Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Let The Boy Dream

I dream when I can.  
I convert the worst part of my job into the best part by allowing myself to daydream or write in my head.  I was doing that very thing when someone crept inside and killed it for me, as well as for someone else.
South Central Los Angeles has its green patches.  The neighborhood stands out, but not with extravagance like Beverly Hills or uber charm like West LA.  It stands out because it is clean, free of graffiti, and not littered by trash.
I drove through the gang-infested, trash-strewn sprawl and arrived at a green patch with clean lawns and fresh paint on the houses.  I reached the perimeter marked with police tape and an officer directed me to a great place to park.  I checked in and began talking to a detective about the scene.  I was informed there would be a delay since the investigators were not ready to lay out numbers or letters, so I waited across the street and got ready to shoot some overalls.
I was standing, facing the crime scene, when I heard a young voice behind me.  The voice seemed excited.  I turned enough to catch a glimpse of a boy resting his head on crossed forearms that were draped over the top of a short chain link fence.  
He talked about the lake his dad was taking him to.  He was excited with anticipation of the kinds of fish they would catch and the kind of place it would be.  He looked past the scene across the street and well into the next day.  
A young, adult male also overheard the boy.  He was on the same side of the fence.  He began to dispute and shoot down everything the boy imagined, stating he’d been to that same lake and it was a dump with no fish to boot.  It was nothing but verbal poison.  In that moment, I wished I could have said something.

It was time to work.  There was a black SUV parked on a sharply sloped driveway at a corner lot home.  It was, save for the dead man in the truck, a really nice place.  The driver had fled from someone who caught up to him.  The murderer shot him through the driver’s side window, opened the door, and shot him several times more in the face and chest.  Although disturbing, it truly is an act of intimacy watching someone die up close.
Across the street where the boy lived, houses showed less care.  Whole neighborhoods can go from safe and nice to dangerous and run-down in just a few blocks.  I noticed the boy’s eyes had lost some of their life.  They stopped dreaming of the future, his hopes for catching some fish and being in a nice place with his dad gone.  His eyes had been affixed on the trash blown in from a few blocks away and the spray painted gang signs on the sidewalk.  The days of anticipation disappeared from his expression.  I noticed it the moment I finished my shot and moved down the sidewalk to another position.  He was forced to retreat into the oasis of his mind.  It was better to dream by yourself than allow others a glimpse only to have them rip it apart and drag you down.  I hope that is what he thought.
If I were able to say at least one thing to that embittered man who scoffed at the boy’s wistfulness, I would have urged him to just let the boy dream.

Monday, September 17, 2012


The devil saw mine and left.
I have reached a point where ‘see no evil’ is beyond what I do to get by at work.  I take a long, hard look at it.   In ways hard to describe, I can honestly say the misery people inflict upon each other and towards the innocent is beyond what I have seen on television.
Those who know me understand why I cannot watch television for very long.  Shows like Storage Wars, Pawn Stars, or my favorite, Antique Road Show are complete diversions from what I do and have seen up close and personal.  The simplest line from an onscreen cop or make-believe detective is enough to make me cringe.  I work with the real people behind that thin blue line, not actors spewing canned lines.
A discussion of scars is normal.  On children, scars can be telltale signs of how long they have been abused.  I document them all, fresh and old.  Oftentimes, I have heard the detectives and officers talk about the ones never seen, but which can appear later in life.
I took a walk along the eastern part of Downtown, Los Angeles, taking photographs of anything and everything that most outside observers might not consider.  I call this sort of thing ‘grabbing elements’.  I shot fire hydrants; full framed views, close ups, different angles.  I walked through Little Tokyo, clicking away at any kind of contrast; skid marks across white paint, cracks in the sidewalk, and graffiti in every crevice.

I was about halfway into my lunch hour when it dawned on me that this city is full of scars.  People who cut into trees make deliberate scars.  Skid marks across painted white lines leave accidental scars.  Various graffiti creates scars of expression.
Later that day, as I sat alone in the office, that creepy feeling of being watched came over me.  I felt a bizarre presence.  I wondered if the presence would eventually shuffle off and leave me be, but decided to get up and make things happen.  
Something or someone was going to leave me the hell alone or my active mind was going to have to put a cork in it.  Either way, I sought out the source of the weird noises and what I perceived to be voices.  I looked across the hall and in the direction of the disturbance through a half door that allows me to interact with customers while maintaining some separation. 
My poor mind had to apologize.  Apparently, the ‘whooshing’ noises were from the elevators that were being used by workers on another floor.  During a shift change, their voices would echo throughout the building while they rode up and down along the lifts.   
No matter how I see it, the devil now knows I will get up each and every time to stare him in the face.  I refuse to give in to fear.  Let fear be his problem, his tool.  It will never be mine.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Dark

