The New York Times Could Only Take ‘One Outrage a Week From San Diego’
Editor’s Note: The San Diego Free Press is five years old this week. This is one in a series of posts reflecting on the paths we’ve traveled.
By Bob Dorn
Many of us Freeps were born at the simultaneously best and worst of times. We came into the world during or just after World War II, which itself is probably the best war these so-called United States ever fought.
Our parents had been rescued from the Great Depression by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal thinkers, a class not afraid to be called intellectuals because they combined brains with a conscience, a combination that produced programs like Social Security and a set of banking laws that are still in operation. A Works Projects Administration built schools and government buildings (see our own County Administration Building) that established a new and more chic standard than the revivalism of Greek and Roman temples and Southern plantation aesthetics. There was a GI Bill that sent vets to universities to resume their educations.
When we saluted the flag the great majority of us Americans were saluting both industrialism and the surging notion that a democracy makes sure that the profits of government-supported industry are shared with the workers who created the wealth. And, oh yes, that democracy ensured all of us against the tyranny of despots and racists.
It was a great thing to believe in, this national government. My father, a Jewish street brawler from The Bronx, and my mother — one of seven children born to immigrants from Geraci Siculo, in Sicily — knew deep poverty. My grandpa was a garbageman. Within a few decades he and Grandma saw their 4 sons off to World War II and when all four came home they were able to buy homes, and within a few more decades their kids graduated from college like I did.
Once I’d gotten my masters in history, my old man, never much of a sentimentalist, broke from his stern tough-guy self to tell me, “You’ve gone so much farther than we have,” and I was puzzled by that.
I didn’t distinguish privilege from the natural order of things.
For one reason, I didn’t feel like farther was better than higher or deeper. I’d had a bed and my own room at Mom and Dad’s, a small clothes closet and a ’52 Chevy coupe I paid for with money from jobs that started with mowing lawns and went to delivering newspapers and on to parking cars, working on a construction crew laying terrazzo and, finally, a writing career that started in grad school. I didn’t distinguish privilege from the natural order of things.
When on a Monday the terrazzo crew brothers on lunch break talked about getting laid several times over the weekend I listened intently, like any 16-year-old jerkoff trying to figure out if he was still Catholic or not. Then one – his name was Little Willy, to distinguish him from Big Willy, the foreman of the polishing crew — turned to me and said, “What about you, Bob. You gettin’ any?”
Uhhh…, I said. I still remember that my head ducked involuntarily, on its own, autonomic as a fart. I managed to answer, “No,”
“What? Waddaya do? Do you pull it?”
Uhhh…Yeah, I said.
“Oh don’t do that, Bob, it’s no good for you, it’ll f… you up.” Willy looked around for support. Big Willy closed his lunch bucket and got up to leave, a few others looked away. Some were interested in seeing how this would work out, enough of them that Little Willy next said to me, “You gotta do something, about this, Bob.” I thought he was genuinely concerned.
Then he sank the hook.
“I know, I know, let’s set him up with Sattig’s wife.” Sattig was on the other crew that day, so every one laughed at his expense. And… nothing more. It was time to go back to work.
Back then, way back there, it was okay to be with people unlike your own. We were all thrown in together. It was not a sign of anything beyond necessity. I needed gas money, and bucks to pay my share of college that the scholarship didn’t pay for, and I could always get a job in construction if I f…ed up in college, and, beyond that, it was a privilege to be included in a larger world not of one’s own making.
It’s been a long time coming, this fall from grace. It seems we’ve been locked into self-hood ever since Nixon/Reagan.
Now, we seem to be in an epic of trouble, much like that of Vietnam and Nixon, when Gov. Reagan closed state insane asylums in California and established tuition at the University of California. It’s been a long time coming, this fall from grace. It seems we’ve been locked into self-hood ever since Nixon/Reagan.
After all, when did Tom Wolfe invent the phrase, The Me Generation? The answer: back in the 70s. That’s when the draft was abolished and only poor people and historically military families, and even foreigners (Mexicans! Guatemalans!!) pursued careers in the Army, Navy, Marines, and the Air Force.
It’s also when sprawl to the suburbs became a mass movement away from the cities, where we took buses and subways that put us all in the same seats.
The 70s brought on personal distinctions we hadn’t previously imagined for ourselves. Classes were inserted into pop music (acid- folk-metal-punk- and, later, chill, Euro-chill, chilli-chill) and people could be judged by the way they wore their hair, and if they took off their clothes in public. Did you smoke weed or drop acid, or do meth? Social cues told us who we were.
Politics did too. Were you for so-and-so or against him (it was usually, him). Did you believe in crosses on Mt. Soledad or was that a mingling of state and religion that you opposed.
Commerce, like politics, did deep social data research trying to establish who was more likely to buy a car or a candidate if the phrasing hit the correct buttons.
We came to think of learning as something done for 12 or so years until a license was issued and we could make $50, 60, or even 70,000/year. Houses became stepping stones to bigger houses, then multiple houses, some in the mountains, some at the beaches. A house was no longer a home, it was part of a portfolio that contains very specific markers of ourselves.
We have to keep learning, or we will be reduced to classes and subclasses until we are all just objects, or resources for corporations, to be manipulated by order of a Supreme Court that has established that corporations have the same rights as people, an inversion of reality that seemingly cannot be challenged. Here’s a real reality: One president can name the next Justice of the Supreme Court; the other cannot.
Man is the only animal that can trip over the same stone twice. We elected Nixon, we elected Reagan, and now we’ve elected what’s-his-name, a third stone.
We all want the same thing… enough to eat, shelter, and freedom. That last, by the way, is a word we no longer hear much about, unless it’s paired with warfare against people whose languages we don’t understand. And I’m often made to considering how easily we accepted the name, Defense, for a department that fights all its wars halfway around the world from San Diego.
The Spanish have a dicho, a saying: New language, new soul. Not everything political can be reduced to numbers and polls, you see.
We must not stop learning. The Spanish have another dicho: Man is the only animal that can trip over the same stone twice. We elected Nixon, we elected Reagan, and now we’ve elected what’s-his-name, a third stone.
I’ve never worked for a more free, unbridled publication than San Diego Free Press. The other outfits might have had better investigators, better stylists, more readers… more of everything, excepting integrity. Even The New York Times refused to publish a story of mine on dubious grounds, back when I was their freelancer in San Diego:
A horse-mounted cop in what was then called Southeast had strung a rope around the neck of a man he’d arrested. He’d re-mounted his horse and slow-walked “the black suspect” through his own neighborhood until this small cavalcade reached a rendezvous with a waiting police car and the humiliated man was taken downtown for booking.
The Times had published one of my stories only a few days before, about some really troubling government story I’ve long since forgotten, and in the middle of the pitch I was making on this new insult to humanity the assistant city editor of The Times interrupted me, saying, “Hold it, Hold it; I can only take one outrage a week from San Diego.” The story never ran.
You can bet that The San Diego Free Press (or the OB Rag, or The Reader, back in the day) would have run that story.