Thursday, April 10, 2008
Police! Firemen! Dogs! Crack Head Confrontation In A Dark Street! And A Special Visit From The Police Brass! WHAT A NIGHT, BABY!!!
(My 1988 Celebrity is rusty but trusty. Despite a busted serpentine belt, last night I nearly had to use it as a desperate getaway vehicle) Here is what went down....
He Called The Po-lice On Me!
I am always aware of my surroundings. A couple young men got on the bus and I could catch part of their conversation. Something about (expletive), boards went up. BOARDS! And they were trying to "wake somebody up" and "money, money for WHAT?"
Better not to get off the bus at 31st Ave. N., I thought, especially when they rang the bell to exit at 31st. There might be a confrontation, I figured, if they thought I was involved with--oh, I'm such a terrible guy--reporting the ELECTRICITY THEFT FROM MY HOUSE.
It is my nightly habit to check my house, then go back to St. Paul. (Picture of my undisclosed St. Paul digs, above, though my official address remains Appleton, Minnesota, the town that makes its living from a private prison. Crime is good for business, and business is very good)
So I got off a block later, to give the street time to clear out. I walked with a cell phone in my hand. The friendly blue space alien glow is comforting, it gives a visual cue to anybody who might approach, "he has a cell phone and can call 911."
As I walked through the area I hope to make a "corridor of safety," it was dark as the Valley of the Shadow of death. And on this dark street, about a block away, somebody yelled, "Hey. Come here." A dark figure, on a dark street, in dark clothing.
He kept yelling it. And I kept walking, toward my house, thinking, "This is a drug dealer who figures I am looking to score, and he is trying to make his availability known." Aggressive salesmanship, you might say. He kept yelling, "Hey, you, COME HERE!"
Closer to my house, I said, "No thank you, I'm not looking to make a transaction." And I was thinking, "I need a weapon. I need a weapon."
"That's the guy!" yelled the dark figure, to somebody else. "He called the po-lice on me. That's him. Look, he be walking to that house."
Emergency Contingency Plans, Modified On The Fly
I have made plans, actually, for times such as these. "Plan A" is always, "Get in my car and get the hell out of Dodge." Unfortunately, my car broke the "tension spring to the serpentine belt pully," which my brother will fix on Saturday for half of whatever estimate I can obtain.
("Don't tell them you just want an estimate," he said. "Make 'em think you really want them to do the work."
"Yeah, teach Grandma Vernie to suck eggs," I replied.)
So Plan A wouldn't work too well, though an unfortunate experience driving a truck for Bio Corporation in Alexandria, Minnesota has taught me a vehicle can go for several miles with a busted serpentine belt before overheating. It has taught me other gritty, valuable things about using a vehicle as a weapon, if you must.
We used to carry $500 cash for emergencies, plus checks to buy "product," as we euphemistically referred to dead, frozen kitty-kats which once had names like Fluffy and Mr. Whiskers. I'm not sure how much money was in the checking account and I made it a point to never ask, but I figured it was several thousand dollars. People think drivers get jacked for cargo and, yeah, they do...but truck hijackers often want the CHECKS and CASH carried by the drivers.
We had a billy club--well, OK, a sawed off baseball bat, because it was cheaper than buying a billy club--which we called "the security system." I used to say, though, "If worse came to worse, I would use the van as a weapon, not the club. Think about it. What do I have in my possession which can put forward as much force and mass as that van? A van can actually do more damage than a gun. More importantly, it allows me to flee." (But no faster than 70 mph, because it has a governor, which would be better known as a "nosy nanny.")
So, yeah. Go for the vehicle. That's Plan A.
Plan B is, "Barricade myself inside the house with a weapon and wait for daylight." However, I don't have any weapon quite yet except my baseball bat from Frog Town (decorated with the name "Froggy Frogtown" in Sharpie) and getting inside the house quickly is a problem, because the door can only be locked from the OUTSIDE with a padlock.
Plan C is, of course, "OK, somebody breaks in the house. Always know where the phone is and have it quite handy, as well as charged. If the charge is low, turn off the phone so it won't die in the night when you need it. Call the police and give location and situation. Use the weapon if you must."
