Allen Forrest

A Different World

Violence by Arthur B. Davis

It happened so quickly. Like a magician’s slight of hand, there was a distraction, a noise in the crowd. Frank heard someone call out a name.

“Hey Freddie!” yelled a voice.

Everyone turned to look. Then it happened. A man, a young man, stepped quickly between two others, was he just rude? He almost knocked into both of them, but didn’t, literally slipped right through them, so fast, abrupt, so—violent. When the people turned their attention back to their business they noticed something. Frank saw a young man, not the one who stepped quickly between, but the one who’d been stepped between. He was holding his side, left side. His shirt was open, you could see red on the undershirt. He looked down where he held himself. Then everyone began to realize what happened.

“He’s been stabbed,” said a young woman with a baby stroller.

“Did anyone see who did it?” asked a man standing next to the bus pole.

The young man holding his side gave everyone a surprised and fearful look, then stepped, almost staggered, to the covered part of the transit shelter where the benches were. He sat down. Several people next to him got up and moved away. He kept looking at the wound, a gash below the ribs, blood dripped down the side of his stomach.

“I called the police,” said a young woman looking up from a cell phone, then reaching down she grabbed her shopping bag.

Frank muttered to himself, “More gang violence.”

A woman next to him made eye contact and nodded knowingly. These crimes were increasing and so was the flow of street drugs into town. It seemed every week he read about another killing or shooting in the news. One headline read “Murder Capital of the Country;” its article quoted statistics listing his town as the having the highest homicide figures for the year. Things have changed so much since I was a kid, he thought.

It was amazing how fast the police were on the scene. Only a couple of minutes went by before two uniformed officers sauntered in and stood next to the injured man. There was another policeman as well who came from a different direction. He was also young, same age as the one stabbed, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket. A detective, figured Frank. He watched the plainclothes officer sit next to the victim and ask questions while taking notes on a little pad. Soon he was up quietly talking with others nearby, again writing down information. He took it all in with a fast, efficient, cool manner, skillfully weaving through the crowd, almost like he was floating. The victim, now horizontal on the bench, looked up at the two officers in uniform.

“There’s an ambulance on its way,” said one to the other.

A siren could be heard in the distance.

The bus Frank waited for arrived. He and the others climbed aboard, tapping their bus passes on the card reader, and found seats. Through the windows passengers continued watching the stabbing drama outside, but Frank’s attention began turning to a drama from long ago, from a time he lived in another country and a much larger city, Los Angeles.

He was in his old ‘65 VW bus driving north on La Cienega Boulevard on his way to an interview in Hollywood. Descending through the rolling hills separating the South Bay from South Central, he came to the bottom by a large department store called Fedco. It was then he got the first inkling something was about to hit. There was a red low rider convertible full of young men in front of him. He sensed a feeling in the air like things were about to go completely berserk. This was 1992, the beginning of the L.A. Riots. These young men were laughing in an aggressive way like they knew the rules were suspended and anything goes. Suddenly their vehicle’s suspension jacked up a full foot more clearance and literally leaped over the divider into the on-coming traffic lanes. With the other drivers blaring horns at them they laughed all the harder screeching into the Fedco parking lot. You could see a commotion of people and vehicles crisscrossing in front of the store, like there was a huge sale on, but there wasn’t, not today. Today it was a free-for-all looting party. Average people had gone wild, taking whatever they wanted. Huge TV sets and expensive stereos, designer clothes, jewelry, food—you name it– goods were pouring out the front doors carried by these thieves of the moment. A couple of police officers there were trying to get people to put the things back. Vastly out numbered, they could only grab an occasional high-priced item away from a robber, then take it back to the store. It was hopeless to try and keep up with this mob.

Frank continued up La Cienega awhile, then turned right, going east to Redondo, then turned left, heading north again. After crossing La Brea, it turned into Highland. Finally, he reached Hollywood Boulevard and making another right, soon he arrived at the address, parked, and locked his bus. Walking in the direction of a little theater for his appointment, he noticed smoke columns rising at the same height all around the city. He wondered if the fires had been set at the same time, like a coordinated effort.

His interview was for a play about, ironically, the turmoil in Northern Ireland. He was auditioning for a supporting role as the British army captain working in the local Irish police station. He walked into the lobby, signed the audition roster, and sat down to study the sides he’d picked up from the reception desk.

“Frank Nelson?” asked a man coming out of the stage door.

“Yes?” replied Frank.

“Are you ready?”

Frank nodded and got up to follow into him into the theater. It was quite dark inside except for a few spotlights aimed on the stage. There was an attractive blond actress standing in those lights; Frank joined her.

“This is Karen, she’s been cast as Mary in the play. She’ll read with you. I’m Jonathan, the director. Whenever you’re ready,” he said.

Frank said hello to Karen; she grinned. They read the scene, playing it nicely through to the end, at which point the captain makes a pass at Mary. Frank kissed Karen. It happened spontaneously: lips met, but stayed together much longer than anticipated until the two actors heard chuckles in the audience from the director and producer. The two disengaged their lips. The director thanked Frank for his reading, said they would let him know.

Outside, returning to his VW, he decided it would be better to head home by a different route. Instead of driving through South Central, he would go west towards the beach and cut south on Sepulveda. Less likely to run into trouble that way, he thought. One thing he’d learned living in L.A. all these years was how to get to where you needed to go without using the freeway since frequently it’d become a slowly creeping five-lane parking lot. For the actor, trade secret surface streets were the answer. These less-traveled paths, like coal chutes through the city’s neighborhoods, had fewer traffic lights and less traffic. You had to know which ones to use and how to connect them. Thankfully, many didn’t. But Frank did.

