Monster Behind The Masks

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Chapter 2


As evening settled, I trekked back to my modest apartment. Maybe if rent wasn’t daylight robbery I could afford a house—or I could marry some rich gentleman. There must be swarms of wealthy suitors in Sausalito. I should join a Singles-over-Sixty meetup and hunt down my Mr. Moneybags to lift that financial weight from my shoulders.

I strolled through The San Francisco Bay Model, picturing my Dad working here in 1942 — back when it was a military shipbuilding warehouse. I’m so proud of him, climbing the ladder of Marinship from the assembly line to CEO. Without such wages, my parents could never have bought their house perched on the steeply sloping Sausalito hillside.

I stood at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers structure thinking of my parents. As a little girl in the late 50’s, both Mom and Dad came home in their Bechtel uniforms, joking how Daddy didn’t have to go off to fight because he helped the war effort at home.

I’ll always remember the excitement ebbing from him as he told us about building the ships. His face glowed. His words were punctuated with enthusiasm. Even his gestures implied great fascination, as if he molded a cloud, adding the contours and colors with a face lit with wonder. Beyond the patio and rocks, were boats and the golden rolling hills.

“You have a far-away look in your eyes. Have you just seen a ghost?” I turned towards a male voice and was hit with the sexiest eyes I’ve ever seen, a striking emerald set deep in a smooth chocolate face.

“I guess you can say that . . . I always feel my father’s spirit here.” My voice trembled a smidge talking to this handsome stranger, whom I was disheartened to see was at least thirty years younger than me. No chance of him swooping me off my feet. He threw a curious look my way, so I elaborated. “My Dad worked here—of course, most of the shipyard he worked in is now long gone.”

My eyes wandered along the grounds and returned to the young black man in a work uniform. I snatched a glance at his name tag. “So, Marc . . . I’m Julie. What do you do for the Bay Model?”

A foghorn emitted a low moan in the distance. “I am a volunteer tour guide for kids on school field trips. How about yourself?” He peeked at my boobs, stuffed into a Wonderbra, creating the illusion of perky cleavage belonging to a younger lady.

“My office is just down the street. I work for a non-profit, the Historical Society preserving our heritage, including the Marinship Exhibit here. Do you take the kids through that display?” Nervousness tightened my throat, words escaped my lips shaky and strained. Was I trying to impress him?

“No, most teachers want us to focus on the environment, and it takes a while for the children to walk through our scale model. No time left to waste on rusty warships. We want to preserve the bay and delta, and teach them the effects of pollution on the watershed. I have a degree in Geological Science, so I love to talk about ecology and natural history with kids.”

Rusty warships. How dare he? “But what about preserving our history of defense of our country?” I asked, perhaps a little too forcefully.

Marc rolled his sparkling green eyes while shaking his head. That simple gesture spoke volumes. Before words spouted from his mouth, it was clear he didn’t share my feelings. “My generation grew up on dark money spent by a faceless few—it’s not about defense now, and some unsustainable history I’d rather forget.”

Oh no, not him too! What’s the world coming to? Rational and otherwise sane individuals so anti-military. My father must be rolling in his grave.

With my fists clenched, my voice rose several octaves. I stamped seriousness into each and every word. “Back then, our leaders put our parents to work during the great depression, defeated fascism, and built a middle class on the G.I. Bill,” I informed him firmly.

I was not going to let this young progressive buck crush my parent’s livelihood.

Marc’s eyes and mouth opened wide, his eyebrows reaching for his hairline. “Back then . . . we had a decadent star-spangled propagandist cartoon character named ‘Captain America’ blurring the lines between fiction and reality. We never defeated fascism— rather American-flavored fascism is alive today with the same war propaganda as narrative. And the GI Bill? It is nothing but an oppressive carrot dangling to entice youth into war. I’m happy it left out many blacks,” he declared.

“Are you calling Hitler fiction or a cartoon character?” Heat bloomed in my face, I could feel it. My heartbeat quickened, a pulse tapping my eardrums.

