Recent Work By Claire Bidwell Smith

My father and I spend the two months following my mother’s death sitting around in the living room, until one day he decides that I should to go to Europe to meet my best friend Liz.

We can’t just sit around here smoking and looking at each other, he says.

I know he’s right, but I’m afraid to him leave alone.

Don’t worry about me, he says as if reading my mind.

Is The Rules of Inheritance about how you inherited a bunch of money and acted like a Kardashian?

Sadly, no. It’s more depressing, gritty and uplifting than that. Both of my parents got cancer when I was fourteen. My mother died when I was eighteen and my father when I was twenty-five. I’m an only child and these losses left me very much alone in the world, and going through something that none of my peers had really experienced. The book is kind of a coming-of-age story. It follows me through cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, through various relationships I cultivated with men and with alcohol. It’s definitely a grief memoir, but it’s also a lot more than that. You don’t have to have lost someone to relate to someone who is trying to figure themselves out and fucking up a lot along the way.

 

Aren’t you kind of embarrassed to publish a memoir?

For a long time the word memoir really made me cringe. When people asked what I was working on, I would go to great lengths to avoid that word. I’m actually a big fan of memoirs, but there can be something really trite and embarrassing about them, especially given our culture’s obsession with the intimate details of other people’s lives.

 

So, why did you write a memoir?

Well, when I was grieving and trying to figure out how to move through my life as a young woman without parents, I turned to other people’s stories for answers and solace. These stories often came in the form of memoirs, and I found some of them enormously helpful. That’s all I really want from my book — to help people.

 

For some reason no one has really asked you about the writing style you used in Rules, although it’s kind of unusual. You don’t indent your paragraphs and you don’t use quotation marks. What’s up with that?

It’s true. People like to use the same three words to describe by book: gritty, poetic and heart-wrenching, and they talk a lot about how well the book flows, but no one comments on the liberties I took with the writing style. I don’t indent any of the paragraphs, I let a lot of lines stand alone and I don’t use quotations. A lot of this has to do with the poetic nature of the writing and the way I wanted the language emphasized, but I also just wanted the writing to have a kind of immediacy that I think gets lost with a more formal approach. And I also just felt weird using quotes around sentences that were based on memories.

 

Got it. Makes sense. I heard you’re working on some weird afterlife book now, doing seances and stuff. Is that true?

No seances. Yet. But yes, I’m working on a nonfiction book in which I explore different beliefs about the afterlife in an attempt to work out what I believe for myself. If you call it a spiritual memoir I’ll shoot you. I’ve been doing all kinds of fun stuff for it though — seeing mediums, getting hypnotized to find out about my past lives and taking Kabbalah classes. Stay tuned!

1991, I am 13 years old.

My mom and I are on our way to the mall after school one day. We live in Destin, Florida and the only nearby mall is located in Ft. Walton Beach, where I am in the 8th grade at Max Bruner Jr. Middle School. So, on this particular day, instead of riding the school bus home like I usually do, my mother picks me up at the end of the day, waiting patiently in her black Volvo in the carpool line with the other parents.

This morning I watched a bird fly into a car in front of me and fall to the asphalt below like a dirty sock that missed the hamper. The bird had been part of a pair, he and his other half swooping down from the trees in the park on the opposite side of the road, as myself and the driver in front of me zoomed by on our way to what was surely some tedious Wednesday destination, mine being work, for which I was already late.

Home was Los Angeles. And my life there was one of aimless, tipsy grieving. My father had died six months before this story begins and ever since I’d been casting about listlessly. One of my best friends, Lucy, lived down the street and we spent many a day together, drinking cocktails before 5pm and pondering the meaning of our mid-twenties. One such afternoon we decided that the best possible solution to our problems would be to go into business together importing t-shirts from Thailand. This may have just been an excuse to conduct “business meetings” over Bloody Marys at a restaurant in Culver City called Dear John’s, but whatever the case, we forged ahead with the plan.

The previous year on a travel-writing trip to the Philippines I’d happened upon a series of T-shirts with nonsensical sayings emblazoned across the front. My favorite was a hot-pink tank top with rainbow stitching. The Doritos logo was planted in the center in heavy black letters and underneath it said “It won’t come back to the house early and it will get dark soon.” Another shirt I was particularly fond of simply said “Coccyx Bone” across its deep purple fabric. It appeared as though whoever made these tees had a simple goal of producing shirts with English sayings on them. As in anything in English.

