Publications
What Am I? A History of San Diego in 20 Objects Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20130130(San Diego Reader January 30, 2013)

1. Wyatt Earp Promissory Note

Most San Diegans who recognize the name know that the onetime deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, was also a notorious carpetbagger. Earp and his pal, Doc Holliday, killed — some say murdered — three cowboys during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Eventually, Earp, with various clans gunning for him, left Arizona and followed Horace Greeley’s advice: “Go West, young man.” His love of gambling brought him to San Diego in 1885. With the hand-rubbing promise of the railroad (which never came), he wagered his and others’ money during the real-estate boom. He controlled four saloons and gambling halls, two near Sixth and E Street, and one, the Oyster Bar, in the Louis Bank building on Fifth Avenue. (The district, once the Stingaree, is today’s beer-and-burger haven, the Gaslamp.) On a very good night, Earp raked in as much as $1000. Flush, he spent it on prizefighters and racehorses, games in which, citing Raymond Starr’s phrase, the greedy Earp “sought to divest other speculators of their profits.” But the law caught up with him. This note, in the research library of the San Diego History Museum, is for $1000, payable to W. P. Walters, and it is signed by Earp and John Morales, an accomplice, no doubt; it is dated 1894. By then, the lawman was an outlaw, having ventured as far as Alaska, though Walters’s suit forced him to return and pay up. Progress, indeed, since it was a court, not a corral, settlement.

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What Became of San Diego's Newspaper Print E-mail
Articles

0 uHLUHxWgVo954W h(The Awl January 18, 2013)

The dystopian author Mike Davis once wrote that San Diego—the city where I live, 100 condo-packed miles south of Los Angeles—is "arguably the nation's capital of white collar crime." In fact, Davis devoted a book to the claim, Under the Perfect Sun, whose thesis underscores the old adage that "San Diego is a sunny place where lots of shady people go." Davis describes a history of graft and deception in which the city's business monopolists mingled with landowners and indentured politicians to create a Petri dish for "dynamic, even visionary, self-interest." Though such revelations have been reported on for decades, this view of the city's seedy past is a narrative few of the city's three million residents know. Why? Because the public—numbed by surf culture, sea breezes, and the Pacific Fleet—bought the boosters' story instead.

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One Way It Happens Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

decnight 11(Brevity #41 January 12, 2013)

That first heart attack, which begins while I’m teaching a writing class, has the virginal peculiarity of my (a) not knowing what a heart attack is since I’ve never had one, which is true; (b) running to the bathroom to crap whatever it is out of my system, which doesn’t work; (c) believing prior to, but more important, during the attack, that were I ever to have one as my father and brother had I would fall to and writhe on the ground in pain, pound my chest with clenched fist, stare up at a circle of people and their tortured regard, a man with a fedora and a woman with an umbrella, whispering, “What’s wrong with him?” until someone calls an ambulance and I am saved, a fate I’ve managed to escape just now; (d) excusing myself to a dozen stunned students, driving to a hospital three minutes away, dreading the attack would worsen en route, my heart ballooning and popping, my chest exploding, which the longer it’s forestalled makes me certain it will occur; (e) feeling the imprisoning sweat on my clothes, its heat like a lawn-mower engine, which the night air does not cool; (f) arriving/parking/rushing-in/proclaiming to the intake nurse, “I’m having a heart attack,” and her saying, in the slackest of voices, “OK, but let’s get some information first,” to which I want to scream, “Call a doctor!” but I’m too frightened to so I comply; (g) stripping down, lying on a bed in an emergency bay, getting hooked up to the ECG, hearing the chart-reading technician say, “Mr. Larson, you’re right—you’re having a heart attack,” which is satisfying, even calming, because it confirms the menacing torrent of these last ten/twenty minutes; and finally (h) being half and wholly aware, both then and now, that (1) I’ve not been hit by a car; (2) I’m not lying in the street, kicking the invisible bike pedals; (3) I’m relieved, almost giddily, to be alive and laid low, like a badly wounded soldier who gets a flight home to recover or die; (4) I’m surprised this heart attack is a longer and not a shorter event, which means I have time to stomach its yaw and gauge the pain, be lifted onto the altar of having a heart attack and not yet having had a heart attack, which is short-lived once they stabilize me with the blood thinner and the clot buster; (5) I’m being wheeled down the loud, slick hallways on a gurney to the catheterization lab; (6) I’m the back-flat center of attention, fluorescent lights above me clicking by like film frames, shocked survivor, Ismael adrift in Queequeg’s coffin; and (7) I’m thinking, as I’m submerged for the angioplasty, a semi-conscious drugged state that flat-lines the fear, of my father and brother who years before died minutes after their angina began—one on a hotel bed in St. Louis, the other on his living room floor in Ashland, Wisconsin, his two-year-old daughter crying in a crib close by—long before any ambulance arrived, before any CPR or Coumadin or coughing jag or vomiting jolt might have revived them, my father and my brother, so much alike as to be at each other’s throats all during my childhood, whose lives were, not unsurprisingly, lopped off at the ankles by heart disease and who in their final throes would not have known the moment they were dying as the moment they were dying, which, praise be, neither do I for now.

