Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"And Then This Happened"

Driving home after dinner out, we passed “Hotchkiss Park”, a small, “no frills” public area, located half a block from our house.  As we drove by, we noticed a passel of police cars parked by the curb, a flock of local news helicopters fluttering noisily overhead, and an encircling strip of yellow “Police” tape, prohibiting entry to the park, which I knew from Law & Order meant “Crime Scene.”

All signals suggested “Police Trouble” a thirty-second walk from our house.  Less, if you were dashing away from “Police Trouble.”

Being curious fact seekers – rather than nosey busybodies; there’s a difference – we parked the car in the garage and walked back to Hotchkiss Park, to pick up the scuttlebutt.

There, we learned – from other curious fact seekers – that there had been a shootout between Santa Monica police officers and a gun-wielding assailant, the assailant having been been wounded and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

“Did you hear the shots?” I inquired of a tall young man standing on a skateboard, which made him appear even taller.

“Yeah,” he replied earnestly.  “I was headed toward the park and I heard, “Pop!  Pop!  Pop!”

That’s exactly how he described it – “Pop!  Pop!  Pop!” 

“And you knew right away it was gunfire?” I followed up, asking a question, revealing that I grew up in a country where people generally wouldn’t.

In the distance, a group of Santa Monica police officers huddled under a large tree in the park.

I have to stop for a moment, for a meaningful digression.

Six years ago this coming September 3rd, my daughter Anna and her husband Colby were married by the exact tree the Santa Monica police officers were currently huddled under.

Hotchkiss Park is a casual operation.  We did not – and could not if we wanted to and we didn’t – “reserve” it exclusively for the wedding.  Meaning, the park was fully functional throughout the service.  As the ceremony proceeded, our guests seated in provided folding chairs in front of the large tree, nearby Frisbees flew through the air, walked dogs quietly “did their business”, and children somersaulted down the park’s undulating terrain. 

It was that kind of a place. 

It was that kind of wedding.

And now, back to the “Crime Scene.”

Finding nothing of great interest going on, we returned home, where we immediately turned on the local TV channels, to see if they if there was anything  about the shooting.  There was nothing immediate, the local stations airing uninterrupted reruns of Two Broke Girls. 

Later that night, during the local stations’ scheduled news reports – there was still nothing.  The event was apparently not sufficiently “newsworthy.”  Although a presidential “tweet” absorbed six minutes of airtime.

The next morning, Dr. M, who habitually rises before me, discovered a brief “mention” on a morning news broadcast, along with filled-in information, that made things considerably more tragic.

Apparently, there’d been a violent altercation between two transient people on Main Street, two blocks west of the park, during which one transient produced a gun and shot the other transient dead.  The Santa Monica police was subsequently alerted, they pursued the alleged murderer into Hotchkiss Park, where there was an exchange of gunfire, and the wounded assailant was then taken to the hospital and, imaginably later, into custody.

So that’s the whole story.  There’d been a murder two blocks from our house and an ensuing gun battle right down the street.

Recalling personal memories, such as…

Just over a month after I first arrived to live in Los Angeles, while watching a “Breaking Report” on the local news, I witnessed members of the Los Angeles police department’s “SWAT Team” in full “Riot” regalia setting fire to a house with six people inside it, burning all its inhabitants to death.  The victims were members of the subversive “Symbionese Liberation Army”, an organization that had previously kidnapped Patty Hearst, who, had she not at the time been out shopping, would have been burned to death as well, during the hours-long siege and subsequent mass immolation.

A new arrival to America.  And I watched that on TV.

A little over a year later, I showed up at work on a new sitcom called Phyllis, where I was informed that one of the show’s actors had been gunned down in the street along with her boyfriend the night before, a “drive by” double-murder that, to this day, has never been solved.

1992 – a city in flames, during the L.A. riots, helmeted National Guards personnel, patrolling with tanks and machine guns in Venice, a neighborhood community, just south of our own.

That’s the city I live in. 

Overwhelmingly for “better.”

But sometimes – too often for my liking,

For worse.

The next morning, after a walk by the ocean, I dropped in on the now reopened Hotchkiss Park, to see, I don’t know, whatever.  Blood?  Expended shell casings? 

No.  I was concerned about something else.

A large tree had once hosted my daughter’s wedding.  More recently, however, it had hosted a gunfight.  Would the memory of our family simcha (celebration) be irreparably supplanted, I wondered, overshadowed by a fusillade of bullets?

I needed to find out if anything had changed.

In the park, a man with a dog checked his messages on his iPhone..  A cross-legged man silently meditated, facing the calming serenity of the ocean.  A young mother pushed her infant baby in a stroller.  A fully encased homeless person slept protectively under a canvas tarpaulin.

I felt satisfyingly relieved.  It felt like “business as usual” at Hotchkiss Park.

Where just the evening before, it was

“Pop!  Pop!  Pop!”
Birthday greetings to brother Hart, the funniest person you have never met.  Who could wipe the floor with people you have.  Without him, there is no me, which is the least of his accomplishments, although it is one of my favorites.

Best wishes, Big Brother.  

With lifelong appreciation from me.

I am sorry our Mother brought me home from the hospital.  But where else was she going to take me?

1 comment:

JED said...

I couldn't resist. I looked up your park and found this:

"Hotchkiss Park was originally the site of the Moody Mansion, believed to be haunted after owner Mary Hotchkiss’ first husband was murdered there in 1884. Today the park’s peek-a-boo ocean views offer a place for quiet contemplation, while its sloping lawn plays host to many picnics on weekends."

I wonder if that murder was ever solved? We worry that our society is deteriorating but murders and shootings aren't new. There were transients back then, too. And people got married and babies were born and people did good things and people did bad things. And the next day, people walked their dogs and meditated. Your story reminds us that life goes on and we need to keep plugging away at reducing the problems but we'll never eliminate them.