San Diego Reader
The Guest Is Like God Print E-mail

20060629(San Diego Reader June 29, 2006)

One Sunday in November 1989, Barry Lall, an Indian-American doctor, was driving over the Coronado Bridge with his wife Hema, their four-year-old son Arjun, Lall's father and mother, and a real estate broker. They were on their way to inspect a 12-room motel for sale at the corner of Third Street and Orange Avenue, which, if priced right, Lall hoped to buy. Beneath them was the beautiful blue and iridescent channel, the port of San Diego where ships off-load containers from as far away as Hong Kong. At the time, Lall, who was practicing family medicine at Kaiser Hospital in Chula Vista, was not yet a citizen. He was here by way of a transnational diaspora common to many Indian immigrants. Lall's route had begun when his parents left the state of Gujarat, India, for the East African country of Nyasaland, where Lall was born; later, after medical studies in England and Scotland and an arranged marriage, he, his wife, and his parents ("she married them, too") emigrated to the United States in 1980, settled first in Georgia and then in San Diego. Lall wanted to believe that the long geographical road that he and his family had traveled to get to America had prepared him for the longer personal road he was now on in America.

A Tenth Grader's History of the World Print E-mail

20060622(San Diego Reader June 22, 2006)

During the 2005-2006 school year, 8250 tenth graders in the San Diego Unified School District were enrolled in World History 1 and 2. The students focused on world history in modern times, roughly from the 1700s to the present—ancient civilizations are covered in sixth grade, medieval and early modern times in seventh. (Students take U.S. history and geography in eighth grade and an elective in ninth.) The tenth graders listened to lectures, made class presentations, and cracked the textbook, where they saw, for example, a brightly colored map of "Napoleon's Russian Campaign, 1812," his advance arrowed in blue, his retreat arrowed in red. The majority of these students, 5651, or 69 percent, were enrolled in world history, while 2213, or 27 percent, took advanced world history. (Three hundred eighty-six tenth graders were in advanced-placement world history, where a passing grade may be transferable to college, depending on the school.) Each class had its own text.

Dirty Jobs Print E-mail

20060427(San Diego Reader April 27, 2006)

At 6 a.m., Ramon Salazar is readying to leave the vehicle yard of Spanky's Portable Services in Escondido. It's Monday, and Mondays are rough. "Man, I needed an hour more sleep." He yawns. He climbs the two serrated step boards to the cab of his big white pumper truck. He bounces onto the seat, then starts the diesel motor. Rolling a blue kerchief tightly, he bands it carefully around his shaved head and square-knots its ends just under the occipital bone. The snug cinch means business. An ex-gang member and former director of rehab at Victory Outreach ministry ("God found me," he says, "I didn't find God"), Salazar has the bruised look of a man who's bucked too much authority.

He Never Displayed Any Meanness Print E-mail

bickerstaff(San Diego Reader September 29, 2005)

Up there in the pantheon of California's 1990s financial swindlers is Donald Marquis Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff was charged in 1997 with a Ponzi scheme involving 75 investors, the majority women, in San Diego and Marin counties. The investors—one was the unwitting mother of Bickerstaff's partner—lost $11.8 million. Using client money, Bickerstaff bought multimillion-dollar homes in Poway and Mill Valley, a $93,000 Porsche and other sports cars, a 5.5-carat diamond ring, 31 thoroughbred horses in Kentucky and southern England, and membership in the Turf Club at Del Mar. At the time of his indictment, Bickerstaff was trying to keep his business, Bickerstaff Financial Associates, afloat; he was being sued for securities fraud by Prudential Securities; and his legal bills had grown sizable.

The Good Shoemaker and the Poor Fish Peddler Print E-mail

20050818(San Diego Reader August 18, 2005)

On the afternoon of April 15, 1920, in the small industrial town of South Braintree, Massachusetts, a paymaster named Frederick Parmenter and a guard named Alessandro Berardelli set out to carry cash boxes—which contained the payroll of the Slater & Morrill Shoe Company—from the factory's upper office to a lower one at the end of Pearl Street. Due to a spate of recent payroll robberies, many of which were committed by gangs of Italian immigrants, Berardelli was armed. South Braintree lay ten miles outside of Boston, and as Parmenter and Berardelli passed by its stables, poolrooms, meeting halls, and factories, they chatted with some of the city's 15,000 residents. Parmenter was in his early forties—a burly, loquacious man. Berardelli was a quiet and withdrawn 28-year-old. Each held a steel box fastened with a Yale lock. Taken together, the boxes contained $15,776.51. Midway up Pearl Street, Parmenter and Berardelli were attacked by two men who had been idling beside a fence. One wore a cap; the other, a felt hat. The man in the cap grabbed Berardelli's shoulder, swung him around, and fired three shots into his chest.

Soundtrack: Roy Harris's Third Symphony Print E-mail

soundtrack_t245(San Diego Reader August 11, 2005)

Forth From My Pioneer Speakers

The summer of 1976, PBS broadcast The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein. Each week Bernstein explained the structure and the meaning of music as well as the crisis of harmony composers faced in the 20th Century. I was in my 20s, a folk-blues-ragtime-jazz guitar player, a composer of songs and instrumental pieces that fit that wide vein. But I was also bored with the smallness and the lack of abstraction of these musical forms. My musical-analytic interests were spiraling outward like a nautilus. But whither? In lecture five, Bernstein played Charles Ives's "The Unanswered Question," a mystical work for strings, woodwinds, and trumpet.

Bankrupt Print E-mail

20050512(San Diego Reader June 12, 2005)

Every weekday, in a small room on the sixth floor of the Wyndham San Diego Hotel at Emerald Plaza, dozens of people come to close the book on their personal bankruptcies. Today eight debtors have shown up in suite 630 well before their 8:00 a.m. appointment to file for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 with an attorney present and in front of a United States trustee. They sit apart from one another in rubber-upholstered chairs and stare at notices on the wall. One notice tells them to read the pink form and fill out the white form; both forms are prominently displayed in plastic racks. Most cast their eyes over the notice but don't seem to read it. They look lost or anxious, thumbing wrinkled manila envelopes brimming with paperwork. A few finger their purses or wallets that once bulged with a half-dozen credit cards. Awaiting attorneys, most may wonder what a debt-free tomorrow will look like.

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