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2022 San Diego Reader writing contest winners, part 1

From 577 entries of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry

It’s good to know that people still write, and better still, that they often write well.
It’s good to know that people still write, and better still, that they often write well.

The Reader’s editorial staff was gratified and frequently delighted by the response we got to our writing contest: 347 non-fiction stories, 31 pieces of fiction, and no less than 199 poems. It’s good to know that people still write, and better still, that they often write well. Selecting our winners was a difficult task, so difficult that we ended up expanding our list of Honorable Mentions from five to eight, and adding a separate Special Selections category for fiction and poetry ($100 award). Congratulations to our winners, whose work will be published over course of the coming month, and thanks to everyone who submitted. (If you didn’t win, don’t despair! You can continue to submit stories and pitches at sandiegoreader.com/submit/something, and we promise to keep an eye out for suitable material.)

THE WINNERS:

1st Prize:

Changing of the Guard, by Jake Peterson

2nd Prize:

To Hire a Thief, by Stan Sewitch and “Frank”

Honorable Mentions:

We Were Young, by Fallon Farraday

Falling, by Philip Kelly, Jr.

Fish Bones, by Jennifer Manalili

Cry Covid, by Molly Quillin-McEwan

Piano, con Amaroso, by Barbara Warner

Kitchen Spanish, by Michael J. Williams

Elvis Has Left the Building, by Nasreen Yazdani

Smorgasbords in the 1970s, by Tammy Yorysh

Special Selections, Fiction:

Marty & Rose, by Bob Doublebower

Dropping In, by Leslie Hotchkiss

Jeeves and Gentleman Jim, by Whip Kincaid

A Day in the Life of Charles Snelling, by Michael E. Monahan

Water Management, by Deb Nordlie

Yippie, by Manuel Pia

Rear-View Mirror, by Leo Rein

The Aziza Experience, by Richard Schere

Topless, by Stockdale and Broadus

Buffalo Skin, by Gary P. Taylor

Special Selections, Poetry:

Sagarmatha, by Janice Alper

Don’t Give Up the Ship, by Charlie Berigan

Lavender Haze, by Tina Castillo

Elegy for Diana Issa, by Jennifer Karp

Blasons, by Tommy L

Grace, by Peter Lautz

The Sea at Sunset Cliffs, by J.T. McKenna

Hero and Leander, by Howard D. Patterson

La Jolla: A Seagull’s Cry, by Alexander Pesiri

A Day of Banker’s Hill, by Akiko Russotto

Second Place Winner:

TO HIRE A THIEF

Stan, the Idiot

I got into my Miata after band practice at Mark’s house, 9 pm on a Tuesday night, early in 2002. I was half a block down the road when I suddenly realized that my jacket and backpack were not on the passenger’s seat next to me. Then I felt the night air coming through a slit in the convertible top. I stopped the car, letting the event sink in. I had been robbed.

It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced robbery. My home had been burgled twice in 1981, and the feeling was the same. Somebody had taken hard work from me, because whatever I’ve gotten in life, it hasn’t come from inheritance or a lottery ticket. And now I was going to have to work harder to fix the problem. And it was a huge problem.

I was traveling for business a great deal in those years. My backpack held my passport, checkbook, wallet, business cards, computer, cell phone and work papers. I also had passwords and bank account numbers in my wallet. I had discounted the chances of theft, like a dolt, and had written the codes down because I had a burgeoning number of places where passwords and special codes were necessary. I couldn’t remember them all. These days there are so many secret words and symbols in our lives because of the internet, voicemail, etc. And they must change frequently. Tough to keep it straight. But recording them all together like I did was just plain stupid. In retrospect, I can imagine the thief opening the backpack, stunned at their good fortune. Everything they needed to assume my identity was laid out like Christmas dinner.

For the next three months, I played a game of “Keep One Step Ahead of the Thief.” The game didn’t start right away. I had called in the robbery, filed a fraud report with the credit agencies, cancelled my cards, changed passwords that I thought were at risk. I stopped losses out of my bank accounts and credit cards quickly. But I didn’t do enough.

My first clue that something was still amiss: a few days went by and I didn’t receive any mail. At first, I thought it was unusual, but only that. Then, after about a week, I checked into it. That’s when I found someone had submitted a change of address for my mail, posing as me. On that same day, I got a call from the Loews Coronado Hotel asking me if I had wanted the American Express card I was ordering to come to the hotel room or to my home.