Thinking plans through--the way I was trained as a security guard, "Think up hypothetical emergencies, work through and walk through your response"--I have to unlock the door, open one of the remaining glass windows that can lock, walk back outside to lock the door, then go in the window and lock the window behind me.
I dialed 911, kept the phone in my hand, opened my car door, got inside. The 911 operator was, I must say, patient. Those calls are worrisome where nobody answers right away, or so I've learned from watching television. I explained the situation and they promised to send an officer.
So I sat in the vehicle. I think I saw the dark figure get into a silver truck and leave. I thought, "If they come into the drive way behind me, I won't hesitate. I'll start the vehicle, put it in reverse, and exit through my yard and the flimsy chain link fence. I can easily get as far as Cub Foods, even with a busted serpentine, and there is always a police car parked there."
I sat and sat. I thought how bullets through the rear windshield would be unpleasant, but there would be a lot of old, rusty piece-of-shit Celebrity between me and the shooter. The marksmanship of North Side shooters is notoriously bad. The historical record shows they can't hit each other without killing, for example, a young girl doing her homework at a kitchen table.
When things seemed quiet, I opened the car door and sat, assessing the situation. Yeah, things were quiet. Best to get inside the house, since I wasn't going back to the bus stop under these circumstances. I couldn't sleep outside in the car and wait for somebody to come along and pop me in my front yard. I had some blankets stashed upstairs for just such a circumstance as this, prepared like a Boy Scout.
Through the door, unlock the window, back outside, lock the door, and I figured out it was quicker to vault the fence than go around. (Note to self) Inside the window in a motivated though graceless manner. How undignified, crawling through my own window like a thief. I locked the window behind me. I checked all the downstairs windows before going upstairs...what if somebody had already broken inside?
Best to check that. I always do, before going upstairs.
I sat and watched out the second story window, behind the loosely-woven wool blanket which serves as a makeshift window. Practicing soldierly "light discipline" with my flashlight, I walked around upstairs, thinking, "Is there a better room, tactically speaking?"
But my "contingency stuff" (blankets, baseball bat, clock, Snore Stop, really, anything I could need while roughing it like a Boy Scout) was already in the best room. I shoved the bedroom door shut, tightly, and right away I realized, "I'd be in a better tactical position if I could lock this door." It not only lacks a lock, but a doorknob and, like every door in the house, it is made of the cheapest crud which can legally be used for a door. In China.
My primary purpose in shoving the door shut was it would make a useful barrier to smoke.
So, yeah, note to self. Find a way to secure that door from the inside, to create a second barrier within the house.
The police called to get more info. I told them where I had seen the dark figure and what he said. And words came spilling out, like this:
"What's really ironic is I haven't called the police on any drug dealers. Oh, yeah, I've called the police on prostitutes. On scrap metal thieves. On electricity thieves. Maybe one or two other things, I can't remember. But on the dealers? I've never actually done that. It is a FALSE accusation."
The officer on the other end was comforting. I could hear radio transmissions in the back. Something about how the "dumb fuck is going to get himself shot." I caught that.
"I'm not saying I wouldn't call 911 on drug dealing," I clarified. "I probably would. I just haven't had a clear opportunity to do it. So this guy...I don't know why he's mad at me. I don't."
I added that I'd been going around calling in vacant houses, putting up boards myself, calling 911 on things that needed calling in.
"Some people think I'm a fool for trying to turn this place around," I said. "But I think it's good work."
Now I Hunker Down Myself To Sleep, I Pray The Lord My Soul To Keep
I couldn't stay awake all night. That would be stupid. I saw a police car cruise with its lights off, the way they do, and they remind me of sharks. (Only a few nights ago they cruised all over the block, and told me--I went up and asked, damn it, trying to be helpful--they were looking for a group of five individuals, one with a gun) So I figured, well, they're around. Things are probably going to be fine.
Until they go away in an hour or so.
I said a prayer of contrition for my sins. I regretted, as always, my inability to memorize the Twenty-Ninth Psalm, despite the efforts of my Sunday school teacher. I prayed the "now I lay me down to sleep" prayer. I contemplated death for a moment, told myself I'd actually been in much worse situations, before, and I went to sleep.
