Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Of Hero Major, Hero Minor and Hero Lost

Of Heroes Major, Minor and Lost ::Preamble::
It has been a long two years for me in Los Angeles and, aside from a few moments of misfortune or the lack-luster results of honest intention, it has been an amazing two years. To date, the actual amount of time I've lived in Los Angeles comes to roughly 2.724-ish years. Tonight's stories focus on heroes: being present, gone or taken. While this offering boasts not of candied smiles nor sugar-plum wishes, I can write that the first story, “Of Hero Minor,” has a happy, if uneventful, ending. This lack of a dramatic ending, I think, may be the thing that most clearly defines this story as actually having a happy ending. All other stories, when pulled off the gloss of the silver screen while keeping in tact the lurid drama that captivates our collective interests so well, become so damaging, exhausting and forlorn when seen on the stage of everyday life; when the events depicted happen to your neighbor, friend, colleague or random body, then the presence of drama sours events, perception and mood often to the point of spoiling, sometimes permanently, sometimes tragically. There is one gift coming from dramatic tales that we can hang our hats or hearts on, and that gift being that we can strive to be something better than we thought we were or could be. In as much as each person decides for themselves, we can find and embrace concepts that inspire us to greatness, because even though we may not have seen them in our daily lives, we may have caught a glimpse of it in our media. Tonight I write about heroism in three different forms: a small act in a split second, a tragedy with no public record, and a dire sacrifice in an attempt to keep peace. Though these stories could happen anywhere, these are all Los Angeles stories.

Of Hero Minor
This is the happiest story of tonight's trio and therefore the best place to start. Consider this the calm before the change. It is of minor importance I think, although its effect is difficult to estimate because there is no knowing what would have happened in place of this, if this hadn't happened or the outcome were altered.
Over a year ago I had started a boxing classes at my local gym. The class was meant far more as boxing for exercise as no actual fight training happened. We largely spent our time running laps, crunching our abs and throwing our fists at heavy bags until we couldn't stand anymore, or until the hour was up. I was never sure which was going to end my agony first for any given class.
On one particular night of boxing exercise, I was assigned to a bag that partially rested against the hinges of a metal gate; during class, the metal gate is folded into a collapsed state and rests against its moorings and is therefore in the direct path of the punching bag to which I was assigned.
I love boxing classes and the feel of power that comes from my fists thrusting into a heavy bag. This violent release meted out on an inanimate object representing all those cars that drive too slow, those loaves of bread that go stale too fast, those people telling us to buy organic bread because the other breads have preservatives that aren't good, to those damned bread companies adding unhealthy preservatives making the practice of purchasing food so much more difficult, and to that 8th grade teacher... Why were you so mean? Surely it had nothing to do with me being an obnoxious punk, a know-it-all and a smart-ass. So why? Enter punching bag, and 20 years of distance and everything is forgiven. After an hour, I don't care about any of it. I just feel my knuckles burning because the top layers of skin are smashed and force-pressed into the canvas-laminate bag, and it is good. At some point in this knockabout, where bag collides with gate, the repetitive pounding forces an unseen eventuality. The air is cool, my sweat is hot and burns my eyes by running rivulets from brow to cheek eventually dropping from my chin into night air. All around me are the sounds of muffled blows to soft-packed sand, and chains creaking from the stresses of everyone's vented days. I can hear the gate rattle loudly as I land punch after punch on the bag. Vented frustration leads to vented anger as blow by blow my knuckles wear the bag down while it, in turn, wears my knuckles down. In this raw and undisciplined melee, the collapsible iron gate juts free from its railing and it is free to fall. The sound of the bag and gate colliding ceases immediately, which alerts me to an unexpected change. The lack of sound means the bag isn't hitting the gate, and yet the bag is still moving. I look up to see the top of the iron gate begin a slow acceleration out, wide and down. I am at first immediately gratified slightly believing the possibility that I could have been strong enough to actually cause this to happen. I imagine the continued trajectory of the gate and see a woman standing directly at the gate's probable end of path. I think about the weight of the gate and its increasing free fall and know that catching the falling gate could hurt immensely. Better me than her. With a quick side-step setting my feet up for a forward lunge, I wave the woman out of the way and shout at her to move. I stand in the direct path of the gate and hold out my arms to catch the network of collapsed steel arms. I grit my teeth. My muscles taut in dread and anticipation. For half a split second I imagine that the gate my cut me; I push the thought aside as it is of no use. What's done is done, or soon will be. The woman is out of the gate's reach now. Her face is slack-jawed confusion and eye-brow raising fright. The gate lands in my arms and bows my knees from the pain and weight of impact. She's not sure what just happened but she is sure it didn't affect her, and she knows someone is standing next to her, who wasn't there a moment before, holding a gate and grimacing with pain and the strain of large burden. It's been too long now to completely remember if I dropped the gate, or tried to hoist it back in to position. I believe it was the latter. Twice throughout the rest of the gym class, her boyfriend took the time to thank me for saving his girlfriend from the falling gate. I am grateful that his response is gratitude, especially when so generously offered.
This is a good memory because it represents a concrete event in Life where I got to be someone I respected. Regardless of the fears of who I might've been, I have this as a rock to know I acted like the kind of person I wanted to be well before the rational mind could intervene and possibly veto any action.

