Thursday, October 25, 2012

Green Light

Just like the traffic signal, this sigil of a saying has one purpose:  To let someone know it’s okay to proceed.
When I worked in Hollywood, ‘green light’ was the ultimate phrase anyone anxious to begin a project wanted to hear.  It was final approval.  Few in the industry are allowed the privilege to confirm whether something is green lit or not.  You either had the money to green light a project or you were the spokesperson delivering the message.  No matter where you were in the hierarchy of the industry, you anticipated hearing the phrase, ‘green light’.
Some in my business never want to hear it.  I know I don’t.  In my line of work, it means someone in the hierarchy of the gang structure has given the okay to commit murder.  I recently learned that members of the southern California gangs operating outside of California were given an automatic green light to get shanked.  
A shank is a makeshift stabbing weapon.  Prisoners make shanks out of anything that’ll maintain its shape long enough to be shoved into someone else.  An inmate will use a glass shard to work off a piece of furniture, sink, toilet, or whatever else over a period of weeks, even months.  They’ve been discovered in every hiding place you can possibly imagine, including rectums.  For people who do not read, this craft is one they spend their time perfecting.
I’d been working an OIS (Officer Involved Shooting) in an area just north of Dodger Stadium when I witnessed a sudden shift in the attitude of the officers around me.  Since I was the only civilian, I questioned the nearest person in uniform.  He proceeded to tell me that the Mexican Mafia had just given the green light to kill a police officer.  I was suddenly relieved and comforted by the fact I would not be mistaken for one from any angle or distance.  
Although the order was never carried out, we were forced to wear our bulletproof vests before traveling into that particular area for months after the incident.
Over the years, I’ve learned that everything good can easily be twisted into something bad.  I now know what a simple, innocent catchphrase means in the minds of those hell-bent on wielding power over life and death.  I am, however, keenly aware that I too wield power over my own life; the only one with any real authority to green light a positive attitude. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012


When what you do for others is not returned in kind or reciprocated, it is considered unrequited.  Not a day goes by nor a crime scene worked where this does not apply to what I see.
Occasionally, I’ve had to listen to a few suspects.  If an investigation goes to trial, a suspect becomes known as the perpetrator or “perp”.  Somewhere between drivel and well thought-out scenario is a thread of unrequited emotions and actions that I just can’t seem to understand.
Some time ago, I began to excise toxic people from my life.  Most people understand this as keeping their boundaries intact.  Many children are never taught that it’s okay to say “no” to those who violate their sense of security or body.  They grow up, not mature, into someone who figures it’s their turn to violate the boundaries of others.  In the midst of their quest to grow up, they falsely latch on to the idea of gaining respect no matter who pays.

In the deeper section of the southern-most division of LAPD, I took a call for a 187.  That’s code for murder.  A 664 / 187 is attempted murder.  It can get a little weird when an “ADW” gets thrown in.  That would be code for assault with a deadly weapon.  
Keep your sharpened pencil to paper my fellow psychotic writers.  Sorry for the flourish and divergence, but according to a study conducted by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, writers are highly likely to become unhinged.  And here I thought I was immersed in beneficial therapy.
Gangs are organized in somewhat of a military fashion.  They have a command structure that tapers down in rank, ending with foot soldiers.  Two of these foot soldiers were having an argument about whose gang was better.  Both gangs were designated by the street numbers they were formed on.  Only a few numbers separated them; their blocks of origin within walking distance.
I took overalls in a small apartment with some close-ups of a blood soaked couch on one end.  After I had completed the ‘hurry up’ aspect, it was now time for me to wait.  In this job, I spend a lot of time waiting.  Gang detectives arrived from another division and soon began to discuss, at length, the birth, relationships, and now death of the gang member who sat on the shabby couch and verbally violated the boundaries of another.  
If reputation is life and death, then it had been considered justice in the eyes of the shooter.  I’ve learned to let a lot of things go in my life, including excoriation later exonerated.  Yes, I allow a person who lies about me to get their comeuppance when their time is due.  This young man could not.  Barely in his early teens, he shot dead his teen cousin for something he said.

I try to place things into perspective when it comes to wants.  I’ve seen enough people in their last weeks and days of life to know one thing.  When you are lying at death’s doorstep, the thought of that fast car you never bought or the big house you could never afford isn’t one you contemplate.
Life is much shorter than we think.  I know that much.  If I am fortunate enough to go gently into that dark night, I will be grateful for holding on to the same thoughts and values that were as important in my life as they were in my death.  Needless to say, I do my best to let ‘unrequited’ go.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Angel In The Alley