Here Come The Fire Trucks
Daylight was mixed with the sounds of numerous sirens. I looked out the window, and a big red fire truck went right by on Sixth Street.
Well, I thought, they drove past. That's good.
I heard the fire truck stop very close. Oh, hell, I thought. Something is up.
My pants are always at the foot of the bed. Always. If women don't like that habit, I'll be happy to sleep on the couch, but I'm not running outside in my underwear in case of an emergency.
The house was 416 N. 30th Street. The "electricity thief" house. It wasn't burning, but firemen had chopped down the board over the front door. I remembered what the building inspectors had told me. "This house or the other one (mine!) will be in flames."
They also told me some other things...something about how mice are always playing with matches? Sometimes mice even set a whole tire on fire. Funny how the best houses--the ones with great fire insurance--seem to have such issues with pyromaniac mice.
I walked up to the first fireman I saw and said, "Sir, there's something I have to tell you about that house. There was a housing inspector who said a week ago there was going to be a fire at that house..."
"Go talk to the guy in the red helmet," he said. "He's in charge."
Red helmet among firemen means, "He's the guy in charge." Huh. Good to know. The stuff you learn on the gritty North Side.
I explained the deal to Red Helmet, but he said, "Xcel Energy was out here cutting the power, and they smelled gas. That's why we came." He was interested in illegal electrical tap. I showed him. It was disconnected from the line, but still under the door. A fireman had chopped a hole in the board over the back door.
They are like Paul Bunyan, I thought, the way they love to chop! While I stood there, a guy from the gas company arrived, calm but annoyed. Empty house on the North Side slowly filling with gas. Gee, who would have predicted?
It's a big house, I thought. If you filled it all the way up with gas...well, I wonder what kind of bomb that would make? Would it blow my house over, or just break the three or four windows not yet broken?
Red Hat was kind enough to pose for a picture. I'll toss it up here when I get it developed, since my digital methods are rooted in "old school." (Darn it, I like FILM) The front door board was so hacked to pieces that it was impossible to put together, so I told the firemen I had a board they could use, and I'd go get it.
I went right where I knew there was a spare door board just laying on the ground, fetched it, and felt just a little bit proud and helpful as firemen nailed my board over the front door. Maybe I was supposed to be here, to see this first thing in the morning, instead of waking up elsewhere. Praise the Lord. His Ways, His Mind is higher than ours.
Re/Max Is Less Remiss
I discovered, to my delight, the worse crack house on the block had its front door boarded over, the one at 420 31st Ave. N. with a Re/Max sign out front...but no longer represented by Re/Max. This was good news, indeed!
I grabbed a spare board laying on the ground, so I could secure that unsecured garage door when the journalist arrived for an interview. (More on that later) The nice thing about boarding up houses is when the city contractor "re-boards," they leave the old boards laying around. So finding boards to "re-re-board" is never very difficult.
Five Police Vehicles And A K-9 Unit
Meanwhile, just down the avenue, police spent an hour dealing with a white house at the corner of Lyndale Ave. N. and 30th, with five vehicles and two dogs. They must have found something, I thought, to spend so much time there, but it was impossible to say what.
I talked to "Pops," who is the uncle of the guy getting set to buy my house. The guy who wanted to buy my house called me on the phone to ask WHAT THE (EXPLETIVE) WAS GOING ON? I told him as best I could.
He was supposed to come over and buy my house, but he found an excuse to stay away. He didn't want to show up while the neighborhood was filled with police, looking for who-knew-what, or at least that was how it appeared to me.
The Police Brass Is Reading Johnny Northside Dot Com
As I walked to my property, a police car drove up close and pulled over. I sat down on the step and put my hands where they could be seen. An officer with a pleasant expression stepped out of the vehicle.
"By your manner of pulling over, I assumed you wanted to talk to me," I said. "Here I am."
I wondered what now? Did this officer think I was reporting the activity at the house to some kind of criminal element because I talked on my cell phone while watching his officers? Did I tie up too many police resources last night because of a vague description of a dark, menacing figure?
Just what the hell was I going to hear now from the oh-so-helpful and supportive Minneapolis Police Department about what a (expletive) idiot I am to even be in this neighborhood, thinking I can change anything by boarding up a few crack houses?
