One cloudy morning in July of 1978, I drove Mrs. Beatrice Walker See and her family to visit the reformatory in Whittier where Mrs. See's son was an inmate. His name (not his real one, but close) was Stanley. He was sixteen years old and was serving his second sentence at the California Youth Authority's Fred C. Nelles School. The first had been for burglary, and this one for strong-arm robbery. Mrs. See, a cheerful, religious woman who looked to be in her late fifties, had told me that Stanley was basically good but kept getting into trouble because he couldn't stand up to his friends when they treated him as a stooge in their minor crimes. Stanley, in other words, was salvageable — to use a term employed by his current parole agent -- and had attracted the attention of police officer Dick Lewis in the crime prevention detail for the southwest part of town.
Lewis had met Stanley when the boy was twelve, not long after his father died, and Lewis had become, if not a second father, at least the only man in his life who discounted all the letdowns, all the missed appointments, all the jiving, and all the failing that Stanley tends to foist on those who know him. At one point Lewis had put Stanley in his police car and had driven him from grocery to market to cafeteria to liquor store, trying to find him a job. Much of this job hunting had occurred during the Christmas holidays of 1977, not a good time for seasonal jobs as most had already been filled, but it was the only time available for trying to help Stanley. He had been released from Nelles on Christmas Eve and one week later was back in jail — for a sentence twice as long as the first one.
Mrs. See had visited Stanley before but was having some trouble remembering the way. Things start to look the same in Los Angeles: the crowns of trees between the houses, the creosote poles, the freeway signs — none of the identify a direction when the sky is overcast and you can't see the sun or the mountains, nothing but a plain of suburbs under a blank plane of light.
But being lost didn't bother Mrs. See. She sat in the back seat chattering and looking out the window. She was wearing a denim house dress with a red kerchief on her head, and in her gold-filled mouth was a wad of snuff from which she occasionally spay juice into a Pepsi bottle. She'd been raised in the country near New Orleans and nearly everything she did was rough as a cob. Her manner of talking reminded me of my mother's — she just said anything that came into her head and you could answer it or not. "Look, they got barbecue," she said as we were passing a restaurant. "I could sure use some barbecue right now, if I was hungry. I mean, but I'm not, so I guess I don't. But if you all want some, you just pull over. Or maybe you'd rather have a chocolate malt or something? You just go ahead and say. 'Cause I don't care. I'm havin' a good time right here."
Her youngest son, Abe, who was thirteen years old, was sitting in front next to me. He was wearing hard black shoes, brown slacks, and a black synthetic disco shirt with a T-shirt underneath it. He asked me how much money I made, and when I told him, he said, "That all?" and squinted in disbelief. A minute later we were passed on the freeway by a creamy new Lincoln that someone had customized to resemble a roadster, with running boards and a spare tire mounted on the side, and when he saw it he literally hit the roof. Other than that he was quiet all day.
Abe's sister, Rosemary, was sitting behind and holding her three-year-old daughter in her lap. Rosemary is a tall, stately woman who looked at the time to be in her middle twenties. She has gray-green eyes, an Afro hairstyle, and a wide, heart-shaped face. She was a clerk at the Naval Supply Center and lived in a cottage-row apartment on West Avenue in Southeast, providing for herself, her daughter, and Abe. Exactly unlike her mother's home, Rosemary's was as bright and tidy as a bank. Her mother had told me that Rosemary as a girl had not liked Negroes. Being light-skinned herself, it had taken her the longest time, her mother said, to come to accept Negroes with darker skin. Mrs. See had said this in no manner of reproach; it was simply one of the things that she had mentioned, flatly, when I'd asked her to describe her family.
"What are you going to think about us," Rosemary said to me, "not knowing where Stanley is?"
"Oh we know where Stanley is," said Mrs. See, "We just don't know how to get there right off."
"Oh Momma," said Rosemary, "you...crack...me...up."
"But you just said I do," said Mrs. See. "Did you all hear that? Rosemary say one thing and then she say she don't mean it. I swear I don't know what to do with a life like that."
A few minutes later we found the Nelles School, then stopped at a 7-Eleven for something to eat before the visiting hour. Rosemary went in to buy for herself and the rest of the family, then came out empty-handed and told me to drive to a regular liquor store where cheese and sliced ham "don't go from some goddamn outrageous price."