Days of triple digit temperatures are no time to put on a bulletproof vest, but that’s exactly what I was instructed to do by the detective.
The detective was wearing a windbreaker and slacks in weather not even being completely naked would make comfortable.  Not only was he sweating from the heat, but also from a strange nervousness.  I’ve worked with this detective before, so I could tell something was off.  The heat combined with the task at hand was not making me happy.  A few minutes after putting on my vest, sweat ran down my back and soon it appeared as though I had lost control over my bowels.  Now, I’m cranky.
The job was to photograph a body in an alley located in the heart of East Los Angeles. This is the part of town where no one raves about living in the City of the Angels.  At the time, the population of Southern California had quickly grown with migrant workers who lived in overcrowded conditions.  So many of the homeless were a product of a lack of floor space anywhere.  There had been quite a number of people dying where they slept.  
It was obvious that this particular body had been moved.  The detective informed me the body had come from a nearby building packed with vagrants, and that they would have to secure it before we could proceed.  Now I understood why he appeared nervous.  Police presence was growing rapidly and squad cars were coming in from neighboring areas to secure the scene and make it safe.
Two hours passed before I was finally able to begin.  I left my vest in the truck, which had become relatively comfortable with the AC running at full blast.  The coroner had been called and we started in the building.  I only took photographs of the lower floor.  The building was located on a corner and the body was placed in an alley behind a parking lot.  
The lower floor was decorated with over-used furniture and a makeshift chapel that could be quickly folded away to allow shoulder-to-shoulder sleeping along the concrete floor.  The smell of disinfectant and old urine was nearly strong enough for me to use my mask.  The kitchen contained three refrigerators and a stove that I assumed to be in some working condition.  I had to admit, my garage was cleaner.  
The occupants were asked to line up against a wall under the bright sunlight.  They were going to be photographed for ID purposes.  From the looks of discomfort on their faces, it appeared as though the sunlight was killing them.  There was only one woman amongst the handful of men.  I allowed her a moment to smooth out her hair and work up the best smile she could.  I could feel the tension slowly melting around me.
The coroner arrived and I completed my overalls.  I took shots up to a partially rolled-up carpet in an upright position against a chain link fence and utility pole.  A thin man with no shirt had been wrapped inside of it.  I could see that his body was malnourished.  Sometimes with alcohol as the main source of calories, the body will rob muscle and bone tissue for nutrients.  His head rested peacefully against his clasped hands.  He looked as though he were in the middle of prayer when suddenly he was called home to heaven.

Along with the carpet, his story began to unfold.  He had been a drug counselor who made the decision to stay and work in the place that saved his own life.  Rescuing similarly situated individuals became somewhat of a calling for him.  When he died, the residents became nervous and took him outside.  With as much dignity and respect as they could muster, they placed him in such a way that forever memorialized him as the angel in the alley.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Celebrity Death

Pardon my lack of name-dropping, but I like to maintain a person’s right to privacy.  I will never mention the name of any victim.  In my seven years of working crime scenes, I have worked enough celebrity cases where that practice gets put to good use.
I have little to no idea about the ‘who’s who’ nature of Hollywood.  I am inherently poor at following names and connections, therefore I just don’t bother.  One night, I took a call for a death investigation.  Like so many before it, I arrive at the scene, shoot overalls, and wait for the coroner.  I briefly glance at the name and address written on an envelope containing the job information, folded it up, and placed it into my pocket.  (This envelope would later hold a CD of the images taken at the scene.) 
It was a pleasant day, which made driving to the location a pleasure.  I do my best to enjoy the simple pleasures around me, especially the ones that cost me nothing.  The sun was just beginning to set in the distance.  The sky was alive with glorious shades of magnificent color complimented nicely by the lush, green hills along the way.  A sunset in Los Angeles is unlike any other.
I am barely paying attention when the radio station begins its top of the hour news cycle.  A name is dropped occasionally, but it seems only vaguely familiar to me.  I turn two more tight corners and the road opens wide.  It’s a short street with a cul-de-sac big enough for a delivery truck to make a u-turn with no problem, packed with every news media you can think of on its perimeter, and jammed to standing room only by paparazzi.  I’m already ticked off.  

The major news outlets know where I am on the food chain and leave me alone.  I sometimes kibitz over gear and shoot the breeze with others who, like me, are stuck out there.  Suddenly, I have jackals in my face.  These are the same types that caused Princess Diana’s death.  I’m not fond of their behavior and let them know immediately to stay clear.  First Amendment rights are fine until I’m annoyed.

This yapping crowd is right where I need to work.  I turn my I.D. brass side out.  The officers securing the driveway see me pointing my hand just past them and they know that means to clear everything in front of it.  They’re nice enough to ask if the unit they’re driving needs to be moved.  I tell them I just need about 40 of the scuddering crumb-hoovers to move back so heads don’t block my view of the house.  I finish my overalls and head up the driveway after the officers and I have a chuckle over the whole situation.
I come up the sweeping driveway, which appears to have been expensively paved and manicured.  The mansion covers the top end of it, almost like a cave.  I begin my ascent up a staircase leading towards massive double doors, which open to an oversized kitchen.  Inside, there are sad looking people.  A tall man off towards my left looks as though his guts have just been ripped out of him.  I’ve never seen a man appear so broken and still able to stand on his feet.
I’m faced with even more stairs as I make my way to the scene.  All of the floors on this level are carpeted in white.  I enter a massive room divided by closets larger than my bedroom and a bathroom bigger than my kitchen.  Windows providing panoramic views to the city are heavily shuttered.  Any spare shelf or flat spot is adorned by knick-knacks or small bottles, common in homes owned by those in the industry.
After doing some overalls and some close-ups at the direction of the investigators, the coroner running the show directs me to take a few more photographs.  The victim had been taken to the hospital and pronounced dead upon arrival.  
As I prepare to wrap up, I pull out the envelope in my pocket, place the chip from my camera inside, and give out the number listed on the front.  The number, never the name, is how we file every job we do.  It dawns on me that the name heard over the news is the same one provided on the envelope.
Like anyone else, I have a great respect for those who create success from nothing to very little.  We hold celebrities in such high regard.  Unfortunately, that is a position so many are poorly equipped to handle.  I’ve never seen any other group voluntarily starve and then closet themselves into just 1,500 square feet of a 6,500 square foot house.  I don't understand how someone worth millions, with access to so many free resources or assistance, can experience such a state of debilitating anxiety that they literally starve to death.
It makes me stop to think what it is I decide to hunger for in this life.