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"Politics is not like the nursery," wrote Hannah Arendt. As we sit around waiting for the next shooting rampage we must admit that neither is the United States. It has always been brutal and violent. Taking away fire arms would not remove its inherent character. Outlawing language would not remove its racism or its sexism. Our attempt to be "normal" in the American environment, our political correctness, our trust that the State will save us in times of personal peril may be our greatest ill.
In early April this year a man walked into an office of the University of Washington and killed his ex-girlfriend and then shot himself. She had been stalked by the guy for over a year. She filed one report to the police for a restraining order which was useless because nobody could find him. She wrote an email to her office coworkers, "I have a stalking issue," she wrote. A stalking issue? The young woman could only describe in the gentlest terms that she was probably going to be murdered. This is political correctness gone suicidal. What prevented her from writing, "Dear Coworkers, some guy is trying to kill me, and I won’t let him and you’re going to help me because I don’t want to die." We know the reason. The same one that made people tip-toe around the killer at Virginia Tech. Everything must remain normal until the slaughter.
The Virginia Tech killer did a number of things before his rampage that could have been dealt with. If the account is true, he took pictures of girls in the classroom, up their skirts. As far as normality would permit they were allowed to be "offended." What would have happened if one of the girls had gone over to him slapped him in the face, grabbed his camera and stomped it to pieces? Her angry reaction would have been deemed not normal. I guarantee it.
In the early nineties I was living in a condominium complex in a town in California. It was a big place, eight hundred and fifty units, swimming pools, tennis courts, nice landscaping, a mixture of working class people and professionals. I worked at home on my graphic business at night and painted during the day. One night I was coming home late from a trip back east carrying two heavy suitcases. A pleasant looking guy who told me he was enjoying the late evening air asked if he could help carry one of my bags. He left it with me at the door and waved goodnight.
One of the things I enjoyed about that place was its security. I slept with the door ajar although the chain was usually bolted. I needed the air, my windows were usually blocked off with art work and canvases. A week after that trip, around five in the morning somebody started pushing my door in and kicking it. "Let me in, I want some tin foil because I’m baking a turkey," he yelled. It was the guy who had helped me with my bags. "Get the hell out of here you crazy bastard," I yelled at him hurling more obscenities. I called the police. They arrived two hours later. They took a report. They told me to keep my door shut and locked at all times. They left.
A week later he was back. Ringing the doorbell over and over, pushing and kicking the door. He yelled crazy incoherent things. I called the police again. They came over an hour and a half later.
The scenario repeated one more time. The police told me they couldn’t find the guy. There was no description of anybody like that living in the complex.
I called the owner of the complex. I told him there was a problem and I was going to tell everybody about it in our tranquil little condo world. I called the chief of police and asked him if he would come talk to me. He arrived with another officer, the security guard and the owner of the complex.
"We’re trying to find the guy," they said. Until then, I should keep my door locked at all times, and if he came back, call them.
"You know what, Officer," I said. "I’m not going to do that anymore."
I showed them my Ruger .22 long barrel revolver (I hadn’t been to the shooting range in years but I was always a good shot). I told them I was going to load it with the first chamber empty, so I didn’t accidently shoot myself in the foot, sleep on the floor by the door and if that guy took two steps inside I would shoot him. I told them that while the guy had intimidated me he was not going to victimize me. Their reaction was interesting. The chief said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Police started patrolling the complex on a regular basis. The owner called me often to say everybody was working on the situation. The cops who drove by stopped in a few times just to say hello. The security guard was a daily visitor. The chief of police called me again. "We’re working with you on this," he said.
I went around telling everybody in the complex about the guy who was technically not a stalker I suppose but that’s what I called him. Knowing me as friendly and now only wanting to talk about my problem they seemed annoyed. People wanted to talk about the ’49′ers, I wanted to talk about the stalker. I was told that maybe I was overreacting and the guy would eventually go away. Someone else said I was making it difficult for them to possibly sell their house. The politics of the situation were becoming evident. I was becoming a problem for the condominium complex.
In what might have been a dyslexic moment, the stalker came back. But he rang the doorbell of the unit across the lawn precisely opposite mine. The guy who lived there who was waiting for two friends to arrive opened the door thinking it was his buddies. The stalker said he got the wrong house and started to walk away. The guy in the condo reached out to stop him, he had heard about the guy. The stalker grabbed his neck. At that moment, the two friends arrived. It took three beefy men to bring him down.
The police came by and told me they arrested him. Apparently he had a history of prior arrests and violence. There were handshakes all around. The people in the complex were jubilant at the news. "We caught him," one guy who had taken to really avoiding me said. People were acting as if they had all been in on the capture. In a way, they were.
A couple of weeks later while working on a painting that was dogging me and I was aware of nothing else, the security guard knocked at my door. He told me that the neighbors behind me told him I had been playing one track on a Wayne Shorter album over and over for three hours. "I’m so sorry," I said. "Please tell them how sorry I am I disturbed them."
"Don’t worry, he said. "They’re not mad at you. Everybody’s happy things are back to normal."
What broke my heart about the woman who got shot at the University was that she thought her problem was all her own. She didn’t want to disturb anybody else’s sense of normal. Now she’s dead.
EVA LIDDELL lives in Seattle.