The Sees were admitted that day to visit Stanley in the reformatory's meeting room, but I was kept out, owning to a misunderstanding about placing my name on Stanley's visiting list. And so I returned a few weeks later, this time by myself. It was a Monday, not a regular day for visiting, and the large and bare-floored room was empty except for a few small groups of boys who were being tutored by elderly women. One of the doors opened onto the schoolyard, and through it I could see a bit of lawn, a concrete walk, and one of the cottages in which the boys are housed. Each cottage is named after a president - Jackson, Washington, Monroe - whom the boys are supposed to identify with. At the time, the reformatory also tried to modify their behavior by awarding points. A total of 1000 points (for such things as good work in class and civil obedience) in one week earned an extra 200, all of which counted for money in buying cigarettes and candy at the school's store. Good time also bought early parole. Stanley's parole agent, David Pounds, met me in the visiting room and prepared me for Stanley's arrival by saying that although the boy was immature in many ways, he was doing well at Nelles -- he was, in fact, "holding down the board" by having more points than anyone in his charge.
"Here he is," said Pounds, looking over his shoulder as Stanley swaggered into the room. He walked on the balls of his feet, bouncing twice with every step and turning his head this way and that as if to look for snipers. Stanley is big for his age -- for any age -- weight about 180 pounds, having biceps seventeen inches around, and standing at five-ten. His hair was as short as his eyebrows, and he was wearing a muscular-me T-shirt, brown cotton slacks with a military belt, and hightop tennis shoes with graffiti all over them. "Mad Squid," was written on the toes, Squid being the nickname given Stanley when he was younger and his arms and legs had not caught up to the bulbous size of this head. he has large amber eyes, high cheekbones, and a chin as round as a bottle cap. "Hello," I said, shaking hands and introducing myself.
"Yay," he said.
Pounds explained to Stanley that I wanted to interview him. "Aw yeah?" he said, delighted and starting to stutter. "How, how much you gonna give me?" I said I wasn't going to give him anything. Then he turned his pleased face to Pounds and said, "This dude gonna write a book about me. I be famous!"
I told him not to count on that too soon, and then Pounds asked Stanley not to light the cigarette he'd just taken from his pocket, pointing to the sign that said No Smoking. Stanley looked at the sign, swore at it, and turned again to Pounds, who was acting determinedly bored. "You can smoke that later outside," Pounds said. "Now just be cool for a while."
"All right," he said, "but I want me one of those."
He was looking at the Coke I'd bought from a vending machine behind us. I offered him the can and said, "Have some of mine."
"I want my own."
Pounds said, "Stanley, just take a sip."
"I said I want my own."
And so, to be ingratiating, I offered to buy him one -- then realized I haven't enough money. I pawed through my pockets, trying to look hopeless, but it wasn't any good. Stanley watched me without blinking. Finally Pounds tossed a quarter on the table and gave me an embarrassed look. I got up, shoved a chair out of my way, and strode to the vending machine thinking, "The guy at least knows how to stand up to adults." And then as I officiously dropped the coins into the slot, Stanley came up behind me and said, "What should I get?"
I told him to get whatever he wanted.
"I don't know," I said, faking a laugh and looking at him, seriously. "Don't you know what you want?"
"Sometimes I do," he said, raising a distant, cool expression to the wall in front of us. "Not right now I don't."
I picked out a soft drink for him and we sat down again. Then he told me what had happened the last time he was out of jail and on his own.
There wasn't much to it, really. He was released on a Saturday morning with money to take the seven o'clock Greyhound to San Diego. Passing through Oceanside, he met a "hippie dude" who sold him a pipe and some marijuana. He was high when he arrived at the bus depot, high when we walked to Horton Plaza, high when he took the Number 3 bus to Ocean View Boulevard, and was just coming down when he reached the front door of his home. Abe, who answered it, was so glad to see his brother that he kissed him on the forehead - "Right here," said Stanley, pointing.