“Getting to know Stan actually put a face on the scams and cons I was perpetrating. The victims of my crimes were nice people, just like Stan, and it made me realize how wrong I was.”

I notified the police of these activities, and left work immediately. I found out where my mail routing was done at the local post office, so I walked into the Mission Valley routing center and just went up to the first person I saw, asking them how to find out where my mail was going. This turned out to be a big violation of postal service protocol. No one is supposed to have access to the mail center without prior authorization or being an employee on duty. They hurried me out, but gave me the forwarding address. I immediately went to the post box shop in Kearny Mesa where my mail was being sent. I walked into the shop, asked to speak to the manager, and told them why I was there. While I was doing that, a man came up to me and introduced himself as a special investigator on stakeout at that location. We left the shop and went to his car. He and another detective had been waiting for the thief to show up to claim mail so they could arrest him. They had a known suspect identified.

I learned that my thief was working seven victims concurrently, that he had done this before, and that they felt they had enough evidence to put him in jail quickly. I shared all of my information with the detectives and we began to stay in touch.

I continued my own investigation work, compiling a behavior pattern and staying just in front of the thief’s efforts. I narrowly avoided him receiving a check for $8000 that had been drawn on my credit union account. And then I got a call from a woman who complained that “my” check had bounced. She was the mother of the person to whom the check had been written, and her daughter had accepted the check for work done for the thief. It took thirty minutes to convince the mother that I wasn’t the person who wrote the check. I gave all this information to the investigators.

After a great deal of time and disruption to my life, I had successfully replaced the cards, the license, the passport ,and the checks. I had secured my accounts. I lost only a couple of hundred dollars from my wallet. The money that was taken from an ATM machine was insured by the bank. But I lost some things that were irreplaceable. In my wallet were pictures of my daughters when they were babies. In my planner were letters from my daughters. Those letters and photos had been solace to me in hard times, beacons of love when I needed them most.

One day, I got a call from the special agent of the Secret Service. They had arrested the suspect and found him with enough evidence to convict him easily. I began to breathe easier.

“Frank”, the Criminal

I first learned about financial crimes in 1995 from a call girl I met while I was in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Pendelton. She introduced me to mail fraud at its most basic level — the actual theft of other people’s mail. We cashed checks, activated credit cards, and applied for credit through the mail using their identities.

Then I left the Corps in 1997 and didn’t do crime again until the death of my mother in January of 2002. I was very angry about my mother’s death, and I decided to take it out on the world. I went on a crime spree, knowing full well that eventually I would be caught. And yet, I didn’t care if and when that would happen.

So, I began. The first thing I did was go to a bookstore on Adams Avenue which specialized in different varieties of seedy and sordid topics. I walked out with a copy of a book titled How to Create a Brand New Identity from Scratch. I lived from hotel to hotel, staying at all the nicest ones in the city for one to two weeks at a time, while I taught myself how to get by on other people’s money. Eventually I was arrested by Postal Inspectors in 2002. I was convicted on five felony counts of fraud. I served four months in the San Diego County Jail.

Upon my release, still filled with anger, I jumped right back into fraud, but armed with more ambition and courage than before. I had also acquired additional occupational knowledge from my colleagues in jail. I was learning what worked for me and what didn’t, which scams could give me a regular income while I continued to self-teach, always dreaming of the next bigger scam. I became very private, a recluse. Any women in my life had to be short-lived relationships, two to three days maximum. And close friends were a thing of the past.

I met a man who could make perfect I.D. cards. We became as close as two cons could possibly be. He was doing checks and I was doing account take-overs. We would meet and exchange stories. He became the only person I could trust. He got arrested buying Rolex watches, his personal fetish. I was alone again.

As much as I missed my friend, I really missed his fake I.D.’s. Without those cards, I had to reinvent my crimes. And not only were they much tougher to do, I needed to be more imaginative. I used P.O. boxes in ritzy neighborhoods like La Jolla for appearances, and found it very easy to open them over the phone with a credit card. I was rarely forced to show complete identification for every mailing name listed. Using a company name and later linking multiple names to that account, I was always able to receive at least three to four different people’s mail. When I had someone’s personal information (and very little was necessary), it was simple to contact their credit companies to cancel their current cards and have new ones issued. The card companies would mail the new cards to the home address, and I had already put in a temporary change of address for 12 to 14 days. The card simply got re-routed to the P.O. box I had rented. It was a basic scam, and it always worked. It became my bread-and-butter con.

