Friday, February 19, 2010

Some Stories of the Rich, the Famous, and the Ridiculous

Officer Rainwater
It was seminal to my early informal education and surely informs any minuscule claim I might have to a smidgen of worldliness, having seen in some intimate way the lives of the
Los Angeles rich and famous. I was 19 years old when I got the job at Westec Security, a company based in Santa Monica, California, serving the rich, famous, and bourgeoisie of western Los Angeles. I wore a slate gray uniform, carried a .38 revolver, wore a ballistic vest and drove a patrol car responding to various types of calls including burglary and robbery alarms, reports of suspicious vehicles/persons, domestic disputes, prowlers, and the occasional shots fired. Although this job was quite thrilling at times, terrifying actually, it was more often boring, waiting for something to happen, responding to routine alarm calls and such. And in between the exciting, the terrifying, and the boring, some strange and funny things happened. It is a few of those stories that I am going to share here.

The beats I worked included Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Bell Air, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Venice Beach and Playa Del Ray. If you don’t know LA, that’s TMZ territory, E-News, True Hollywood Story and the like. It’s where the “stars” call home, as well as those with enough money and the desire to rub elbows with such folks. So here you go, a few tales from my days working to protec
t the rich, the famous, the odd, and the crazy.

What Scared Me Most
What scared me most doing this job was not being shot or beaten by burglars, robbers, or crazies (and that did scare me quite a bit), but rather the very distinct possibility of being shot by the residents I was serving. W
hy this was so will quickly become apparent.

The First Uzi Story
It was the mid 1980’s and the hills were peppered with rich Iranians who had fled their country after the 1979 revolution. Their houses were often opulent, ornate, decorated in light colors, gold accents, large statues in the cavernous rooms of huge buildings sitting on sprawling lots that were fenced and gated. One late night my partner Keith and I responded to a report of a “prowler there now” made by an Iranian woman who was home alone in such a place.

Keith and arrived at the property at the same time and quickly noted the high perimeter wall and locked iron gate across the driveway. We pulled one of the patrol cars up to the gate to step on in order to climb into the yard. We walked up a steep and winding driveway through the dimly lit grounds which were heavily vegetated with bushes and trees. The property was huge.

When we reached the top of the driveway we saw an enormous house out of which came running a hysterical 40-ish woman holding something we could not at first see. She was yelling “Thank god! Thank god you are here!” Before Keith and I knew what was happening the woman ran up to me and suddenly dangled an Uzi in my face, holding it between her thumb and forefinger like it was a smelly diaper, “Here, take this! I don’t want it anymore.” Then with her other hand she dangled a fully loaded amo clip in my face and said, “This too.” I grabbed the weapon and clip, stunned, and said, “Ma'am, I can’t keep your gun.” She responded, “You must! Please take it back.” “Take it back?” I said incredulously. “To the gun store. On Pico Avenue,” she explained with utter sincerity. Despite the fact that Pico Avenue runs the width of LA and the description “the gun store” was hardly sufficient, this request was ridiculous.

We instructed the hysterical woman to lock herself in the house and I held onto the Uzi while Keith and I checked the property. We found no prowler. The woman’s husband arrived shortly after and I gave him the Uzi and amo clip and explained that I would not be returning it to “the gun store” on Pico Avenue.

The Second Uzi Story
It was Christmas day and I was working swing shift, sitting alone in my cold patrol unit, feeling a little blue and lonely. It was dusk when I received the call of a prowler seen in the rear yard of a house. I knocked loudly and when the resident opened the door I could see through the house to a glass door leading to the backyard. In the yard stood a large Doberman pincher and I immediately relaxed. If there was a prowler in the yard that dog would not be standing there looking into the house wagging it’s tail.