That evening he visited with his land-lady, Paula Patronski. They sat in her living room watching the TV news coverage of the riots. There was a clip of a semi-truck driver being pulled from the cab and being beaten in the street.

“That happened just a half a mile from us!” said Paula. “I remember the riots in the sixties, but those were way east of here, didn’t get close to us. This time we’re almost right in the middle of it.”

Paula and her husband had moved to Inglewood, California, from Connecticut in the 1940s. She had been hired by a large L.A. firm becoming a much-valued employee as the president’s executive secretary while her husband secured employment as a flight mechanic at L.A. Airport. Now she was retired, living alone since her husband’s death, renting out a small apartment built on the front of her house. Originally for her daughter Bobbie because of conflict with her son Douglas, it provided privacy, allowing her to come and go without sibling friction. Paula was a savvy businesswoman who owned other properties in the area then sold them just before retirement.


The television played another news clip, this of a man being pulled from his car by another who held a can of paint, then ripping the victim’s pant’s off and spraying his genitals with the dark primer, he proclaimed, “He’s black now!”

Paula shook her head, took a sip of her Manhattan, a drag from a cigarette, then turned to Frank and said, “When the busing started, I told my son one day he would be fighting them. He didn’t believe me.”

Frank knew Paula well. In exchange for a super cheap rent deal, he would take her shopping, to the doctor, and do chores around her house. He also knew she wasn’t a racist, but rather a realist. She used to say all cultures have their own way of doing things. That’s what makes them unique. She, like the few white seniors in the area, were surrounded by black neighbors– some Hispanic, but mostly black. These older white residents had lived in Inglewood for many years, raised families, then retired with their pensions. It was a strange experience for them as a different world grew around them. For Frank, Paula’s was an excellent commuting location, halfway between his day job as a public service officer and his dream job in the film/television industry. He’d been slugging away for ten years trying to get his toe in Hollywood’s door– some close calls, but as yet, no cigarillo.

Early next morning as he drove to work, there was the smell of dirty smoke in the air. It was creepy quiet, a strange stillness upon the streets, not a lot of people around. He passed the family-run Korean convenience mart near the corner of East Hazel and La Brea. It appeared scorched with ugly charred scars on its storefront. There were abandoned cars on the next block, one, the tires flat, the hood up, the other, doors wide open, interior burnt, straddling part of the boulevard at an odd angle. Driving up Manchester over the 405 freeway, Frank noticed the traffic flow was less than its usual rush hour jam. Making a left on Aviation, he headed towards El Segundo, a small seaside town sandwiched between the L.A. Airport to the north, Chevron oil fields on the south, and the Aerospace industry bordering the east.

Frank drove into the city employee parking lot and found a space. He walked over to the rear entrance of the police department, punched in the code, and the electronic door admitted him. Inside, he went to the locker room to change into his uniform, then, to conference room where the hand-held field radios were kept. He picked one out and checked the battery, then went up one flight of steps to the main floor. Then logging his I.D. number, 3 Nora 3, into the computer system, he entered the traffic department office. Both his Lieutenant and Sergeant were busy at their desks. They looked up as he came in and smiled. Those smiles he recognized as smiles that said they knew something and he didn’t know it yet. He soon discovered what it was– a court summons regarding one of his parking tickets in the letter box. Goes with territory, he thought.


Lt. Barker said, “Stories have been coming to us from Hawthorne. A lot of rioting there. Most stores are shutdown so people will be coming into town to buy their groceries from other communities.”

“That means we need you on traffic control. The alley next to Safeway is going to be murder getting in and out of,” Sgt. Summer chimed in, eye-balling Frank.

Grabbing his ticket generator, clipboard, and forms container, he said, “I’ll head over there now.”

If someone had told him he would end up as a meter maid, he wouldn’t have believed it. Still, the police were good to him. If he got an audition or a part in a play, they always gave him time off to go do it. He couldn’t complain. An older friend of his talked him into applying for the position; since his wife was the police chief’s secretary, she had a little influence and put in a good word for him. Frank had never seen himself as the police type. He learned it was frequently a thankless and difficult job for those who enforced the law. The regulars were always trying to get him to test for the force, but Frank didn’t want to be a cop. His dream was to be a working actor.

Passing the lunchroom, he heard the TV and looked in. The news played the clip of Rodney King being beaten by the LAPD officers.

“Clearly no proper supervision on the scene,” said Officer Mintada.

“King was aggressive at the start and provoked them, but those officers should have cuffed him the first time he was down. The whole thing could have been avoided. Instead they crossed the line with their free-for-all baton gang,” said Officer Jones.

“Yeah, that was just wrong. They went way over the line, suspension clear and simple.”

“Next stop 122nd Street,” announced the automated voice on the bus.

Frank, jogged from his memories, realized his stop was next. He pulled the cord above his head ringing the bell. The bus pulled over. He got off at the rear door giving the driver a wave of thanks, then started walking to his house. It began raining. Pulling out his umbrella, he reflected on the warm sunny weather of L.A. and how different the climate was here in the north. Still, he didn’t miss it, the heat. He’d had enough of that.


About the writer:
Allen Forrest, a former Public Service Officer in the El Segundo Police Department (1984-1992) for the City of El Segndo, California, is a writer, graphic artist, and filmmaker, the winner of the 2015 Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Forrest’s Bel Red landscape paintings are part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection in Bellevue, Washington.

Image: Violence by Arthur B. Davis (1862-1928). No medium specified. No size specified. 1897. Public domain.