Living from hotel to hotel seemed to lead the Secret Service to me. One day, I left a lot of my own personal information in a room I had to abandon. They got that information and so they knew my name and some of my aliases. Now they also had photos of me. They began to put up flyers in all the fancy hotels in the San Diego area. I had to keep moving every couple of days to avoid capture. I purchased merchandise each week worth about $2000 to $3000. I saved nothing. Shopping for other people became boring.

Then I started spending a lot of time concentrating on one particular victim, whom I saw as my own personal “golden goose”. His name was Stan Sewitch. I received his information from an Asian call girl who I met one night at the Motel 6 in Clairemont Mesa. She handed me a stack of papers which included a passport, bank debit card, two check books, a credit union business card with his account number and his various personal identification (PIN) codes on the back.

I quickly accessed the checking account for which there were checks. I found out there was $900 left in it. It felt like the money was being used as bait to see who would come in and cash the checks. What really had me intrigued was the new account he had opened at a credit union. The particular credit union he was using always applied a default code of 1-2-3-4 for new customers on their telephone banking line. The customers are supposed to immediately go in and change the password. Most don’t. Stan hadn’t done this yet. This is where many people fall victim to fraud, because they seldom use the telephone banking line when they can use the internet or just drop in. They end up changing the passwords for their check cards, for their website and for their in-person activities, but not for the phone access. That was how I got into Stan’s account information.

His new account was four months old and carried about $100,000 in savings, He averaged $3000-$9000 in checking. What I found interesting were his banking habits during that period. He made very large deposits into checking, transferred the monies into savings, then seemed to withdraw amounts, but always kept the balance at about $100,000. I didn’t know what he was doing with the funds, but my imagination went wild. I not only wanted all of his funds in those accounts, I also wanted to know everything about his whole life. I learned as much as I could about him, studying him intently. I even cracked his passcode for his home telephone answering service, and I would routinely check his messages two to five times a day. Not many people know that when they use message system software operated by their telephone service provider, it is accessible through this type of hacking by other people.

One day, I heard a message from a person who had called Stan to let him know that he was investigating the theft of Stan’s identity and that the detective had some leads. Now I knew I had multiple law enforcement agencies hot on my tail. But I refused to stop pursuing Stan’s assets. I felt I could “win”.

I decided to do an automatic withdrawal of $8000, and have the check sent to my P.O. box, which was all set up to receive Stan’s mail. I had previously put in a temporary change of address, redirecting Stan’s mail to my box. At this point, I was living on the concierge floor of the Marriott in Mission Valley. I had two new vehicles: a Chevy Blazer and a Suburban. I had a large new wardrobe, lots of cash and lots of drugs. I was posing as a big-time private security agent, complete with corporate credit cards, business cards, suits, a California Identification card, driver’s license, and a California weapons permit card. Impressive, but all bogus, of course.

Then one night around midnight, I drove up to the hotel, sat in the car with its motor idling and just stared up at the room I was living in. Something felt wrong. I kept staring until finally I trusted my instincts and drove off fast. I went back to Clairemont at about 100 miles per hour, and pulled into a Travel Lodge to visit a friend. Before I went up, I sat in my Suburban and smoked a cigarette, searching my suspicions and paranoia.

Then someone was screaming at me: “Get your f#@%ing hands up, Frank, or I will shoot you right in your f#@%ing face!!” The Secret Service and I finally became intimate acquaintances. They not only had me, they also had my briefcase, which contained all the evidence they needed.

I learned that the arresting officer and I had something in common: we were both former Marines. I believe knowing this made the agents ease up on me a bit, and they became more courteous during the processing. I received a conviction of four more felony counts of fraud, and I did about 8 months in County Jail.

Upon release, I again returned to my old ways except this time around, I got really heavy into drugs, and my ability to perform deteriorated. I got sloppy. Two months after my release, I got busted by the Secret Service again, the same agent. This time I had counterfeit twenties with me, and fraud paraphernalia—the tools of the trade.

I was as strung out as I had ever been in my life, and I was really embarrassed that I was being arrested again by my fellow Marine. I was brought to the Secret Service office downtown where the agent attempted to cut a deal. He asked me to rat out the people making the phony money. I declined and he didn’t press the issue further. I felt that I had maintained some amount of character, even at this low point.