But the man, an Iranian with a thick accent, insisted there was someone in his yard. I asked him to bring his dog into the house and said I would check the perimeter. I walked along the side of the house, hand on my gun, looking intently (in case the Doberman pincher was deaf or a little touched in his doggie head). I reached the corner of the house and turned to look into the backyard when suddenly the man, looking out from a rear window right next to me, screamed “There he is! There he is! In the bushes! Honey get my Uzi!” I jumped back behind the corner of the house for cover with my hand still on my gun ready to draw as I looked intently at the bushes. I saw nothing. I immediately said in a loud and commanding voice, “Sir, keep your Uzi put away.” The man said, “Ok, ok, but can you see him? He’s right there, right there in the bushes along the fence!”

The fence was made of wooden planks and behind it was the heavily traveled Benedict Canyon Road, not a safe backdrop for Uzi fire. The “bushes” were hedges that were neatly trimmed with skinny trunks sticking out the bottom where I would have seen someone’s legs had they been standing there. I walked over to the hedges with my baton in hand and jabbed around the branches demonstrating to the Uzi owner that there was no one there. After a thorough beating of the bushes, so to speak, the man was finally convinced. I then impressed upon him the importance of NOT having his honey get his Uzi when an armed officer was checking his property. He thanked me and wished me a Merry Christmas.

I think some of the rich Iranians who left Iran after the revolution were a bit traumatized. And some were well armed.

Tom Petty had lived in the house for years and then Charo and her handsome young husband had bought the place. The call came in “prowler there now seen in the backyard.” My partner Keith and I responded, arriving minutes after we received the call. Charo’s husband, before opening the door, explained that he had a gun. I thanked him for telling us and asked him to put the gun away. He opened the door and showed us the gun and the amo clip he had removed, and then he respectfully put the gun in a drawer.

He explained that his wife had seen a prowler and that she was currently locked in the bedroom very frightened and upset. Keith and I checked the property and found no one, any prowler she had seen was long gone. Keith and I stood in the living room with Charo’s husband assuring him there was no one on the property when he picked up the phone and called his wife in the bedroom. We could hear the muffled sounds of Charo through the door, her thick Spanish accent, talking a million words a minute. Her husband repeatedly assured her that the property had been checked thoroughly and that the prowler was gone.

Finally convinced she was safe, and wearing only a thick white terrycloth bathrobe, Charo burst into the living room exclaiming her thanks to Keith and me. She quickly walked up to me, grabbed my hand and vigorously shook it for what seemed minutes, while she exclaimed things like, “thank you so much you are so brave I am so very thankful that you are here to protect me (the lack of punctuation here is intentional and more representative of her manner of speech).” She went on and on, and yes, she talks as fast in person as she does on the TV, and she is not much taller than a lawn gnome. I smiled, looking down at her, saying “you’re welcome” several times while she shook my hand. At last she let go of me and Keith and I made our way out of the house with that sweet tiny woman thanking us the whole time.

Dinner Interruptus
When responding to a burglary alarm, it was standard procedure to first check the perime
ter of the house or building to see if there was any sign of forced entry. If an unsecured door or window was found, an interior check was conducted. I responded to such a call one summer evening in the neat and tidy neighborhood of Brentwood. I found an open door and so began walking through the house, hand on my gun, checking each room, closets, pantries, anyplace a human being might be hiding.

Half way through the house I poked my head around a corner and looked into the dining room where I found a table set for four with a meal apparently half eaten. There was no one in the room. My heart raced and the adrenaline surged. What the fuck? What’s going on here? Where are the diners? Something’s not right. What horror have a stumbled into? I narrowed my eyes and scrutinized the scene looking for any sign of struggle, foul play, anything that might indicate what had happened, or was happening. Then I noticed the food looked weird, unnatural. Wait a minute, it looks fake. I slowly walked up to the table and realized it was fake. I picked up a half eaten baked potato and turned it over, “$250” read the price tag. Art. This was someone’s idea of art. Fake food made of wax. Expensive half eaten fake food placed on a dining room table. I finished checking the house, no burglars, just the fake food. And who the hell would want to steal that?

