Jerrold (not his real name) was a coworker at the hospital. He was a trim, slightly built black man in his late forties with thinning hair. He and I were both transcriptionists and later I was his supervisor.
Jerrold clearly had high standards for his own behavior. He was invariably polite and friendly to everyone. If a contentious question arose he would find a way to bow out, and it was hard to drag a critical statement out of him about anyone. A few times someone played a prank on him and he just grinned for about an hour. The only time he was really concerned or upset at work was when we had a crazy prejudiced lady working there who made accusations (that’s another story), and when he realized no one was going to listen to her he went back to his phlegmatic self.
He’d gone into the service during the Vietnam War and done a tour overseas with the Air Force. He was in a group that was sent behind enemy lines to retrieve airmen, and it’s clear he had a rough war. After he got out of the service he went to work as a police dispatcher, working 12 hour days seven days a week. He then spent ten years as a Los Angeles bus driver. These experiences gave him a lot of stories to relate. Because life as a black man in Los Angeles is also bizarre and stressful, he had some stories like that, and some others about his family, all of which were extremely dramatic. But Jerrold told them in a curiously flat way. He had a kind of Midwestern male reserve that did not allow his voice to raise, or his tone to become excited, or even his adjectives to get terribly descriptive. This made the stories punch harder, because he was so clearly just relating a series of facts. I’ll try to recreate a couple of them.
My sister, she’s always been different. I’m the only one in the family that will take her calls now. Thing is, she’s had a lot of felonies. There’s always some problem or other, and she calls up for money. And she’s not real easy to get along with. Seems like she’s always angry, no matter what. But it’s my sister. I guess you’d say she’s crazy, most people do. She lives down in Compton in a very tough neighborhood with her son. I don’t go down there, but I’ll help her out when I can. One time she was in the house and saw her son’s car go by, but he wasn’t driving. He was in the passenger seat and some local gangsters were driving. So she realized that they must of kidnapped him and got her gun, but they were already gone. About an hour later he came back all crying and upset and said the gangsters took his car. So she got in her car with him, and a bunch of guns, and they went over to where these guys hung out which was a scrap yard. And there was a really big gunfight I guess, for an hour or so, and somehow no one got hurt. She didn’t get the car back, though. I really don’t know what to say about her. I guess it’s just going to be her way.
I was walking home from the store coming up my street, and I passed this car. I had a kind of instinct about it, that something was wrong. Four guys in a car just sitting there, with the headlights off, kinda talking quietly to each other. I crossed a street and was headed up the street when the lights went on and the car started, and I heard the tires squeak. And I just thought “Oh man, here we go.” So I dropped the food and started running. I was headed for a wall I knew I could hop, and then another and I’d be home. Just my luck, I hit a big old tree root and fell, and the car braked to a stop right there. And then I heard a sound that I recognized from the service, you know, the sound of a gun misfiring. Just a click and pop thing. And I got up again and went over the wall. Never saw those guys or that car again. They must have been from another neighborhood.
I was driving the Western Avenue bus for a while, and it was mostly an okay route. I knew all the regular riders and they were decent people, you know, commuters and old ladies. Only problem I had was the kids, ’cause we went past a school and about 3 pm all these teenagers would get on and cause trouble. Mostly just a lot of noise and some pushing around. One day it got real bad and I was getting upset. They were pushing some old lady and I saw a couple of the kids had knives on their belts. And then someone mentioned a gun. And I thought “Well, that’s it.” So I went off route and took the bus a couple blocks over to the 77th Street police station, and just pulled into their lot. Killed the engine and walked in and the desk sergeant asked how could he help me, and I just said “I have some customers for you, my bus is full of delinquents and I think they’re armed.” He said all right, no problem, and they brought out a bunch of cops and took everyone off the bus. I guess they took about ten fifteen knives and two guns off those kids. The riders were real grateful, because that garbage didn’t go on any more on that line. I got written up for going off route, though.