I was convicted of five more felony counts of fraud, bringing my grand total to 14. I was sentenced to five years. I was sent to Jamestown to be trained as a wildland firefighter. At fire camp, my sentence got reduced to 35%. I did only 22 months of the five-year sentence. During this time, I asked my public defender if he could send me the police reports of all three of my arrests. I wanted to look at my mistakes, and also see if any of my friends had turned me in. This was how I first learned of Stan’s proposition.

My backpack held my passport, checkbook, wallet, business cards, computer, cell phone and work papers. I also had passwords and bank account numbers in my wallet.

When Stan was contacted by the Victims’ Restitution officer during my second arrest and trial, they asked him what he thought he deserved as compensation for the crime. He stated that he felt my sentencing was reasonable, and then he added that upon my release, he suggested I might work for him. He said that this was a way to put my abilities to better use, and might improve my chances of staying out of jail. He said he felt I was a very intelligent man and that if I could direct my energies in positive ways, I could do quite well.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My “golden goose,” the rich guy whom I studied harder than anyone else I pursued, actually wanted to help me after all the crap I did to him! Wow!! I had no idea how to take the whole idea, and pondered it over and over again. I debated if and how I should contact him after I was released.

I asked whoever would listen in fire camp what they thought about me contacting Stan. I got various opinions. My favorite bit of advice was given by an inmate from New Jersey. He was a real tough guy and said he was connected back east to the mob. He told me, “Frank, the Italians are good at whacking people, some of the best killers ever. But nobody, and I mean NOBODY, whacks people better than the Jews!”

Well, I finally got released November 4th, 2005. I was running around, trying to get situated as best I could. When you get out of jail, you have the clothes you came in with, a bus ticket back to your parole territory, whatever legitimate money you had when you arrived — and that’s about it. I think it was my second day out when I said to myself, “What the hell! What can it hurt?” I searched Stan’s name on Google, and there he was, all over the screen. Tons of public information about him and his career in business, the things he’d done, the things he’d written. I found his business website and email address. I contacted him.

Stan Gets to See If He Really Believes What He Said

On November 6th, 2005, two years after Frank was jailed for crimes related to theft of my identity and others, I opened my e-mail to the following message:

  • MR. SEWITCH, I’M NOT SURE IF YOU WILL REMEMBER ME OR NOT. MY NAME IS FRANK AND I WAS ARRESTED A WHILE BACK FOR FRAUD CHARGES AND IDENTITY THEFT IN WHICH UNFORTUNATELY YOU WERE INVOLVED. I’D LIKE TO TAKE THIS CHANCE TO APOLOGIZE TO YOU FOR ANY INCONVIENENCES I MAY HAVE CAUSED YOU. AT THE POINT OF MY ARREST SIR, YOU MADE MENTION TO THE ARRESTING OFFICER THAT PERHAPS YOU WOULD BE WILLING TO MAKE ME AN OFFER FOR POSSIBLE EMPLOYMENT AND MAYBE EVEN AN EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY. IF IT’S NOT TOO LATE SIR AND IF LUCK IS AT ALL ON MY SIDE, WELL THEN HOPEFULLY I’LL HEAR FROM YOU. THANK YOU.

I sat slack-jawed for a few minutes. Then I wrote back:

  • Frank,
  • Of course, I remember you. It took me four months to reconstruct my financial security and replace the documents you took.
  • When the Crime Victims’ Support officer asked me what restitution I would want from you, I said that you were obviously a smart, hard-working person, and that you had chosen the wrong career in which to apply your talents. I told her that I’d rather have you work for me for free for a year than see you behind bars.
  • I would consider helping you find work that could lead to a much better life than the one you have lived so far. It might include working for me, or it might be working for someone else. It might include training. I know a lot of good people in this county.
  • But for me to be able to help you, you will have to earn my trust. I hope you can appreciate that this is necessary, considering how you’ve acted in the past.
  • To begin earning my trust, I will need some information to start…

What followed was a long period of correspondence, where I asked a lot of questions and checked out Frank’s story. And I worked through my feelings of anger, outrage and desire for retribution. It didn’t take too long, because there was a time in my own life when the path I was on and Frank’s were not much different. Ultimately, I saw this strange turn of events as an opportunity to make amends for those insults and injuries that I had visited upon others myself, when as a young man I drifted directionless, without a moral compass.

Frank the Apprentice

I can’t recall the exact amount of time it took Stan to respond, but it wasn’t long. He replied, yes, he still meant what he said. And that’s how our relationship started. We emailed each other back and forth. He asked a lot of questions about me and my history and why I committed my crimes. After a couple of months of correspondence, we decided to meet. We were both nervous about it, and for good reason. When I was in prison, I imagined the worst-case and best-case scenarios. The meeting turned out to be the best case. Over time, we slowly got to know one another. Stan really wanted to learn about me as a person.

