February 6, 2018
I saw a special on the Flying Wallendas. Acrobats, tightrope walkers. Trapeze artists. All family, at least in those days.
The interviewer asked two of the trapeze artists how they manage it-- especially husbands and wives-- when they were Teeth Gritting Angry with one another, yet one of them had to catch the other several times during the trapeze acts.
The Wallendas said, We Are Professionals. We leave all rancor outside the circus tent ...and especially away from the wire and the trapeze. Our lives depend on it. We must trust one another. Always.
In Moon River and Me, his autobiography, singer Andy Williams tells a very poignant story. He and his wife were to have dinner with Senator Robert F. Kennedy and HIS wife after the Senator made a statement for the press. RFK had just won the California and South Dakota primary elections for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. He was leaving the podium and going out the kitchen.
Williams was in his hotel room dressing for the dinner.
Kennedy was fatally shot while he and others were exiting through the hotel kitchen.
Williams heard sirens-- a LOT of sirens-- and opened his room door. Cooks and waiters were running toward him down the hall. Some were carrying whatever kitchen equipment they had had near them when the shots ran out. Pots... knives...
Williams said he knew right then that his friend was dead. He went back into the room and put on other clothes, his heart broken.
This is about trust.
I think what follows happened in the early 1970s. I was in college AND working 30 hours a week, and had little time for, or interest in, politics.
This was the era of violent protests and political assassinations. The news was full of turbulence and shocks. It was a time of conspiracy theories.
Sirhan Sirhan had been convicted of the 6-5-68 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. It was a death-penalty case. Important people wanted to see the exhibits from the trial, especially Sirhan's gun. There was some suspicion about there having been one more shot fired than that gun could hold, and Sirhan had had NO time to reload.
The County Clerk was responsible for caring for evidence in court trials.
My father was assistant chief-- the number-two man-- in the County Clerk's office.
His name was Bob. His boss-- the number one man-- was named Pete. They were good friends. Not hang-out-after-work friends, but friends.
The Sirhan exhibits were clearly very important, so Pete had them securely locked up in the Clerk's office vault. Only two people had a key to that vault. Bob and Pete.
Court exhibits can be really smelly. Dried blood, for example, is smelly. Bob and Pete had the only keys, so THEY had to dust and sweep the room and put out rodent poison and stuff like that.
Rodents really like marijuana. A lot of the exhibits contained marijuana. The rodents Bob and Pete saw were often so stoned that they had no fear of the two (big) guys. They'd stand next to a box of exhibits and stare the men down. Often blink in recognition. Los Angeles County is a biiiiig county, and has lots of biiiiig cases. The Clerk's vault had a lot of biiiig, fearless rodents.
(The things you learn from people who have unusual jobs!)
One day somebody important wanted to see the Sirhan exhibits. Especially the gun.
The exhibits were gone.
Of course Pete and Bob searched that room. Checked every evidence container.
They scoured the logs for anyone who had checked them out. No one had.
That was the day Pete and Bob stopped being friends.
Each knew HE hadn't taken or moved the exhibits. Or taken a big wad of money to make them go away. Only one of THEM could have done it.
The ensuing brouhaha was loud and awesome. My dad, Bob, couldn't sleep at night. Only a matter of time until he was roasting on a griddle. He had no influential friends in the County to protect him.
Neither did Pete.
The nightly news featured films of Bob and Pete, in turn, standing outside a room labeled “Evidence”, looking dazed and in shock... and explaining that the exhibits must be misplaced ...and that the search was on.
That evidence, especially if a conspiracy was discovered, was worth an enormous amount of money.
It seems like the period of suspicion lasted about two weeks. Every evidence room in every satellite office of the County Clerk's department was scoured for those boxes.
Every log read and re-read. Every page lab-tested for erasures.
Finally, someone suggested they search the huge warehouse where evidence got sent when it was pretty clear that all appeals had been exhausted, etc.
This being a death penalty case, that wouldn't happen until Sirhan was executed, or pardoned by the governor, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Days passed. LONNNNNG days.
The Sirhan evidence was in the warehouse. All of it. Correctly and clearly labeled. Right where it should have been put...if the case had been totally over.
Both men were 1000% positive THEY hadn't ordered the evidence moved.
But there it was.
Political careers were made for some of the people who had been screaming for the County Clerks' blood. Newsmen were promoted, and so on.
My dad, Bob, told me.... that the last time Pete and Bob talked to each other... beyond the barest minimum required by the job... it wasn't to say, “Thank goodness! We're exonerated!”
The last real conversation they had was like this:
“How could you POSSIBLY think that I would do such a thing?”
“Oh yeah? Well how could YOU possibly think I would do such a thing?”
So.... be careful not to break trust with people. Reassure them if need be. Avoid any appearance of shadiness or skullduggery.
Because trust? It's very, very hard to get it back.