My first car was a white 1964 Barracuda. I was pretty proud of it. I suppose having my own car at age 16 helped me develop a proper sense of responsibility and independence. Those things are important. But that's not where this story is going.
One night I was on a camp-out fishing trip with some friends. The Barracuda was parked at home, my parent's house that is, in front on the street. Meanwhile my brother was out cruising the "ave" which is Yakima Avenue, where the tradition back then was to drive up and down through the downtown area of Yakima, WA and socialize in an American Graffiti sort of way. That's illegal now. You can no longer drive to one end of the avenue and back without risking a ticket.
Back then my brother had an MG Midget, a tiny and fun to drive British sports car. His sidekick on this particular evening was a school chum named Anthony Pleasant. Maybe I should call him Tony so I don't have to reveal his real name. He might be innocent, I don't know. Anyway Anthony had a brother named Angelo Pleasant. They were the Pleasant boys. They seemed pleasant enough, just to get that over with.
My brother got into a race that night with some other idiot and before it was over he wound up with significant body damage to one side of the MG. When he came home around midnight, he parked in front of my Barracuda on the street, and went to bed despondent over the consequences of his reckless, no that's not the right word, I'll just say questionable driving performance.
About three o'clock in the morning, some heroin junkie came flying down our street in an old and rather massive station wagon. He nodded out at the wheel, crashing directly into my Barracuda. My poor car, somewhat less massive than his, launched forward into my brother's MG. The tiny sports car, being the final and least massive domino, was then propelled clear across the four-lane street, leaving my Barracuda with enough remaining momentum to travel across the neighbor's yard and collide lightly into their house. And what about the junkie's hunk of junk? It remained in front of mom and dad's place, with the horn stuck blaring, and the driver unconscious and bleeding, and the radiator pissing on the street.
My dad jumped out of bed of course, and tumbled out into the yard in his bathrobe in time to see the junkie wake up, and drive away in his crumpled station wagon. As it groaned and sputtered and continued leaving a trail of fluids down the street, dad called the cops. The Yakima cops.
The cops followed the path of anti-freeze, and blood, and car parts, and discovered the beastly station wagon and the bloody guy at his home a few blocks away. But they didn't arrest him. They didn't do anything to him. They told my dad that he denied involvement, denied he had been driving, and the cops insisted that there was nothing to be done about it. My brother eventually inquired further and was told off the record that the junkie was an informant in a major drug investigation, and that the cops didn't want to interrupt it at this stage of the game. Now I'm not saying that the cops in Yakima are the smartest cops in the world. And why would I? I'm not even trying to build a case for that. Because that's not where this story is going.
My brother and his cruising buddy Anthony Pleasant, I mean Tony, went to Davis High School. All my older siblings went there as well but I had decided to break tradition and go to Eisenhower across town. I said it was because I wanted to take Latin but there was much more to it than that. Being the youngest, I wanted to stop following in my sibling's footsteps. I was tired of teachers having what I perceived to be an "Oh boy another Snowder" attitude. Also at this time Yakima Valley was going through a lot of racial unrest like many places all across America. We lived on the more ethnically diverse side of town, in the Davis school district. My dad was the pastor of a small Baptist church with an ethnically diverse congregation. We Snowders were white kids and the Pleasants were black, which should tell you that we were more or less comfortable with diversity from the get go, even if we were indeed raised with some lingering old-school racist attitudes.
Yakima Avenue was a violent place at night in those days. It was often the white kids against the black kids out there and for a while kids of either hue didn't dare walk around except in large groups for safety, groups of a hundred or more sometimes. Looking back, older and wiser, all that mob group-think itself was just asking for trouble. The violence escalated repeatedly. Summer after hot summer there were riots. The cops showed up in riot gear and thumped heads, literally, with their sticks. I saw Lee Lemon get whooped good and of course he claimed brutality, but then Lee had a pocket full of rocks and the cop who beat him had a nasty welt over his eye. I remember Lee had drawn a large peace symbol on the back of his green army jacket with a permanent marker, which I find somewhat ironic.
To be clear this wasn't about protesting the war in Viet Nam or anything meaningful like that. The teens were hanging out downtown and drinking, and smoking pot, and dropping acid. It naturally led to increased vandalism and worse, racially motivated violence. The whites ganged up on the west end of the ave and the blacks were across the tracks to the east. The cops were mostly operating from in between.
Let me say this to any teenagers out there who are surprised and outraged that the cops treated them wrongly or perhaps even beat them up. It's okay to be outraged. It's good to be outraged. You should be outraged and I'm glad you are because it is wrong for cops to beat kids. But you are no longer allowed to be surprised. Now you know how it is with cops and rebel youth. It was the same back then.
