A baby wails its first song in an unexceptional San Diego hospital. Doctors notice nothing special or unusual about the child. No clerics have wandered to greet him; no comets or meteor showers threaten Earth’s atmosphere or orbit; there are no earthquakes. No great genetic mutations have been recorded, nor have there been recent leaps in weaponry or nuclear technology. It is hardly a superhero’s arrival. Scientific advancements of the time include commercially available computers, which are apartment-sized. NASA engineers are nearing completion of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise. Paleontologists pick over the bones of “Lucy,” a skeletal specimen of an extinct hominid classified as Australopithecus afarensis. Political lines and powers are as stable as political lines and powers can be. That night, California Governor Jerry Brown and San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson each presumably sleep with no notice of the newborn baby boy.
Pass ten years.
The boy’s father treats him harshly, as some fathers do, whether to denigrate or inspire the child, only the father knows. “Use your head,” the father pleads, exasperated. “Don’t you have any common sense?” When the boy stands up for another round of dinner, his father casts a judgmental eye. “Maybe that’s why you look the way you do.”
Through their working-class neighborhood, the boy walks to and from school. He earns no better than average grades. Socially, he’s alone. Onlookers define him by his weight, the only characteristic about him that exceeds. He dresses similarly to his peers, but there the comparison ends. He ostracizes himself in deed and demeanor. Entering adolescence, he lags a shade behind. To encounters he brings awkwardness; internally, he struggles with the pain of interaction. Uninterested in athletics, he develops no sports skills and therefore can claim neither victories nor defeats nor the accomplishment of confidence. The lessons elude him.
As others grow taller and stronger, he grows apart, eating alone, walking alone; in a classroom filled with others, still he’s cleaved of them. After the final bell rings, he lopes toward his family home. Along the way he is bullied. Two young men mock and insult him. They knock his tin Muppets lunchbox from his hand. They punch him. He’s unharmed, though, and finally the older boys let him go, realizing he threatens no one, especially them. The child retreats further within.
Meanwhile, the population of San Diego breaks the one million mark. Crime increases. Instances of larceny and property theft jump by thousands. By 1986, street gangs have learned the lucrative process of converting cocaine into crack. California and the Federal government have yet to ban assault weapons. Drive-by shootings proliferate.
Age the boy forward two years. 1988. Not quite teenaged, he’s retreated further from the world outside his windows. Anything but reality. Action movies and comic books soothe his angst. Is it any wonder? In fantasy, the underdog comes from behind; the normal are transformed into extraordinary; revenge is sought and extracted from persecutors of the innocent and unassuming. One of his favorite films is They Still Call Me Bruce, a karate farce flick ladled with puns and stereotypes, featuring an affable, bumbling lead. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series tethers him to the television.
His one connection to the city around him comes from the newspaper. He clips articles of crime and punishment and collects them. Soon his collection more than doubles. He no longer saves the articles, he only reads them now, internalizes them.
Crime is reality. South of the outcast child’s neighborhood 300 citizens protest the wave of violence by taking to Market Street and marching; some carry cardboard coffins as symbols of the killings. After the march, assailants in a passing automobile shoot a man in the leg. At a National Conference on Crime, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor admits, “We are losing ground in the war against drugs.”
Six months thence, in the summer of 1989, the end of the decade of decadence draws nigh. Mayor O’Connor asks Governor George Deukmejian to declare a state of emergency in San Diego and to commit $34 million in state funds to combating drug deals and shootings in her city. Governor Deukmejian declines the request. San Diego swirls in a whirlpool tide of crime.
See the boy in high school, a teenager now. Accustomed to eating alone, on a lawn, on a curb, a park bench. Accustomed to walking alone. He orbits popular teenage culture as the Earth does the sun; gravity holds him to it, light from it reaches him, he understands but can never touch it. His presence affects it very little.
On his way home from school again. Two older boys again. Different boys this time, but still taller than he. Again. This time, they’re dressed in the matching red shirts that denote the Bloods street gang. The boys mock him. Punch him, just like before. One has a knife, but it only flashes in the sunlight, never jumps from the waistband where it lives. They order him to take off his shirt, bare his globular flesh to the light of day, bare his shame. The misfit teenager remains unharmed; the older boys let him pass. The pariah teen seeks solace in fantasy justice, more movies and comics, as an answer to his welling distaste for street crime.
By 1993, every community in San Diego lives with the fear of crime, some streets and districts more than others. City Heights’ violent crime rate surpasses the citywide rate by more than double: there are 29 violent crimes for every 1000 City Heights residents, 13 violent crimes for every 1000 San Diegans of other neighborhoods. The citywide crime index, which includes all crime, violent or not, levels out at 72.75 incidents per 1000 people. Mayor Susan Golding endorses a plan for brighter white streetlights downtown and temporary expansion of city police walking patrols.
Graduation for the loner. A maintenance job for the boy who is becoming a man. His father eases his harsh treatment of the young man; he is no longer just a doughy child in the eyes of his dad. At night, he studies plumbing and electrical at a junior college. He studies security. He tests to obtain a license in security and passes; California awards him a guard card. He enjoys the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. He still follows crime news.