On a subsequent trip to Thailand I happened upon a veritable goldmine of these shirts in large weekend market in Bangkok. Over a “business meeting” at Dear John’s Lucy and I quickly determined that these things would sell and sell fast in Los Angeles. The kicker was that the shirts were cheap. Really cheap. Like 35-cents-per-shirt cheap. We could just go over there and buy a bunch of them and bring ’em back, we slurred at each other, stabbing at our drinks with half-eaten stalks of celery. Suddenly, a business plan was born. And we’ll have to go to Thailand all the time for business! I think Lucy may have spilled her Bloody Mary at this point, so enthusiastic was she about our plan.

One of these shirts simply read “Sexy Daddy Fat Why & Why,” and so we decided to name our little business Why & Why. Naturally we made business cards, in watermelon colors, hot pink and green. How else would it be official, right?

To get ready for our first trip we investigated the amount of goods we could declare returning from Thailand, made some arbitrary lists and planned for a beach vacation on the island of Koh Chang following our big buy at the weekend market in Bangkok. We also invited our friend Holly along, partly for fun and partly so that she could carry back two more suitcases of T-shirts for us.

Armed with a copy of Lonely Planet Thailand and a few extra duffel bags, the three of us set off.

Fully settled into the awesome, vintage Atlanta Hotel in Bangkok, we drank away our jet lag with copious amounts of Singha and finalized our plans to hit the 35-acre Chatuchak weekend market. Unlike anything I’d ever experienced, the market sold everything from live baby squirrels to nonsensical English-saying t-shirts, and it spanned blocks and blocks of densely-filled little tents. There were sections for plants and animals, textiles, furniture and food and we dove right into the clothing district, stumbling over ourselves in our excitement at finding stall after stall selling our shirts.

One stall in particular had an amazing selection and we quickly struck up a deal with the father-daughter pair behind the counter. We excitedly told them about our plan to import their wonderful T-shirts to America, all the while stacking pile upon pile of the shirts on the counter for purchase. The father-daughter team were thrilled.

“Do you have more of these?” we asked breathlessly and they began pulling out bags from the back. “Yes, we shouted! We’ll take them all!”

We shook hands with the shopkeepers enthusiastically and left them to fold the hundreds of shirts we had just agreed to buy while we set off to enact a new and brilliant third step to our plan: we would just mail them back! Hundreds of them! Off we skipped to FedEx.

At the FedEx shop we began making arrangements to have our bounty sent back to LA. How many boxes, how many pounds, blah, blah, blah. All sounds good. Lucy whipped out her credit card.

“And what is it you’re shipping?” the clerk asked.

“Oh, just some T-shirts we’re going to sell back home,” we replied.

“Do you have an import license?” he asked.

“Um, a what?” We quickly explained our business plan to him.

He was young, American, and clearly the manager of the store. “Um,” he said, “have you ever heard of APEC?”

I can still remember the sinking feeling that came over me. APEC, APEC…as I repeated this acronym in my head vague memories of my high school economics class flitted through my head. Words like tariff, trade restrictions, and import laws swam before my eyes.

APEC = Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

APEC = us breaking some major laws and trade agreements by bringing these T-shirts home to sell.

I suddenly flashed back to a drunken moment at Dear John’s. Just as a waiter had placed our third round of Bloodies on the table, I leaned back in my chair and exclaimed to Lucy, “Man, this whole thing is just so easy. I can’t believe someone else hasn’t done this yet!” My cheeks reddened with the memory as we made our way out of the FedEx shop in Bangkok. Back at the T-shirt stall the father-daughter team had just finished sorting and counting the last of the 500 or t-shirts we had agreed to purchase and were grinning at us wildly as we approached.

We hung our heads in shame and explained the folly of our once-great plan. Pressing several hundred dollars of guilt-money into their confused hands, we backed out of the store, our hearts heavy. Our plan had failed.

The next day, on a ferry on our way to the island of Koh Chang, the three of us quietly sipped at cans of Singha. We would have to figure out another way to survive our twenties. Perhaps something less crazy than illegally-imported Asian t-shirts and something a little more upstanding like a game that involves touching other people’s motorcycles.

