Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ghosts...In Three Acts – I

All three of our houses had ghosts.
The first one held ghosts we unknowingly brought there ourselves.

The second house had several...
One charming and poetic, one tragic, and one very real but borderline hilarious specter.
Our third house has the best ghost of all.

These are their stories. And ours.


We moved to Pasadena just after the Rodney King Riots. We actually lived in south-central L.A. inside the first curfew zone (read: Extreme Danger Zone) during the riots. And our impoverished inner-city neighborhood retained a sense of lawlessness and racial tension even after the uprising had ended.

One night we heard shouting and broken glass outside our window. As I strained to decipher the distant, muffled voice it sounded like “Death to whites.” I woke up Jeff. “Honey, there’s somebody outside shouting Death to whites. I think that means us.” He sat up. We both listened. All we could hear was a dog barking. Could we really be so traumatized that suddenly “Woof who-whoof!” sounds like “Death to whites!”? But then we heard it again, closer, more distinct. Unmistakable. Jeff got up and called 911. He whispered into the phone, “There’s a guy outside shouting death to whites, and we’re the only whites on our street. Could you please send an officer to check it out? But don’t send them to our house. We don’t want them to know exactly where we live.”

I was appalled at the response: “I’m sorry, sir, but we can’t do that. It’s a hate crime, and you need to fill out a report for the officer first.” Holy cow! We need to put our lives in further jeopardy to get help? 911 is ignoring an imminent death threat?

So we called Bill. At 3 a.m! Bill (aptly surnamed Gunn) lived in the house in front and had a whole arsenal of weapons. He told us if we ever needed anything to call. So we took him up on it. We explained what was happening and he went out on his front porch with an AK-47 to take care of business. A few minutes later our phone rang. It was Bill. “It’s okay, he said. “The guy’s just drunk. He’s gone home now.” “How do you know he went home?” we asked, relieved, but skeptical. “He lives across the street.” Great.

So a month later we bought an adorable house on a shady, tree-lined street in Pasadena. And the first thing we did was put in a big wrought-iron gate and an alarm system.

And still, for over a year, every time I heard shouting outside, or even a loudly barking dog, I’d panic, just a little. My heart racing, I’d sit upright and try to make out what they were saying. The ghosts of the riots followed us clear from Los Angeles to Pasadena, invading our sleep and our perception of safety...but eventually went away.

(continued, next post)
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This series of posts was written as an entry in Scribbit's October Writeaway: Ghosts.


Brillig said...

Oh my gosh, how horrifying.

And the 911 response? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? That's disgusting!!!

What a great post, and what a great topic! I can't wait for more!

(I'm especially curious about the ghosts in your current house. I mean, I knew the whackos who lived there before you and all... er... uh... I mean...)

Kazzy said...

I think the cops were afraid to come down to our neighborhood, obviously. I never knew you carted along ghosts to your Pasadena place. Hope they didn't linger too long.

Kimberly said...

That made me shiver. Just like a good ghost story should, I guess. Wow.

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

I would have been a basket case if I was the one dealing with that "ghost". Seems like such a traumatic experience that's hard to get over.

You are an amazing writer.

Scribbit said...

Ack! How scary! I cannot believe they'd handle it that way!

Eowyn said...

Wow. That's an amazing story. Reminds me of when we got nominally threatened. Ew.

Now I'm wondering about the ghosts in my life.