He said he spent the next few days around the house, lifting weights and watching TV. He pleased his mother by doing the dishes once or twice. Officer Lewis came by a few times but they had no luck in finding a job. Stanley said the holiday was dull except for the visit on Christmas morning from his older brother John, a football coach at L.A. City College. "He come up in a bran' new yellow Cadillac, sticker still on the window," said Stanley. "He bring me a set of weights, nice new clothes, new shoes, all that, then he take me out to Jack-in-the-Box and buy me 'bout four them jumbo things and fries and a malt. I be eatin' all day and he tell me I gettin' big, man, big like the 'Credible Hulk . . . And then he drive back up to L.A. I supposed to see him again real soon but he don't come down here again, and so I haven't. I haven't seen him."
One night, with money he'd gotten for Christmas, Stanley bought some pot at Memorial Park and then had somebody buy him some Mad Dog (Mogen David) wine at a liquor store. When he blazed home that night, his mother said the Man was going to send him right back to YA - the Youth Authority. A few nights later he smoked some wacko bobo (PCP) with friends of his, both of them older, whose nicknames were Monk and Pyscho Mike.
At Miller's Market, on Thirtieth and C, they happened to see a young woman in a phone booth. It was about eleven o'clock; the market was closed, the parking lot empty. They surrounded the booth and started banging on the windows. through she gave up her money, they smashed through one of the doors and hit the woman on the head, breaking her glasses. Stanley declared that he watched the whole thing, that it hand't been his idea to rob the woman, that he was too "dusted" on PCP to do so much as hide from the price car that was cruising a few blocks away. The policemen found Stanley strolling along the sidewalk. Thy hailed him from across the street, he walked over and got in the car, the woman identified him, and later from the police station he called his mother to say, "I'm in bad trouble this time." He was sent back to Nelles for two more years.
"Hold on," he said, rising from the table. "I got to spit." Pounds and I watched him saunter outside, stop, hitch his pants, and spit studiously on the grass like a ballplayer who knows he's being watched. "You want them to grow up," said Pounds, wh was shredding a piece of paper and letting the pieces fall on the table, "but you can't show them how and you can't force them to. It really is kind of strange. . . " and then Stanley returned and Pounds said nothing more.
Though he was doing well at the time, Stanley later got in trouble at the reformatory and was sent to finish his term at a youth training center in northern California. He had hit another inmate, who had called him a queer. A rumor had gotten around that Stanley had made or received another inmate's sexual advances, and whether it was true or not, the rumor was something to fight about.
In any case, Stanley was paroled about a year ago at age seventeen. He returned to live with his mother on Webster Avenue in Southeast, and to become a ward of parole agent John Greenbush. Parole is a kind of bargain in which the state agrees to let the inmate out of jail before the end of his sentence if the inmate promises to stay out of trouble by finding a job or going back to school. If the ward doesn't comply with the rules of parole, the agent's ultimate threat is to ask the parole board to send him back to jail to finish his term. After nearly a year of dealing with Stanley, Greenbush was threatening to send him back.
"My parole agent say, 'Stanley, man, you think you hot shit but you ain't. You ain't even regular shit. You just a punk with big arms and a big mouth to go with it. You ain't tough, you ain't hard, you ain't bad — you nothing, and you ain't going to be anything till you straighten up and fly right.'"
"And what did you say back to him?" I asked, glancing at Stanley next to me in my car, his hands folded neatly on his lap. This was last November on a Friday afternoon. We were going to the state employment office downtown.
"I didn't say anything. I say, 'Okay, yeah, okay,' and that's all."
"Do you think you're a punk?"
"No, I'm a man."
"Yay, Like - I got things on my mind right now."
"My sister be givin' me shit all the time," he said. "She given up her 'partment and move her stuff back to the house for a while, 'cause she want to buy a house on her own, and so she get herself a phone install and she don't even let me use it. And then you know my girlfrien'? Rosemary say, 'What you goin' round with that? That girl is everybody frien' — don't you know that?' And I say, 'Okay, then, I just say goodbye for a while,' and then I go my way and do what I want."
"And what do you want?" I said, not looking at him.
He paused, and when he spoke again his voice went measured and calm, as though he were reading a lesson. "A car," he said. "First I get me a car so I can go anyplace. And then I get me a 'partment so I can do anything. And then, after that, I don't know. But first thing is get me a job 'cause if I don't have one by Monday, Greenbush say he gonna send my ass back to jail, and I believe we will, too."
