Saturday, January 10, 2015

You, Hypocrite Lecteur, Mon Somblance, Mon Frere

Sometime during the recent past weeks, you recalled a time when you were one of the suspects appearing in a police line up,  This humorous event came as a part of a grand tour, arranged for the local branch of the Mystery Writers of America.  At the time, a friend on the LAPD arranged for a prank of having a desk sergeant announcing to the group you were in that we'd been mistakenly shown to a real victim of a real crime, who went on to identify you as the person who'd mugged her in a parking lot, then taken her purse.

Later, your LAPD friend, who was an old school homicide detective, joined the group across the street from the Parker Center, in a notorious drinking place for off-duty LAPD officers, The Code Six, where the subject of what cops talk about when they are off duty.  You remember this event because of the way it got well beyond idle conversation, with a number of mystery writers and cops getting into heated displays about ways each group saw the other.  Much of the heat in the heated exchanges came from political views.

Although you have only to your knowledge known one  cop whose politics were left of center or, for that matter, anywhere much beyond center, you did have one student who was a cop, who came from a family of cops.  She seemed left of center, an assessment you made because she was in a mixed-race marriage.

Your recent speculations went riffing off on the notion of the line-up for all characters.  The ruling theory with line-ups is that you are presenting to a victim an ensemble of alleged perpetrators in which there is probable cause to assume one of them is in fact the perpetrator.  Can the victim make positive identification?

When your homicide detective arranged the prank in which you were told you'd been identified, you saw the gambit, enjoyed it, and "confessed on the spot."  Such is your nature.  This nature of yours is one of several defining characteristics you see within yourself.  

The awareness of this moves you ahead in time from the Mystery Writers of America night out at the Parker Police Center in downtown L.A. to a comfortable hotel room in Cincinnati, where you were being briefed by an attorney prior to your appearance the next morning before the grand jury of Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  Never mind why; you'd been summoned.  Now, you were listening to an attorney who was representing your interests.  "You want to remember," he said, "that when you grow bored, you tend to become a ham actor."

"What,"  you said, "are you advising here?"

"Ah,"  he said.  "I can see you are bored already.  I am advising you to give terse, direct answers.  I am advising you not to try to get the jury members to laugh nor to get in a pissing contest with the deputy DA.  Be as flat as possible in your answers.  If he wants more details, let him ask for them."

Somewhere in your university days, you'd heard one theory of the origin of the term, ham actor.  As a youngster, you'd favored a few actors who could, when called upon to do so, chew up the scenery.  For a time in your life, during the days of live television drama, you were an extra.  There are still secret and not-so-secret parts of you wishing to be an actor.

Two or three robins do not make a Spring, but the connection of suspect line-ups and characters being considered for jobs in story resonates, lures you on.  On many occasions, the innocent participants of line-ups are actual police officers or civilian employees, opening doors of speculation and attempts at social science.  Line-ups also raise the question that an actual criminal may well appear the most innocent among a group of non-criminals.

You're enjoying the notion right now of character as suspect.  Whether prank, honest mistake, or some other motive,we have all been mistaken for persons other than who and what we are, mistaken for a perpetrator of a crime when you were a victim of some sort, for being a sarcastic snob when at the moment your agenda was to ameliorate or soothe.

Right back to The Code Six and the mounting tensions between mystery writers and cops.  You were remarkably sober, perhaps the most sober of all the participants.  Then you thought to defuse the conversation.  Your success was the successful paradigm of story.  You somehow managed to suggest to both sides of this conversation-turned-into-argument that each side was right.  If you recall the wording, "What is story, after all, but a setting where characters enter, each believing they are right."

There are remarkable persons in real life who say the right thing at the right time.  Witness Robert Kennedy, going into the black ghetto in Indianapolis to tell those individuals of the assassination of Dr. King.  There are persons who have the ability to say a thing so precise in its wrongness as to make that person legendary.

You know which type you would like to be, strive to be, are perhaps advancing toward being.  But it does not hurt from time to time to have an attorney or an editor remind you how to answer questions in a way that will not provoke discord.

Meanwhile, you have developed a comfortable approach to writing scenes where the characters may well be suspects in each other's eyes, each believing in the absolute rightness of his or her understanding, probity, and wit.

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