Amateur Night

After I got out of the military in 1998 I had plans to go to college and promptly moved to Texas to do just that. One morning I got a phone call from my mom in Alabama where my parents were living at the time. The call was tense and my mom was scared. She urged me to come home immediately as my father had stopped taking his meds and was on yet another manic spiral (Manic Depression/Bipolar disorder).  It was total chaos when I got there. My father might as well have been high on crystal meth because he was talking 90 miles an hour and constantly pacing. His speech was hard to understand as he was talking so fast and would often stop in mid sentence to begin another on a whole new unrelated  topic.  You could see the blood vessels in his neck bulging as if they were ready to explode. His heart was racing. I knew this was it.

After these tragic incidents with my father started to wind down about 4 years later, I decided it was time to move on from Alabama and continue to realize my dreams of working in the entertainment industry. It had been 4 long years of turmoil in dealing with my father and his affairs.  I was dating a girl named Lea at the time and she had plans to go to school in Gainesville Florida to pursue her PhD.  Gainesville was about 7 hours away and not too far for me if I had to come back to help my mom again. “You should come with me” Lea said one day as we were talking about her starting school. I gave it some thought. It’s funny how the universe works. Right before I met Lea, I had started thinking about going back to school again, but I wasn’t sure which direction to take. Then Lea walked into my life. “We can find a nice house and you can finish what you started.” She said.  I spent the rest of that day researching and then a few months later we were off to Florida. Finding a place to live was a bit of a challenge. Rents were high and apartments were hard to find. We eventually found and settled on a nice little 2-bedroom house in southeast Gainesville. Our landlord owned the whole block and over the years she had razed most of the houses and now the  block was like a garden paradise. The only problem was that southeast Gainesville was pretty poor and crime ridden at that time. Our landlord’s late father had owned the property since the early 1930’s when that part of town wasn’t so run down. Another problem was that across the street was an old hippie settlement once called Fort Ganja. A Vietnam vet named Murli claimed he saw God on a mountain in South Vietnam and had told him to spread the truth about the weed. So when Murli got back to the states he somehow finagled a financial settlement with the Army and bought the whole block across the street from our house. He and several others grew mass amounts of the “Gainesville Green” (a famous and apparently potent strain of marijuana developed in Gainesville in the mid 1970’s). By the time we got there, Murli and most of the hippies were gone. But some did remain and that brings us to the point of this whole story.

Murli next to the Fort Ganja sign

Murli next to the Fort Ganja sign

Two of the old hippies who had remained, Dusty and an ex University of Florida professor who called himself “Blue”, would often stop and talk to me as I was taking my daily exercise walks around the neighborhood. They were nice guys and pretty tame for the most part. Dusty looked like he belonged in ZZ Top with his long white curly beard. He smoked rolled up cigarettes and always had a can of Natural Light beer in his hand. Blue was obviously schizophrenic and would often start talking to someone no one else could see. But Blue was also brilliant and we would talk for hours on the street about philosophy. They had a homeless friend named Dan who would often come over to their house. Dan was quiet until he got drunk. Then the demons would unleash themselves and the fights would start. Dan and Dusty would usually be at each other’s throats. You could hear them shouting. The best part being that once Dusty had had enough, he would kick Dan out. All would be quiet across the street for a few weeks and then the cycle would repeat itself.

Our neighborhood at the time was in total chaos. Our side of the street was beautiful with lots of flowers and plants.  Our landlord had worked hard to make our side look nice. Even putting up  a white picket fence around the whole block. We had drug dealers and addicts living across the street. All hours of the night we saw lots of traffic coming in and out.  After about 2 months of living there, Lea and I had had enough and went to our landlord about what options we had to clean up our neighborhood. “Why don’t you come to the community rec center this Friday. We just started a crime watch and we ‘re having a meeting. We’re tired of it too and it seems to get worse every week.”  She said. I agreed and when Friday came we showed up and met with the Gainesville Police Department. We met the officers who patrolled our neighborhood and told them what was happening. They offered their sympathies and said they wanted to work with us to clean up our neighborhood. Each officer gave us their card and said to call them when we saw crimes happening.  We did. A lot. After a few weeks of regular meetings and calling them regularly, things did start to change in our neighborhood. I got to know the officers well and so did my neighbors who had joined us in the crime watch.  And then one day it all fell apart.