We arrived at the employment office at Twelfth and Broadway and I dropped Stanley off at the curb. He was just closing the door when it occurred to me that he didn't have a ride home, and I started to call him back to offer him one, but didn't.
"We're not saviors," said John Greenbush, a leonine young man with longish hair and a full, trimmed beard. He was speaking of parole agents in general. "But we can help some people save themselves, and believe me, some of them do. ... But then there are those individuals who just want to take you for a ride. And I'm willing to go along for a while. but if I have expended all of my resources, and if I feel that sending them back to YA is the only way to get their attention, then that's the way to go."
A moment later we were talking about Stanley in particular. "Oh, he's a likable guy," said Greenbush. "I like him. Everybody likes him. But that's not the point. The point is he's been lying to everybody since he went on parole. . . . We fixed him up with a bus pass - twenty-seven dollars a month; we put him in a foster home - $400 a month. His foster parent was a black woman who lives in a condominium in Fashion Valley: color TV, jacuzzi, weight room, the works - every advantage and every physical comfort. And what happened? He lasted a week. She caught him playing games . . . running Sherms [Sherman cigarettes laced with PCP], and she threw him out.:
I asked him what the problem was.
"You're talking about individuals with no work history, with few work habits, individuals who may be able to do physical labor but basically are afraid of paper . . .And then the same people who may be only marginally employable don't want the marginal jobs. They don't want to work for $3.10 an hour; they want six or seven dollars. In other words,they want a position - that's a word they use a lot - position. I tell them they can't have a position right away, but taking a job for three dollars an hour puts more money in their pocket than staying home and watching TV. Some individuals respond to that reasoning, and some want something for nothing. ... I know that Stanley is really pissed, really pissed at this brother of his for not coming 'round and helping him out. He wants someone to help him, Stanley does, but he doesn't put out enough of himself."
Ladene Bean, thirty-two years old, is the foster parent who took Stanley in for a week. She herself grew up in Southeast San Diego, on Las Flores Terrace near Imperial Avenue. Her father is an accountant and a loan officer, she was a Brownie and a Girl Scout leader. "I told that Stanley when he come into my house that he couldn't go on with being disadvantaged around me," she said. "Too many black people have made it out of Southeast for you to go on about that. He come into the house on night and I said, 'Don't tell me you ain't been dippin PCP 'cause I know you have. I see your eyes. I ain't blind. I know all the signs.'"
She was talking to me in the bedroom of a foster home that he supervises with Tom D'Intino in Spring Valley. She was leaning against the blank white wall with her arms across her chest, and from time to time she pushed her gold-rimmed glasses back up to the bridge of her nose. I was sitting on the edge of D'Intino's kingsize waterbed, which, was covered with a quilted American flag.
"When my grandfather came to San Diego, there weren't any jobs," she went on. "So he went around moving lawns. He started at the bottom, because starting at the bottom then wasn't being a Tom. Today you hear these black dudes saying that they don't want to get a job as a janitor or whatever 'cause to them, that's Tommin'. But I tell them the real Toms are the dudes out there who have given up even trying to find a job, and who may be running a little dope or something, making a little money, and acting exactly the way Mr. Charlie expects them to act."
Asked if she knew for certain that Stanley had been dealing PCP during his stay with her, Bean said she had no evidence but she certainly knew the kind of crowd he was running with. And then she offered to introduce me to a dealer from Southeast, a childhood friend of hers, who could show me around the territory that he and Stanley shared.
We met at dusk on the sixth of January in front of the Denny's in Lemon Grove, where College Boulevard loops around Highway 94. The dealer was accompanied by Bean and by a teen-ager whom he called his "general, or lieutenant, or whatever" – a seventeen-year-old black who was dressed in the regalia of the Crips, one of Southeast's better-known gangs. The general's headdress was a red bandana surmounted by a bowler hat, with beaded earrings dangling from his lobes. Another red bandana drooped from the right hip pocket of his starchy Levi's. His shoes were Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, standard for outdoor basketball, but modified to include steel toes. "I finally got them right," the general had said to Bean when she'd stopped to pick him up and bring him out to Denny's. By that he'd meant the toes of his shoes.
