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Several immortal memories remain from my long residency in University City. They are crimes, and they stand out in my mind like landmarks, among them a double murder, a car bomb, an arson, and a divorce. An unfriendly, unfortunate divorce. For me that was the biggest crime of all.

I don’t know why—perhaps for the same reason a moth is drawn to fire—but after years I decided to go back and have a look, to revisit the scenes of the crimes.

I drove a familiar route into my old neighborhood, via Regents Road, and turned onto Honors Drive, the street of the double murders, where 19 years ago, during broad daylight and seemingly out of the blue, a man entered a one-story, four-bedroom, unassuming home and plunged a butcher knife deep into a daughter, then into her mother.

For weeks yellow police tape surrounded the house and squad cars filled the driveway. Passers by huddled, whispered, and pointed. No one had heard screams, and no one had seen the murderer flee. But he was discovered months later, at his home in Alabama, when, arrested for burglary, his DNA matched semen from one of his previous murders.

My old house—another crime scene—was in the same neighborhood, where my wife and I had raised two sons and I had raised my wine sales company. In those days my sons and I spent hours in the back yard, playing homemade baseball or watching jet liners whisper overhead, trying to identify the aircraft and guess the airlines. When I flew home from business trips in Napa and Sonoma I invariably took a window seat so I could pick out our house in the crowded neighborhood, heartened by the thought that maybe my sons were in the backyard looking up.

But now, just blocks away, I stood at the stop sign. I wasn’t ready. Not yet, anyway. So I turned towards other University City crime scenes.

I drove north on Genesee, towards the intersection with La Jolla Village Drive, keeping an eye out for the darkened spot of pavement where, in 1989, someone had attempted to blow up Mrs. Rogers’s minivan. Mrs. Rogers was the wife of Captain Rogers, who had been the commander of the USS Vincennes, which, in the summer before, was patrolling the Persian Gulf when Iranian Airlines Flight 655, with 255 aboard, took off from a joint civilian/military airport at Bandar Abbas and flew straight at the heavily armed cruiser, disregarding requests to identify itself or to change direction. Captain Rogers, believing he was following defense protocol, gave the order and a missile disintegrated the airliner in the morning air.

Nine months later, Mrs. Rogers, on her way to her teaching job at La Jolla Country Day School, waiting at the stop light, felt a jolt from a pipe bomb attached to the underside of her minivan and saw the flames in her rearview mirror, right there, in the middle of traffic, at the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and Genesee. Mrs. Rogers escaped—she was the only occupant—and watched from the curb as the family minivan was consumed by flames.

The incident exploded in the international media. As a wine salesman I sometimes was accompanied by winemakers and winery owners as we called on accounts, and I always pointed out the scene of the crime, which they had heard about, and where University City had been in the world’s camera. It was never determined if the pipe bomber (bombers?) was attempting murder, retaliation, or a warning, but it was later determined that it was not terrorism but a personal vendetta. Now the spot is invisible, obliterated by tires and sunshine and rain, but the landmark of the crime remains in my memory.

More recently, in August, 2003, three years after my divorce, while flying home in the night, I saw large flames licking the edge of University City. Environmental arsonists had attempted to halt residential growth by torching the wooden framework of an apartment complex being built near UTC.

Construction cranes toppled and a 500-gallon fuel tank exploded. In nearby buildings windows cracked and blinds melted. No one was hurt, but hundreds were evacuated. Roads were closed, and a layer of soot blanketed University City.

That night, from my window seat, I watched the 200-foot flames while the world watched on their televisions.

Perhaps you remember the brazen banner hung on the chain link fence: If You Build It, We Will Burn It. Several members of the Earth Liberation Front, which proudly claimed responsibility for the arson, were harassed and jailed, but never charged. In the following months the charred lumber was hauled off, the concrete slab swept clean, and the building project re-started.

I now drove through the completed five-building, five-story complex, and it was like driving through mountains, landmarks of a crime that made no sense.

