Department Of Now I’ve Seen Everything
Dateline: Wednesday, circa 4pm, outside a grocery store. A woman who exited the store ahead of me scurries to a spot around 30 feet from the store’s exit door. She pulls a cigarette and lighter from her purse, pulls down her mask and lights up. She proceeds to take several long, desperate drags of the cigarette, pulling her mask up inbetween, in a bizarre ritual: lower mask; suck on her death sticks; exhale; raise mask; wait five seconds; repeat.
Lady, just take down your mask, go into a filthy public restroom, run your bare hands over every surface and then touch your hands to your face and mouth and rub your eyes. Get it over with.
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Department of Yep, This.
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Department Of My Defund The Police Story
In the ongoing Defund the Police ® debate, some folks declare that an alternative phrase for police reform is needed. It seems that too many (white) people read or hear “defund” and lose their shit react defensively. They interpret “defund” as doing away with police forces entirely, instead of the how the term is used by reform activists: as shorthand for reallocating funds from police departments to non-policing forms of public safety and community support, (e.g. social, mental health, housing and education services).
Moiself has heard this defensive reaction explained along these lines:
White people get defensive and even frightened at that notion (doing away with police) because white people associate police with security, in ways that communities of color, because of their collective history with aggressive and discriminatory policing, do not.
Sometime in the late 1970s-early 1980s, I read a feature article in a So Cal newspaper about police officer recruitment. Police chiefs were just starting to realize that for community policing to be effective the police force needed to be representative of all members of the community. Given the rising number of Vietnamese immigrants in So Cal, local police departments were trying, and mostly failing, to recruit Vietnamese-Americans. The reason for that failure was not apparent to the majority white police staff, until a cultural liaison enlightened them:
The police forces in Vietnam, and several other Asian countries, were considered to be corrupt, and the average Southeast Asian immigrant’s contact with them had been unpleasant. Thus, young Asian men  who might have been interested in being recruited were discouraged from doing so by their parents, who thought policing a dishonorable profession.
There’s a very basic lesson here: your experiences color your perception.
Yep, that seems evident on a Psychology 101 level. Moiself thinks it’s a bit more far-reaching than that, and ties into the Black Lives Matter movement in a variety of ways and from a variety of perspectives…including the one I am about to share here.
Little known fact about moiself : from about my 5th to 8th grade years, I hated and feared the police. I held particular fear and loathing for men I suspected were undercover cops in unmarked cars. This is because of an experience I had….
Translation: there is a story to be told.
Key elements of this story (“The Wagner Incident”) became much beloved by my family as the years past. My parents in particular loved for my older sister and I to recall the tale, and I always obliged. However, most of my family never knew that I was actually quite traumatized by what happened.
There is (unfortunately or yee-haw! depending on your enjoyment of background information) stage-setting to be done, for this Drama of Shakespearean Importance. 
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, my family lived in a house on Martha Lane in Santa Ana (CA). Martha Lane extended west from a major thoroughfare down to a cross-street (Pacific Ave.) which led to the local community college.  Across Pacific Ave., Martha Lane continued as a cul-de-sac, where my family’s house was located. 
The Wagners were an older couple  whose house was on the main part of Martha Lane (ML). The Wagners had gained a reputation – not a good one – among the other denizens of ML. Mr. Wagner, occasionally accompanied by Mrs. Wagner, walked their massive dog twice daily around the neighborhood. They made of one or two loops around the main portion of ML (they did not cross the street to the cul-de-sac), and they let their dog defecate on other people’s lawns. They made no attempt to pick it up the droppings or at least “curb” their dog; they let him go where he wanted to go. 
Some of the neighbors began to come out of their houses and speak to Mr. Wagner as he made his rounds. At first they politely suggested – then, as time passed and the poop accumulated, they increasingly and more frustratingly demanded – that the Wagners’ dog should do its doggie business at their own home, and not foul other people’s property. The Wagners ignored all such requests, with Mr. Wagner on a couple of such occasions responding with strongly-worded suggestions as to what the other homeowners could do with his dog’s “business.”
Petty, inconsiderate neighbor shit, so to speak, right? Nothing either novel or earth-shattering.
There were other actions the Wagners took that, looking back, seemed almost intentionally aimed at making them the scourge of the neighborhood. It was as if the Wagners got some kind of petty pleasure in taunting their neighbors, in particular, the Young People ®. I can find no other explanation for their behavior.
As a Girl Scout, moiself had the twice-a-year fundraising duties (which I loathed) of going from house to house in my neighborhood, peddling Girl Scout Cookies in the spring and Girl Scout Calenders  in the fall. The Wagners did not have a no soliciting sign on their porch; nevertheless, the first time I rang their doorbell on behalf of the Scouts I received a very snooty dismissal from Mrs. Wagner, when a simple, “We’re not interested” would have sufficed. The second (and last) time I approached their house as a Girl Scout (having forgotten about the first incident, since six months had passed), Mrs. Wagner apparently saw me coming, and couldn’t wait until I set foot on her porch to reject my sales pitch. Before I’d taken three steps from the sidewalk to her driveway her front door flew open and she came barreling out of her house. Her voluminous bat wings shook along with her index finger, which she waggled at me while she bellowed about how she didn’t want to buy anything.