In anger, I had started my life of crime at age 33. But getting to know Stan actually put a face on the scams and cons I was perpetrating. The victims of my crimes were nice people, just like Stan, and it made me realize how wrong I was. I always feel a certain amount of guilt whenever we’re together, and that’s good, because I should. At the same time, being forgiven by him makes me feel as though I was forgiven for all of the victims’ losses.

I have met a few of Stan’s close friends and have created some ties with them as well. Out of the six or seven of his friends that I have met, Stan told only his wife and one other person (who has hired me for some projects) how Stan and I got to be acquainted. I have come to realize that I can talk to Stan about things in my life and look at him as sort of a mentor. My father passed in 1996 and he never really was like that when he was alive.

Because of my crimes and going off to prison, I have had to start all over, but my life is more positive now than it’s ever been. I am growing more and more confident that I can truly be an asset to society. Stan keeps pointing out my talents as well as my faults. He has taught me that short cuts are not the way to do things and that I can believe in myself and my abilities. At 37 years old, I feel as though I’m 21 again, or just out of High School, beginning my life. I feel very hopeful for my future.

It was a great blessing creating a relationship with Mr. Sewitch, and today I can truly call him my friend. I have a conscience today, where before there was none. The three or four years I spent doing fraud were the saddest, loneliest years in my life. I cannot stress enough how Stan’s idea of taking a negative and turning it into a positive really can work, and is something that should be sought after wherever possible. He could have easily had hatred for me forever; instead, he chose a different course, and it has been overwhelmingly beneficial to both of us. I could have not contacted him, afraid to face my victim, but I did, and that too has been beneficial to both of us.

I have two young daughters, seven-year-old Savannah, and Donna Jean, who is nine. They both know their father was in prison three times, for “using other people’s money.” And although I know they will always love me no matter what, I’m sure my incarceration was not something they liked to brag about at school. Now, because of Stan and I deciding to make a positive out of our prior relationship, my girls can read our story, if it’s published for all the world to see. And they can know for themselves that even Dads can make mistakes, that Dads can make really bad choices, but Dads can also learn from their errors. Wrongs committed should be righted.

I hope this published story helps them to feel better about me and the things I have done in my past. As they grow older, they can read it and re-read it, to know their father’s story started out pretty bad, but he turned it around.

And I’ll send a copy of this to my arresting officer, my fellow Marine, with a big “Ooooh Rah!”

So, Stan Hired Him

Frank did market research for a product line that I’d been working on for some years, related to martial arts training. He was an adept student in the business methods and, as expected, a very smart man. He was also pursuing his own career development in sales and marketing. He demonstrated that he has abilities to succeed in an ethical, professional career, using the same skills that he previously applied to stealing from others.

Now it was up to Frank, to stay on the path he’d chosen. And that path was to choose truth over deceit, hard work and diligence over the short cuts, and quality of relationships instead of using people as tools. He neared an anniversary of great importance to him—the most time he’d spent out of jail without being arrested, in over five years.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that by moving towards my enemy, I have a chance to not only make him my friend, but I have a chance to live a life of peace instead of anger and victimization. If I engage my attacker with an open heart, allowing him to change if he wants to, then I feel at peace. These are the concepts I study in my martial arts training, but thankfully have had few opportunities to apply. Frank represented that opportunity for me. Whether or not he continues with his new life won’t affect the peace I’ve felt in establishing a relationship with him.

Another thing I learned is that our “correctional” institutions and processes are only good at increasing the chances that criminals will repeat their crimes. Recidivism has been quoted at 80% and higher by law enforcement statisticians. Assuming the convict even really wants to change, starting over after a life of crime requires a tremendous amount of effort and the odds are stacked against it. A convict emerges from prison more educated in how to be a criminal, and with fewer options to pursue other than crime: no money, no job, no place to live, few employers willing to hire a convict and a set of acquaintances or “friends” that are typically still involved in criminal behavior. There’s got to be a better way to stop this cycle.

Frank and I were experimenting with a new set of methods. Let’s see how it turns out.

Stan, Now Many Years Later

Frank kept it up for a while, maybe a year. Then he returned to using meth, conducting fraud scams and flitting from place to place. He was soon incarcerated again, working the fire lines across Southern California. As far as I know he’s still in prison.

