Five SecondsSan Francisco artist Daniel Price was murdered in front of his wife as they came home from a night on the town. I've seen Price's paintings, he was very good. He was 28. He and his wife had been married for eight months to the day, when a thug shot him in the head just outside of his Cow Hollow apartment.
In September, on the same day that we went to see the opening of the Conservatory of Flowers, we decided to go out and have a drink. We don't go out to bars too often. But that night, we went out in the Lower Haight, to Molotov's and the Noc-Noc. It was a hell of a night. Harper, who confronts death at work on a regular basis, had been shaken by the loss of a patient, and we spent much of the night talking about life and death and God and the mystery of it all.
At 2 a.m., last call, we headed home. We walked up Haight Street to Divisadero, and ducked in a corner store to get a couple of It's Its. We rounded the corner, and walked up Page, almost home, when two men came up to us from the street, one of them said something about money.
I walk with blinders on much of the time. You have to, in this city. Or rather, you don't have to. But you do it. You do. My first instinct was to ignore them, to walk by pretending I heard nothing, saw nothing. I thought they were homeless guys, asking for change.
And then I saw the gun. Harper had stopped. I glanced at her, and one of the two had small pistol pointed at her stomach. Maybe a foot away. The other guy came up to me, and said something, I have no idea what. I handed over my wallet. I said to Harper, "give them your wallet!" She said she couldn't, she didn't have one. She was showing me, them, all of us, everything she had. It's-Its and a doggy treat, lose papers and pocket mulch.
"Just drop it! Just drop it on the ground!" From the back of my mind I remembered hearing that if you're ever mugged, you should drop your stuff on the ground and run off when they bend over to pick it up. I have no idea where I heard this, or if it's even good advice. But it bubbled up, and Harp let the It's-Its fall to the concrete.
"Go that way!"
"But we live up there," I replied, inexplicably. Idiotically.
"Go that way!"
And we did, walking a few steps, then running as fast as we could down the hill. At Chance's we beat on the window, and they let us in.
The cops who responded were aces. My hat's off to them. Of course, when it was handed over to the investigative unit, there was no follow-up. I couldn't even get my phone calls returned. This, despite the fact that the cops picked up a suspect a mere six nights later on the same corner, gun in pocket. The same corner where we came to learn 10 other people had been mugged over the previous two months. You can see it from our bedroom window.
For days afterwards, Harper was a wreck. On Divisadero, the day after, she broke down. I thought I was going to have to carry her home. It took a long time to get back to normal, if we are. I still look over my shoulder a lot these days. I worry about her coming and going when I'm not here.
Today, shopping for presents, a shopkeeper said something about needing to make sure that my Visa was, indeed, my Visa. I joked that there was someone around town with my Visa who wasn't me, and briefly retold her the story. After I had paid, and was on my way out, she asked in a near-whisper, "were they black?" This is one of the two questions I'm asked the most. "Were they black?" and "What time was it."
I think the answers to these questions are meant to absolve us of our fears. If I come and go at a reasonable hour, if I avoid black neighborhoods, this won't happen to me. I'll be safe. I'll be secure. Daniel Price was murdered in one of the city's safest, whitest neighborhoods. Here, in one of the safest cities in America. At midnight, yes. But not, apparently, by a black man.
As I left the shop, the woman--an older white lady with a Northeastern accent, in all other respects sweet and pleasant--told me that the problem stems from children born to single mothers running wild, and that black women who give birth to more than two children out of wedlock should be sterilized. I didn't know what to say. The vileness and sincerity of the remark took me by surprise. Blood in my water glass. Things like that, I don't even hear in the South. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I stood for a minute there in the lights, stricken and sick, stifling a cough and a running nose. I wondered if I should return the present I had just bought. I shook my head. I left.
This is what it is. There are guns and car crashes, there is disease and war and airplanes sometimes drop out of the sky. Race upon race and religion upon religion slay each other for the pleasure of certainty. And nothing is certain. Life savings evaporate in the blink of an eye, while terminal cancer patients wake, and walk again. You can work to be safe (and it's stupid not to) but you cannot make yourself so. Sometimes, no matter how often you wash your hands, you're going to catch a cold.
Life is too short to be cynical.
I still love this city. I still love this neighborhood. I still love this life. But more than anything else, I love my wife, and I want to make every second we have together the most vital, the most important, the most real moment of my life. All we have is right now. My heart goes out to the Prices.
Merry Christmas. Spend it with someone you love.
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