The dealer himself was a fine looking man. He appeared to be in his early thirties, thin, many a hundred and thirty pounds, and he was wearing a Western suit with a bolo tie of brown agate. His hair was pomaded and lay against his head like a tight sweater. He had a bright smile, a high voice, and blurry eyes which made me think of old pennies. I had to spread a newspaper on the back seat of my funky Rambler before he'd sit in it.
"All right," he said as we were heading for Southeast, "I'm a criminal. What I do, people go to jail for. As fas as my investments, people are quick to say that we are exploiting our own people, but they do not reflect upon the white people, but they do not reflect upon the white people who have traditionally come into our part of town and taken away what you might call substantial profits. And so, as the merchant is loyal to the system even if we are oppressed by it. Why? Because we all come from the same place. These people take, and so we take. We are not and you are not sinless."
He passed me a lighted dart of peppery green marijuana. I toked it once and passed it back.
"Now," he said, "would you walk around this neighborhood at night? I wouldn't. You wouldn't catch me dead out there."
"But this is where Stanley lives," I said, driving along Webster Avenue near Thirty-second Street, and pointing to a cottage by a vacant lot. "I've been here at night before, no trouble."
"You haven't been here enough."
"I don't think Stanley would hurt anybody. He comes on sort of strong but he's basically okay."
"All right," he said. "But it's all the same system."
Bored with this neighborhood, the dealer gave me directions to "Little Babylon," a one-way street at Forty-fourth and G where people hang out at night. We approached it from the north by way of a sidestreet that turned at a dead end. We swung left into a dim corridor, hounded on either side by parked cars and crowded with people walking back and forth. "Roll up your window," the dealer said from the back, "and don't stop." I dropped the car into first and we went forward again with a lurch. The scene outside was surreal, like driving underwater with shadows and flashed of color at the edge of the glass in front of us. "Don't stop," he repeated, and then the general said. "Even if somebody hit the car. 'Specially if somebody hit the car."
And then we were through it.
"There must have been forty people back there," I said.
"They hanging'," the general explained.
Then the dealer added, "One thing I keep having to impress upon you, man, is the fact that our behavior, if you will, is in accord with the behavior we received and the behavior we see around us."
"Wouldn't a lot of those people rather made twelve dollars an hour at NASSCO?" I said - and then remembered that the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company was probably a bad example, being on of those employers that checks out people with criminal records.
"NASSCO?" the dealer said. "Did you say NASSCO was hiring? I don't know about that. But the difference between NASSCO and me is that, whatever NASSCO is doing, I'm always hiring."
To everyone's surprise, Stanley got hired in February for a three-month training program at the Naval Supply Center. He earned about a hundred dollars a week, taking the bus at seven in the morning and returning about five at night, spending the day moving boxes in a warehouse. When I asked him how he liked it he said, "Boring." He'd grown a goatee since I'd last seen him, and his hair was longer, smooth and well kept. We were talking one night on the steps of his mother's cottage, under the white porchlight.
"Maybe it's better than dealing," I suggested.
"Shit," he said, giving me a look of honest disdain. "Man, if I's dealing I have money or I be in jail, one or the other. I be driving a car, have nice clothes, a suit, all that. When I get out of jail at first I be fooling' around; I be bangin' girls, gettin' loaded, dealin' a little; but I don't do none of that no more. I stay home and don't do nothing."
Just then we heard a sound - a sharp clap - like a clipboard hitting a tiled floor. Stanley raised his head a little.
"What was that?" I said.
"That's my neighbor out shootin' his gun.:
"Jesus - what for?"
I turned and saw the silhouette of a young man going into the house across the street. The screen door clicked behind him.
"We got in argument few days ago and he say he goin' to shoot my head off," said Stanley. "So now he showing' me he got a gun and all that."
"Did he fire it into the ground or something?"
"What was the argument about?"
"I don't know," he said, not trying to remember. "He's all mad because his father left the house a couple of weeks ago and so he takin' it our on everybody around."
"Stanley?" his mother called from the doorway behind us. "Will you and your frien' go and get me that bed from out of the yard?"
"What bed, Momma?"
"That bed right there in the corner."