I don’t think the experiment was a failure, because it was just that: an experiment, me saying, “Let’s see what happens if we apply engagement and understanding. What if we give a hand up after a fall?”

In his case, Frank didn’t apply his abilities to the new path for long enough to see positive results or to develop new habits. So, for him, I would say the experiment failed. There was nothing I could do about his side of the experimental equation after extending the hand.

In my case, I benefitted greatly from engaging with my attacker. My attitude toward him changed from a threat to an opportunity to apply what I say are my values. I learned that I still like those values. They make my life more peaceful and positive. Even when I may experience personal losses. Perhaps especially then.

Part of my agreement with Frank when I hired him was that he had to work with me to write this story. My thought was that it would be a public service for him to educate others about the risks, methods and consequences of identity theft. Some of the techniques he used are no longer possible, now that security methods have improved a great deal. His mail-forwarding scam can’t work any longer, for example. Credit card companies are much more attentive to odd requests from their customers. But there are new ways to steal someone’s identity and use their sensitive information for personal financial gain.

My commitment to him was that I would find a way to publish this story for the benefit of others. I wasn’t able to do it in 2006 when it was first written. I got busy with work and life. But in the back of my mind has been this nagging awareness that I hadn’t followed through. Maybe if a “Frank” out there reads this story, they might decide on a different path. Maybe if a “Stan” out there sees this, they might decide to not be a victim and try a constructive response to such an attack.

And as a result of publishing this story, maybe I will be able to improve my own ability to stay constructive when threatened or harmed. These last couple of years have tested that resolve more than a little.

— Stan Sewitch and “Frank”


DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP

The plaque has stayed up there;

I’ve kept it aloft

as memento reminder

for myths and sea tales, they do have their uses

It’s not only shout out

to long gone “Commander”

but bookmark of boyhood thrills to imagine

and benchmark example for grace under fire

The thing’s a proud symbol;

an eagle with the scrip—a top 40 sentiment

“Don’t Give Up the Ship”—not just rah-rah apocrypha

but wise, fabled words

applicable to all manner

of situ and seascape.

And what about now?

All sorts of cultural grapeshot in play

This plaque is reminder

that taking the colors

finding a rowboat

and making a mad dash

as to continue the fight

Is not only an option

but DNA impulse

in the midst of the smoke

at the height of the struggle

So, you take the flag

and I’ll grab an oar

as wherever we land

we’ll start up once more.

— Charlie Berigan


ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

My father is a simple man. He likes fruit, one of his cats, the glorious game of cricket, and Persian mystical poetry. He can happily recite the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz by heart in his native tongue of Farsi, for hours. This brings him unspeakable joy. The only problem is finding an audience.

When the urge strikes, his strategy has mostly been to sit on the couch and call an emergency assembly of whoever he can find in the house. In past years, it ended up being a motley crew of family members and any unsuspecting visitors who happened to be in the vicinity, like the plumber or the pool guy. He would regularly summon the Guatemalan gardener from the avocado grove, an infinitely kind man who spoke neither Farsi nor English and would sit quietly with his arms folded, gazing sweetly at my father, I assume mentally reviewing his grocery list.

Oh, and the cat. My father would call to his favorite cat, a wildly handsome Maine Coon with zero bad hair days and a problematic attitude of superiority, and order him to sit on the couch, next to the gardener. The cat did not like the gardener, but for some mystical reason, he would sit for poetry readings.

It has been said that pets take after their owners in appearance. When my father immigrated to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan in the early 1970’s, he had what can only be described as Elvis hair — jet black, long lustrous waves, gratuitous sideburns. The situation was borderline unbelievable. People would stop him in the street and coo. He is normally a bit reserved around strangers, but after a while, he got used to his flashy Middle Eastern mane being a topic of conversation. It brought him out of his shell. I would find him unburdening his soul to random passersby:

“As a child, I used to climb mango trees and eat as many as I could reach. Now I’m prediabetic, so I grow avocados.”

“Football is nice, but have you been saved by our lord and savior, cricket?”

“Get a load of my handsome cat! He’s so handsome, I keep a photo in my wallet.”

