It’s a funny feeling, being surrounded by a gang of cops, what with the yelling and pointing of guns and all. My first thought was, being shot to death on vacation’s gonna suck.
It’d started off well enough. Hidemi and I had breezed in from Haneda two days before. She’d wanted to go to California, but I was insistent we spend our vacation in Thailand, lounging on the white sand with a frosty Singha in one hand and a papaya salad in the other. Which would explain why we were lost in the suburbs of Los Angeles with a car full of McDonald’s wrappers, driving in circles.
“I told you to take the next exit,” she said.
“You’ve never even been to L.A.” I snapped back.
“Oh, not like your old girlfriend who lives here, right?
“We are not having this conversation,” I said.
But just like the rent-a-car, we went round and round, annoyed, jet-lagged and nauseous. Suddenly Hidemi was the Energizer Bunny of bitching. There’s too much traffic, the food sucks, people talk down to me, why isn’t the rental car cleaner? Na na na na na na na.
Now, I’m a very supportive boyfriend, and I understand what it’s like to feel out of place in a foreign land. So I said something like, “Your feelings are completely valid and I empathize with your point of view.” Although what came out sounded more like,
“Can you just shut up for one minute? It’s always na na na na na. I’m trying to drive the damn car on the wrong side of the road, after all.
To which Hidemi replied, “That’s it, stop the car. Let me out. Stop the car.”
I pulled over. Hidemi threw open the door, jumped out, and stormed down the side of the road. Jeezus. Now we got a problem.
So here I am, in some dinky little suburb of L.A., driving on the shoulder, pleading with my girlfriend out of the window of a Ford Taurus.
“Please just get in, okay? We can talk about it. Come on, ‘Demi.
“I’ll walk back. Go ahead.
“You can’t walk. We’re like ten miles from Santa Monica. Come on, I’m sorry. Please, just get in.
“I’m fine. I can walk.
“Look, there’s no way I can leave you here on the side of the road. Just get in. Let’s just talk about it for a minute. Please, come on, I’m sorry.
She huffed back in. We drove around the corner, pulled into an office park, took a breath, and then everything was . . . okay. We talked about how American food was terrible, agreed I was a dick, she apologized, and we laughed about getting lost three minutes from the freeway.
“Let’s go back to the hotel and order Dominoes,” she said.
“With corn and mayonnaise,” I replied. Then I looked in the rear-view mirror and said, “Uh oh.”
Security guards. That’s the thing about America. You can’t just park anywhere. Glad I wasn’t taking a whiz. Two cars pulled up behind us, and out jumped a bunch of blonde kids.
“Put your hands on the steering wheel!” one of the kids shouted.
“Dude, it’s cool,” I said out the window. “Sorry, we’ll move the car.
“Let me see your hands!
“Hans? Dere iz no Hans here.
“Hands on the wheel!”
And suddenly the kid had a gun pointed at my head.
I was like, “Holy shit! What the eff, man? Jeez, I’ll move the car already.
“Reach out of the window and open the door!
“Say what? Reach out the window to open the door?”
What kind of Twister is this? Meanwhile, a third car pulls up, more kids jump out, and suddenly everybody’s got a Glock trained on me. I got the door open, and was like Jeez, y’all are some mental rent-a-cops.
Police in America
Now there’s four cars, with two or three different markings, and it finally dawns on me, Oh, these are actual police. How’s a brother supposed to know? It’s not like the U.S. has one uniform for cops. That would make too much sense. You Americans with your fashion.
So forty-eight hours ago, I was in Tokyo, calmly eating a salmon rice ball and dozing on the train to the airport, and now I’m in middle of California with eight guys from the high school football team all jacked up on adrenaline and testosterone, hiding behind car doors and lining up their pistol sights. And I’m like, Man, did I pick the wrong parking lot.
“Step away from the vehicle! Keep your hands up!
“Look, let’s all just . . .
“Keep your hands up! Put your hands on the front of the car!
“Well is it up or . . .
“Hands on the hood! Move your feet back! Spread your legs!”
Now, I’m trying to do what everybody’s saying, but this is such a weird situation, it’s really hard to take it seriously. I don’t know whether to be afraid, pissed off, or indignant. It’s a warm, pleasant evening. Families are driving by, staring. The whole thing’s unreal. I just want to eat a pizza.
Suddenly, everybody rushes up to the car, and I’m being handcuffed. A policeman’s talking to Hidemi. “Are you okay? Did he hit you?” And I’m like, Why I am I the only one? I mean, not that I want Hidemi handcuffed, but what, a Japanese girl can’t have a gun? That’s pretty racist and sexist, just sayin’.
Hidemi’s English isn’t actually all that good. She looks terrified, pleading through the windshield for help.
“She’s Japanese,” I said. “You have to speak slower.
“Show me where he hit you,” said the officer, and suddenly I realized they were now gunning for something different.
“He’s my boyfriend,” she said. “He didn’t hit me.” Well, thank God for English lessons.
“We had a report of a kidnapping,” the officer said.
How Americans Get Shot
What the hell happened to to the U.S.? I step away for a couple of years and now some Dilbert slams one too many Frappaccinos and catches a couple having a 30-second spat, then whips out his iPhone and you’re within a hair’s breadth of being murdered by Biff the second-string quarterback? Guess that’s the price of freedom.
Seriously, here’s the thing—-and I know there’s a massive other issue about being black, Hispanic, or apparently an Asian female, but—-nothing prepares you for this. And that’s a problem.
You think it’s easy to comply with police instructions; it’s not. We’re used to people behaving in socially established patterns. When somebody breaks that pattern—-by pointing a gun and screaming orders—-honestly, I think the first reaction is to laugh. You can’t be serious. And thank God Ken Seeroi’s a pretty mellow dude, because I think many people’s second reaction would be that of indignation. You can’t tell me what to do. Oh yeah? Well now you’re dead, so apparently not the right answer.
Guns in America
It wasn’t until much later that I realized how close I came to being gunned down. The cops are on edge because everybody’s got a gun. Everybody’s got a gun because everybody else’s got a gun. Everybody’s also got a phone, and for some reason it’s now a good idea to call the authorities on your neighbor. For a nation that values liberty and doesn’t trust the central government, folks are in a mighty big hurry to dial 911 at the first sign of trouble.
Two weeks later, we left the land of the free and flew back to Japan. Hidemi was dozing on my shoulder, and finally everything felt normal again. I watched her resting peacefully, thought how close I’d come to not even being there, and realized we needed to reevaluate the relationship. At a certain point, you just can’t keep putting up with crazy bullshit. Nobody deserves it. And I don’t mean between Hidemi and I, of course—we were fine. I mean the relationship with America. It’s not that I don’t love you, and I really don’t want to say sayonara. It’s just maybe, you know, we should start seeing other countries.