I couldn’t go home yet. I’d made it this far out into the world—surely I could go a little farther.

The PR woman in charge of the Filippino press trip I was on arranged to have my stay extended, and I eagerly researched methods to get to a small island north of Cebu called Malapascua.

I chose Malapascua because my guidebook listed it as one of the few places in the world to dive with thresher sharks. The common thresher shark ranges in size from 10 to 25 feet and has a tail shaped like a scythe, with which they use to stun their prey. A pelagic species, thresher sharks generally reside at depths too dangerous for divers to reach.

Thresher

Perfect, I thought. No matter that I hadn’t been diving in years. No matter that the thought made my chest tight, my breath short.

According to my guidebook, Monad Shoal, off the coast of Malapascua, is one of the only places in the world known for daily sightings of thresher sharks. It’s here where the thresher sharks convene every morning to have a symbiotic relationship with the small wrasse fish who cleans them of bacteria, eating the dead skin from their bodies and even the insides their mouths.

My diving with sharks, a creature I was deathly afraid of, seemed the perfect antidote to the raging desperation I felt inside. I was 25 years old and my father had just died of cancer two months before, leaving me parentless and quite alone in the world.

On the morning that I was due to return to Los Angeles, I instead waved goodbye to my fellow journalists and watched as they clambered into the air-conditioned van for their ride to the airport. Then I climbed into the backseat of a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the local bus station.

Getting to Malapascua was no easy feat. The journey began with an eight-hour bus ride through the jungle up to the very tip of Cebu where I would then have to find a boat willing to take me out to the island.

I sat by myself in the old un-airconditioned school bus and stared out the window at the passing trees and densely tangled vines. The bus, like most Filipino transport, was decorated with an outrageous assortment of fringe and beads and wildly painted colors. American classic rock blasted from little speakers strategically placed throughout the interior, ensuring that no one could hear anything but ABBA’s finest.

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The other passengers on the bus turned around frequently to stare at me and whenever we stopped, people along the side of the road would grab their companions and point up at me: this wide-eyed white girl traveling alone. I didn’t mind their stares, my lips curving into a slight smile in return. I had a week under my belt of this kind of treatment. I was beginning to get used to it.

I also just didn’t care anymore. At some point during this trip—perhaps walking through the Chinese cemetery in Manila at dusk—I had decided to just give myself up to the world. I had nothing, absolutely nothing, to lose.

And seemingly the world responded in kind. For the rest of my trip I was handed off from person to person. Everyone seemed interested in the young American woman traveling alone. The taxi driver, the bus driver, the young ticket-taker boys all inquired after my journey. Where are you going? Who are you going with? You’re alone? Where are your companions? Where is your husband?

I answered their questions honestly, admitting that I was very much alone and transparently clueless about what I was getting myself into. Each of them took it upon themselves to hand me off to the next. The taxi driver made sure I got onto the correct bus. The young ticket boys on the bus walked me out to the docks at the end of the island. The boat driver assured me that he would see me to his aunt’s resort (a series of ramshackle huts on the beach). And each of them, true to their word, made sure I reached my next destination.

I’ll never forget sitting perched on the edge of that rickety catamaran on my way to Malapascua. I’d been the last passenger on the bus when we reached the end of Cebu and the young ticket boy escorted me over to the docks. Hey, this girl wants to go to Malapascua, he called out to several men lounging around the makeshift port.

Uncharted5

And soon I found myself scudding along the clear blue ocean, my face lifted to the sun, all signs of land disappearing from view as I went farther and farther out into the ocean.

No matter how sad I was, no matter how wrenchingly lonely I felt, no matter how bottomless my pain seemed, there never disappeared a part of me absolutely determined to live my life. I closed my eyes to the warm ocean breeze and I knew this about myself.

Malapascua was incredibly small, maybe one mile by two. The electricity shut off every night at 10 p.m. and the running water only ran twice a day. The entire time I was there I only encountered three other tourists: two American Peace Corps workers and their traveling friend. After I checked into one of the huts on the beach I walked over to the dive place and introduced myself to the dive master, a friendly British guy named Duncan.

I got certified as a diver when I was fourteen. Both of my parents were divers, my mother the more serious of them, and we went every year on our annual trips to Grand Cayman. My mother and I were always dive buddies, checking each other’s gear and swimming alongside each other. She loved to point out anemones and eels, which she’d find hidden in secret little crevasses among the coral. We’d nod at each other, our eyes wide in our masks, mouths smiling around our regulators.