Do you ever see darkness fill the light?  No, it never does.  Light, however, fills the darkness, chasing it away like the scared thing that it is.
I bring light with me wherever I go.  I have to bring at least one flashlight since most of my photography is at night and the lights are not always on.  The bright flash from my camera illuminates an entire room to such a degree that it looks like daytime work.
I’ve had things come out in the final print that were not obvious during moments I floundered around, trying to catch my footing; writings or stains on the walls you’re glad you didn’t touch, and something else I’m not allowed to talk about yet.  Let’s just say some things get missed.  I’m glad that particular job didn’t come back to bite me.
Going to sleep after a long day is a big part of the darkness for me.  There are times when I just dither about, looking at cat videos and finding geological stats on things like the Marianas Trench that I’ve long since forgotten.  
Experience has brought about some new fears for me.  I try to tamp them down to plain weariness. Experience is the best survival tool anyone can have.  Unresolved traumatic experiences have the opposite effect.  They rob your life of the ability to truly live.
I received a call to photograph a house that had been tear-gassed in order to remove its occupants. SWAT, our Special Weapons and Tactics team, has an awesome array of less than lethal techniques they use to safely detain distraught people.  They’re really good at it.  It’s one of the things about them that never seems to make the news, but greatly impresses.  
Fresh tear gas is not my idea of fun.  My anxiety attempted to take me over as I came up towards the house.  I reminded it, in not so gentle a fashion, just who was in charge.  Me.  I bring the simple light of documentation to a scene.  I rest on that ideal a lot.
The simple truth is photographs don’t lie.  I fill the void so often created when truth and sincerity are absent.  I carry light.  So can you.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

3rd and Broadway

Not to freak you out, if you live or work there, but 3rd and Broadway in Downtown, Los Angeles has a lot of memories for me.  I don’t know how many people are lucky enough to go through an intersection filled with so much infamy that it stands out in their minds.
There are many ways to get out of downtown.  My favorite is to head south to 3rd Street and head towards the 110 freeway.  The street rises upward as you pass through the last of the downtown homeless encampments; it then curves before Broadway.  
I was on my way to a 187; that’s the code for murder.  I was well on my way to getting there in a timely manner.  I had been thinking about this particular intersection because I had worked a suicide there a few weeks prior.  
I came to a stop, three cars back, and one lane over from the left.  At that point, 3rd becomes a one-way street.  For a brief moment, I looked away.  However, in my peripheral vision, I saw a body flying through the air, rotating like a helicopter blade and coming in for a landing rather abruptly.  I’m thinking, ‘Okay, this is a case of another jumper.’
We’re in the middle of rush hour traffic.  I’m wearing my badge in plain sight, and driving a vehicle with the City logo emblazoned on the doors.  I realize I’m in the position of being the first responder on the scene.  I make my way around the cars in front of me, holding my badge out the window that displays the brass side, and parking my truck so the victim on the ground doesn’t get run over.  Some drivers appeared really irritated.  There were, however, good citizens who came out of the crowd and assisted me in directing the traffic.  
Although I allowed my EMT license to lapse, I would never forget the basic assessment skills drilled into me by a no-nonsense nurse and a bunch of grouchy firemen.  The man was on his back, intact, and breathing normally.  I could see a pulse in his carotid artery (that would be the neck vessel).  I knew if he had a broken neck, but was lying on his back still breathing, the best thing to do would be to leave him alone until help arrived.  No one answered my radio call, so I called 911.  I heard a siren about two minutes later.  Obviously, this was before cutbacks.  

A woman came over sobbing, explaining that she never saw him.  It became apparent that the victim had been hit by a car.  I only witnessed the tail end of the incident as he was thrown into the air like a rag doll.
After Central Traffic arrived and asked a few questions, I learned that the man had been running across the intersection to catch a bus.  He entered the intersection before the light turned green.  As a car crossed during a yellow light, he literally ran into the oncoming car.  I was delayed by only 15 minutes, and told the detective at the scene that I was sorry about that.  He didn’t seem worried.  With empathy, he asked me what happened.  I must have looked a bit flustered.  So, I began with, “A funny thing happened to me on the way…”
            When it comes to memories, Los Angeles is becoming a little too crowded for me.  It has become nearly impossible to block out the bad ones, but like everyone else, I strive to keep focus on the good.