Categories
US (Southwest) US Travel

Trusting Your Gut: If It Looks Like a Dead Body, It Probably Is

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Photo: Bureau of Land Management

When I lived in Tempe, Arizona, one night I think I might have witnessed someone loading a dead body into the trunk of their car. This was in 1991. It was around 10 at night and I was walking back from my boyfriend’s apartment across the street. My apartment complex was called Riviera Palms and it was actually a converted motel that consisted of three 1950s-era two-story brick buildings that were arranged into a “U” with a swimming pool in the middle.

That night, as I approached my apartment, I could see a car with an open trunk around the corner of my building. I lingered out of sight in front of my corner apartment’s door and watched two people lifting something wrapped in a white or a light-colored sheet between them into the trunk of the car. The two people struggled to lift the heavy load.

At the time, despite its cumbersome size and the fact that it really looked like a body, I still didn’t believe it could be a human inside the sheet. I rationalized that it could have been a couple of large dogs (still a very strange scenario) wrapped up due to the bulges and bumps that protruded from the sheet. Or maybe one of the people was moving from their apartment and this was the easiest way to get their kitchen appliances, their guitar, and a lamp into the car.

These ideas sound ridiculous now. Looking back, what else could it have been but a body? But, really? 

After they closed the door on the trunk, I turned away and quickly ducked back around the corner and into my apartment. And then, I assumed, they drove away. I got ready for bed, and drifted off to sleep. While dozing off, I reasoned that I probably hadn’t witnessed a crime. From a small, Midwestern Kansas town, I had not, up to that point anyway, experienced first-hand much of any serious physical violence. In fact, peering around the corner of my apartment building, I felt as if I was watching a movie or TV show like an old “Starsky and Hutch” episode. Things that happen on-screen don’t actually happen in real life, right?

I also, and perhaps more pragmatically, thought that it was simply too early at night for people to be sneaking dead bodies around. Tempe is a college town, and at 10 p.m. the streets are still busy with cars and people out in the cooler temperatures.

I went to work the next day. And the next. And the next. Occasionally, the episode would cross my mind and it wasn’t until a full month later, when I finally acknowledged my unforgivable failure: I should have reported what I saw that very night.

So I called the police. After listening to my story, the first thing the officer asked was, “Why didn’t you call sooner?” I told him I didn’t really know.

And I still don’t. It surprises me how quickly I was able to dismiss what I had seen. What if it was the culmination of a murder? What if upon leaving Riviera Palms that car then made a left onto Rural Road, and then continued out of Tempe into the deserts south of Phoenix, and then stopped at the end of a quiet, sandy road? What if those two people had earlier packed a shovel so they could dig a grave for the body?

My casual dismissal of what I witnessed causes me to wonder why I didn’t trust my first instincts. Why didn’t I immediately go with my gut feeling that I had seen a crime in progress? Why did I doubt myself? Would I still do that today?

Has the passage of twenty-three years imbued me with a confidence I lacked in my mid-20s? Or could it be simply that the advent of 911 emergency service has made reporting suspicious activity easier to do and more common now?

I’ll never know if I witnessed a crime or not that night. I hope I didn’t and all this retrospective analysis is for nothing. But it does make me wonder why some people, myself included obviously, automatically dismiss a danger signal as needless worry.

It reminds me of the phenomenon present in some school shootings when witnesses report their first response to hearing gunshots. Often they assume the sounds are something benign, such as a balloon popping or a textbook falling to the floor. Does this happen because they are unfamiliar with what gunshots sound like, much like I would be? Those people presumably aren’t attuned to the sounds of gunfire. Maybe that’s why I was so quick to dismiss what I saw on that warm Arizona night. Violence simply wasn’t a part of my prior experience.

Now I know the next time I find myself in an unknown experience — especially one that involves doubt and fear — I should trust my gut even if it feels wrong, silly, presumptuous, naive. That night, I could have truly been in the right place at the right time to help someone or provide a lead. Before ending the conversation, the police officer said there was really nothing he could do at that point, but he would make a note of my call. Too much time had passed, he added. He told me to call sooner if I ever saw anything suspicious again.

“Okay, I will,” I said, and then I hung up the phone.

Categories
Memoir & Narratives

Seeing John Malkovich at the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market

 

I followed him, surprising myself with my sense of daring and willingness to annoy.

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John Malkovich—a really, really long time ago, like 1994.

During the summer of 1992, I saw the actor John Malkovich. In person. He’s the actor who plays one of the old guys in the movie, Red. The weirdest old guy in the movie, if that helps you place him. He’s also the actor who played Lenny in Of Mice and Men alongside Gary Sinise. He also played the presidential assassin of In the Line of Fire who was eventually hunted down by Clint Eastwood.