Then, little by little, his hair blew away in the wind. One day in his seventies, he looked at himself and realized that his trusty conversation starter had... stopped. Elvis had left the building. So my father marched himself down to Walmart and bought a baseball cap. And now that I have figured out how to customize baseball caps, we’re about to up his game. I have enough slogans to span all the remaining birthdays and Father’s Days:

  • -#1 Rumi Fan
  • -The Karachi Kid
  • -Mango Addict
  • -Honk if You Like Avocados
  • -Let’s Talk Cricket
  • -Ask Me About My Handsome Cat

I’m just getting started. Imelda Marcos had 3000 pairs of shoes. How many hats can we fit in his closet?

On Father’s Day last year, I drove up to Fallbrook to gift him his first cap in this series, which boldly announces to the world that he is very much #TeamRumi. I hope it starts a few conversations so he can make new friends, who can then be lured into his living room and seated next to the cat and the gardener for matinee performances.

My father is a simple man. He likes fruit, one of his cats, the glorious game of cricket, and Persian mystical poetry. He can happily recite the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz by heart in his native tongue of Farsi, for hours.

For dessert, I attempted an ultra-Persian riff on strawberry shortcake. The base was a vanilla cake mix from Trader Joe’s spiked with cardamom and interlaced with four layers of rose-infused cream, rose water macerated watermelon, fistfuls of strawberries, pistachios, pomegranates, and a sprinkling of edible rose petals, because, well, I love him. He got so excited, he swiped a watermelon chunk out of the middle before we could cut the first slice. We almost had to yell, “Jenga!”

My father is a simple man who used to have Elvis hair. He likes fruit, one of his cats, his faithful gardener, the glorious game of cricket, Persian mystical poetry, and his soon-to-be epic collection of customized baseball caps. His favorite Rumi poem goes like this: “Laughter always follows tears / Blessed are those who understand / Life blossoms wherever water flows...”

Years from now, I can imagine how this all plays out. “What are you doing, Papa?” I ask, as he stares up into the branches of an old avocado tree. He looks at me with wistful eyes, removes a worn cap that says MY CAT IS THE FELINE FABIO, draws it to his heart, slowly, with feeling, and runs a trembling hand through a few remaining strands of hair. Then he breaks into a mischievous grin and delivers his best original poetry to date: “Just thinkin’ about the ghost of Elvis.

In the early days of the pandemic, I took a photo that haunted me. It was a view of urban San Diego as seen from the driver’s seat in my car, but it could have been the Pakistan of my father’s childhood, or anywhere else in the world where life takes place out in the open. In strange lands far away, people get haircuts in the street, hold weddings in the street, buy groceries in the street.

Street food is king, of course. If you’re lucky, a few flies are thrown in as bonus protein. The locals will tell you a secret: If the food is good enough, squeamishness has a way of evaporating hypnotically, like steam out of an old brass tea kettle. Priorities tend to shift in flight. Some problems go away on the street. Others emerge, usually at night. Street life is complicated, like life itself.

Here in America’s Finest City, as we quarantined snug in our homes, a curious exhibitionist street culture was emerging in fits and starts, blooming in the fresher air of strip mall sidewalks and warehouse parking lots. It was typified by a nail salon in Hillcrest operating alfresco on a small portion of pavement next to its abandoned building.

Parking my car to run errands one day, I found myself unexpectedly in the mix, staring at a woman’s French manicure through my windshield. That’s when I took the photo and wrote a caption that still gives me pause, more than a year later: “This salon has no waiting room, no formal space to contain the process from start to finish. The waiting room extends into my car, to the freeway, and out past the ocean where ragged magazines litter the horizon with blond ambitions and dreams of celebrity hairdos far out of reach. I wait, but no one calls my name.”

We are all watching and waiting, adapting day by day to the amorphous empty spaces created by irreversible loss, scanning the sidewalk for new signs of life pushing its exotic fruit up through the cracks, wondering if our streets will ever be the same, or if we want them to be.

Meanwhile, the immigrants have been adapting forever. They’re painting our toenails in the open air in front of a neon sign that says OPEN, chatting with us about lovers and movies as cars whiz by, making us feel beautiful again, holding our hands gently in theirs, as if to say, “We survived by dreaming of a better world. You can too.”

We roll our eyes as steam billows from the foot bath like a snake emerging from a basket. Charmed, I’m sure. The sentiment seems too simple. But as the wind picks up, we can’t help but follow the steam with our gaze as it gyrates in a mesmerizing dance around an alley cat swishing a languid rumba down the road and a gardener who removes his baseball cap to reveal a perfect jet black pompadour, far above our heads, past a police helicopter, into the clouds, where the atmosphere is thinner and priorities shift in flight, where skepticism dissolves into whatever dreams are made of.