What the hell, I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to return and take a look. So I drove back in the direction of my old house, through other crime scenes. I drove past the Chabad Center that once had been a bank, so convenient to get-away routes that it was robbed annually; down the street where parked cars had been vandalized after a high school football game; past the Mexican restaurant shut down after repeated incidents of food poisoning; near the shopping center that a real estate agent had sold to three parties simultaneously, then absconded with their deposits.

I drove along Governor drive by the tennis courts that used to be lighted until ten o’clock. I was playing with my new love-interest, disguised as a tennis partner, when my wife clung to the chain link fence and screamed that the family dog had encountered a skunk, and would I please come home and take care of it. I should have, but I didn’t, choosing to finish the set. That was another crime, and so very close to home.

I parked in front of my old house and the memories rushed out to meet me. This one-story, four-bedroom, unassuming home had been my castle, where I had landscaped the front yard, remodeled a bathroom, replaced the roof, painted inside and out. Where as a family we had started gardens, sung Happy Birthdays, opened champagne, packed for trips, finished school science projects at the 11th hour, buried hamsters, endured chicken pox and identified jet liners. And where, in our bedroom, after the boys were asleep, my wife and I had made passionate and promising love.

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Comments

CuddleFish Oct. 24, 2009 @ 7:32 a.m.

I don't want to like this story.

Good writing.

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 24, 2009 @ 7:46 a.m.

I liked it-and I remember every one of those crimes-from the Clairemont rapist/murderer, to the car pipe explosion on LJVD at Gennesse, to the UTC bonfire in 2003, when I was staying at the Embassy Suites as I took a 3 day test.

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PistolPete Oct. 24, 2009 @ 10:52 a.m.

Great story. Back in March,after being gone 11 years,I too went back to my old neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs. My sister and I drove around the county remembering certain crimes as well.

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CuddleFish Oct. 24, 2009 @ 11:40 a.m.

Hmmm.

So this guy writes of his brazen affairs (note "new" implying the latest in a string), his wife catching him with his mistress playing tennis, having to beg him to come home and him ignoring her plea, any and all of his bad conduct that probably if not surely, contributed to the divorce.

Mindy who essentially wrote the same type of story was a tramp, this guy is applauded.

Double standards. Of course. Or is it just because he's a rich wine-making man of the world instead of a middle class housewife?

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PistolPete Oct. 24, 2009 @ 12:08 p.m.

Nah. He's more likable then Mindy. I'm a guy. I'm a pig and proud. You're a lady. Getting you to admit any infidelities is like pulling teeth. It's like getting a woman to admit she farts. Not to mention,you can't trust Mindy's writing,remember?

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SDaniels Oct. 24, 2009 @ 9:38 p.m.

Used to seeing news stringers from skipcarufel, I am surprised to see this--a very good, well-written piece that makes me want to keep an eye out for more.

If we pay attention to the narrator's process and point of view, I really don't think judgement is the natural result of reading it; the narrator is playing with the idea of reportage and judgement, and ironically inserting reference to his own peccadillo(s) ('new' may or may not suggest past affairs) within lines about crimes full of conclusions that are more certain to make, and ambiguities of motivation that always remain in the wake of the place-identified violent crimes he tells about, tiny, unfinished narratives within a narrative on the move--in passage itself. There is a regret expressed over the loss of the marriage, and that connection with the spouse that at one time was promising, but this is narrated with restraint, and another irony: treated almost as any other of these stories with which it is hard to connect unless a person has knowledge beyond news bylines and impersonal reportage.

The memories of connection with the children are also heavily ironic; father and children spent time together watching something transient and not rooted in home: the passage of planes. As with the details of the crimes the narrator attempts to recall as he drives past various scenes, he and his kids attempted to trace out or track features of the planes as they passed from view.

I could go on and say more about the subtle, deft touches to this deceptively simple piece--excellent!

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CuddleFish Oct. 24, 2009 @ 9:51 p.m.

All three pieces of fiction are well-written, this last piece is the best written of the three.

But the author's details are too pat, so cliche, and obvious.

SD, this piece is manipulative.

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David Dodd Oct. 24, 2009 @ 11:07 p.m.

Pete, stop apologizing. You don't owe anything to anyone.

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PistolPete Oct. 25, 2009 @ 1:01 a.m.

