I hung out with some relatively new friends last Friday night; drinks at a bar on Venice Beach, California; a healthy dose of happy drunkeness (less by me than by a girl who, for her sake and mine, I will call 'Mary'), a late-night run onto the beach itself...it was a celebration of life... Life...in it's simplest form, fun, wondrous, mysterious, but mostly just fun.
It took my mind off the events of 2 weeks earlier. A little more than a year ago, during the first handful of months of 2011, I was in a Seattle stretch of what was basically a 5-year-long Seattle-Los Angeles split of my time. I became a semi-regular, during those months, at a little cafe and bar a block from where I lived, called CAFE RACER. I call myself a 'semi-regular' because, compared to the real 'regulars,' I was a pretender. There were several good people who almost seemed to live there.
I made a point of showing up when Amy was bartending - and not just because she seemed to erase a drink or 2 from my tab at the end of the night. I would arrive at 7 or 8 in the evening as Len, the Chef, was closing the kitchen. I really just wanted to hang out with Amy, but she was working, so when Len would pull up a bar stool and settle into his post-shift beer, we struck up a comfortable friendship.
Len is a good guy, quit a computer job to go to culinary school. I overheard him once telling Kurt, the owner of Cafe Racer, that he had been looking on Craigslist for Chef positions in Hawaii. Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, May 30th, about 5pm, I received the first of several messages from friends in Seattle. A mentaly ill gunman who had been kicked out of Cafe Racer for being obnoxious and disorderly, came back and shot 5 people.
Len took 2 bullets, luckily missing his spine and vital organs. Bleeding, he called 911. The mentaly ill gunman later took his own life.
Things were confusing that night. No one had all the names of the victimns. I had to ask Amy, via text message, the very unusual question, "Hey, you haven't been shot have you." I sent the message as the horrifying thought crossed my mind, what if I never hear back? Thankfully she replied. She wasn't there when it happened.
This is difficult to write about, but I am doing it because it happened. There is no escape from this fact. I am also writing about it because it only took 3 days for a different shooting in a different city to replace it in the headlines. First there was a mall shooting in Toronto. This week it was 3 dead at Auburn University...and 4 more in Sacramento.
As I write this Len is still in the hospital, but doing well. He is the survivor of the Cafe Racer shooting. 4 others are dead.
So many thoughts cross my mind as I sit writing - don't get too preachy (the mentally ill gunman had a concealed weapons permit), don't get too maudlin (real people deal with real tragedies every day somewhere in this world), don't be too selfish (the two people who I knew the best at Cafe Racer are alive).
In the end I just come away with a renewed sense that guns matter. I have grown tired of going to movies where people are shot for sport (just about every action blockbuster ever made). I am relieved when guns are portrayed with some sense of their real impact (check out the D-Day scene that opens Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" again).
In the end I have no real insights, no solutions. I guess it is worthwhile to remember - in the midst of all our planning and ambition and focusing on the future - that right now might be your whole life. Celebrate it. Go for a late night run on a beach somewhere.
And think about Len...wish him a full recovery.
-Peter Wick, June 14, 2012