Of Hero Lost
Twenty minutes in a Best Buy can make a world of difference.
Los Angeles is a wonderful city. It has almost anything that could be asked of a city or dense collection of anonymous neighbors. In LA, someone can surf the Pacific ocean in the morning, ski the slopes that afternoon and then hit the clubs at night in a dazzling array of mini-skirts, sunglasses, hair gel, frosted vodka bottles and lights in the colors of party and fabulous. With this comes another side of Los Angeles, a side just as well known and slightly less discussed, the Concrete Jungle. As of Oct 1st, 2012, the L.A. Times crime blog posted an annual total of 420 dead in the city by way of murder. The city of Los Angeles has 3.8 million people (as of the 2010 census). The metropolitan area and combined statistical area are, respectively: 12.8 million and 17.78 million. The city police department employs 10,023 police officers and 2,879 unsworn agents; these figures do not include the officers of the County of Los Angeles. (1.) On a Sunday of generally little importance, I was frantically running errands, driving the extents of Los Angeles from South to North and back again. This particular Sunday an errand had me stopping at the local Best Buy on N. La Brea and Romaine, in Hollywood. Traffic in this concrete jungle wore patience like the stress in my jaw, compressing my molars fueled by exhaustion and frustration. The parking lot for Best Buy was simple to navigate; the ceiling is vast, the lighting dim and the lane paint is visible. I parked, pocketed my keys, and with single-minded determination on my face, I entered Best Buy.
Within 20 minutes the errand was complete.
Hurried, because of a hectic schedule, I walked to my car. Oddly, I remember the Best Buy garage left an impression not altogether pleasant. The slate grey concrete walls were stained with dilapidation and enough neglect to dim the light inside its cavernous corners. The painted parking lines were present and bare while the ceiling loomed and engulfed the transient shoppers in a quiet isolation within which no one chose to linger. I quickly found my car and, feeling no warmth from the architect or architecture, engaged the transmission to be on the way. Rolling up to the garage exit, I noticed a single, relatively out-of-sight sign informing all drivers to exit only to the left. Looking ahead, I prepared the car for the necessary left, and expected others to do so as well, though not expecting them to be as quick about it as my schedule required. Expectations be damned; everyone was turning right. A few forward, I noticed that someone was directing all traffic to the right. Hmmmmm.... this isn't normal. Anyone who puts a sign up is intent on the letter of the rule being followed, so to have this clear deviation meant that something was afoot; living in Los Angeles and Santa Monica taught me that most likely a movie was being filmed nearby. Oooh! I perked up, leaned forward in my car to crane my neck around the corner in adoring fascination of the industry for which I work.
At the end of the street, to the left, scattered among the road paint, lay two humans, still, their faces resting on their cheeks, belly down, arms and legs at hollow, off-kilter angles. From a distance, their dress and form suggested the feminine gender, though no motion confirmed nor denied that. The ingress to that branch of the intersection was barricaded by a line of LAPD squad cars, each with an attending officer looking out into the intersection but offering no assistance, no effort and no reprieve for the humans who had not moved an inch. No ambulances were present nor any firetrucks. No medical equipment lay strewn about. No Hollywood camera trucks lined the street, nor any television news trucks. The duty of the LAPD in that instant was to divert the flow of traffic away from that intersection, not assist the two laying askew in the middle of the street about the asphalt crown. This was the western end of the intersection of Romaine and La Brea. You can find it on Google Maps. When my day's errands were complete, I headed home. The day had passed to night but the memory hadn't waned. To the contrary, I needed more than earlier to know what happened and who was laying in the street. Did their parents know? Was it an accident, intentional? Did anyone know, aside from the police and everyone turning right at a left turn only sign?
I tried for an hour to get through, but the local police station wasn't answering their phones, or the line was busy. Constant searches on Google yielded no answers either. I checked for days. When calling the LA Times to inquire what happened and who, if anyone, had been hurt, it was my inquiry that informed them that anything had happened. I was connected with a reporter who promised to check in on the matter. After a few days of emailing, she replied stating that the police had no news of the incident, and therefore had nothing to report. I know nothing more than what I've written here, which seems to be more than the police and the LA Times.
Does anyone know? I truly hope that the people who care, or cared, for these two knows and has the answers they need. If it is ever investigated it should be published on the LATimes local news website:
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/ There is no mention here:
http://projects.latimes.com/homicide/neighborhood/west-hollywood/