Lieutenant Jeff Rugel knew my name. He said, right away, he had been reading my blog.
"Well," I said. "You're smiling. So that's good, I guess."
This guy cuts right to the chase. He was concerned about the interaction he'd read about with the officers, and what I was reporting the officers said to me about how my handyman would "turn on me." This is not the kind of message or image he wants his officers putting out about the department and about North Minneapolis. He was saying this in a pleasant way, however.
I replied my blog was the truth. It happened exactly as I said.
He wanted more specifics about the particular officers.
I said I needed those officers, and I needed to have a positive relationship with them. I didn't blame them for stopping and questioning me and William. (I did volunteer William's last name) They might think I resented it (citizens often do) but I didn't actually have a problem with being questioned, though I didn't really like the attempt to "sow distrust" between me and William, or say I should implicitly distrust certain people who lived in the neighborhood.
Rugel said he, too, had concerns about the things being said by officers, especially when it became public on a blog--but who knows how many people read a blog? There weren't that many comments.
"I just put a lot of stuff up," I replied. "There are some comments earlier."
He wanted the names and I was not giving the names. Causing trouble for his officers was the last thing I wanted. I would forgive them and "start all over." I showed him my back yard and talked about the work William had done, but how it took a while because William was 54 years old and had diabetes.
Rugel pointed out the yellow dump truck in the yard of "Pops," and told me how quite recently a suspect had hidden in the back of the dump truck as officers combed the neighborhood. He told me how the suspect was apprehended. I'm not revealing what he told me, but it was damn interesting, and shows the value of involved citizens.
I noticed how his eyes looked inside my vehicle as I walked by, and I quickly said, "I recycle all my cans. I'm a fanatic." He laughed. I had caught him in the act of eyeballing the interior of my vehicle. I told him about the rough night I'd had, and how I was thinking of buying a gun, but I hesitated to bring yet another gun to the North Side. But after feeling what I felt last night, I never wanted to feel that way again.
"If you have a gun and you're not willing to use it..." Rugel said. "One thing is for sure. There is going to be a gun at that fight. And they'll probably take it away and use it on you."
He was nice, so I avoided the defensive response welling up in the back of my mind. I shot "Expert" in the U.S. Army. Can YOU hit 40 out of 40 targets, some at 200 meters? My spotter swears there were times my eyes DIDN'T BLINK as my weapon fired. Zen, baby. Becoming one with the weapon. Ohhhhhhm.
Shoot somebody dead who is breaking into my house? WITHOUT BLINKING. Without being troubled about it.
My Sunday school teacher said there was a self-defense exception to "Thou Shalt Not Kill," though I'm not sure I ever found it in the Scriptures. What worries me is killing somebody who didn't need to be killed...the homeless wino who breaks into the house to sleep while I hunker down after some ugly incident. That kind of thing.
In modern warfare, 10 percent of all deaths are attributable to fratricide. So I figure there's a ten percent chance of killing the wrong person in any confrontation with a gun. And that's far too high, but it just means you have to be sure of your target, not shoot in a blind panic.
I'm still really conflicted about getting a gun. The actual using of a gun has only a 10 percent rate of conflict.
My Theory About Last Night
The guy who was yelling was standing out in front of 420 31st Ave. N.
My theory (and I told Rugel) is he was enraged about being boarded out of the place he called home which, the last time I checked, was full of filthy mattresses, litter, and the smell of human feces. But I had no way to know when I was walking down the dark street how "420 31st" had been boarded. It made more sense in the morning.
Then again, who knows? Maybe it was the scrap metal thieves.
The fact I was trying to get "420 31st" boarded was no secret. How many times did I stand out front by the Re/Max sign and call both numbers? How many times did I check the vinyl siding by the door, thinking, "Would nails work, MAYBE?" No, darn it, only a drill will do. And I ran off Lisa The Prostitute, of course. People talk. They especially seem to talk in this neighborhood, in communication networks which are almost tribal in their raw, desperate humanity.
So this is what happens when somebody on the North Side tries to board up a crack house. Some crack head waits for you in a dark street, and follows you to your house, shouting in a rage.
Good to know.
FUCK THE CRACK HEADS, I say. BOARD THE SHIT UP.