Yakima wasn't as bad as Watts, but it was pretty scary. I saw a car turned over and set on fire. Windows were broken and boarded up. Race riots are horrible. I don't recommend them. Racism is horrible. But that's not where this story is going.
At Davis high school my brother had a teacher who had been married to another teacher, they had been husband and wife teachers. I don't remember their names. I could probably do some research and find out the names but that sounds like a lot of work. It was in the paper. Ok I'll google it up. Glynn Moore and Dee Ann Brock. There, happy? The important thing is, ex-wife teacher started dating a third teacher to whom she had also once been married, Morris Blankenbaker. But new husband teacher didn't like that. He wanted divorced wife teacher back, so he decided he needed to do something to scare interloper teacher away from ex-wife teacher. There were too many teachers to keep it all straight. And this is where Anthony and Angelo come in. Husband teacher convinced the Pleasant boys that one of them should shoot the other man in the arm with a small pistol, to give him a good scare. The details are sketchy, offered them 500 bucks or something, maybe it was just a favor.
Did I say Yakima had the smartest teachers in the world? I didn't? Good.
Angelo went down to Sunnyside, which is on the south end of Yakima Valley, where it is indeed rather sunny. The Pleasants had a cousin, a lovely and trusting woman, who loaned him her .22 caliber handgun. Angelo drove back to Yak and paid a visit to teacher number three. Now then. Unlike the movies, real life isn't nearly as well scripted. Bullets don't always go where the shooter wants them to go. Real life has chaos. A shooter's aim has a wide range of uncertainty, especially with unpracticed kids. Angelo missed. Missed the arm that is. The itty bitty bullet went straight through cheater teacher's head, dropping him dead on the spot. Angelo freaked out and shot him a couple more times. That was Angelo's initial story anyway, he changed it more than once. Bottom line, the teacher lay dead in a parking lot outside of a bar and the shooter ran away. For now let's get back to the surviving faculty.
As bad as Angelo was freaking out, the husband teacher was really freaking out because the cops came straight to him. And why wouldn't they? No cop is so stupid as to fail to question number one and number two in a dead ended three-way. After a few interviews, and searches, and threats from the cops, the husband met again with Angelo. He said "Angelo, they're closing in on me. They know I have an alibi myself but they are sure I have something to do with it. We need to throw them off the trail. I need you to shoot me in the arm so they think some fourth teacher or something is after both of us."
Crazy right? Yeah, just wait. Angelo didn't like this development at all. Maybe he's having second thoughts about the relative value of 500 smackers and suddenly that job at the burger joint isn't looking too bad. So he refuses and says he's had enough of this. "You're on your own from here on Teach." But husband teacher is desperate. He says that if Angelo doesn't do it, he'll tell the cops everything, and Angelo will go down for murder. Angelo drew the revolver.
This time Angelo's aim was much better. He shot the teacher in the shoulder. But here's the other thing about real life. It's weirder than most fiction. For example, there is a saying that a .38 is more likely to kill you than a .45 because with a .45 you get shot and you go down. They take you to the hospital and maybe you live, maybe you die. But with a .38 you stand there stunned and they shoot you again, and you die. That's what they say anyway. I wouldn't want to test it. But that's another matter entirely because this was a wimpy puny teeny weeny little .22 caliber pea shooter, a mere toy right? Well, no. That tiny low mass bullet, with a minimum of muzzle velocity, didn't blast a hole right through the teacher's arm or anything close to that. And it didn't lodge painfully in the muscle either. It hit the shoulder bone and ricocheted off at sharp angle. It turned the corner and navigated its way straight through the guy's heart, dropping teacher number two dead on the spot.
How bad was Angelo freaking out now? He had two killings to answer for. He had $500 in one pocket and the weapon that the cops were looking for in the other. I don’t think Angelo was very smart. He probably wasn't even smart enough to be a cop. At best he would have made sergeant in Yakima. But for the moment he had the Yakicops as confused as hell. Just when they thought they had the crime mostly figured out, it became more complicated. Someone must be out there randomly killing teachers, oooor, maybe the wife teacher had more than two lovers, who knows. She was pretty popular. This required a new theory. Off to the donut shop. Yakima actually has a place the cops hang out called "The Donut Shop."