Of Hero Major
This last story doesn't belong to me, and for over a year i have debated about whether or not to tell it. This story belongs to a friend, and it is in this story that my friend passes away. Were I to provide you any comfort from this story I would say that still, in these days of popularized and romanticized negativity and isolationism, there are people who do what they think is right.
DB was a coworker at my first post-collegial place of employment, a big fancy-pants video games company. At the time, he was a senior artist, already very good at what he did and very respected by his peers. He laughed easy, worked hard and made others feel welcome, even introverted goofballs as I had so readily been those many years ago. I'd like to regale you with stories of his wit, kindness and intelligence (of which it was clear he always had in plenty), but I cant because I never knew him as well as the others. I know he was good to work with, honest and kind. Others closer to him will know more and I wish someone closer to him wrote this story so that his life and times could be honored as befitted him. In 2003, I left the fancy-pants video games company to trek out into a new life, leaving some friends behind. Seven years passed before I saw DB again. It wasnt until I moved to Los Angeles that we reconnected. Occasional Facebook posts filled the years between, ensuring at least that names, faces and memories were remembered, as well as a mutual good will.
DB was the first friend from my time in video games that reached out after the move to LA. We were both working in or close to Santa Monica so we decided on lunch. He looked healthy and happy. It was refreshing to see because our last common employer was notorious throughout the industry for wearing down their employees and their employees' families. The restaurant squatted humbly in the shadow of the great raised concrete automobile river, the 405. We talked, joked, caught up. We were joyed at each other's successes and felt sorry for each other's losses but agreed that life was improving across the board for each other. Our jobs were better; our personal lives were better; we had both grown happier over the years and in our lunch we had a chance to celebrate that, in that openly stoic way that two male friends are want to do. I discussed sorrow over bridges I'd left burned when leaving the video game job and mentioned that i was too much a child at the time to be socially competent. In his reply, "we were all too young back then to be well adjusted" he brought grace and peace to unsettled memories and regrets. I will always be grateful for that. Lunch wrapped up and we agreed to do it again soon. Soon never happened though. A month had passed, or perhaps four, when the Facebook chatter reported that DB was dead.
The circumstances concerning his death were hazy at first, but as the hours spent themselves it became clear that DB was murdered. A few nights earlier, an argument broke out in front of his house. A woman and a man were verbally arguing outside, at night. Its been reported that DB did what he could to keep calm and intervene. Possibly enraged by this, the man in the argument attacked and murdered DB.
The wake followed soon after and was held in his community. The church sat at the end of an inclined driveway. The walls were thick, the interior space was airy and the pews were as uncomfortable as I'd remembered from my childhood church. I caught up withe old workmates from the days of video games. We briefly caught up; everyone is doing well. I paid my respects to people I'd never met before. Fortunately, a friend to joined me at the wake at my request because i didn't think I'd be able to do it alone. He knew nobody at the wake, which must have been daunting, but graciously helped me keep my shit together so I could speak to people without zoning out or climbing back inside my thoughts.
I wish i could tell you where to send money to his surviving children for college, and whatever one needs that only a father can provide, but those pages are removed from the internet. What I ask instead is that while you may never meet them, please say a prayer for his whole family, and a second prayer just for his children; growing up without a father is a hard life.
This is the only time I can remember using anyone's real name in these essays. Were this not a publicly reported event, I would have abstained from using his name. For more information, please visit: Video Game Artist Don Barnes Fatally Stabbed

Epilogue: Of Everyday Heroes
If you'll allow me this moment of sentimentalism...
What appeal for the hearts, souls and minds of humanity would you hear such that you would bring peace and joy to those you know and likewise to those you dont? Or to yourself? I'd simply like to ask that you be good to yourself so that you can be good to everyone else. This, I believe, is how everyday heroes begin.

Notes... 1. All statistical data regarding Los Angeles was pulled from Wikipedia:
Los Angeles entry on Wikipedia
LAPD entry on Wikipedia

2 comments:

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