is to try and get someone out there tomorrow morning. Cost you $25 bucks for emergency service. And I can’t exactly guarantee that either. There’s no telling if we’ll have any available techs by then if the rioting continues.”
“Fine.” What the hell was I paying these people for anyway? “And if water comes through the floorboards and wrecks all my stuff, I’ll bill you. Thanks for nothing.” I hung up and called my landlord. His machine picked up, of course. I told his machine what was going on, hung up, and called my father. I knew he’d have the right tools and be able to find the main water line.
I met my dad in my driveway as he pulled up ten minutes later. Before getting out of his car he reached into the back seat for his tool box, and then into his glove box and pulled out a hand gun.
“What the hell is that for?” I had no idea my father owned a gun.
“There’s a riot on, in case you haven’t heard.” He got out of his Chrysler LeBaron and put the gun in the waistband of his pants, for easy access, I guess.
“And what are you going to do with it?”
“Shoot anyone I have to.” He said it so casually. “Now where is this leak?”
I just stood there. “This is absurd. What are you thinking? By the time you take that thing out of your pants, anyone aiming at you would have shot you already. Why are you carrying that thing around?”
“This is the United States of America, young lady. I have a legal right to carry a weapon to protect myself and my family, and that is exactly what I intend to do. We are under a curfew tonight. I’m not supposed to be out of the house as it is. And I’m not here to get into a political debate with you. I’m here to fix your leak. So where is it?”
I shook my head with a heavy sigh and led him to the side of the house, showed him the flood then we went out to the sidewalk to turn off the main line. Except we couldn’t find it. We rooted around in the ivy looking up and down the street for a good ten minutes, until a lone car came cruising slowly down the vacant street toward us.
My father straightened as he watched the old beater Volvo slowly come to a stop in the middle of the street directly across from where we stood on the sidewalk. All the windows were down and faces of five or more Black guys stared at us. My father didn’t say anything, but he slowly rested his hand on the gun in his waistband, his potbelly obscuring the small handgun from view.
“Dad, don’t!” I whispered harshly. The bangers silently stared, not even talking among themselves. “Ignore them, dad. Let’s just find the goddamn water main. Okay?”
My father didn’t move. He stood there, staring back at them with his hand on his gun. I felt like I was in a movie, frozen in a standoff at the O.K. Corral. I had to do something or someone was going to get hurt. “Hey, you guys,” I yelled to the bangers casually.
“Shut up, Rachel,” my father commanded in an angry whisper.
My heart racing, I plunged ahead. “You guys know where the valve for the water main might be? Our pipe busted. Can you help us out here, before the DWP makes me homeless?”
The driver smiled a huge white grin. “Don’t know nutin bout dat. But ya outta watch yoself out here, bitch. Yo ain’t heard? Cops is trigga happy.”
“En so are we,” yelled the guy in the back seat. They all cracked up laughing and the driver floored it, laid half his tires on the road speeding away. Jerks.
“That was a stupid thing to do, Rachel. You could have gotten us killed.” My father was literally shaking as he yelled at me. The entire scene was almost comic, had it not been so profoundly sad.
“Forget it dad. They’re gone, okay? Can we just find this stupid valve and turn my damn water off, please.”
My father was more interested in watching the street than finding the valve. He didn’t move for at least five full minutes, rooted to his spot looking up and down the street, wide-eyed and hardly blinking. I went back to looking for the water main lid. It took us another three quarters of an hour, but we finally found the box with the water valves and turned the main line off. When I hugged my dad goodbye I felt him looking over my shoulder, eying the street. The bangers never came back, and my father made it home without shooting anybody.
In my entire life I’d never seen my father that afraid of anything. And I despised those bangers for making me witness that. I lay in bed salivating for a buzz and fighting myself over calling Lee. The last thing I remembered before falling asleep was hoping those guys in that car tonight would slam into a wall and die.