Divers_2

But I hadn’t been diving in years. I didn’t know where my certification was, didn’t know if I even remembered how to read the gauges or adjust my buoyancy level. I didn’t care, though, and I told all of this to Duncan. He assured me that it would all come back easily, that it was a simple dive, and handed me a form on which he jokingly suggested I sign my life away.

I scribbled out my signature as he explained that we would dive Monad Shoal early the next morning. The dive was 80 feet, he described, and we would simply descend and kneel on the sandy bottom to watch the sharks as they went through their morning routine. I looked around the dive hut at the pictures on the wall, those enormous grey fish, their tails almost as long as their bodies. I nodded at Duncan, told him I’d see him in the morning.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the island. I wandered through the tiny village and out into the mangroves, walking from one end of the island to the other, clouds floating across the sky before me and the ocean stretching out for unknowable miles. I thought about my parents and my life and what they would want for me and what I wanted for myself. And I knew that I was doing it, whatever it was.

The next morning I showed up at Duncan’s dive hut at 5:30 a.m. It was still dark out, but just as Duncan had said, the roosters woke me on time. We set about loading up the boat with gear—we would be the only divers, although there was a young Filipino boy who would remain on board the boat while we went down. Monad Shoal was a good half hour out into the wide, open ocean. I could only faintly see land in the distance once we finally reached the buoy that marked our dive spot.

My anxiety mounted as we assembled the gear. I hadn’t been diving in years. I’d hardly ever gone without my mother and never without a large group of people. Dawn was barely beginning to break and the ocean was dark and choppy. I tried to imagine the sharks eighty feet below us. Duncan said there were usually around thirty of them. My heart was pounding as I dropped backwards over the edge of the boat in my mask and fins, my B.C. and regulator.

As soon as we began to descend into the water, my hands tight around the anchor rope, my heart began to pound even harder. My chest was grew tight. I was terrified. Visibility was poor; I could hardly see five feet below me and I could not tamp the rising sense of panic thinking about the school of sharks pooled below us.


I shook my head at Duncan, cut my finger across my neck to call it off; I couldn’t do it.

He was kind about it, pouring me a cup of coffee from a little thermos and wrapping a towel around my shoulders, but sitting on the bow of the boat as we skimmed across the water on our way back to Malapascua, I felt foolish. Tears slipped down my cheeks.

What was it I was so desperately trying to prove to myself?

I’ve told this story a hundred times and it never ceases to be anti-climatic. But the truth is that I didn’t have to dive with those sharks in order to know that I was living my life. The moral of the story is that old adage: it’s not about the destination, it’s what gets you there. It’s the journey itself that matters. I didn’t need to swim with sharks to prove that I could handle the deaths of my parents.

I returned to the Malapascua that morning with Duncan, thanked him one last time, and ran off to meet my new friend Melanie, a Malapascua native and sole bartender at the one of the island’s two bars—the floating one. Melanie and I spent the day snorkeling off the southern tip of the island, pointing to the brightly colored parrot fish and carefully concealed eels.

Uncharted4

Heading back to Cebu a few days later, my back stuck to the pleather seat of that old school bus, Boston blasting through the tinny speakers, I knew I’d found what I’d gone looking for and I was grateful that I didn’t have to dive with sharks to find it.


Start with Part One in which Lydia and I attend a police briefing, respond to an unfortunate situation at Burger King, roll a code 3, and embark on one of the most thrilling nights of our lives.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

The Wood = Inglewood

Bump ‘Em Up = Scare someone a little

Break Leather = Pull your gun from your holster

Roll a Code 3 = Turn on the sirens & respond to a call

Lay a Dime = Make a call

Lapdogs = LAPD

Policecarbluelightsweb

Friday, April 28, 2006

10:25PM We leave the station through the back so we don’t walk past Lee and his friends again. I don’t ask Sarge about the SIM card. There is this part of me that doesn’t want to know. Lydia texts that they’re with the K-9 unit. I’m jealous. We’re heading out to a collision. When we get there I see two cars in the road. They’re both totaled. Paramedics are lifting someone onto a stretcher and there’s glass all over the road. It’s strange to watch people’s lives change like this, to know that wherever they were headed for the evening, it isn’t a destination they’re likely to make.