It was a dark and stormy night. Seriously, it was. High winds, some rain, and as a result, there were a lot of false
burglary alarms as unsecured doors and windows were blown open. It was late, one or two in the morning when I responded to a burglary alarm at a house on a tiny little street off Mulholland Drive. Mulholland Drive is a mini continental divide of sorts running miles along the ridge of the hills that separate the San Fernando Valley to the north from the rest of LA and Beverly Hills to the south. It’s got an improbable feeling of remoteness, or so it was in the 1980s (see pic, a view from the ridge).

I arrived at the scene and began to check the perimeter of the dark mansion that was built on the steep slope of a hill. I trudged through the bushes, slid down the gravelly slopes, walked through spider webs, and kept an out eye for snakes. The wind was howling up the canyons and the ambiance was very Alfred Hitchcock-y. Then I rounded a corner of the house and saw it! Sasquatch standing tall, it’s hand held above it’s head as though ready to strike. Gasping I stumbled backwards, tripped and fell on my ass. Reaching for my gun and pointing my flashlight up at the figure I quickly realized it was behind glass, inside the house. And it wasn’t moving. Art. More fucking crazy rich people’s art. After catching my breath, I let out an ironic chuckle, dusted myself off and finished checking the property. I don’t think I shared that story with my fellow officers, about how I almost shot a Sasquatch looking character standing in the window looking out over the lights of LA on a dark and stormy night.

Fuck Art, I Want that Ten Bucks
The house had been ransacked and the usual stuff was missing, electronics, jewelry, cash. Also missing was a very special ten dollar bill. The bill had been incorporated into a panting, a large multimedia thingy that was framed and hung in the living room. When I arrived I saw it smashed, laying on the carpet, mangled in the center of the canvas where the ten dollar bill had been removed. The purchase price of the painting? Ten thousand dollars.

The Giant Poodle Statue Attack
It was a routine burglary call on a sunny afternoon at a moderate sized home (by LA standards). I started my perimeter check and as I rounded a corner I saw, through the bushes and over a large porch area, about 30 yards away, the black head of a standard poodle. Being attacked by dogs was a real occupational threat. Like mail carriers and cops, most doggies don’t like uniformed folks poking around in their territory. I stared at the figure for some time and it did not move. I waved my hands, trying to provoke a response, to help me determine if this was anoth
er piece of crazy rich people art or a real dog. The figure still didn’t move.

My view of the figure was blocked for a minute as I made my way through the yard around the landscaping. Then I could see it again and it had still not moved. I waved some more, nothing. I started walking again and then it happened. Suddenly the poodle statue was running at me! I turned and ran towards the iron gate I had come in, slamming it behind me just in time to thwart the giant barking poodle. After catching my breathe, I reached down to retrieve the keys to my patrol car which I always stuck in the crease of my gun belt. They weren’t there. I looked back and saw them laying about 10 yards away in the yard behind the gate, behind the giant barking poodle. Fuck.

I contemplated my options. I could call for backup but I would be the laughing stock of my colleagues, very rough, mostly sexist men with a penchant for brutal heckling. So I pulled out my baton in one hand and my little tazer in the other and went in. I yelled at the poodle to get back, swinging my baton, activating the tazer, as I inched my way towards my keys. The dog backed up, barking and growling only a couple feet in front of me. At last I grabbed my keys and retreated.

As I was sitting in my patrol car doing the paperwork for the call, the residents came home and approached me, asking what had happened. They asked me to come into the house with them to make sure everything was ok. Then they let in Hobbes and introduced me, explaining that he was an eleven month old puppy. He wagged his whole body and licked my hand. I didn’t share the details of mine and Hobbes earlier introduction, how I thought he was a statue, how I dropped my keys running from him, how I waved my baton and tazer at him. I just pet the ginormous dog and then took my leave.

