07 February 2009

Death Takes a Holiday ... not.

Death is all around us. And, unlike Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black, death seems to be working overtime in our senior living centers, foreign war zones, and unfortunately, certain neighborhoods here in Los Angeles. I live in one such area with nightly gunshots and the ubiquitous crime scene taped off around the liquor stores seemingly on every block. The police helicopter becomes this mechanical vulture illuminating the presence of a fresh kill or that units are in hot pursuit. You never quite get used to the constant reminders of your mortality, the way one takes it for granted living in the suburbs from whence I hail. Maybe that's why there are five-times the number of churches in L.A. proper.

A few months ago, a young man three doors down from my house was shot and killed. He was standing with a group of young men and women early in the evening, when the unnoticed coward walked up and fired at point-blank range. While everyone scattered for their lives jumping behind walls and cars, the killer jogged to his van and was driven away leaving an all-too-common scene for a heart-broken father away on a business trip to come home to. The police said it was an initiation killing and that our neighbor was in the wrong place, etc. There are just too many etc.'s in our inner cities today. Perhaps President Obama should propose a war on domestic terror and pull a few billion out of the "stimulus bill" where it might actually do some good by hiring extra police and specially trained gang units. Now there's some hope and change I'd like to see become a reality.

I have witnessed or come across three such murders while here in the 'hood, and my brothers and friends are constantly telling me to move away. But, I remind them that when I lived in the safe suburbs, my little brother and I watched early one morning as the coroner's office took away our neighbor, Mr. 'D', who had kissed his daughter (with her friend over for a sleepover) and son goodnight, sat himself down late-night in his car parked with the engine running in their closed garage, and drove himself into the afterlife. We sat there in our side yard not 10 feet away from the coroner as he wheeled Mr. 'D', who was covered in a blanket or bag, into the back of the station wagon with its windows blackened. We knew that he was dead, like kids just know or divine the truth out of a situation without really knowing. You know?

Just a few short years after Mr. 'D's departure, I went to see Rollerball, starring Jimmy Caan -- my older brother James took my little brother and me. Driving back home up the hill that leads to our house, we were stunned to see bodies covered with blood stained sheets in our neighbor's driveway across the street from our house. This was the aftermath of a murder, attempted-suicide (the murderer later died in a coma). Thankfully, our neighbor and other members of the family (our friends) survived. He later remarried and has been blissfully happy for the past 25 years. But, that night, in the safe suburbs, my brother Gil became a hero. When bullets were flying, and an off-duty cop's revolver was jamming, my next door neighbor Mrs. Glenn tried to stop the onslaught; it was my 14 year-old brother who tackled her, knocking her into the bushes, and dragged her back to safety. Death doesn't take a holiday, and when it's our time, we should all be ready to give an account for the life we're living, whether we're in Happy Dale sanitarium, Afghanistan, or Beverly Hills.

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