An index finger, emerging from behind the screen, wiggled at the shadows here we should look; a rusting cot was there. We lifted it over the plants int he heard, mostly cacti and succulents potted in plastic cans, and carried it up the chartreuse steps and into the house, through the vestibule, through the living room (was there a fire? what smelled like smoke?) and into Mrs. See's bedroom, where we set it next to her own iron bed on a patch of bare floor where the paint had worn away.
She thanked us and we turned to go. Stanley went outside again - I'd promised to give him a ride to the liquor store - at Thirty-second and National - but I waited a minute in the living room. I'd been in the house several times because but never at night, and I realized that night became it, made it seem more real, perhaps because the shades were always drawn in the daytime and no matter how much it seemed to be night outside, it wasn't. Now it was nighttime both inside and out. Wood was burning the fireplace in the back of the house and the dry air smelled of smoke and kerosene. The TV was on: a faded gold screen. Pictures of the family were pinned to the curtains and walls, as a a rug-portraits of JFK with a newspaper photo of his daughter attached to it. On top of the TV was a portrait of Stanley next to a wooden cross. A TV tray was piled with newspapers and a copy of The Christian Science Sentinel, still in its brown paper jacket. The legless couch was piled with blankets and cushions, and near it was a white plastic bucket lined with newspaper which Mrs. See was using as a spittoon.
"Wait," said Stanley, coming back in the house. "I gotta tell my Momma I be back. Momma?" he called. "I be back in a minute." Then he rushed out the door again.
Out at the car, we had just settled in the front seat when someone walked by the passenger window and said, "Don't trust your luck."
"Was that the same guy with the gun?" I said, looking behind me at the dark.
"Yay. Let's go right now, if that's okay with you." It was.
We arranged to meet again one night the following week for an interview about his new job at the warehouse. I arrived a quarter after nine and found the house dark. Mrs. See doesn't answer the door after dark, but talks to callers through the shutters of her bedroom window at the side of the porch. She said that Stanley wasn't home but was probably at the market down the block.
Heading that way I met three kids, teen0agers, walking toward me. I moved to the middle of the street as they approached and then one of them, the smallest, asked if I were looking for his friend Stanley. With that I relaxed. We shook hands (three-step power grip) and we talked about this and that for a minute, and when I turned to go, he jumped on me. As I spun away from him my car keys flew out of my jacket and I ran to the street light while he scooped them up.
After that I remember very little. I know I talked with one of them - not the one who attacked me but an older, calmer punch who was standing under the streetlight too. It was the oddest sensation: I felt exhilarated, strong, terrific, but all I could do was talk. And while I jabbered at him, he calmly insulted me. He told me not to set foot in his neighborhood and not to park my car on his street; he said I was probably a fag getting fucked by Stanley, or fucking him, one or the other. He was so close to me I could see the knitted ribs in his watch cap, and I wanted to jump on his face but my body was paralyzed: nothing moved but my mouth.
I swore at him, not just the words of swearing but the music, too, and through I can't remember what I said I know it had a pompous, generalized air about it, as though I were addressing the U.N. He said I'd get my keys when I gave his friend some money. I said his friend could pork himself with my keys, that I wouldn't talk to him unless he treated me like a human being, and that if he continued to treat me like an animal, then that was exactly the treatment he could expect from me - that was the system.
One thing more: I asked him to help me. I challenged him to do me a good turn and see if I wouldn't find some way to repay him in kind. Trade him my keys for a promise of goodwill.
"I help you?" he said. "Man, I got to sleep here tonight. If I help you then they be after me, they be after my momma . . .I don't be robbin' people, but I don't be helpin' dudes like you, either."
A few minutes later I left - ran, I should say - over to Thirtieth Street and then up to Thirtieth to Golden Hill and home. It took about twenty minutes: I live only a mile away but I walked the last half of it. I still felt bouncy from the adrenalin but I wasn't angry anymore, and I could look around a let the pleasant night get to me, the broken white clouds and the air from the late rain.
In my apartment I switched on every light and rested a minute, then called the police. Soon the three of us - Officers John Honeycutt, Steve Higher, and myself - all white, were proceeding in the SDPD's white patrol car toward the scene of the attempted 211. Answering questions on the way, I told them that only one of the three had tried to rob me; the biggest one had been a stooge (like Stanley?), just standing and watching, and the other had been a kind of mediator talking about a deal. Then, as we reach the corner of Thirty-second and Market, I saw my mediator standing on the sidewalk with my keys. He handed them to me as I got out of the car.