A Little Pink Poodle and my Naiveté
She had accidentally set off her burglary alarm but was surprised to see me walking across her yard. She invited me in and I verified that she was the authorized resident. She was white and plump with platinum hair coiffed and teased big and high, and her house was garish, decorated Vegas-like by my estimation. Then I saw her little dog, a pink poodle. I mean that its fur was actually pink. I knelt down and petted the little thing, noting its cuteness and then looked up at the woman and asked, “Did it come this way? Do they breed them pink?” She smiled and explained that she had her little dog dyed pink. Apparently, they don’t get born that way. How would I know? I was 20 years old and it was the first pink poodle I had ever seen. Come to think of it, it’s still the only real life pink poodle I have ever seen.

The Giant Hissing Rat
It was dark but not late when the call came in, “415 giant rat will not let the resident take out his garbage” (415 is the California Penal Code section for disturbing the peace). The dispatcher was straining not to laugh and I gave a 10-4 doing the same. When I arrived at the house a middle-aged man, with the most serious and concerned demeanor, carefully explained to me that a giant rat was guarding his trashcan. He then took me to the side of the house to show me. I pointed my flashlight at the trashcan and saw two giant eyes peering back. Suppressing an almost overwhelming urge to laugh, I delicately explained to the man that this was not a giant rat but a wild possum and that he would need to call animal control or simply wait for the little beast to move on. Killing possum was not pa
rt of my job description.

Observing the Sabbath Hancock Park Style
Hancock Park neighborhood is a mostly Jewish enclave in mid-Wilshire LA. The more orthodox Jews in the neighborhood observed the tradition that one should not work on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. This also included not using any mechanical devices such as cars and home appliances and the like. It was common on Saturdays, throughout the neighborhood, to see groups of Jewish folk walking to synagogue. One Saturday I was working in Hancock Park when the dispatcher, again straining not laugh, said a resident had requested that an officer come by and start his dishwasher. Apparently it made complete sense to this man that the goyim be directed to use the appliances in the stead of observant Jews. A sergeant came on the radio and pointedly explained to the dispatcher that no officer would be sent to do such a thing. The dirty dishes would have to sit until Sunday.

In Conclusion, for Now
Throughout the six years I worked those west LA streets and those Hills of Beverly, I had many interesting experiences. I met the famous, saw the rich, and had access to a world most never see but in magazines and on TV. I saw opulence I could never have imagined, giant estates with closets as big as small houses and maids quarters as small as closets. I met the stars, and although I was never once star-struck or impressed, I helped to protect them and their property. I was positioned on the perimeter around Penny Marshall’s house when she was held hostag
e by a mad gunman. I repeatedly checked the property of Priscilla Presley when her then young daughter, Lisa, was home alone and frightened. I responded to false alarms set off by the drunk and the lonely who wanted only to see someone in the night. I worked to mediate domestic disputes between the coked-up and dramatic, the crazy and the spoiled. I have held an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe in my hands (they are very heavy). I accidentally drew my gun on Sydney Sheldon’s maid while checking his sprawling estate after a late-night alarm. I watched Harrison Ford eat an apple wearing only a pair of jeans and I spent 45 minutes talking about Russian art with John Candy as he sipped vodka neat. Several times I met Jermaine Jackson and really liked him. I learned that Phyllis Diller can be quite the cranky bitch and that Harry Hamlin is so slight I could easily have kicked his ass. I also got shot at once, heard the round go by my head, and once I almost had to shoot a man, but thank god, he did everything I told him to do and didn’t reach for his gun. All this before I was 25 years old. Like I said, it was part of my real life education. And it was this early experience that largely compelled me to go back to college, to get educated, to not become a cop. And for this, I am forever grateful.

Plus, I have a bunch of good stories.

NOTE: I have shared the funny and ridiculous here…but there was a dark side to the job. The abuses, shootings, racism, sexism, crimes, dead bodies and the three officers who committed suicide during my six year tenure. But I would much rather talk about pink poodles and giant hissing rats.

1 comment:

cindy said...

as always Mer, you never cease to amaze me, i had completely forgotten about his phase of your life