We stand around in the street with some other cops for a while. I try to look cool but it’s hard. I feel like a dork in my zip-up hoodie and sneakers. They’re all talking about the LAPD. Apparently, we’re on the border of LapDog territory. It’s kind of reminiscent of high school sports team talk. Neither seems to be much better than the other but there’s obvious competition and rivalry. None of these guys seem to envy the LAPD. They’re proud to be officers from the Wood.

11:15PM Back in the cruiser I glance at my phone. Wow, time’s up in 45 minutes. I’m disappointed. It’s been hours since we arrested Lee Anthony and I was really hoping for at least one more Code 3 tonight. We’re heading back toward the station. I text Lydia: Can u believe we’re almost done? Just as I hit send on the message Sarge responds to a radio call. Replacing the handset, he flicks on the rooftop flashers. Oh shit, your girlfriend’s in a pursuit, he says with a grin.

We’re off. We’re flying down Centinela and I fucking love it. The siren’s going, Sarge is doing that thing with the spotlight again, and I’m holding on tight.

Before I know it we come up on Lydia’s cruiser. They’ve got their lights and sirens on and they’re tailing an old beat-up Toyota that’s only going about 30 miles an hour. Sarge radios in that we’ve joined the pursuit. A pursuit! We’re in a pursuit! We’ll be secondary car, Sarge says to the operator. Fuck yeah, I think, secondary car!

Pursuit

Lydia’s cruiser stays right behind the suspect and Sarge and I are a bit off to the right. I can see Lydia’s blond hair in the back seat. We’re driving South on Crenshaw. I can’t believe we’re going so slow. I ask Sarge what he thinks is going on with the driver. Probably drunk, he says.

Two more cruisers fall in behind us. Now there’s four of us going down Crenshaw. We’ve all got our lights and sirens going and civilians are pulling over left and right. Sarge is screaming into the radio, manning the wheel with one hand. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this excited in my whole life.

The suspect drives straight through two red lights before meeting up with traffic, two cars deep, stopped at an intersection. Sarge’s seatbelt is off and he’s got one hand on his holster. The suspect rolls to a stop and Sarge has got his door open. He’s half-way out, screaming at Lydia’s car. He’s saying something about a bean bag, he’s breaking leather!

And then the light changes. The cars in front of the suspect start driving and so does he. Sarge slams the door and we’re off again.

I ask him what the bean bag thing was all about. It’s a gun, he explains, that shoots bean bag pellets. I ask him why we can’t just drive in front of the suspect and cut him off. You never do that, he tells me. You never know what’s going on with the suspect.

Three more cruisers have joined the pursuit. There’s seven of us going down Crenshaw. One of the officers is leaning out his window taking a picture of all of us with his cell phone camera. This is definitely the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.

We come up on another intersection and the suspect stops again. Just as all the officers are half-way out of the cruisers the light changes and we’re off again. I see Lydia look back our way and I wave at her. Sarge laughs at me and I realize I’m acting like a ten-year-old boy.

I turn my attention back to the suspect. I can’t believe he’s not stopping. What the fuck is he doing? There are seven, no eight cruisers behind him now. And shit, there’s a helicopter too! Is it a police helicopter? Maybe it’s the news. Maybe Lydia and I will be on the news! Should I call someone and tell them to turn on the television? My thoughts are racing a million miles faster than we’re driving.

Helicopter

The next light is red but the suspect turns right this time, down a darkened neighborhood street. The parade of cruisers is right behind him. He turns left at the next intersection. Maybe he’s going to his house? No wait, he’s stopping. He’s trying to pull a U-turn! No way! Where’s he gonna go? The road behind us is filled with cruisers! Sarge pulls up right behind him. The suspect tries to reverse to complete the U but Sarge drives right up on him, ramming his trunk with our front bumper.

Holy shit! We just hit the suspect!

I see the driver look up. He looks surprised. Then everything happens really fast. All the officers, including Sarge are out of their cars. They’ve got their guns pulled and they’re running at the Toyota. Someone pulls open the door. Someone else tries to shoot him with a tazer but I see it bounce off the door. Just before they pull him out of the car and onto the ground I get a good look at his face. He’s African-American, early forties. He just looks totally surprised. I realize that I probably have a similar expression on my face.