“No . . . my great grandfather who lived in Austria during WWII left plenty of commentaries behind, verifying Hitler was real. A real monster. He was a military man who thought he was doing the right thing. Like our own totalitarian leaders today, the people voted Hitler in. I am speaking of blind apathy—we have our own history of killing and marching people into oppression.” He explained, tone unwavering, retaining his cool. Unlike myself, ready to explode at any minute.

“But he had to be stopped. Don’t you—”

We have to be stopped, for our own goodwill! Imagine investing in things like education so we have free college tuition like other nations? My generation is swimming in a mountain of student debt. And too many of my friends, men, and women, went off to Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not something I glorify.”

I fought for the spotlight, but this was one stubborn SOB who wanted center stage. His eyes wandered the surroundings, avoiding my gaze, darting around. Perhaps he was ready to lose his cool but simply hid it well, afraid that locking sight with me would tear at the fabrics of his composure?

“Well, we can’t just let genocides happen with extremist regimes ruling society,” I said. The people whose opinions differed greatly from my own seemed to increase at an alarming rate. Caryssa, Anna, and half my crafts class.

Half the world ...

“That’s what our blind apathy is enabling us to do. Do you think Andrew Jackson, Abe Lincoln, Harry Truman or even JFK were not responsible for horrific genocides of our own youth? Our own historic tyrants sending kids off to die. We need to stop using Hitler as the gold standard of all evil. War is for profit—was then and is now.”

Better not mention my family was once part of the ‘money class’ that profited from the good war. ‘The faceless few.’ I was about to shuffle away from this uncomfortable conflict when Marc spoke softly.

“Where do you call home, Julie?”

“Here . . . I grew up in Sausalito and have never left. For over twenty years I had my own rented space within my parent’s beautiful home I grew up in— but my mother and I were forced to sell it last year at a loss after my Dad died. The house hadn’t been renovated and needed work.” I replied.

His eyes met mine, suddenly full of compassion.

“I’m sorry.” His face sagged with empathy.

I wasn’t sure if he meant the loss of my Dad or my home. “Thanks. He was nearly ninety-four, so he lived a good life.”

Silence stole the next minute or so. The tables had turned as it appeared Marc wanted to physically and metaphorically checkout of this conversation. But something in those captivating ivy eyes drew me in with no less thrall than the call of a sea siren. Despite this strange political debate with a stranger that had been rife with awkward disagreement, I trusted him. The cogs of realization were turning.

“How about you Marc, where do you call home?”

“I also live where I grew up— it’s hard to leave family behind. I just bought a condo unit in Marin City, worked three jobs to save for it.” His gaze settled comfortably on mine.

“So . . . this job, and you have two others?”

“Oh, this . . . This is a volunteer gig, I volunteer to help kids. I am also a Big Brother. My paying jobs are in my field. After graduating from Stanford, I got a job in the city as an Environmental Consultant. I—”

You graduated from Stanford?" I felt jeoulous or even somehow pissed.

“Ah...yeah, guess you Sausalito hill people have a hard time thinking of us ghetto-down-the-street black folk as being Stanford material, hey?” He sighed and twisted his head. A look landed on his face, speaking louder than any words he could utter. That look wasn’t subtle; I nearly heard his thought: typical white supremacist.

“No, no . . . sorry to imply that.” I searched for words, stumbling through a sentence. My heart once again danced to a faster rhythm, this time from embarrassment. “I got rejected by Stanford and realize how bright you must be,” I shoved out, eager to justify myself, which seemed ludicrous. I hadn’t meant it offensively. He offered me nothing more than a slight nod and a crumpled-lip smile, continuing to speak volumes without uttering words.

As I traveled the last stretch from the Bay Model to my shoebox of an apartment, I realized I was wrong about the millennial generation. It was I who felt a sense of entitlement. Could I also have been manipulated by the throngs of media about our militarized society?

A beeping cell phone welcomed me as I entered my apartment. I immediately prodded the play button. A jittery voice echoed, soaked in anxiety. I know that voice. My brother. I froze.

