A few weeks back I was tooling through the Richmond neighborhood in San Francisco. Rushing a bit to drop my eldest, Max, onto the Polo Fields in time for a weekday soccer practice. Feels like I spend a lot of time rushing in this way, now that I think about it. Must work on that, try to slow down a bit. But I digress.
I was headed south, in the general direction of the ideal northerly Golden Gate Park insertion point. I frequently overshoot or undershoot these points, so I was decidedly focused on ensuring I picked the precise, proper avenue. One number off and I’m stuck in a Pac-Man game, going right-right-right-right or left-left-left to get back on track. Performing a time-compressed cost-benefit analysis regarding one “do not do this” sign or the other. And there’s no time for that. Focused.
In the right-hand side of my windshield, I see something. It doesn’t register at first, since we’re crossing a street teeming with pedestrians, shoppers, families, bike-riders. A moment later I realize something is off, so I set my big toe on the brake a bit and slow down, giving my consciousness a chance to catch up with my subconsciousness. Then I see what triggered my reptilian brain: An African American gentlemen bee-bopping down the street, joyfully bouncing to whatever music flowed from his Walkman (yes, Walkman) through his in-flight earphones, and into his ears. He seemed really happy. A little too happy, even.
Maybe his overly pleasant affect and extra giddyup in his step was due to the axe in his hand.
A big, bright blue-handled axe. In his hand.
He worked the prop like Willy Wonka tooling around the Chocolate Factory. Like the lead marcher in the marching band with the ramrod-straight back, Nutcracker caps and batons held like a champagne flute. Because he wasn’t ranting and raving and otherwise behaving consistent with what one would expect of an axe murderer, those around him were seemingly oblivious. I don’t often do this–in fact I can’t remember the last time I did this (on purpose)–but I dialed 911. The call with police dispatch was almost as odd as the axeman.
Police: “911, What is your emergency?”
Me: “So there’s a gentlemen walking down the street, at the corner of X and Y, a bunch of other people are around, and he has a big blue-handled axe in his hand.”
Police: “OK. Can you please describe him?”
Me: “Uh, sure. He’s the guy with a big blue-handled axe in his hand.”
Police: “Can you be more specific?”
Me: “Um, well, other than the big axe in his hand? Sure, well, he’s African American, wearing a Walkman with headphones, and really really happy. He’s like dancing down the street. I don’t mean to make light of this, but he looks like he’s in the Soul Train line dance. He’s pretty distinctive, will be very hard to miss.”
Police: “OK, thanks, we’ll send a unit out to take a look.”
And so I drive on, still tracking for an on-time arrival at the Polo Fields. Shaking my head a bit at how weird this was. How thoroughly unsatisfying. Not sure what I was expecting. A Key to the City from Mayor Lee, probably not. But something other than the dull, disinterested monotone of the 911 operator? That would have been nice.
Maybe she’s just numb to all the tragedy and chaos out there. The tragedy and chaos that yuppie folks like me are typically spared thanks to the mind-numbing behind-the-scenes work of people like the woman on the other end of that call. Is it possible that my axeman–so seemingly urgent to me, about to go on a killing spree at any moment–was only number ten on the threat list on a whiteboard in a precinct conference room?
I have no idea. I’m still processing this stolen glimpse into the sausage factory that I don’t often see. (And this is in spite of the fact that I worked for the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan one hot summer. A slight risk of contracting tuberculosis from a visit to the lockup, though, apparently pales in comparison to thrill of seeing my jive-walking axeman.)
And what, you may ask, does this all have to do with Grandma’s Lemonade? I suppose just that I’m hoping the 911 operator and her colleagues make up a shit ton of it, constantly. If anybody needs one of those molten chocolate machines but customized to dole out infinite volumes of lemonade, it’s these guys. My chance, once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a crazy gent with a long blue axe makes for a great blog post on my little blog. But the people who deal with this kind of thing on a regular basis aren’t blogging about it, I don’t think. They’re trying to process it and partition it and to douse it with lemonade in a courageous attempt to live otherwise normal lives. I wish them luck. And all the lemonade they can drink.
Thanks for reading.