Kirk Ke Wang
Ever since Buccaneer won the NFL Championship, Tampa Bay, a midsized metropolitan region on the west coast of Florida, has brought the attention of the nation. The Buccaneer has set the record that for the first time in history a football team is playing the Super Bowl at its home stadium.
But a few nights ago, at the same place, my wife and I saw an image of terror that I have to document in a painting.
Here is the story. No, it’s not a story if we define a story as a fiction. It’s a recording of what happened.
Years ago, we found this equestrian community to live for its quietness, freedom and open space, after being fed up with the HOA citations of code violation in a gated subdivision. Here no one cares if you park a RV, a boat or a trailer loaded with sculptures in front of your yard, which is perfect for creative individuals like us.
Being the only Asian American couple with no young children, we have less chance to socialize with our neighbors. It’s fine to us, so we have less obligations and more leisureliness for reading, gardening and making art.
For years, we enjoyed the distant friendship with our neighbors. Occasionally we waved each other across the lawns without the effort to make a sound or facial expression, as no one would hear or see each other afar. Sometimes we greeted with the generic “Hello”, “How are you doing?” and “Good night”, when we shouldered by during the evening walks.
Things have been changed a bit when the tension built up for the 2020 presidential elections. Political signs and flags mushroomed in front of our lawns, about 60% of which were for Trump and 40% for Biden. But the majority of neighbors kept no-shows.
In my view, putting up political signs in a closed community had no effect on the election, as most people had already made up their minds. It only signified the identities of friends or foes among the neighbors.
After putting up the For-Biden sign, we received many yelling and shouting from the Trumpers. I am sure our house was blacklisted, because less than half of the golf carts with kids showed up in front of our driveway last Halloween, compared to a year before.
But that’s OK. We were still enjoying our night walks around the neighborhood. We had a routine route around a few streets nearby. Sometimes I walked by myself, sometimes with my wife.
I found walking in the late evening meditative, that helped me relax and contemplate thoughts. It’s my ritual of self-awareness. Plus, no people were still on the streets by that hour, unless occasionally a few late-night dog walkers. I assume my neighbors who lived long enough here have already gotten used to our late-night walks.
A few nights ago, my wife and I did our routine again around 9:30pm. It was dark and there was not a soul on the streets.
After our usual round, my wife suggested an additional walk, to make up the missed YouFit trip yesterday. We turned to a side street ended at a cul-de-sac. It’s also our routine when we need an extra walk.
Two houses down the road, we saw the lights were brightly lit over the driveway of a green house, where a large boat was often parked.
I noticed that house before, not because it had signs indicating Trumpers live there, but also because one night in November, after I walked alone passing the house, a black pickup truck followed me around.
I told it to my wife, so we walked on the other side of the road when we passed the house, with our eyes looking straight forward.
From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed several colorful sports cars parking in two garages. Outside next to the boat, a man was on the phone leaning against a black pickup truck. I recognized the same truck that followed me the other night. The quietness of the night made the phone conversation auditable across the road. A passionate woman’s voice was on the other end.
We continued our walk towards the cul-de-sac, and then we turned around.
In distance, a white jeep emerged on the driveway of the green house. It seemed that the jeep’s engine was on while the headlights were off. When we were getting closer, it moved forward a bit.
To wish there’s no ill intent, I was hoping that the jeep would not turn to our direction, because we were returning from a dead cul-de-sac and there was no reason to go there by this hour.
I was wrong.
Once we walked about 50 yards from the driveway, the headlights of the jeep were switched on and it turned towards us and roamed loudly passing by.
It apparently meant a provocation!
We jumped on the roadside turf, pretending to ignore the jeep and its driver. The bright headlights blinded our sight. Neither the person in the jeep nor us greeted each other, except the sound of the roaring engine and our pumping hearts.
In the distance, we heard the jeep turn around. At this time, we were already about 100 yards away from the green house. I was hoping the jeep would return to its driveway behind us.