Well,I was thinking about it at bingo tonight and it was bothering me. I do owe her an apology for what I wrote earlier. I didn't mean it to sound so harsh and personal.

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CuddleFish Nov. 3, 2009 @ 11:19 p.m.

Wow, another fiction piece wins the Blog contest.

It is well-written. Congratulations.

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FullFlavorPike Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:40 a.m.

Congrats, Number One. Stick around and write some more, do some comments, join the party! We need more voices hereabouts.

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PistolPete Nov. 4, 2009 @ 7:24 p.m.

Not to seem like I'm whining or anything, and I don't blog to win prizes from this paper, but how in the hell is fiction picked as a winner? I don't get that. I've seen better stuff from Josh Board,refried,nan,AG,SD,CuddleFish and quite a few others. Who picks this as a winner? It's not even true? Maybe I'm missing a part of the brain reserved for-never mind...

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David Dodd Nov. 4, 2009 @ 7:58 p.m.

I like this piece a lot, and there is no way that one can assume it's fiction. I didn't assume that Mindy's winning post was fiction, either, that came out later. I initially defended her against those that didn't appreciate her subject matter.

This piece was far more subtle, far more retrospective. I enjoyed this piece because, if I ever wanted to go back to Los Angeles, I could write a similar one, non-fiction or course, and I would understand what the author felt. I could park in front of that two-bedroom apartment in South Pomona, or the house in Chino, and reach the same conclusions.

This was well-done, and totally deserved to win. I thought it at the time I read it, but I don't want to influence the judge ;)

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PistolPete Nov. 4, 2009 @ 8:04 p.m.

Maybe it's me, but I thought blogs were supposed to be pieces about your life that actually happened. Blog-Web Log. Log-Diary. Who lies in their diary?

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David Dodd Nov. 4, 2009 @ 8:11 p.m.

But Pete, where in this blog entry do you see fiction? I don't have a problem believing it, so long at it isn't obviously fiction. The events seem true, outside of the divorce, and there is no reason to doubt the divorce, I'm sort of wondering why people think this is fiction. Am I missing something?

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antigeekess Nov. 4, 2009 @ 8:28 p.m.

Let's just say 'something' is amiss.

Because back in May, it was the author that was "a miss." S/He was apparently missing something that has since grown where it wasn't before, and presumably aged 20 years or so, along with the rest of him/her.

:)

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CuddleFish Nov. 4, 2009 @ 8:45 p.m.

The Reader does have that effect on certain people! ;)

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David Dodd Nov. 4, 2009 @ 8:49 p.m.

Ah!

I stand corrected!

You people are apparently doing you homework! Then, yeas, I reckon that the Reader is having a fiction contest. I wish they would have told me. The only piece of fiction I wrote was noted as such. I guess we can't trust any of the blogs here. Sad, this.

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CuddleFish Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:20 p.m.

Oooops, ignore that last post of mine, this is what I meant!:

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David Dodd Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:37 p.m.

Oookayy. Anyway, I think it's nice of the Reader to have a blog contest, perhaps it's a staffing issue. With this winning story I reckon that all one would have to do is a little research, maybe there wasn't time for that sort of thing (research). I dunno. The other two winners this month seem to be on the level.

It didn't occur to me to check the background. Maybe it didn't occur to the judges either. It wasn't poorly written. No idea.

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skipcarufel Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:46 p.m.

Thank you everyone for the comments. They are very beneficial, and help me improve my writing.

I’m elated to have a story I wrote published in The Reader and to have won some money. The diet of mostly bread and beans is getting old.

By the way, the story is not fiction. Except for the post-game vandalism and the real estate swindle, which I was told about, everything happened while I lived in my old neighborhood of University City. Murder, car bomb, arson were big news items at the time. The sons and airplanes, the affair and divorce, the loss of home and family are equally real. I choose to put my personal experiences, and those of my neighborhood, in story form because I think that makes for a better read. Occasionally my narrator is a female, but usually it’s just me. Nevertheless, the facts and experiences are true.

My next entry will be in story form as well.

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CuddleFish Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:50 p.m.

Oh what horse doo doo.