I fled the Wagner driveway with as much dignity as I could muster. Later, I compared stories with other neighborhood kids, whom, I discovered, had experienced similar treatment when they were seeking donations for, say, a school paper drive or other charities. The next time I had to do my GS soliciting I remembered my lesson, and as I left the porch of the house *before* the Wagners’ I proceeded on to the house *after* the Wagners’. As I did so, Mrs. Wagner once again came charging out of the house into her driveway – how strange, I later thought, as she must have been sitting by her front window, just waiting for…what? For a youngster to yell at? – and proceeded to berate me. Apparently, I was a stand-in for all the neighborhood children, as she began her rant with, “YOU KIDS….” I hadn’t even made the slightest indication of stopping at her house – I was just walking past it, on the sidewalk!
Sharing and comparing stories – that’s what kids in a ‘hood do. As the years passed the older kids began to compile a hefty dossier of Wagner Incidents, many of them involving the holidays. A few neighbors told about “Christmas incidents,” stories I cannot now recall,  and every July 4 we heard about how the Wagners did their own fireworks in the street in front of their house, then loudly complained if their next door or across-the-street neighbor’s – in particular, their neighbor’s children or grandchildren – did the same…or just yelled at teens who were walking on the other side of the street, on their way to a friend’s family’s fireworks party.
October 31 seemed to bring out the worst (or weirdest) in the Wagners. On Halloween night the Wagners always turned their porch light on and hung Halloween decorations on their front door, then were randomly and mystifyingly rude to the kids who rang their doorbell. In our neighborhood the trick-or-treaters tended to go in groups of four or more children; the Wagners would often single out someone in your group, make disparaging remarks about a costume they didn’t like, then give candy to some kids and not to others. Sometimes, as if on a whim, they would answer the doorbell, refuse to give candy (from the big jar they had on display) to anyone, and shoo your entire group off their porch. 
Like many grade school-aged children, I found the world of adults both baffling and boring. Unless a home contained children of my or my siblings’ ages, I didn’t pay much attention as to who lived in what house on my block. It took a couple of years for it to sink in: you don’t go to the Wagner‘s house for Halloween…or anything else.
Can you guess what kind of attitude among the neighbors, in particular among the youth of Martha Lane, was engendered by the Wagners, toward the Wagners?
There were many more incidents that my older sister and her friends shared with moiself and my friends. Slowly but surely, a vendetta arose. The older kids in the neighborhood had had it with the Wagners, and conspired to tease them at every opportunity.
My older sister and her friend rewrote lyrics to the tune of, “We Love You Conrad,” (a song from the Broadway musical, Bye Bye Birdie):
♫ We hate you Wagners
Oh yes we do
We don’t hate anyone
When you are near us,
Oh Wagners we hate you. ♫
Yeah; I know – hardly cutting-edge satire. Still, I thought my sister and her friend were so clever when sang me that song, and they were obviously proud of themselves. They taught the song to all the neighborhood kids, and made us all vow to sing it at any Wagner-sighting opportunity.
Things escalated, as they say, from there.
Early one hot summer night a bunch of us ML kids were hanging out on the corner of Pacific and ML, negotiating which chase/tag game we would play that evening (Green Monster? Hide n’ Seek?) We spotted Mrs. Wagner up the street, identifiable from even 200 feet away by her towering, glow-in-the-dark white beehive hairdo and imperious, waddling stride. She was walking her dog, and one of us in the group – I can’t remember who but it might have been me or my older sister – had the brilliant idea to begin humming the Miss America theme song:
♫ There she is…Miss America…
There she is, your ideal…. ♫
Silly stuff – hardly the material of celebrity stalking lawsuits. Even so, it apparently put a burr under Mrs. Wagner’s saddle (or that ridiculous beehive). Unbeknownst to us kids, when Mrs. Wagner returned home she told her husband what we kids had done, and he called the police and insisted they open a harassment investigation.
We hummed the Miss America song – that’s what put them over the edge? We didn’t even sing the words.
Also unbeknownst – to me, at that time – were other incidences of kids taking revenge on the Wagners. Some older teens who lived on the main section of ML had, with their parents’ knowledge and approval, saved some of the “droppings” the Wagner’s dog left on their lawn. After accumulating several days’ worth, the kids delivered shovelfuls of feces to the Wagner’s lawn. When this failed to deter Mr. Wagner from his dog walking/dumping, on July Fourth one family’s teenage son played the proverbial, flaming-sack-of-poop prank on the Wagner’s front porch. 
That and other incidences enabled the Wagners to convince the police to open a harassment file…or a case…or whatever it was.
So. This “case” was going on, without my knowledge.
Then, one day….
I’ve always wanted to say that.
The story continues, in next week’s post.
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May you get to say something you’ve always wanted to say;
May you be mindful of how petty neighborhood disputes can escalate;
May you bear with me until next week;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
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 And it was only men who were being recruited, at that time.
 A slight exaggeration.
 The imaginatively named, Santa Ana College.
 Those two portions of Martha Lane no longer exist. Under eminent domain, the community college took over the properties in the early 1980s. In archetypical, SoCal development fashion, the area where my family house once stood is now a parking lot.
 In their late 60s – early 70s?
 Do people still use that term? For the young ‘uns who may be unfamiliar with it, to curb one’s dog involved pulling it off the curb – away from someone’s lawn or sidewalk – and making it poop in the street gutter.
 Anyone remember those? The Girl Scouts stopped selling them in 2008.
 The Wagners scared off Santa’s reindeer with a shotgun? Nothing would surprise me.
 But they would leave the porch light on – the universal sign of “open for business” for trick-or-treaters – and answer the doorbell when the next group of kids came by. Yep, we watched, to see what happened.
 He filled a brown paper bag with the Wagner’s dog’s droppings, put the bag on the Wagner’s front porch, set it afire, rang their doorbell, and hauled ass up the block. And yes, when Mr. Wagner answered the doorbell he attempted to stamp out the flames….