Beanbag_him

It doesn’t take them long to secure the suspect, to handcuff and put him in the back of a squad car. We spend the next half hour, all of us, out in the street talking excitedly and recounting the pursuit. Man, you girls got to see some action tonight! We hear this over and over and we nod enthusiastically. Right now, in this moment, Lydia and I want to be cops. I’m ready. Give me a fucking cruiser.

By the time we get back to the station it’s almost 1AM. We’re all still pumped up and stand around outside for a minute. Sarge and Lydia’s officers are making jokes about who’s going to write up all the paper work for the pursuit. They’re grinning and we’re grinning and suddenly I realize that it’s over. I want to hug Sarge but I see Lydia shake hands with her officers and I chicken out. We shake on it and I meet his eye. I know I’m not the only one who had a good time tonight.

The second Lydia and I close the doors to my car we’re babbling. We trade stories the whole way to the late-night Mexican place on Rose where I order a Tecate and a margarita. If there was ever a night to double-fist. My high lasts through the weekend.

My friends ask me if I would ever be a cop. Totally. I had no idea. I went into this really expecting to find a lot of racist, arrogant, ignorant, burnt-out, egotistical officers. I didn’t meet one. Instead I met a lot of people who sincerey like what they do, who like each other, who seem to genuinely care about the community, and who, once given the taste of the force, of the thrill, never want to go back.

And I have to admit, it’s been hard to go back to being a civilian again. I walked by the police station this morning on my way into the office and saw a couple of officers standing around outside. I walked by kind of slow, hoping they’d recognize me and call me over, that maybe I’d get to lean up against a squad car in my pencil skirt and high-heels and shoot the shit for a while. They didn’t notice me though.

Just now I heard a siren outside my window and couldn’t help but hop up from my desk to look out the window as a cruiser sped by. Oh shit, they’re rollin’ a Code 3.

Read Part One in which Lydia and I attend a police briefing, respond to an unfortunate situation at Burger King, roll a code 3, and embark on one of the most thrilling nights of our lives.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

The Wood = Inglewood

Bump ‘Em Up = Scare someone a little

Break Leather = Pull your gun from your holster

Roll a Code 3 = Turn on the sirens & respond to a call

Lay a Dime = Make a call

Lapdogs = LAPD

IA = Internal Affairs

Gun_holster_3

Friday, April 28, 2006
8:14PM:
Sarge veers the cruiser to left again, into a subdivision of little apartment buildings. I’m looking out the window at some spectators standing on the sidewalk when I realize we’re about to come head to head with a red Bronco. There’s a young black man behind the wheel and no one else in the car. He attempts to drive around us but Sarge keeps the cruiser pointed straight at him and pushes down on the gas. There’s a police car behind the suspect and another one off to our right. The driver of the Bronco seems to realize this at about the same time I do and he slams on his brakes inches away from our bumper.

Sarge shines the spotlight right into the windshield of the Bronco, opens his door, pulls out his gun, and screams, Put your hands where I can see ‘em! Sarge is crouched behind his open door, holding the gun between his two hands, aiming it right at this guy’s head. I look back at the suspect. He’s terrified. My heart is pounding and I can feel a lump form in my throat. He’s just a kid, I realize. Whoever else had been in the street is gone and this kid is all by himself, facing off with a bunch of cops. He’s pushing his hands dramatically at the windshield before him. His palms are luminescent in the spotlight.

Suddenly my door is flung open and a female cop is crouching next to me. She’s got a shotgun in her hands. Put your hands in the fucking air, she screams. The suspect waves his hands at the windshield again. She cocks the shotgun with a loud double crack. Holy shit, I think, sliding down in my seat. I’m directly across from this kid but because of the spotlight he can’t see me. I’ll let you know if I’m going to shoot, she says to me. Cover your ears because it’ll be really fucking loud.

Sarge screams instructions for the suspect to climb slowly out of the car with his hands in the air. I’m all the way down in my seat now, my head just barely above the dashboard. I’m really scared. I don’t think the kid is going to start shooting but if he does I’m going to be directly in the middle of a gun battle. I watch him reach down slowly with one hand to open the door to the Bronco. Sarge and the female cop are absolutely rigid, like hunting dogs when they point. The second the kid’s two feet are on the ground a young Latino cop is on him, pulling his hands behind his back.

