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20041025(San Diego Reader October 28, 2004)

A Mostly Republican History

What chance is there in San Diego for an honest young lawyer who is a Democrat?

—J. Robert O'Connor, U.S. attorney for California (1900)

"A choice, not an echo" was Barry Goldwater's slogan in his campaign for president in 1964. Goldwater lost the election to Lyndon Johnson by a landslide, in part because the conservative Republican dared promote himself in such unequivocal terms. For as long as San Diego has been holding elections, candidates have seemed, with their gloves-off campaigns, to offer a choice, but typically they present no more than an echo. Case in point, during much of 2004, is the mayor's race.

Beautiful Light Print E-mail

20041007(San Diego Reader October 7, 2004)

It's not even noon and already I'm closing the blinds on the south-facing windows of my home office. That pesky natural light is overrunning the glow of the lamp by which I work. Too much of a bright thing. Most mornings, in the cliché of coastal overnight and morning low clouds, the daylight coming into my room takes its time. Like age or awareness. But now, at 11:44, the light's pouring in. If I don't mute it, my eyes'll hurt. I'll disappear in the glare. I might be struck impotent, literarily speaking. Shades inside and sunglasses outside attest to my contending with the slow-unfolding, then Wham! Southern California light. How did it get so damn bright when it's not even that hot?

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Print E-mail

20040724(San Diego Reader September 29, 2004)

Riley has had trouble sleeping ever since he was left in this pen, its gate locked, its concrete floor hosed off every morning. He hates the constant barking either side of him, that deep ruff-ruff bark, deep as a dungeon. He's enticed by dozens of familiar and strange smells emanating from the drain. He's confused by passers-by who peek in, murmur an apology, and don't yell at him. For them, Riley curls his backside into view: nice tight skin, nice silky coat. Then he turns, brings his pant front-and-center for an even better display: cropped ears, massive chest, wide mouth, viselike jaw, sledgehammer head, lodgepole neck. And his disposition (let's not get too carried away). Riley's handler (I'll call him Reggie) used to praise his three-year-old, praise Riley can still hear—You're just the best or You got game, boy, you got it, you little monster. The gashes on Riley's face and neck are still not healed. They'll be scars. And because of them, most visitors who peer in and lock eyes with Riley will turn away in fear, not get to know the real pit bull. One thing Riley can smell is fear, and fear means something worse is coming. But if you look close you can also see wonder in his green eyes: How long am I in here for? Where's Reggie?

Scary Pictures: What Kids See on TV Print E-mail

20040826(San Diego Reader August 26, 2004)

Ten-year-old Olivia Palmer, a fifth grader at Pacific Beach Elementary, picks up the television remote, presses "on," and touches two numbers, 3 and 6, on the keypad. The TV goes to MTV's Real World. It's a program about real people being videotaped while they're doing real and really mundane things. One of which is to sit on the couch and watch reality television shows. Olivia knows The Real World well. Much to her parents' chagrin, she's seen its episodes dozens of times. Indeed, Olivia, who seems older than ten, in a way already aged by the media, has watched all kinds of shows: the new reality TV, music videos, horror films, programs like Lizzie McGuire (an old favorite) and That's So Raven (a new joy: "I'm into That's So Raven but not, like, into-into. I'm not obsessed with it") and her all-time favorite, The Simpsons, which, besides its goofy improbability, does, for Olivia, have a message: "Like, chill out and don't be so frustrated."

Caged: In City Jails and State Prisons Print E-mail

20040520(San Diego Reader May 20, 2004)

Finding yourself in jail or prison for the first time unlatches a simple conundrum: You can’t know what you’re about to face because, had you known, you might have avoided the crime or, at least, taken more care not to get caught while committing it. Lock-up sucks. When you don’t do as you’re told (by guard and race boss alike), you suffer. Aren’t you supposed to suffer your punishment? Yes, but like anything, there are degrees: It’s up to you, son, how difficult your time here’s going to be. It’ll be easy—say, easier—if you cooperate. With whom? With the deputies, the correctional officers (CO’s), and the other prisoners, an array of aliens you would never trust on the outside, let alone on the inside of a holding cell or penitentiary.

Consider this man’s wretched tale, the first time he was put into the San Diego Central Jail. It began during his arraignment. A substance abuser, the man was already in a treatment program when he was charged with a felony. He believed the judge would release him back to the treatment program. But instead, the judge set his bail at $100,000 (which the man couldn’t post) and directed deputies to lock him up.

To Fuse Wind and Its Motion: A Meditation on the Seagull in Fourteen Parts Print E-mail

20031204(San Diego Reader December 4, 2003)

Disperse • Sunday morning, Clairemont Square Shopping Center parking lot. An asphalt expanse between Town Square Stadium 14 and Burlington Coat Factory. A few gulls perched on the edge of a roof. Fifteen more scattered on the pavement. From one, from another, a plaintive cry, that squeaky swing-set sound, an alien despondency. The 15 in tightening togetherness. Separate, too, and separating, mocking togetherness. Flocking in anti-flock. A club, every adult member identical, their grey-and-white plumage fixed. Otherwise, a few embrowned young. At first glance. Then, a sense that they are one. Their response—silence, a discontent, standing stock-still. Nobody speak, as if to say we are not one—gull, seagull, shorebird, vagrant, visitor, coastal fisher, scavenger—we possess individualities, alas, that no one can see.

Under Our Perfect Sun: Profile of Mike Davis Print E-mail

20031016(San Diego Reader October 17, 2003)


It’s an August mid-afternoon in El Cajon. It’s 100 degrees, and the sane people are in the shade, keeping still. Not Mike Davis. For an hour, the most famous social historian of southern California has been walking me through Bostonia, a two-square mile enclave just north of El Cajon, where he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. With hat and sunglasses, I’m burning up; head and eyes uncovered, Davis beads a lone ball of sweat. Having lived in Los Angeles, London, New York, and Hawaii, he has once again settled in San Diego. Though he’s fidgety about being back, he seems at home in East County, especially since he’s been writing about the place that made him. The author of City of Quartz and other books about L.A.’s past and future woes has, with two local authors, just written a new book, Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See. It’s a history of local sleaze, in "the most corrupt city on the West Coast," beginning with His Highness of Corruption, Alonzo Horton, and ending with Her Majesty of Folly, Susan Golding.

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