I threw my arms around him and hugged him, rocking. "Hey!" he said, "you don't have to do that."
"But you helped me after all."
"Where'd you get the keys?" said one of the officers, notebook in hand.
"Hey, wait a minute," I said, "I owe this guy something."
"Man, I don't want my name in this."
"We're not jacking you up," the policeman said. "We just want a little information."
And a little information was all he got. The mediator, James Harvey, was quite talkative about the officers he knew in the department - he pulled a number of SDPD business cards from his wallet — but he wouldn't give up the name or whereabouts of the kid who'd tried to strong-arm me. That made sense, of course; he was protecting his own. What made it disheartening, though, was that after a while the goodwill we'd been ready to exchange was gone, vanished, as everyone retreated to his systematic role of cop, victim, and homeboy.
We drove back to my car, which was still where I'd parked it, directly across from Stanley's house. Someone had opened my trunk and stolen a tape recorder, and when Honeycutt went to the nearest house to check for a possible witness, the women who came out to talk with us took the opportunity to gripe about how long it takes the police to make a house call in her neighborhood. Honeycutt said, "And what would you do, ma'am, if you had the total power to change something down here?" And she said, "I'd take all the punks and lock them in jail for good."
Harvey, at this point, came walking up the street. He draped an arm around the woman, kissed her, said, "Hey Momma, how you doing'?" and promenaded into the house. The same hedge-covered house, I saw now, where Stanley had seen the young man disappear after firing his gun. Harvey had returned my keys, all right, but he'd kept the one that starts my car. I said nothing about the gunshot; it wasn't my business. But now I knew his role in the system — false helper — and used a spare key I kept in my car to fulfill my own classic role: I left.
The next I heard of Stanley was in mid-February when Ladene Bean reported that he'd been fired from his job. She told me this on the phone from the foster home in Spring Valley, just when Greenbush came to visit. he'd been over at Stanley's house looking for him, and as usually had been stood up, so he was in no mood to make excuses. "I talked to his boss [at the Naval Supply Center], who said he was marginal all the way," said Greenbush to Bean when she asked him what had happened. "Same old story. Shows up late for work, doesn't show up at all, talks and talks . . . He's trying real hard to talk himself back into YA because he's lying to everybody and sooner or later he's gonna have to talk to the parole board."
Bean had a few more words to say in the same vein, and then she added, "I'm sorry to be telling you this. It seems I'm always telling you things about Stanley that I guess are disappointing you."
I said that wasn't true.
"Well I'm sorry all the same, 'cause Stanley has a way of, you know, showing people just one side of himself, and some people don't ever see the other side no matter how long they look."
If anyone had seen all of Stanley, it would have to be Dick Lewis, the policeman who'd befriended him nearly six years ago. His office in a storefront on Forty-third Street near National Avenue. It is part of a row of new little shops that more or less resemble one another, the SDPD's being the one that has a cone-shaped hold through one of its windows, shot through by a BB gun.
One afternoon last month, while a man with a landlord's look about him (white shirt, pocketful of pens, and a fat ring of keys on his belt) was arguing with one of the desk copes about a parking ticket, and while an off-duty policeman was giving bottles to his twin babies, one on the desk and one on the floor behind (his wife was at law school that day), Lewis was on his way to his cubicle at the back of the shop, where his phone was ringing. "Yeah, I'll take care of it. Monday for sure," he said, pointing me to a chair that at the moment was facing another wooden desk jammed against his own. On the wall behind him were a number of small, framed citations and notices of appreciation from civic clubs, the Boys Club, and the Boy Scouts. "Okay," he said, scratching a white sideburn. "Man, don't worry, I'll see what I can do." he closed his eyes. Instead of a uniform, he was wearing the street clothes of community relations: a three-piece suit with a tie pushed out like a cobra, a matching kerchief, a bracelet, rings and a racer's watch. he hung up the phone and turned his tired eyes at me. I asked why some people who have tried to help Stanley think he's a flake.
"I don't find that to be the case," he said slowly, looking down. "With me he has always been on time, always been conscientious, always polite. Everything is 'Yes sir, no sir.' I find a young man like him is obviously ambitious and wants to do something with his like."