Sarge runs over while the other officer handcuffs him. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and crane my neck up from my slouched position.

While Sarge talks to the suspect the Latino officer comes over and sits in the car with me so that he can run the kid’s info. I see his name come up on the screen: Lee Anthony, age 22. (*Name has been changed.) I can’t really hear what Sarge is saying to Lee but I make out the sentence, You’re lucky I’m old-school.

Then Sarge brings Lee over to our cruiser and leans him up against the hood.

Lee is facing me, just feet away, but because of the spotlight in his eyes he can’t see me. He doesn’t look that scared anymore. His big puffy jacket has fallen off his shoulders and is bunched up around his wrists and he’s wearing a couple of long, gold chains with, what I’m assuming are fake, diamond-encrusted emblems. Suddenly the Latino officer flicks off the spotlight. Thing’s driving me crazy, he says.

Now Lee and I are looking directly at each other. Sup, he says, nodding at me. Hi, I say back, feeling self-conscious. The Latino officer takes one look at this exchange and immediately flicks the light back on, causing Lee to squint in pain. I’m somewhat relieved. Sarge sits down in the driver’s seat next to me. Doin’ okay? I nod at him and muster a smile. I ask him what’s going to happen to Lee. Eh, we’ll just bump him up a little. I ask Sarge what that means. He chuckles and explains that it’s gang slang for scare him a little.

8:52PM: Turns out that Lee doesn’t have a license, just an ID, so they’re going to take him into the station. As Sarge starts up our cruiser I watch two officers lead Lee away to their squad car. I feel sorry for him. It’s Friday night. He didn’t really seem to be doing anything wrong and now he’s got to spend the evening dealing with this. His car’s going to get impounded. He’s going to have to call a parent or his friends to come help him out. I don’t envy him. We’re in such opposite places, me and Lee.

Police_lights

9:20PM: After all the excitement with Lee Anthony everything else feels pretty subdued. Sarge seems to come down easily from it all but I’m still buzzing, waiting for the next time we need to roll a code 3—slang for putting on the siren and following up on a lead. I ask Sarge if it’s weird to drive a regular car when he’s not on duty. It is, he says. His wife yells at him a lot: This is not a pursuit. Sarge has always liked to drive fast. I remember that just before we got in the cruiser at the start of the evening he walked over to a maroon-colored Porsche. I ask him if that was his car. Yup, isn’t it a beaut? It was pretty cool, I admit.

Inglewood is starting to seem pretty small. There’s Louisiana Fried Chicken again. And now we’re passing my office for the fourth or fifth time tonight. I’m almost feeling bored but I just keep listening to Sarge talk about life on the force. He says when you’re on patrol you never use the term quiet. It’s bad luck. The second you say it all hell breaks loose. I’m tempted to say it. I wish we could go to more calls. I keep seeing them up on the screen but I know it’s Sarge’s job to kind of monitor the overall evening and not get caught up in little disturbances. He tells me some of the cop slang. My favorite is breaking leather, used when you pull your weapon from its holster.

Lydia sends me texts now and then. Later she’ll tell me about how her two officers walked her out of the station after the briefing without saying a word. She was feeling kind of nervous until they got in the cruiser and the female turned around, looked her in the eye and said, Okay. The most important thing you have to figure out first is…And it was here that Lydia was sure she was doomed to an evening of boring cop instruction but instead the officer continued, …where we’re gonna eat. Lydia just texted that they got barbeque. I have this fantasy of me and Sarge going to some kind of diner together. I’ll get to sit across from him in his uniform with the three stripes on the sleeve and that big gun strapped around his waist and the other customers will look at us and wonder what’s going on. We’ll eat something old school like steak and eggs and I’ll put a lot of Tabasco on everything and Sarge will grin at me and nod approvingly.

Up ahead there’s a Jetta with a couple in the front seat just sitting at a green light. We come up behind them and they slowly pull out into the intersection. Tourists, Sarge mutters. We follow them for about a hundred feet and they finally pull into a deserted parking lot on our right. Sarge pulls in behind them and gets out of the car. Within moments he’s standing beside the driver’s side window gesturing and obviously giving directions. I send Lydia a text: We just pulled over some lost tourists. What are u doing? She writes back: Starbucks.