I came home from school one day to see homeless Dan riding his bike around the neighborhood. As I drove down my street, I locked eyes with him. He had a look of pure rage on his face. I parked and went inside my house. Lea was still at school then and my friend Chase had followed me home. We had been playing around with the idea of starting a band and he wanted to come over and work on some songs. After about an hour of being home, I heard homeless Dan shouting in the neighborhood. I opened the door and there he was right in front of my house on the street. “You fuckin’ college kids are all the same. Good for nothin’. Moving into our neighborhood. This used to be ours man. Fort Ganja was ours!” He shouted. He was so drunk he could barely sit on the bike. He was in the street still, but his front tire was inching closer and closer to my property. “Come on fucker! He shouted. “I’ll take all you sons of bitches on right fucking now!” He yelled. I started to go back inside to grab the phone and call the cops, but before I could he threw his bike down and started walking toward my front porch. I did not own a gun, but I did have a hickory handle from a garden hoe lodged into the top of the underside of the porch roof. I quickly grabbed it and said, “Go home Dan. You need to leave right now.”  “Fuck you!” He shouted. I said “Dan, if you don’t leave my property right now I’m going to have to use this handle. I don’t want to, but I will.” He stopped walking toward me and stood there for a minute thinking about his next move. I had the hoe handle in position ready to strike. I could feel my heart beating intensely in my chest. He turned around and grabbed his bike and mounted it. Good I thought. He will just leave now. He started pedaling and then stopped and looked over at me and said “I’ll fix you fucker!” and off he went. I lodged the hoe handle back in its place and Chase and I went back to working on music. About 45 minutes later I saw from my front windows, two cops cars whizzing by my house. Chase also looked up from his spiral and saw what I saw. We were puzzled. “What the hell is going on?” I said. I opened my front door and didn’t see anything. “That was weird,” I said to Chase. I stepped onto my front porch and looked around. Nothing. Then as I started to walk back inside I heard the bushes near my house move. My heart started pounding. Had Dan come back? I thought. I looked at the hoe handle, but decided to wait. Then two voices quietly said” There he is! Is that him? I think so.” Next thing I know a police helicopter and a swat team show up at my door. Guns were drawn and masked men came out of a van and my house was now surrounded. Several more cop cars showed up. Dogs came out on leashes and in one car I saw Dan pointing and laughing at me.

My old hoe handle looked like this, but without the hoe attached.

My old hoe handle looked like this, but without the hoe attached.

“Freeze and put your hands up now,” a cop shouted. I did and was immediately subdued by one of the officers from my crime watch. I was in total disbelief. “What the hell is happening?” I said. He did not answer. I said,” Dude, you fucking know me!” He acted as if he did not know me. They searched me and then asked if they could search the house. I said “What for?’ “We have reports that you have a shotgun and tried to use it on this man.” He said as he pointed to Dan who now had a look of despair on his face. I will give Dan one thing, he definitely played the part and he played it well. I said, “Unless you have a warrant, you’re not going in my house! I don’t own a gun and as far as any weapon goes, I have a hoe handle and that is what I pulled on him when he came into my yard and threatened me.” One cop immediately ran up the porch stairs to grab the handle and fell and tripped on the last stair landing squarely on his face. He got up, grabbed the handle and shouted, “I got it!” After some questioning from the cops  they let me loose.  They still acted as if they did not know me. I said, “Did you not know he was drunk?” One cop, who I did not know, came over and said “Yeah he did seem a little drunk now that you mention it.” I was floored. The cops walked away and I walked up on my porch. But before I went inside I turned around and said as loud as I could, “Well one thing is for certain, it’s fucking amateur night at the Gainesville Police Department!” and with that I slammed my door. To this day I will never understand why they did that to me. How can a homeless man have so much power over a law abiding crime watch running citizen? Calls to the newly elected Mayor went unanswered. Lucky for me, I was already weeks away from leaving Gainesville to move to San Francisco to finish school.

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