The Fall Guy
Earlier this year I met “Ed” who had setup an interview for my friend “D” with a particular City of Phoenix official. Barrel chested, chisel cut and strong, especially for his sixty+ age, Ed was like no one I had ever met.

Conversation with Ed from parking meter to the upper floors of the City government building revolved almost entirely around his work in Hollywood as the stunt double for one, very famous actor.

Ed did not fail to remind me nor D how much of a favor he was doing for her by making this introduction. Anyone else, he explained, would wait weeks to gain the attention let alone a meeting of this particular person. Ed pointed to the security cameras, the guards, the locked doors–all of which we passed with relative ease due to the people he knows and the trust they have in him.

I took all of this in stride, intrigued by this strong bodied and strong willed man who was keen to make clear his position with or without solicitation. Even if a bit overwhelming, I enjoyed the hour for Ed was also complimentary, in a fatherly manner, when it came to his emphasis that D would succeed if she focused and continued to move her life in a chosen direction.

At the end of the interview, Ed escorted the two of us back to my car, a little more than two blocks North of the City building.

The Hang Man
In the interest of his time in Hollywood, I invited him to attend the public screening of this year’s first Almost Famous Film Festival event. He glanced at the license plate on my car and incorrectly assumed the event was held in Colorado, quick to state “I won’t go there.”

I asked, “To Colorado? Why?” thinking he had an outstanding speeding ticket or perhaps an ex-wife who would hunt him down if she so much as smelled him within a thousand mile of her home. I could see that, given a strong predilection for stating his opinion.

But instead, Ed replied, “It’s about upholding my ethics.” Ed paused to look at the tips of his fingers and chew a blade of something which had found its way to his mouth. He looked at the sky and then back to me and D. “Too many goddamn liberals in Colorada. I told myself I will never set foot in that State again, not as long as Colorada is overrun with them kinds of people.”

I didn’t know if I should laugh or turn and run, but I was pleased to have cut my hair a few years earlier. I silently hoped he hadn’t noticed the foreign origin of my car.

He took a deep breath, leaned against the back of his white Ford pickup truck, head back and eyes narrowed into a tight focus, elbow propped on the closed tailgate, “You know what I got in the back of this truck?”

Oh shit. In broad daylight I was noticeably nervous that he had something in the back of his truck I didn’t want to see. Neither I nor D responded, which was in retrospect the best possible reaction.

“A rope.” He paused again, for effect I am certain. “A rope for hang’n. You see, in the old days, I would’a used it for hanging just about anyone if they crossed me, if you know what I mean.”

Ed glanced at D who is of African ethnicity, and my amusement was fully replaced with a very uncomfortable feeling. I considered the implications of what he had said with a sense of horror and at the same time belief that his story likely carried a Hollywood flair, perhaps a slight confusion for the movies in which he had acted and his real life.

“But I learned a thing or two and I have changed my ways. I don’t think like that any more. But I’ll still use it, ’cause there are plenty of folk that still need a hang’n. If you do something wrong, and I catch ya, I’m gonna use it, understand?”

This was not exactly the sort of thing I was used to hearing on the streets of Phoenix. Then again, I could not think of a better place in which to receive a live, serious Eastwood monologue outside of Dodge.

“You see, I ain’t afraid to do what’s right, to stand my ground and fight for what I believe in. I ain’t gonna go to Colorado no more ’cause it lost its way. On the principal of who I am, and I gotta stand by my principals, I won’t go there.”

“And just the same, I’ll hang a man for crossing me or anyone I care about and protect. I care about her mother

[pointing to D] and I will protect both of them with my life.”

Neither D nor I knew exactly what to say. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and back again, looked at the top of my shoes and the backs of my hands as my fingers sought solace in just keeping busy.

I returned to the original subject saying, “Well, fortunately for you, the film festival is held here in Phoenix, if you remain interested. You are more than welcome to attend.”

He stated he just might do that, but maintained an out with “I am a busy man. We’ll see what I can do.”

We shook hands, said goodbye, and then D and I returned to the front seats of my car.

Building a Box
In that exchange, my mind was filled with momentary images of Hollywood westerns which both glorified and demonized hangings. I looked at this man, took a deep breath, and instead of arguing in an attempt to open his narrow view of the world–I placed him in a box.

The box I envisioned was not of my own fabrication, rather, of his design. Ed lived in a carefully constructed, thick walled box in which his world view was perfectly clear. He new his purpose, his rules of engagement, and the boundaries which encompassed those he cared for and protected, even if the means were … harsh.

It was at first difficult for me to not judge him, to keep from recoiling, throwing up my own defenses. But when I allowed myself to see this box within which he lived, it gave me the ability to instead see the practicality, even the value in the principals which he employed.

Ed has ethics. He has morals. He stands by them to the end. That understanding is what I chose to take with me as I departed from the otherwise obscure venture into yesteryear in downtown Phoenix, Arizona 2010.

Without a Box
Since this time, I have used the construction of a visual box in several occasions to help me react less and to respond more. These boxes are not my attempt to define people against my own insecurity nor for my personal safety, for we all live in boxes of various sizes, thicknesses, and opacity. Rather, it is a means of placing myself in their box with hope to see the world as they may see it. It is a simple, visual tool to help me, for if I lighten the burden of brick and mortar, discover a door, window, even a small ventilation shaft, I may improve my understanding and ultimately, our mutual communication.

Sometimes I see thick walls of concrete, stone, or brick. Sometimes I see wood, paper, or glass. But what has been the most challenging is when I meet someone whose box is wide open, the sides laid flat or the top removed. When I meet someone who lives seemingly without a box, I find that I recoil in fear from the realization that my own set of walls remain thick and impenetrable by comparison.

I remain afraid to let go of my own rules, my own reasons why I can or cannot engage. I too feel the safety of my box, and challenge those who appear to have none as readily as those who do, for if I find evidence of their boundaries, their apparent perfection will falter and I in comparison will not be so far from the truth.

To live life without a box is perhaps the greatest challenge of all, for it means moving through this world without self-declared affiliation to the left or right, Democratic or Republican parties, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu faiths. To remove the walls and corners is to simply say “I am …” and leave it at that. No further explanation is required when one chooses to trust that whomever stands before you will gain what they need to know about you by the very nature of your transparency.