Sunday, December 20, 2015

Random Imaginings - Part 1.

I was living in a grim place in San Diego. Logan Heights was a foul neighborhood—one of those spots you land in when you've hit bottom. The Indian slumlords took cash for the wrecked apartments by the week; that's all my budget would allow. Bums drifted into the doorway during the colder nights or rare days when there was rain. Strange as it may seem, the gangs kept the really bad guys—petty drug dealers, rapists, and thieves out. Sleeping on a roll-away cot in the closet-sized studio, I stuffed a dryer sheet in my pillow to ward off the faint smell of piss and vomit which hung in the air. Sleepless; tossing and turning, I counted the roaches parading through the place, trying to control my ping-ponging thoughts, which bounced between loathing myself and blaming everyone else for my plight. Until my first social security and pension checks arrived, this was it for me! I was counting the days.

I knew a couple of things about street life. First thing I did was tell the regulars about my bad luck and laid a little cash on them. So far, that move bought me safety for my car and no break-ins. I guess they knew I had nothing in that place. My most recent marriage had gone rotten in a hurry and a fast getaway left me with a garbage bag full of randomly snatched clothes, my beat-up SUV, a useless ATM card and just barely enough cash. I figured it would be a couple of months before the dust settled and I could go back and retrieve my meager belongings.

This is not how I'd seen myself at sixty-five. A series of bad choices had run me through my savings. Over the years, I'd paid off a couple of pitiful husbands to get them out of my way and then I hooked up with the worst one of all, who snorted up the remains of my money. I wasn't afraid Carlos could hurt me; I was far more frightened of what I might do to him. Instead of the secure retirement I'd worked for, all I had was in a lousy garbage bag in my miserable room. Some pay-off after a lifetime of work!

Sitting on a bench at Ocean beach, I was absorbed in the sudoku puzzle. Keeping my mind occupied was the only strategy I had to keep from drifting into depression. I stayed in my horrible room only to sleep and shower. The beach was always lively, there were plenty of people to watch and most of the time in San Diego the weather was fine.

A light breeze blew off the ocean and the gulls were raiding the garbage cans, squawking and screeching. Groups of pelicans soared overhead. Not alone in my admiration for the aeronautical beauty of the birds, many heads looked up to watch them catch down drafts and glide in. Those birds had the right idea - monogamy for a single season and the pair bond extended only to a specific geographical area. In other words, once out of the house, they're free to play the field. The two ex'es before Carlos would have liked that arrangement. One good thing about Carlos—he was faithful. Unfortunately, he was more faithful to the siren call of cocaine than to me, but at least he spared me the humiliation of bimbo dalliances, unlike the others.

The pier and tidepools were a short walk north of my bench. If I'd had the gear, I'd be out on the pier fishing. You don't need a license and you can take all the herring you want. Not that I love herring, but I do like sitting with a line in the drink waiting to see what might happen. Fishing was like police work in many ways. You'd have lots of time when nothing happened and then all hell would break loose.

Out of habit, I kept an eye on the comings and goings of the human parade on the beach: the joggers, the tourists, the unemployed, the retired. Police work does that to your brain; it's impossible to ignore your surroundings and I had a kind of intuition—an early warning system about violence. It developed when I was a child growing up in the rough neighborhoods of Santa Ana, California. Living in a Hispanic neighborhood, gang membership was essential for survival. There were only a few white kids in the school so there was no gang for me to join— I was on my own. My two older brothers taught me to fight for my own protection. I was smart, used my brain as my first line of defense and took care of myself. The problem was that injustice fired me up mightily. I couldn't stand a bully and even though I wasn't particularly big, when the strong picked on the weak, I jumped in flailing and kicking, biting and screaming. A regular banshee, I frequently had black eyes and multiple contusions. My destiny lay in the military or police work. I tried out for the LA Police Academy as soon as I could, was accepted and graduated near the top of the class.

I was one of the first female cops in the sheriff's department in Las Vegas, way back at the beginning when they were forced into hiring women. The early years were tough, but soon the guys learned I could pull my weight and be trusted. I was very good at calming down the uncalmable....crazy people, irate husbands, belligerent drunks; and this skill was valuable to my partners and to the rest of the force. We had a reputation nation-wide for settling complex issues and calming hysteria without violence. 

I never dreamed I'd end up in Vegas, but husband number one wanted to move there to sell real estate and the months turned into years. 25 years I spent in a patrol car cruising back and forth on the strip and in those years, I saw it all. The real estate husband succumbed to the charms of a pretty female dealer early and the marriage went south, but Vegas had become home and the force was my family for a long time. 

As I aged, the hot, dry climate became harder and harder for me to tolerate. After Carlos and I got hitched, we decided to move back to California. For the last few years, after transferring to San Diego, I'd been guarding prisoners in transport: from jail to hospitals for psychiatric exams, to courts and back to jail. Easy duty, but even on the easy jobs you had to keep your shooting skills current and pass the physical tests every year. Even though I was an old broad by most people's standards, I was still dangerous. You wouldn't want to pick a fight with me. Trust me on that.

I set the puzzle aside for a moment and leaned back into the bench enjoying the sun on my face. Then the calm was broken by a deep, rumbling explosion. My bench lurched and rattled against the struts. People burst out the door of the coffee shop and ran down the promenade. Smaller explosions, sounding like gunfire, followed quickly. I knew immediately what it was - the poorly engineered boilers on those cheap Euro espresso machines were regular as clockwork, blowing up after two or three years of use if they weren't cleaned correctly. In Vegas, we saw it often. I jumped up and ran over to the scene. "Is everyone out?" I shouted. People looked at me dazed. I could hear sirens screaming. I made a decision and ran into the shop through the steamy smoke. "Anyone here?" I shouted again, looking around the rooms. I ran behind the counter to see if anyone was on the floor. The cash drawer was sprung open and a guy was stuffing the money down his sweat pants. I tried to block him but he got by me and ran out the door just before the first fireman ran up from the street.

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