Jules, this is Jackson. I am sitting in the back of a police car, they’ve arrested me for taking pictures in the Times Square subway station. Cops are claiming it’s illegal to take pictures here for commercial use. Even mentioned I may be a terror threat! Oh shit, can’t talk anymore—”

The voicemail stopped. Dread chomped on my stilled heart. What if they took my sweet-natured brother to jail? I had flashbacks of him as a little boy, trying to “save” all the critters he snapped shots of. My little bro was one of the gentlest, kindest men I know—and was prone to panic attacks. That nugget of knowledge filled me with an insatiable urge to help him. I could survive a night in a dingy little cell. He’d choke on fear, wracked with fright over his uncertain future and possible criminal prosecution.

My neighbor’s Basset Hound, a little bundle of attitude, had howled relentlessly since I approached the neighborhood. The never-ending barks drowned out my wind chimes, fraying my nerves even more.

An attempted callback to Jackson fell instantly into his voicemail. Shit! I palmed my forehead in frustration. I needed answers to a sudden barrage of questions streaming into my consciousness. I left a message in the vain hope he’d hear it.

“Jack, its Jules. What the—why the fuck would they bother to arrest you? Please call me if you can, love you.” I held back angst as much as possible but feared it was stapled into every word.

My brother’s family hadn’t used a landline for years, and his wife Amy and I had never emotionally connected, so I had no cell phone number for her. How else could I - Facebook. I sent her a private message.

‘Amy, have you heard from my brother? He left me a message about being arrested at the subway station for taking photos! Call me please.’ I typed in my cell phone number.

While retrieving pots and pans to whip up dinner, I remembered my cell had rung while at the Bay Model but I was so mesmerized talking to the sexy, green-eyed dude I ignored it. A pang of guilt quaked through me, as I realized it was my little brother seeking emotional support.

When we were kids, we called him “Action Jackson.” As a young boy, he never stopped moving between sports, catching frogs or taking snapshots of everything in his path with his Kodak Instamatic. By age seven, he’d returned from adventures with instant snapshots of turtles, snakes, squirrels, and even raccoon poop. Nobody could perfect a lens focus of the feces like Jackson. My mom often hauled him into the hospital to check for ringworm, afraid of what he may have been in contact with during those Kodak moments.

Since relocating to New York City for his job, I barely see him. An Art Director for a railroad magazine, they transferred him to cover the on-again, off-again high-speed rail project. Between his demanding job, juggling family time and nonstop sports with his kids, Action Jackson is still on the move, not hindered by age or a laundry list of responsibility.

After the fancy finger foods and tea at Anna’s and worrying about my brother, my appetite vanished. Maybe I can salvage these overcooked mushy noodles by sautéing them with olive oil and garlic tomorrow? Hunger was the last thing on my mind.

Nausea settled in my stomach as I thought about my little brother who would save rabid raccoons as a boy and now wants to save people from being tragically killed due to USA’s crumbling infrastructure. There is no way he belongs in a jail cell. That would be a complete perversion of justice.

I googled the law as it pertains to taking photographs in the Big Apple subways, and found it was permitted but may be questioned when using professional equipment. I stumbled upon several links concerning totally innocent people being cuffed, with cops and MTA workers invalidly claiming all picture taking in subways was illegal.

This concerned me. I tried to contact a couple of my attorney friends on behalf of my brother. I didn’t get far.

My cell rang, I partly hoped it was an attorney returning a call. I swiped it to answer. “Amy!”

“Hi, Julie. Yes, Jack called but the communication was clipped.” My niece Hayley cried in the background. “He’s being detained at the station as a suspected terrorist. Can you believe it? My sweet husband being treated like a suspicious criminal! His crime? Taking pictures of Manhattan’s dilapidated subway to advocate funds for an upgrade.” Her voice cracked with emotion, choking down sobs.

I stayed calm for Amy’s sake but inwardly trembled. “Did . . . did he have his tripod or lights with him for this photo shoot or—”

“No! I mean no he…he did not have all his equipment with him, not to mention he had a press pass to get an angle for a piece about stopping derailing tragedies. God, this royally sucks!” My nephew Hans shouted, “my daddy’s a hero, not a terrorist!”