I said right in #1 that I thought this was a story, I said it again in #4, then AG laid out the evidence in #6 with links, I said it again in #8.

Short of a neon sign, I fail to see how they can say they didn't know this was a piece of fiction. Even just reading it, as I said in my posts, one can tell the story is fiction.

Now, I can't prove it. This may be a real account, and the other one that s/he won for false.

When there were so many outstanding threads this month, they choose these three pieces??? Only one of which I would call a Neighborhood blog entry, Kstaff.

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David Dodd Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:51 p.m.

Um, skipcarufel, you posted as a female prior to this. Care to explain? Otherwise, your readership is going to feel deceived. I already feel deceived. I can write (and do write) fiction all day long, but I never put the reader in a position that you've put yours in. I delineate it, you apparently do not.

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CuddleFish Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:52 p.m.

Frankly, if they were going to choose a piece of fiction, Mindy's piece about Michael Jackson was the best by far. :)

(You never heard me say that.)

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magicsfive Nov. 4, 2009 @ 9:54 p.m.

i don't see why the reader doesn't just have a short story contest.

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PistolPete Nov. 4, 2009 @ 10:09 p.m.

Like I said, I don't give a s if I ever win or lose. If I was out for $$$, I could write some s that AMAZE you guys. I already have over the years. My point about this entry winning though is for the bloggers that are here on a regular basis pouring their frustrations,happiness,sorrow or whatever out for all of us to get a glimpse of their inner soul and Joe f***in' Blow comes along and gets the prize.

Time for a Reader reader revolt? I don't care how many people I don't get along with on this site, I believe what they blog. All jokes aside about not believing everything you read online, there's something sancrosanct about this site that I love and it's why I keep coming back even if it's to the chagrin of some bloggers. This just ruins it. I believe skip when h/she says they wrote a true blog but to not say-THIS IS WRITTEN FROM THE POV OF A FEMALE-smacks of unprofessionalism on the grandest scale.

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CuddleFish Nov. 4, 2009 @ 10:12 p.m.

Gotta say, I thought Pete's entries were some of the best stuff I'd seen this month. I certainly would have chosen one of them for one of the slots.

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David Dodd Nov. 4, 2009 @ 10:14 p.m.

Yeah, well, my next blog entry is going to be from the point of view of a Zardonain, from the planet Zardon. Sure, I'm a San Diego native, but hell, I'll change narrative like people change socks.

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PistolPete Nov. 4, 2009 @ 10:19 p.m.

Thanks CF. My stuff will never win anyhow because of my core beliefs. It's ok though. I'm not doing it for $$$,fame or celebrity. I've pissed ALOT of people off and for that I'll be punished. And gringo? I'd LOVE to see that blog just for s***s & giggles. :-D

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antigeekess Nov. 5, 2009 @ 9:46 a.m.

"Stella's entries are incredible, how could you pass them up?"

I didn't. Read my comment again.

I love to read Pike. The only thing about Pikey's stuff is, it's very internet-specific and link-dependent, and I believe these winners are to be in the print edition, aren't they? I'm not sure how that works, since he was a winner last month. I'm not able to get my hands on a print edition to check it out.

Anything by yours truly is also going to be peppered with links. My ADD guarantees it. :) I don't see why not -- IMO, it makes things a lot more informative and interesting to simply SHOW people exactly what you're typing about. Seems a bit backwards and archaic to bother to peck out anything without them, as if you're writing for print -- almost as if it's not appropriate for the medium, ya know?

I read a lot of these blogs and think, "Now why wouldn't you include a LINK to that?" Similarly, people have arguments and ask questions here, on the internet, when the ANSWERS ARE RIGHT HERE, ON THE INTERNET. Google, anyone? (Better yet, Dogpile. They support animal charities.) http://dogpile.com/

There's another issue, which is that of grammar and sentence construction. To me, things like blogs and email are informal. I use things like sentence fragments here all the time for effect. It's not "newspaper appropriate," but I'm not writing for a freakin' newspaper, so I don't care. Also, the attention span of the internet user is a consideration. I think that writing for the internet needs to "move" faster.

But I'm sure somebody's published a book, or ebook about all this already. I could probably find out on the internet.

:)

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