I watch the tourists pull out of the parking lot and drive off in the direction from which we came. Sarge is on his cell phone again. When he gets back in the car he doesn’t say anything, just gets on the computer and sends out some kind of IM message to all the officers: Call my cell ASAP. Within seconds Danger Zone breaks the silence in the cruiser. I stare out the window at a flickering street light. Sarge is clearly upset about something and I don’t want to get in the way.

Okay, Sarge is saying into the phone, where’s the SIM card? Mike at the station called and Lee Anthony’s down there with a couple of friends and he’s claiming that the SIM card is missing from his cell phone…No, I don’t know…I don’t want to know…I just want that card to magically appear at the station so that this shit doesn’t go to IA.

He snaps his phone shut and lets out a deep sigh.

This is the kind of shit I was telling you about, he says to me. Sometimes this line of work goes to people’s heads. They do stupid things and we all have to pay for it. Lee Anthony’s claiming that someone stole the SIM card from his cell phone and if it doesn’t reappear then it’s going to go Internal Affairs and we’ll all have to deal with it. I’m surprised that something like this would get so much attention from above but Sarge explains that these days, with incidents like Amadou Diallo, cops are guilty until proven innocent. He sighs again and starts up the cruiser.

Amadou_diallo_time_cover

9:45PM: We head over to “the yard,” a squat building with an electronic gate outside. Inside there are gas pumps for the cruisers and a car wash. We went over there earlier because Sarge likes to start the night with a fresh wash. We back into a parking spot and Sarge cuts the engine. We just sit there in the dark for a minute and I get a little nervous. He’s been quiet and I’m not sure what we’re doing here.

Suddenly, out of the darkness another cruiser appears. It’s got its lights off too and parks nose to nose with us. Sarge leans an elbow out of his window as the driver comes over.

I don’t want to know anything about it but we’ve got about 20 minutes to make sure this SIM card gets back to the station, Sarge whispers gruffly. The officer outside nods and tells Sarge that he’s meeting another cruiser in just a minute and they’re going to sort it out.

We get out of the car and go inside. I need to use the restroom but Sarge doesn’t have a key to the ladies room. We’re gonna have to go over to the station. We get back in the cruiser. There’s a palpable sense of tension coming from Sarge but I can also tell that he’s enjoying playing the role of captain, that he kind of likes having to mind after these young officers. I imagine he’s a good dad.

When we walk into the station the first thing I see is Lee Anthony sitting there with two friends. Hey, he calls out to Sarge, Hey man, I just want my SIM card back. Come on man. I need to call my mom and my phone don’t work. Come on, man. Before I can hear Sarge’s reply I duck into the ladies room. I really need to pee. When I come back out Sarge is gone, presumably to the back, and so I take a seat a few chairs down from Lee.

Sup, he says, nodding at me again. Ain’t you that girl from earlier? I nod and give a weak smile. His friends are looking me up and down.

I just want my SIM card back, Lee is saying to me. Why didn’t they just take the whole phone? Why they gotta fuck with me like that? Come on, you were there. I know you saw somethin’. I stare straight ahead.

Alright, he says, you ain’t gotta talk about it.

A beat goes by and I let out a breath. Then he starts up again. You a cop? I shake my head and tell him I’m just riding along. You in training? I shake my head again, repeat that I’m just on a ride-along.

Fuck, I think, why did I just tell him that I’m on a ride-along? This is not going well. I crane my neck subtly to see if I can catch a glimpse of Sarge behind the front desk. No such luck.

Then: You got a boyfriend? I look up and Lee’s eyes are glittering at me. His friends chuckle and before I have time to respond Sarge opens the door to the office and calls me back. He apologizes for leaving me out there. It’s cool, I tell him shrugging casually. I don’t want Sarge to think I’m a wimp.

I follow Sarge’s imposing figure down the back hallway. I’ve only got two hours left of my ride-along. I never want this night to end.

What’s the training process like to become a cop, Sarge? He turns around and grins at me.

TO BE CONTINUED…read Part Three here.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

The Wood = Inglewood

Bump ‘Em Up = Scare someone a little

Break Leather = Pull your gun from your holster

Roll a Code 3 = Turn on the sirens & respond to a call

Lay a Dime = Make a call

Lapdogs = LAPD

IA = Internal Affairs