San Diego Reader
Elegy for the Trapdoor Spider Print E-mail

20191120(San Diego Reader as "San Diego's Changing Bugs" November 20, 2019)

At typing breaks when journalists gather at the water cooler to compare notes, the noise we’re hearing of late is as deafening as a Darrell Issa car alarm: “colony collapse,” “catastrophic,” “apocalyptic,” “extinct.” These terms of “urgent concern,” however egregious, apply when climate and its caterwauling crisis dominate the news. No day passes without a new dead canary brought up from the mine. The latest: In the last 50 years, America has lost 29 percent of its bird population, three billion fewer winged creatures.

One flashing yellow light centers on insects. Their populations are stressed, diminishing, and changing the dependency humans have enjoyed with bees, butterflies, beetles, ants, and spiders. We have a good idea of what we are doing to climate, its stewards and ravagers. But what are we doing to insects who are as vulnerable and predatory and ungovernable as we are? How fast are arthropods declining, disappearing, drowsing, and migrating like refugees across land, sea, and sky for greener climes?

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My College Is Better Than Your College Print E-mail

20190815(San Diego Reader August 14, 2019)

The Event: College Fair Night.

The Venue: San Diego Convention Center.

The Scene: A big-box room rowed with white linen-covered tables behind blue-curtained backdrops.

The Hosts: More than 300 college admissions table-sitters selling the glories of their schools, from the Moody Bible Institute to The Ohio State University, Holy Spirit to Holy Buckeye.

The Supporting Players: Moms who look like their daughters — jeans, middle-parted long hair, and shiny leopard-print purses; Dads, startled and leash-led.

The Central Players: Scores of kids, 15 and 16, shopping avidly with questions and concerns, their cellphones pocket-packed.

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Thirty-Five Glimpses at Lemon Grove Print E-mail

Lemon Grove California CREDIT Matthew Suarez t658(San Diego Reader April 10, 2019)

1 / On January 5, 1931, 75 Mexican-American children were expelled from the Lemon Grove Grammar School. By decree of the school board, the principal, Jerome Green, blocked the doorway, proto-George-Wallace style, telling the kids to attend another school where they’d receive lessons in Americanization, habilitate their English, learn “American” culture, before mixing with Anglos. These children of Mexican heritage were, Green and the board had decided, deficient in the lingua franca. They weren’t. Nearly all were fluently bilingual. (One man recalled his father at the time saying, “from the door outside, you’re in the United States, from the door inside, you’re in Mexico.”) The boys and girls were ordered to a makeshift building they dubbed the barn. The wall boards had spaces between them, sunlight shafting in. It smelled of horse manure. All but two refused to stay and left for their homes on Olive Street. On the way, their defiance earned insults—illegal, greaser, alien—though 95 percent were born in Lemon Grove.

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We Wish There Were Fewer Print E-mail

20190123(San Diego Reader January 23, 2019)

Today, a brace of mourners is bidding farewell to twins Baby Andy and Baby Honey, the briefest of brother and sister. Their scant hours among the living are over, the endlessness of eternity begun. Days before, they were wrapped in blankets and tucked into separate 10-inch by 20-inch coffins with a beanie baby by their side. The caskets, woodworking projects of Eagle Scouts, are made of pinewood, finely glossed vaults with handles attached. The lids, the last act, were glued on. The Clairemont mortuary has delivered them, and now a two-by-two formation of a dozen Knights of Columbus leads two of their group who carry the precious cargo up a sodden, sloping hill, massed with flat headstones, in El Camino Memorial Park.

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Sorrento Valley Lacks Stickiness Print E-mail

20181121(San Diego Reader November 21, 2018)

Last August, many of us were aghast at a news story, summed up in the Union-Tribune webby headline, “Three dead in wrong-way I-805 crash in Sorrento Valley that shut down freeway for 6 hours.” An 18-year-old man, going 100 miles per hour and against traffic in a McLaren sportscar, smashed into an SUV carrying a mother and daughter. On impact, the cars ignited in a firestorm and all three were killed. Deadly accidents are not rare occurrences at the nexus, “in Sorrento Valley.” Charred swaths and shattered glass on the highway speak of a Pickett’s Charge to get through the Merge, famed for its 22 northbound and southbound lanes that move thousands to destinations, ever elsewhere.

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In My Heart, I Hate It: Little Italy Print E-mail

20180117(San Diego Reader January 17, 2018)

Like you, the Little Italy I love has always been its sumptuous food and sensual people, both of which, despite the gentrifying nouveau riche takeover of late, remain as present and prosperous as ever. That Little Italy is alive in Mona Lisa Italian Foods, the tang of Parmesan, the toasty fume of fresh-baked sourdough, the nasal snap of balsamic vinaigrette dousing a saucer of EVOO. It's alive in the cannoli, the crispy-shelled, ricotta-filled, sugar-fairy pastry, just out of the freezer at RoVino (shoehorned next to The Waterfront) and served by two generations of homegrown cooks, the Tarantinos.

On the other side of the cannoli are Rosalie Tarantino and her nephew Tom, the fifty-two-year-old owner of RoVino. The pair love parsing their shared history, all things Italian except the family meatball recipe. Rosalie, her features still fine-boned at eighty-four, has the face of a beloved kept in an oval locket. She, like Tom's mother and Tom's daughter, and his brother's daughter, are all Rosalie Tarantino. Of course, their friends and neighbors know by sight and sound who is whom. But this naming tradition is like a bulwark against the risk that their ethnic claim may be vanishing.

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Between Indifference & Hope Print E-mail

20170628(San Diego Reader June 28, 2017)

It’s decision day in the City Council chambers, Two Broke Girls vs. Billions. Call it a classic smackdown between local architectural preservationists who want to save any Spanish Colonial Revival building (and think someone should pay) vs. the downtown developers who can’t wait to erect residential towers (and have investors ready and willing to foot the bill). It’s early April, and the horseshoe room is packed, its 53-year-old semi-gloss teakwood a kind of paean to the past. Backrow perched, I think of Pete Wilson’s wily quip from 1975: “The future of San Diego should have as much of the past in it as possible.”

I think as well that each city-adjudicated, skyline alteration rehashes our city’s core ideological battle—the geraniums of George Marston (guard the green) and the smokestacks of Louis Wilde (grow the gray), nearly a century ago. The way the pro-housing, pro-job, pro-business “special interest” typically wins is to outspend, out-own, and out-promise opponents, one 40-story, 282-unit glass spire at a time.

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