Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Day After Dallas


So now I know. If the cop pulls me over, I have to turn the car off, get my license and registration out of the pocket and glove compartment, put them on the dashboard, and then sit facing the steering wheel. My hands should be at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, and my fingers should be pointing outward. That way, said the guy in the video clip, you’ll both go home safe. Oh, and before I do anything, I have to say, “Sir, I’m going to move my hands to give you my license…” So now I know, but unfortunately, I don’t react well in dangerous situations. And so that means that I would probably get out of the car, forget to put my hands up, and be reaching for my wallet. And that, of course, would be taken for reaching for a gun. So, I’d be dead meat, right?

Wrong—I’m white.

Everything about the last month or so has been all wrong. Forty-nine people get killed in a nightclub, and so I spent a week looking at clips of “how to survive an active shooter situation.” The child of two writers, I winced at the phrase, “active shooter situation.” Why? Because it was clearly a term that had evolved after long use: there have to be a lot of shootings before they become “active shooter situations….”

So I absorbed that, and now I know that first I run, then I hide, then I fight. Great, and I suppose that I could fight, though I never have in life. Of course, maybe someone will do it for me, since several million people viewed the same clip. So they will not be sitting, as will I, glued to their chair in the café as the gunmen storm the joint. They will be running, hiding, and fighting, as I am taking note of the fact that the gunman is wearing khaki camouflage, but curiously, sneakers instead of boots. Writers like those kind of details….

So then we got a period of relative normality, during which I could wonder about the Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, and his sexuality. Was he or wasn’t he? And wasn’t it interesting that not just one, but several sources came out and said that, yes, Mateen was gay. Or sort of gay. Or heavily conflicted. But the FBI pooh-poohed all that, though it also never came out and said that he was an out and out ISIS murderer.

Remember the Boston bomber? Well, we got his mother, father, uncles, imam, and his third grade teacher, along with anyone who ever seen his brother box. In short, no stone went unturned, and it all went along for weeks. But with the Orlando shooter, the stone was never turned. Apparently, it was too much of an obstacle.

It was, then, an eerily quiet time, during which I learned the ten steps for how to survive that, well…is it time for the acronym? ASS—and by that I only mean Active Shooter….

Did you know, by the way, that if shot, you should try to stanch the blood by applying pressure on the wound? Yes, as a former nurse, I could imagine that. But I didn’t know that I should, if I start to feel faint, grab a book, place it on the floor, and then lie with my wound on it. That way, the pressure of my body would keep the bleeding under control.


Somehow, I didn’t see. So I kept on looking at the videos. Because suddenly, it was not just about surviving that ASS—I began to realize: in the manner of hardcore porn, the videos got more specialized, or perhaps fetishized. So then I was lost in videos like “How to survive ASS in a supermarket.” Next, in a hospital. I never quite got to surviving in a café, which might in fact be of some use, but I can tell you, hot coffee can be used as a weapon, as can scissors and also a stapler! So that bureaucrat, pushing about the papers on his desk, has every chance of surviving that… you know what.

I knew that I had to stop watching them, since it was getting to me: strolling down the produce aisle, I realized that an excellent weapon could be hot chili peppers , which could be particularly nasty if I smashed them into the shooter’s eyes. I stood in front of them for a long five seconds: I have no stomach for hot food, but shouldn’t I grab some? Remember—the steps you take now may save your life.

Oh, and I knew, then, exactly what to say to the gunmen, as he trained his automatic weapon onto me. I would disarm him, of course, with an offbeat question. I knew this because one of the videos had been distinctly unnerving, since it attempted to soften the message but using stick figures and drawings. It was chilling to contemplate: were parents sitting down with their children in front of the computer? The children would be munching on cookies and drinking their milk, while mother would be cuing up, “How to survive a school shooting!”

At any rate, the little stick figure had provided the best question to confuse and momentarily distract the shooter: “Is it raining outside?” Ever courteous, the shooter might well peer out the window, giving me valuable seconds to flee.

I knew: taking those peppers would be the first step down the path to madness. Just as, for example, checking whether the second door into the gift shop is unlocked would usher me into full paranoia. (Full disclosure—I just checked, it’s locked!)

Then of course, it was two black men who got killed by cops, and somebody tell: which happened first? Think it was Minnesota, then Baton Rouge, but did it matter? By then, we were all sort of numbed up, and then Obama had to go out and do what he has spent his presidency doing, which was decrying the horror, expressing his grief on behalf of the nation, and saying with increasing discouragement—as the shootings piled up—that we had to talk about gun control.

And then, Dallas happened.

It was going to happen—didn’t we know that? Of course, nobody is willing to say what the FBI, of all people or organizations, said a decade ago. And that is? The white supremacists have infiltrated our police departments. Or perhaps the news was out: both Huffington Post and the Daily Kos had stories on it. Anyway, the news is out there, and we now know that we have problem. But why should we?

“Every situation is different,” runs the old adage. But is that true? If any situation has the possibility of being a routine, it’s getting stopped by a cop. So why shouldn’t we establish a protocol, and stick to it? The cops—at least down here—have speakers on their cars: why shouldn’t the cop have a card like the Miranda rights? The card could instruct the cop to tell the driver stopped to turn off his car, turn off the radio, place his license and car registration, etc. After he or she had done all that, the cop could tell the driver to tap his horn. And then, with the situation relatively stable, the cop could approach the car.

Why hasn’t that happened? Why are we having these killings? I haven’t asked the young man I consider a son, who is black, but I think I know the answer he might give me. Don’t I know a war when I see one? Isn’t clear to see that the cops are killing black men systematically? Do you really think—in the age of the internet, where young Muslims can be radicalized by imams from Saudi Arabia—that these white supremacists aren’t talking among themselves? The narrative is that this was a shootout in Dallas, but really, wasn’t it just another volley in the war?

So now, I have to listen on Facebook to a very talented cellist, who has recorded all four parts of the Barber Adagio, which got played to death after September 11. But as gorgeous as the Barber is, it has always had the feel—to me—of a young man’s anguish. I turned, instead, to another man’s anguish, Gustav Mahler. There was a reason that in the movie, Death in Venice, Visconti used the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony as the theme music. In the film, the tragic, repressed, older man—obsessed with a beautiful Polish youth—is deathly ill. In the final scene, the boy opens his arms, as if to embrace the sun, and then reaches towards it. The older man reaches toward the boy, and then dies. It was cholera, we know. And we know, as well, through the music, that it wasn’t cholera.

It was the end of a civilization.