He played himself in Being John Malkovich, a photojournalist in Cambodia in The Killing Fields and a downright, really bad, despicable man in Dangerous Liaisons. Nearly all of Malkovich’s movies contain unique characters that the actor is able to pull off in the most believable way. He has been in loads of other films, but these are the ones that to me exemplify his ability to capture idiosyncratic characters believably.

Notice that I say I saw John Malkovich. I did not approach him. I did not speak to him. I merely leered. My husband and I and another couple were having coffee at the Farmer’s Market on a cool, sparkling morning in Los Angeles. There were probably foodstuffs and produce to purchase somewhere in the market, but we were just there to hang out. As we sat there, I noticed a scruffy, shabbily-dressed man hastily walk by. I immediately recognized him.

“That was John Malkovich,” I quietly told my friends. They discreetly and slowly turned to confirm it, and yes, oh my gosh, that is him, they said. He continued walking into an open-air newspaper stand/bookstore next to the scattering of tables and chairs that we occupied. I followed, surprising myself with my sense of daring and willingness to annoy. He looked at some magazines or newspapers in the bookstore and gathered no attention.

Based on the characters he so effectively portrayed in films, I was a little scared of him. Sure, he had only been acting when he shot the two men point-blank in In the Line of Fire, but my only exposure to the actor at that point had been in seeing him play characters fit to be feared. Even in Of Mice and Men, Lenny is sweet and unknowing; however, he is also, in the end, a murderer.

In addition, it was clearly obvious Malkovich did not want to be bothered. He didn’t want to be recognized. His incognito dress seemed to indicate that: wrinkled beige cotton or linen tunic and loose-fitting painter’s pants, a doo rag, sunglasses. It seems he was also carrying a satchel or bag slung across his body like a shield to protect him from those pesky and annoying star-crazed fans. What would I say to him anyway? Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?

My fear kept me from asking for the obligatory photograph. I had left my camera at the table with my friends so going to get it after asking for a photo would, I speculated, turn the casual encounter into more of an event than Malkovich would tolerate. True, I could have retrieved the camera before asking for a photograph, but I didn’t consider that because, as an annoying, star-crazed fan, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Besides, he might have that plastic gun on him that he made by hand in his seedy apartment back when he was trying to murder the president.

So I just eyed him from about twelve feet away, pretending to scan the headlines on a carousel rack of newspapers at the store’s edge. It was enough. I had seen “the” John Malkovich, a big-time celebrity in the flesh. It was my own personal brush with someone else’s fame.

Now, whenever I see Malkovich in a movie, I think about our near encounter. Pretty famous guy. Well-respected. Should have asked for a photograph. He probably would have acquiesced and been an interesting person to have what would most likely have been an uninteresting conversation with. Oh, well. Usually now when I see him in a movie, I say to my husband, “Hey, there’s my friend, John Malkovich.” And then without lifting our eyes from the screen, we chuckle, and continue watching the movie.


Thanks for reading! What celebrities have you spotted out and about? Feel free to leave a comment. Click follow for more posts!

Categories
Motherhood parenting

You’re a Good Mother: It means more coming from a stranger

FullSizeRender (10)I know I’m a good mother because a stranger told me so. And that’s why I know it’s true. Granted, it’s nice to hear it from someone close to you, such as your spouse or a parent or friend. In fact, it’s the unspoken need that all women have but never vocalize: to know we’re doing at least an “okay” job at the toughest job we’ll ever have. Furthermore, the compliment carries more weight when an impartial, unbiased observer witnesses you in the act of good mothering and calls you on it.

This happened to me in downtown Baltimore in July 1999. We had travelled there from our home in a small, mostly white, southern Missouri town. I, my four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son were heading back to our minivan from the convention center where my husband was showing his ceramic art in a wholesale show. It was a hot, sultry day and we were returning to our hotel for an afternoon nap in the air conditioning. My daughter skipped along beside me while I pushed the stroller. Suddenly, she tripped on a slab of concrete that had buckled slightly, scraped her knee, and immediately started crying. I locked the wheels on the stroller, and kneeled down to inspect the damage. A thin trail of blood driveled from her knee and down her shin.

Nearby on the busy corner, a petite, elderly black woman asked me if I needed a Kleenex. Then, without waiting for my reply, she reached into her purse, starting her own search. She, no doubt, had been in this situation before with her own now-grown children. Maybe she was still mothering grandchildren and possibly even great-grandchildren. Because really, when does motherhood end?

I smiled up at her and said, “No, I should have one, but thanks.” I was right. I found a wrinkled up Kleenex and dabbed at the bloodied knee.

“You’re a good mother,” the woman solidly pronounced, looking down at me. I laughed lightly at her comment, and averted my eyes, shrugging it off as if I shouldn’t need to hear the compliment. Then I dug further into my bag for a baby wipe to clean off the scrape. Found that, too. I decided to push my luck. I dug again for a Band-aid, and — cue the trumpets — found one. It was glorious. For one brief moment, I possessed everything I truly needed in my bag, which I had habitually maintained with all the little ancillary items that one might need for “just in case” moments like these. The moments that seemed to never occur. Until then. And this time, wonder of wonders, a complete stranger had witnessed it. She repeated herself, slowly and with meaning: “You’re a good mother.”