I stared at him.
"I give him a lot of respect," he went on, "because I know that I am exactly what he would like to be. It's not just that I'm some kind of image, or I'm trying to build myself up, or anything like that. What I think it is ..." He waiting, listening to some conversation in the front of the office. "I think that I am real to him. I mean, real in the sense that he knows he can someday be me, and you don't have to know him long to know that there aren't many people in his life like that."
If there was such a bridge between Stanley and Lewis, I wanted to see it for myself, see its span and its stresses, and I suggested an interview among the three of us, but it never came to be. Lewis and I went looking for Stanley one storm-blue afternoon in March and never found him. His sister, at home, had no idea where he was. We cruised around Southeast in Lewis's Aspen, checking the parks, the Dolphin Inn (two drunks were have a staggering, slow-motion fight in the parking lot; not worth stopping for), passing by the liquor stores and the Samaya Bros. supermarket. "He's probably getting in trouble," said Lewis, sucking on his pipe. "Oh well. We got to keep him busy somehow." And after that there was nothing more to say.
We were heading back to the office when a radio call came in about a man fallen sick at Thirty-eight and Ocean View. Lewis called back to say he'd take it. The man, who look like a bloated fifty-year-old drunk, was slumped against a wall, eyes open, hardly breathing, his mustache soaked in phlegm. "He's not drunk, I don't think," said a woman, showing a can of 7-Up he'd been drinking. Lewis called for an ambulance while another patrol car arrived, headlights on, then he drove to the nearest grocery store to check if the proprietor might identify the man who had just bought the soft drink. By the time he'd brought the proprietor back to the scene, the street was jubilant with lights from an ambulance and a fire truck. A letter in the man's pocket identified him and gave his address. Lewis drove to his home, a neighborhood sanitariums, and told the woman who answered the door that he fallen man would be at Community Hospital. "All right," she said, "I'll tell his father."
"His father?" said Lewis. Then in the car he said to me, "this old dudes got a father? Man! He must be pretty old. I wonder if he knows what his young buck is doing right now. Oh, well. Grab it while you can. It won't be around forever, so grab it while you can."
Lewis may not have found Stanley on the street that day be he did find him a job. On Monday at 7:00 a.m. Stanley was to have started as a janitor at the Elks Lodge at 5860 Market Street. Lewis arranged it through the lodge's assistant manager, Oscar Julian, a retired master sergeant in the Marines who is taking Lewis's course in criminal law at City College. "One thing this kid has got to know " said Julian, "and that is it's a privilege to be a free man out in society and to work for a living." Julian also owns some rental properties at which Stanley has done some janitorial work; he said there may be more work in the future if things go well at the lodge.
And how are you going to get to work?" said Stanley's sister last Saturday morning. She was in bed in the living room of her mother's house, and Stanley was on the couch watching Ozzie and Harriet.
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe I be late. Maybe I won't go." I was sitting on the chair between them and said, "Don't you want the money?" "Yay."
Rickey and David were involved in some sort of drag race. Harriet was worried about them and Ozzie was trying to explain.
I ventured to say that Stanley's whole problem was that he didn't know the joy of having money.
"You tellin' me?" he asked.
I asked if his father had left him any money when he died.
"I ain't got no father," he said, "'cause they ain't no father listed on my birth certificate."
"Yes he is," said Rosemary. "Then how come he didn't leave me money?"
"He denied you," she said, lighting a cigarette.
"He went to court and denied that he was your father, and he won. That's why his name is on the birth certificate as your father, but he never took responsibility, although he admitted to us later on that you were his son."
"Oh. Okay, I got that."
Rickey won something and Harriet was relieved. Then the next program came on: the World Tennis Conference Challenge Cup, with John McEnroe about to crush some Polish nobody behind a pounding serve and forehand. "I still got a lot of yolk," said Stanley, flexing his left bicep and looking at himself in the nearest mirror.
"Yolk?" I said.
"That's what we call it sometime."
"Muscle," his sister elucidated.
"I still got sixteen inches," he said. And then a minute later, "You know what it is? All these people, they trying' to run me, but I don't let 'em. I don't want to be run until I know what I want to do, and I just don't know what I'm gonna do yet."
Then I wished him luck and he said, "Yay."