 
Review: Draw a Straight Line and Follow It: The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young by Jeremy Grimshaw Print E-mail
Criticism

lamonte young(Contrary Magazine Winter 2013)

What Is the Sound of One Note Droning?

Minimalism. Art’s 50-year-old movement. A force of stasis. Of repetition. Of the barest materials. In writing. Ray Carver. Language eviscerated of ornament. The impact: disturbingly hollow. In painting. Frank Stella. Primary colors, perfect shapes. The response: purely dispassionate.

In music. There is the bell-like wistfulness of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies.” There is the repetitious ecstasy of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” And there are the sound environments of La Monte Young—the conceptual pieces (“One or more butterflies is let loose in the performance space”) and the long-tone drones (“Chronos Kristalla”).

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After Many a Summer Still Writing My Parents Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

size1(Michael Steinberg's Blog November 28, 2012)

When I began life-writing in earnest, in the early 1990s, I turned to my dead father—my first, natural subject. Why first? Why natural? In a word, access. Our intimacy was special, almost motherly on his part; better yet, it was still on my skin. I listed a dozen moments I had with him as a boy in which he transferred some male potency, sorrow stirred with wisdom, to me. I wrote many of these episodes quickly, discovering that this skin-activated memory, attuned more to a felt frequency than any consequential event, had kept our relationship wired and alive.

Those several episodes, time-stopping, lingered like a burn—his scratchy-glancing kiss goodnight; his smell of Aqua Velva, soap, and coffee; his telling me I was, of his three sons, his favorite, though my older and younger brothers, reading my work or hearing me talk much later, disagree. Teaching memoir, how often I have demonstrated memory’s rash—stroking my arm and saying, "I can still feel him/his touch on my body. He’s right here."

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Review: A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi by Aman Sethi Print E-mail
Criticism

free man(Los Angeles Review of Books November 1, 2012)

Let Us Now Praise Free Men

If you're one of the unorganized working poor who inhabit the grimmest parts of Delhi, India, you’re probably a mazdoor, or laborer — late teens or early twenties, male, unskilled. To earn your rupees, you carry bags of cement at building sites, whitewash a staircase, paint a house. If you make enough in one week, you take the next week off. Then, you can eat, drink, and smoke the money away, in part, because there’s not much of it and because the jobs are plentiful; you just have to show up every day by the side of the road at six in the morning. You might work one season, lay off for another, ride the trains or catch a bus for another menial job elsewhere. You’ve been known to leave (abandon, some might say) a needy family, a nagging wife, a brood of children you’ve grown tired of. You might also blow off your birth family, live anonymously in Delhi’s (or Calcutta’s or Mumbai’s) frenzied quarters where no one knows (or cares) whence you came.

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The Shifting Self Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

oxam_78(Oxford American Issue 78: August, 2012)

Seven months before September 11, Donald Morrill and his wife, Lisa, endured an invasion and robbery in their Tampa, Florida, residence. Their assailant held them naked for twenty minutes during which they were threatened, humiliated, and locked in the bathroom. Their car was stolen, and the culprit was never caught.

In a ninety-nine-page book, The Untouched Minutes, which won the 2004 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, Morrill mingles the story of the assault with other violent incidents of that and the following two years: the September 11 attacks, the anthrax scare and murders, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the stabbing deaths of two Dartmouth professors, Half and Susanne Zantop. In the same week that Don and Lisa were terrorized, the Zantops were killed so that two teenage bosy could afford a trip to Australia. Their murder runs as a counter-theme throughout Morrill's book, suggesting a horror that might have been, which he and his wife escaped.

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