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Wish You Were Here

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The post-vacation bubble didn't last long. L.A. and Maui are separated by five hours in a plane, two hours of time zone, ocean dynamics (trade winds versus coastal fog), and so much, much more than that.

Driving home from an errand, I make the last turn onto my street and see just past it a phalanx of police cars. There's yellow tape and flashing lights. It's nothing I haven't seen before; more than once in the last four years I've come home only to find out I can't come home because the cops are searching for this or that suspect who's fled from Crenshaw Boulevard into the surrounding blocks. The blocks are cordoned off and there's nothing to do but wait until they're not.

It's a strange feeling, the waiting around until the ban is lifted from your own street. You think about the things you have to do around the house when you get back, like wash dishes and pay bills, and not about the fact that your house is a potential crime scene. I resent that potential. I resent it because it mocks my stubborn but very necessary and mostly valid idea that I live in a normal house on a normal block. On the other hand, how else am I supposed to live? How are any of us?

My neighbors don't fume about this intrusion into their sense of normalcy: It happens frequently enough in this stretch of Inglewood to be considered normal in its own right. When the police sound the all-clear, they go back home and resume what they were doing, shake the dust off their shoes and forget about it until the next time. This particular corner of the earth opens up and swallows what just happened, erases the last several hours of history. My neighbors might tut-tut or even laugh about it, like a SWAT lockdown was a funny thing that happened after church on a Sunday. I don't like this kind of minimizing or denial, though I understand it. I've been guilty of it more than once.

This time, it isn't our block that's roped off, but the one just around the corner. I'm instantly relieved about that, in a selfish way- I'm free, those folks aren't. Cheered by my liberation and intact sense of normalcy, I take my usual dog walk and head down the inconvenienced block, which is part of my usual route. I'm in full, civic-minded denial: I'll be damned if another Inglewood crime-scene sweep will keep me from my daily claim on the neighborhood. If the pleasures of Maui were mine to take home, surely home is a good place to take them. A safe place for dreams, wish-you-were-here photographs, good feeling. It has to be.

The police tape is gone, though people are still milling about in the street, talking. Turns out this was no search, but something far worse -somebody was killed. The victim was a pleasant man of about 30 that I knew from my dog-walking. Shot five times in the heart, a guy tells me soberly, by somebody who was more than likely in a gang. Died on his way to a trauma center that used to be closer, but isn't anymore. I'm stunned. Was Otis in a gang? I ask. The neighbor looks at me, but past me. "Not to my knowledge," he says.

I walk on with my dogs, chastened, outwitted again by some force I can't describe or make go away. The neighbors on the unfortunate block eventually disperse and go back inside. The peacefulness of this street that normally reigns returns. The earth closes up. Knowledge? Normalcy? How little we know, or care to know. Maybe that's best. Maybe that's a kind of death. I need another vacation already.

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