I was wrong again.
Without looking back, I could sense the rays of the jeep’s headlights passed the house, the driveway and the large boat parked on it, eventually casted long shadows in front of us.
I thought of the images of the fright antelopes hunted by lions that are frequently posted on TikTok. I told my wife to keep walking and get away from the green house as fast as possible.
The lights and the sound of the engine slowed down slightly behind us, as if the lion was stalking and creeping on a prey.
An animal instinct, I sensed the danger!
An animal instinct, I kept telling myself to be calm to show the confidence that I could protect my wife, and to signal the predator that I was not afraid.
An animal instinct, I need to fight back!
A scene from the God Father flashed in. When the young Michael Corleone discovered there was no one there in the hospital to protect his father, he stood on the stairs of the entrance and put his hand in his pocket under his coat as if he had a gun inside, which scared away the gangsters driving by.
When the light from the jeep hit my legs, I slowly bent my right arm to the backside of my belt under my jacket, as if I was reaching for something.
I made the action quite visible, and I knew the driver in the jeep was monitoring my every move. The jeep swerved a little to the left side of the road.
In confidence, I turned my head towards the jeep and raised my iPhone with my left hand aiming towards it.
The jeep slowed more. When it slithered by my shoulder, I saw it was painted in all-white with open doors. A man was driving the jeep. The dim light vaguely shaped a dark silhouette of a silent and motionless being, like a ghost sailing a white ship in a stagnant river.
On the driver’s seat, a huge white dog (a German shepherd?) was sticking his huge head out of the door. It’s an all-white fierce beast. It didn’t bark, just quietly staring at us with its mouth wide open, waiting for the command of its master. Against the dark background its huge teeth seemed sharper, gleaming in cold light.
Now I wished I was holding a real Smith-Wesson Shield…
The white jeep passed by us and whizzed away silently.
We kept walking steadily towards our house which now was only about 300 yards away.
The jeep looped back behind us and sidled in the dark in the distance, until we stepped on the driveway of our own house.
My right hand was still in the same gesture sweating all the way.
The first thing I did when we got home was to check the video that I took during the incident. To my great disappointment, in panic, I didn’t press the button for recording. Rather I pressed the record button when I was stopping the recording.
I was frightened. I am glad that the man in the white jeep didn’t spot out my weakness.
But the wrongly recorded video registered the time of this intimidation: 10:25pm, Friday, 1-22-2021.
This happened in 2021, not in 1861, not in 1882, not in 1968.
This happened in a place two streets from my house, not on the street of Minneapolis, not in an apartment complex on the south side of Louisville, and not on a residential pathway in Sanford Florida.
This happened to someone who shared the same residence for many years, not a stranger in a wrong place at a wrong time.
This has happened to someone who has served as an American for decades, as a college professor, a governmental officer, and a volunteer for public/community services.
This has happened to someone who has many creative ideas, plans and dreams for the future.
If things got off hand, it could be all ended on Friday, 1-22-2021!
Sometimes it is unfathomable to think it actually happened. Who would have thought it’s real that the lives of the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of America were in danger just a month ago?
Two years ago, when I told the story that I was forced into a police car at a rest stop in South Dakota, one of my colleagues expressed disbelief and commented that “It’s too wild to be true. Who knows, and it could be just made up”.
The next morning, we drove back to the green house. The big boat, the black truck and the white jeep vanished under the daylight. It returned to an image of a quiet neighborhood again. It’s so surreal like the Japanese anime Spirited Away by Miyazaki. The devils only become alive when the darkness falls.
Being an artist, a better way for me to release the anxiety and repulsion is to create images. So, I painted my memory of the nightmare on a found cardboard.
I do not know much about football, but I hope the flags of the Buccaneer would engulf the flags of racism in my neighborhood, as well as in Florida. If that’s the case, I promise to paint images of the Buccaneer everywhere, no matter how cliché it is.