Angelo and Anthony and a third genius named Larry Lavato hiked out Fruitvale Boulevard all the way to Nelson's Bridge on the Naches River. There is a check dam spanning the river next to the bridge. I don't know exactly what that means "check" dam, but that's what they call it. It's a wall of concrete, underneath the water. But the river runs right over the top of the wall making a deep area behind it upriver, and a short span of rapids below. Just a couple of summers before this my brother and Donald O'Conner (not the actor) went over that dam in a canoe that they stole from the Eschbach Park boat rental place about a mile up river. The water pushed them down hard and my brother broke his leg on a big rock. He was in a cast and on crutches all the rest of that summer.
Anyway, there was no one around so Angelo heaved the deadly .22 pistol out into the river just below the dam into the rapids, and it sunk beneath the waves.
Months went by. Life goes on. Wife teacher was terrified that someone out there might shoot her next. The cops didn't know what to think. As for myself, I got an evening job at a hop warehouse to save up money for a new car. I eventually bought a 1953 Ford panel truck for $500. The guy had another one just like it that didn't run. I wanted to buy it too, for parts, but I didn't have the extra dough yet and while I saved up, some ass-hat stole that spare-part truck. The guy's neighbor said someone in an identical panel truck came and towed it away in the night. The cops assumed I stole it because I had a matching 53 panel. They couldn't imagine that Ford made three.
It wasn't me, which should have been obvious since I didn't have it or any place to hide it. Besides the guy only wanted $100. Who would buy one that runs for 500, sign the papers, and then use it to steal the dead 100 dollar one from the same guy? The cops came to my work and insisted that I took it and wanted me to confess and tell them where I was hiding it. I told them they were idiots, which is the standard teenager language when talking to the cops. I said "You'll never find it because you are so damn sure I have it. I didn't take it and I don't have it. But if you do find it I still want to buy it so could you please give me a call? Because my transmission needs a part." I wound up ordering the part from a catalog, but now to get back to where this story was going.
Here's another thing about real life. It's a weird damn deal again and again. The water by Nelson's Bridge is fairly deep, but in the middle of the river below the dam, just under the water where you can't see it, is a huge boulder. The gun landed right on that boulder. It lay there only a couple of feet under the water on the same rock that broke my brother's leg.
The gun remained invisible for some time. But in the dry season the water level drops down so that the top of the boulder just barely peeks out above the foam. Along comes a nine year old boy. I don't know if his name was ever printed in the paper, The Herald of the Republic of Yakistan. So I'll call him Johnny, the standard cliché. Little Johnny was going fishing where his father had taken him many times before, by Nelson's bridge. He saw the sunshine's spectral highlight on something made of metal out in the middle of the river. Wading a little closer, he realized it was a gun!
A gun? Oh Holy Grail of nine year old summer vacations. Johnny managed to swim out to Destiny Rock, and retrieve Angelo Pleasant's, Sunnyside cousin's, .22 caliber, murderous little sidearm. Naturally he took it home straight away, and hid it in his sock drawer. More months went by.
One day Johnny's mommy found a gun in his sock drawer. When Johnny's daddy got home the family had a perfect opportunity for parental instruction and correction. "You see Johnny, when you find a gun laying on a rock in the middle of the Naches River, you don't hide it in a sock drawer. You take it to the cops." I like Johnny's parents. They would have been a good teachers. So then dad drives Johnny and the gun down to the YPD cop shop and has Johnny plop the infamous piece on the desk and tell his story.
Now they had it at last. The ballistics all checked out. This was it, Teacher's Bane. And turns out it was registered. A lot of people voluntarily register their guns. I always have, in case of theft. This one was registered to some woman in Sunnyside. Let's pay her a little visit shall we? "Hi, we're from Yakima, and we were just wondering, um, do you own a .22 caliber hand gun?" "Why yes officer, yes I do. But it's not here. I'm sorry I can't show it to you because I loaned that thing to my cousin Angelo and the sonuvabitch never did bring it back."
That was a long time ago, the 1970's, and Angelo never got out of the slammer. I don't know what the typical sentence is for a double teacher killin' but he's currently serving the first of two lifetimes. Now days he operates sewing machines at the State Prison in Monroe, sewing pockets on fleece outerwear for Redwood Outdoors, an independent Washington contractor. That's sounds like it might be some weird experimental form of slavery, not sure.
Anthony was charged as an accomplice, as was the third wheel, Larry Lovato. The charges against those two kids were eventually dropped. My 1953 panel truck, aka The Whale, lost a competition with a rock wall one day while driving through the Ellensburg Canyon. My brother became a cop. But here's the moral of the story. Don't ever, under any circumstances, assume that your cousin won't rat you out.