I gathered up the dirtied Kleenex, Band-aid wrapper, and baby wipe and stuffed it all hurriedly back into the bag. I stood up, took my daughter’s hand, and quickly checked on my son in the stroller.

Before leaving, I looked into the woman’s eyes, realizing this moment was pivotal to my sense of self and that this perfect stranger perfectly understood how important her approving words were to me. While two very different people, with dissimilar backgrounds and life stories, we were remarkably alike in that we both understood the frightening, yet satisfying, responsibilities of motherhood and our quiet need for the assurance that we both were doing at least an “okay” job. She had given me a gift. I replied, simply and truthfully, “Thank you.”

Categories
Memoir & Narratives

How to win a spelling bee: always ask for the definition

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It’s almost — no, it is — annoying. If there’s a misspelled word out there, I see it, groan, and usually point it out to my husband, Mitch, who is accustomed to my persnicketiness (yes, it’s spelled correctly; I looked it up). Now I’m not talking about truly obscure, rarely seen words. I would probably have to grab a dictionary to look those up, but when it comes to the words we occasionally see misspelled in our daily lives, such as judgment, believable, conceive, I always notice them. It’s similar to when I walk into a room and immediately spot a tiny spider up high on a wall. I have a gift for that, too. But the spelling gift is not really a gift; it’s a curse. That’s because I’m seeing words misspelled more and more, especially on my USA Today app and in those news messages that crawl across the bottom of the t.v. screen. People, proofread. Please. Three times.

When I was in eighth grade I went to the Kansas State Spelling Bee in Topeka, Kansas and competed for the state title with one student from every county in Kansas. There are 105, believe it or not. On about the fourth round, I went out on the word velveteen. Didn’t ask for a definition. I was so unnerved by being given a word that I hadn’t heard before that I simply forgot that asking for a definition is one sure-fire way to buy yourself some time to think it through. After all, I had heard of velvet, and if I had known my word was the actual full name of the luxurious fabric, then I would have known to spell it v-e-l-v-e-t-e-e-n and not  v-e-l-v-a-t-e-e-n.

And there went my dreams of spelling fame. No trip to Washington, DC. No monetary prize. But then again, no more lunches poring over a dictionary with Mrs. Mayberry, my English teacher, while everyone else played dodgeball and socialized in the gym. No more nerves thinking about the upcoming bee, where the rules are many, and the rule-watching parents are more. But I would have loved to have won because I have a crush on words. I really do. And, of course, I was able to spell the word that won the bee: silhouette, which isn’t a word I see often… but if I do see it someday and it’s misspelled, well, I’ll catch it. And groan.

 

Categories
Memoir & Narratives

So this is what a snow day feels like

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I’m not sure why my school district called off school again today, but then again the district is about twenty minutes away from my home, so it could be icy over there. But that’s okay, because I’ve used the two preceding snow days to get caught up on a couple of projects that will affect my teaching eventually, but not right now. You know, those projects that I just can’t get done at school, no matter how hard I try. Here they are: an eighth grade unit on “The Narrative of Frederick Douglass” and a grant application for an international travel opportunity for rural teachers. Both of these projects, which have been gnawing at the back of my mind for quite some time now, are done. Or at least they are as complete as I can make them at this point. Whenever we get back to school, I will send both to my principal for her thoughts and ideas.

So I’m feeling pretty good right now. And that’s why I am creating a blog as I sit in the chair-and-a-half (love this thing) with my laptop, a fire nearby, and a bubonic plague documentary, (sounds awful, but it’s actually pretty fascinating), whispering in the background.

Categories
Family History Memoir & Narratives

Grandpa and me

 

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I used to spend one week every summer in Hume, Missouri, visiting my grandparents, Charles and Rhoda Goodenough.

Categories
US (Southwest) US Travel

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Unexpected detour.

Categories
US (Southwest) US Travel

Favorite place on Earth

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Monument Valley, Utah

Well, it happened again. I travelled someplace new and I am forever changed. This time: Monument Valley, Arizona. There is nothing quite like spotting something on the horizon that appears surreal, other-worldly and truly unknown. And then it is something that changes you and makes you feel small, insignificant, yet important to the world.

Those spires. Those ledges. Those behemoths of weight and mass, rising from the high desert floor with quiet heft and bulk.

The space between them is as much a part of the experience as the monuments themselves. A disintegration of perspective coexists with an awe that overwhelms. There is no way to determine: how far is that from me? How far apart are those mittens?

Silence. True silence. Other than the distant, nearly imperceptible rumbling of cars travelling the dusty red roads, there is nothing. The breeze is even silent, its sound swallowed within the folding gowns of sienna curtain walls.