File photo of the Bomb Squad.
I was reading the paper one morning in our breakfast room, a round, domed curious feature of our 1929 Spanish-style house. This room, with its five windows, catches the morning sun and is lovely for reading the paper while eating breakfast. I happened to glance out at our front courtyard and noticed something odd sitting in the center: a battered brown paper bag with something inside it.
How strange, I thought. Had I dropped a grocery bag on my way in from the store the day before?
I went out to look. I didn't pick it up. Something warned me to be careful. The bag was obviously recycled, its top bent inward, so I couldn't see what was inside. I remembered airport warnings about unattended bags. So, feeling a bit alarmed, I used my toe to spread open the top of the bag to see what was inside. It looked like an old-fashioned doctor's valise, but made of cheap, somewhat worn imitation black leather. I stepped back, alarm bells ringing in my head.
You have to understand. We live in Los Angeles, paranoia central. To add to this, my husband writes for several political news outlets. Politics is a fairly incendiary topic. Understandably, whether it's from the left or right, he's gotten his share of hate mail over the years -- varying from insults to veiled death threats. He never takes these seriously, although I've worried about several of the more scary ones. He even had one framed and hung it on his office wall: "Boyarsky," it said. "You have shit for brains." He thought it was hilarious. I wasn't so sure.
A more recent message really did scare me. It was from someone who seemed to have known us in our youth. It mentioned his father's car, in which we'd gone on dates many years ago, and a lovers lane in our old home town, where some people-- but not us--used to park at night. This particular message ended with a hope that throngs of people would gather around our car, set it on fire and listen with satisfaction to our screams as the car went up in flames.
OK. Back to me and the mysterious package in our courtyard. My husband was out playing tennis, and I was alone in the house, completely stumped about what action to take.
After some thought, I called the LAPD police department's non-emergency line. I described the package and asked what to do. There was a hesitation on the part of the non-emergency operator. Finally, she passed me on to 911 emergency. A male voice came on and told me, "We'll be there as soon as we can. Please exit your house, preferably by a back door, and come out to the sidewalk."
There is a police station close to our house, and it was only a minute or two before I heard sirens approaching.
The cops asked me to walk to the far corner of our block and wait. I watched as police officers knocked on the door of my neighbors, evacuating the entire block. We stood crowded at the end of the block, waiting for the bomb squad.
There must be a lot of bomb threats in L.A. because it was two hours before the bomb squad arrived. Meanwhile, my husband had returned and was waiting --with all our neighbors-- to get home. Since we were the owners of the house and possibly targeted with a bomb, one of cops asked if we'd received any threats.
My husband admitted, somewhat modestly, that, yes, he wrote political columns for several websites. People of opposing views sometimes took exception to what he wrote. And, yes, sometimes he received threats. But, he insisted, they weren't serious. These people were just venting. He didn't mention the guy who'd fantasized about watching us burn alive in his father's car. But it was certainly on my mind.
Finally, after another long wait, a member of bomb squad walked to our end of the block and asked if we knew someone named (I'll spare her the embarrassment of actually naming her here). Sure enough, she was someone I knew from the Botanical Artists' Guild. Instead of a bomb, the package contained photo images of flower paintings.
I was completely humiliated, even though none of my neighbors seemed to hold it against me. To them, perhaps, it had been an adventure. I don't know. I turned the bag of art over to a friend who was still active in the guild (which I no longer was, that chapter of my life having closed). And I suppose it eventually ended up where it belonged.
I never did figure out why the woman chose to leave the package in the middle of our courtyard without calling first, or why she put her note of explanation at the very bottom of the bag. I guess some people (like me) have a more highly developed sense of danger than others (like her).