“What’s up with the cops back east? Are they freaking republicans who hate trains?” Amy seemed to appreciate my political satire and laughed, breaking the tension. “And Jackson should know what the law is about taking pictures in a sub—”

“He does know the law about photography in subway stations, including that it’s not against the law! The NYPD has been overly edgy ever since 9/11 and subsequent terror threats following, systematically harassing artist and photographers. It’s hogwash.” The kids sang in the background escaping the reality of injustice to their Dad.

“For Christ sakes, that was at least sixteen years ago, they need to let go already and stop bullying innocent civilians.” I gritted my teeth in anger, realizing the absurdity of the situation.

Amy lowered her voice for the kid’s sakes, as she practically whispered “Seriously, they treated him like a street creep. He’s a productive citizen out doing a damn photo shoot for his company!”

“Street creep? Nope, not my bro.” He is an amazingly talented photojournalist with his work recognized globally. I silently remembered how he’d simply post photos to his blog and they spread like wildfire. The little boy that saved vicious dogs from being put down could not have grown up to become a terrorist. Could he? No. I shrugged off that ridiculous morsel of doubt.

I glanced at my wall clock. It was almost ten-thirty at night on the east coast. “Well, it’s getting late so I’ll let you go, but please call me if you hear from Jack.”

“I’ve tried calling him three times, and he doesn’t pick up. Which can’t be a good sign. Needless to say, none of us will get much sleep tonight.” Amy’s voice warbled with nerves.

“Well . . . you did call directly into the station, right?” Amy was somewhat flaky in my opinion, but I couldn’t imagine her not checking in with law enforcement for their version. Surely, this would be common sense? Call the authorities.



I currently despised silence. Before receiving that voicemail, I adored silence. It allowed me to listen to the far-off music of nature, soak up the present moment. Now the silence was my enemy. When questions and unsettled situations tugged me every which way, the last thing I wanted was soundlessness.

“You know, I didn’t even think of that since Jack specifically said they were detaining him at the station. What else could they say? Besides, I’d just end up telling them to fuck off.” I sensed anger, understandable.

Something clicked inside me, with three people within three hours of hinting at our growing police state. Yet, I tried to cloak myself in calm. “Jack will get through this, people get arrested every day. Give Hayley and Hans a hug and kiss from Auntie Jules, and let’s talk tomorrow.” I ended the call with sadness rolling down my cheeks, dampening my face in salty tears.

To balance my nerves, I glanced around my studio apartment with gratitude. The original listing description had never exaggerated. It offered raised hardwood floor. Brightness poured inside, giving an open airy feel. Let’s not forget the built-ins. What it lacked for in size, it made up for in character.

Upon moving in last year, I spent hours with funky arrangements stacking my books, adding large pieces like statues, pottery, and plants. When Anna and Caryssa came over, they mentioned they loved my eclectic collections and how it resembled a mini-library, but with classic décor that kept it from feeling like a workhorse study.

Of course, this didn’t stop Caryssa from opening my books with notepad in hand, scribbling down metaphors and moral messages she claimed matched her writing. She had lifted my coffee-table book about the San Francisco Bay housing market and announced: “see, says here the tech industry that made the Bay Area rich, is inching out the middle class!”

I couldn’t understand how with her former Silicon Valley fat paycheck and her big house in the hills, this could be a concern. That woman drives me nuts.

Although I gotta admit, paying $3,000 a month to live in a sophisticated shoebox in Sausalito is not helping me save for a house. She may have a point. I grew up in a house in Sausalito Hills people would die to live in today, and can barely afford to live in my studio apartment.

While letting steam and hot water wash over me in the shower, massaging my tense muscles, I thought about what Anna said about our cities dredging up Nazi Gestapo-like cops. How Caryssa links our tech-crazed crime fighting R2-D2 robots—looking straight out of a sci-fi movie to our perpetual war economy.

There’s even rediculous talk of a “Space Force.”

They just might be right. Star Wars has come to America. And we couldn’t rely on Obi-Wan.

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