Get your hands out of your pockets: Western approach to the Dumbarton Bridge after midnight

Image Double aught buckshot does a fine job on Chinette paper plates. All the way from the tiny child’s dessert plate to the full-sized fat guy dinner plate. Shreds of China white paper like confetti just everywhere. Donny always stood like the little tough guy cop, blue fleece collar turned up against the back of his neck and hands thrust deep into the cool, slick pockets of his uniform car-coat jacket, “elbows akimbo” as they say. A real bastard, drill-instructor type. Joe, his over-grown partner, hair permed in that 1970′s way, both of them backlit by the dirty, weak glow of the old street lights on the western approach to the Dumbarton Bridge. It was a test. So very many tests. “See if you can hit them.” The Remington butt set firmly in my previously dislocated shoulder, and, yes, scared to death I would miss. I honestly don’t remember many more details, but this: I hit each one, all three, blasting, shredding the picnic plates to fake snow.

ImageI do remember that Donny and Joe did look at each other, turned on their heels and without a word, got back into the patrol car. I brought the shotgun back to the vehicle and got into the back seat. Have I day dreamed about it? Turning on MY heels, facing the hood of the patrol car where they both leaned, smirking,  hands anchored into those pockets COMPLETELY UNPREPARED and arrogant, and easily releasing two more rounds. Would I? Never. Could I? Yes, but I didn’t know that yet. This was my first week on patrol in East Palo Alto in January 1976. I hadn’t been to that part of my character yet. It never would have entered my mind at that point. I was so proud that I had passed this test, and I knew they would report back that the little girl did it. She hit each and every one.

The whisper from under the dark roof came from the two little kids hiding from the violence in the kitchen…

I regressed to having Law & Order Marathon on in the background last week, and on came the preview / trailer for Lone Survivor. I watched it all the way through once. By the end, shaking and in tears. The movie must be opening soon, because that trailer played a hundred times in a matter of hours. I was focused on marketing materials for my small business, but I kept hearing that trailer in the background. So I changed the channel, ah America.  

Friday evening I set time aside to watch A Beautiful Mind. Nobel Prize Winner mathematical genius schizophrenic Professor Nash found a new way. He observed. The little girl was a delusion: she never got any older over the years. Then he continued to observe, no longer possessed by the delusion. He acknowledged the presence and observed, and moved on with his life. Sitting still and observing: Ah so; the point emerges.

Today I continued to sort seeds, print labels, research orders, and there it was again, Lone Survivor, playing in the background.

And this time, rather than let the feelings swallow me and open me up, I sat still and observed. What is this feeling? Not just feeling it, not letting it consume me, but looking at it and realizing “It never gets any older over the years.” On the television, the Navy Seal Team in the movie was briefing for their mission, one from which they obviously would not all return. That intensity of focus, clarity of purpose, completely accepting of moving into harm’s way believing without question that the action would mitigate some future far worse harm. That was it. I was back in the small group briefings, quick decisions, logistics, strategies, whispers, photos, maps, weapons, hypotheticals, running, running, over and over, possibilities. And then into waiting vehicles, always in the dark, and then quiet approaches, crouched and always,always some unexpected blip just before engagement. Violence.

There is was. THAT was the feeling, the memory in chemicals. Now I anticipate the next showing of that trailer. I want to make Professor Nash proud of me. I want to practice my new lesson. It isn’t unthinkable that a little female cop, over 30 years ago, had so close an experience, a gut feeling, as anyone – any man – who prepares to go into harm’s way with right intent. It isn’t so unthinkable, and it wasn’t fear. It was something else. And after several more trailer observations I’ll be even closer to knowing and believing, and not dismissing, not diminishing my experience…can you say it, they ask…

Perry Mason Visits Japanese Tea Garden

It all came together that gray, fall day in the Japanese Tea Garden, in Golden Gate Park, in the 1960s, and it has not come together quite as well at any time since. We humans are so good at finding meaning in simple collisions. My path to Buddhism, my path to law enforcement, my path in justice, my love of film noire, my refuge in gardens and the magic of fish and water all came together the day that Raymond Burr visited the Japanese Tea Garden. My elementary school class from Olinda Elementary School was on the stereotypical field trip to the museums at Golden Gate Park, and we had just finished a walk through the tea garden (where I took the black and white photo of the Buddha, enamored and perfectly certain the subject was divine)…as was Perry Mason. How many hours did I practice and play at Perry Mason cases, using the stair-step bookcase as the witness chair? How many times did I insist on entertaining my parents with justice played out in personal film noire perfection? There, on the stone pathway leading out of the Tea Garden he stood, so large. “PERRY MASON!!!”  I ran uncontrollably to his entourage. “Mr. Mason……..” He bent down and shook my tiny hand. ” I watch you all the time, all the time!” I think he thanked me, and one of his handlers said something about Mr. Burr having to leave. I was blinded by the complex symmetry of the gardens, the blurred reflection of high fog off the pools of water filled with koi, the groundedness of the Buddha statue, and the manifestation of Manjushri, the sword of Justice JUST SHOOK MY HAND. My fate was sealed. And here, and now, easily fifty years later, the essence of that moment is alive and well and firmly planted in me. It defines my practice in life. And there are so many darker moments to be told.  I have a difficult time feeling, accepting that my time in law enforcement was anything special, or that my actions were ever courageous. I know myself well enough to know that much of what I did was driven by right action and a need to prove to myself that I was not afraid to take that action, not afraid to seal a sucking chest wound, not afraid to kill a human being, not afraid to show care, not afraid to engage in a physical confrontation. And, oh, did I mention that I am a woman, that I was one of the first four women hired by a metropolitan law enforcement agency in the 1970s…and that today I live a singular life, tending living green things, creating gardens. Unbinding to enter the stream, and totally enraptured of Barbara Stanwyk and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. Courage? I’m still not so sure. Spent hours today digging the truck out of a snowdrift and I turn 60 tomorrow. It’s time to leave the record for Keyes….