In strange lands far away, the locals will tell you a secret: Life blossoms wherever water flows.

— Nasreen Yazdani


ELEGY FOR DIANA ISSA, (1981-2021)

We were all together,

but not really,

she was missing,

but she was everywhere.

Dave poured her ashes

in the bonfire. The moon

drowned us. Windblown,

she flew in our eyes,

rode our tears, sizzled

bright like fireflies. We

danced to her favorite

song as snippets rocketed

past us, her smile, her

essence—glowdust—blazed

up, then fading away.

— Jennifer Karp


SMORGASBORDS IN THE 1970s: A SAN DIEGO STORY

Mom loved to eat. But she didn’t love to cook. Before Dad died in 1971, my younger brother and sister and I usually sat down in the kitchen to a dinner of Spaghetti Os and Banquet TV dinners while Mom and Dad ate their TV dinners in the living room in front of the television. After Dad’s death from an inevitable heart attack, Mom expanded our meal options several days a week by herding us into the car and venturing over to Washington Street, the main drag near our home in Mission Hills. For the next several years, we ate lots of take-out from the fast food joints that were conveniently located a few blocks away.

Thanks to the coupons that came regularly in the newspaper, we kids quickly exceeded our recommended lifetime allowance of chili dogs and fries from Der Wienerschnitzel. We were ecstatic when Mom would “pack up the kids, and crank up the car, to Jack in The Box.” There was so much to love about the place: Tacos, apple turnovers, milk shakes and onion rings, plus balloons for the kids. On Sundays, Mom would send me to the KFC, which was just a couple of blocks away from our house, to get a bucket of regular fried chicken. We also ate a lot of good pizza, thanks to the close proximity of Little Italy, which was just a quick car ride down Reynard Way.

And then Mom discovered the smorgasbords.

In the early ’70s, there were three popular all-you-can-eat places in San Diego. Mom’s preferred restaurant was Sir George’s, where you could “enjoy a royal feast at sandwich prices.” I think they were located in La Mesa and in Chula Vista, so Mom had to drive a bit to get there. It was worth the drive.

Sir George’s food was great. There were lots of salads and vegetables. I loved veggies, and since we didn’t get any vegetables, either at home or with our take-out meals, I always loaded up my plate with them when I had the chance. Their legendary fritters were delicately crispy on the outside and soft and slightly sweet on the inside. Mom would reserve an entire dinner plate for these tasty morsels. But the item that drove her to distraction was the chicken. She could not resist those crunchy golden pieces of fried chicken, which nestled together in a rectangular silver pan under the heat lamps, ready for the taking. Unlike the Colonel’s chicken, which was salty and had too many secret herbs and spices, Sir George’s chicken had mild seasoning and a thin breading. Mom could not get enough of it. The price for a dinner at Sir George’s was a very reasonable two bucks a person, and kids’ price was a bit less. We were never allowed to order a drink, however, because they came at an additional cost.

Mom’s preferred restaurant was Sir George’s, where you could “enjoy a royal feast at sandwich prices.” I think they were located in La Mesa and in Chula Vista, so Mom had to drive a bit to get there. It was worth the drive.

Perry Boys Smorgy was a newcomer to San Diego in the early ’70s. It opened up in Kearny Mesa, just off a freeway that Mom always referred to as Highway 395 even though it had been renamed 163 sometime in the ’60s. I think the restaurant was located near the current location of Target and Business Costco. Perry Boys Smorgy’s floor space was huge and had lots of oversized red vinyl-covered booths that sat six. Their menu included regular daily staples like fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy and lots of jello squares. But to keep things interesting, there were rotating menus as well. They would serve Italian food on Tuesday, Mexican food on Wednesday, and Chinese food on Thursday, for example. Perry Boy’s food was definitely not as tasty as the food served at Sir George’s, but it had two things in its favor that had us kids hooked on the place: the soft drinks and soft serve ice cream were included in the price, and we could serve ourselves.

The bad thing about unlimited trips to the soda fountain and dessert table was that we kids had no self-control. I will always remember our final trip to Perry Boys Smorgy. Mom allowed me to bring one of my friends. The four of us kids engaged in a session of soda and ice cream gluttony that ended when my six year old sister suddenly complained of a bad stomach ache. Mom told her to stop eating, but it was too late. She whined that she needed to throw up. Mom looked across the expansive floor towards the restroom and knew that she would never make it there in time. “Quick, get under the table,” Mom whispered. My sister ducked underneath the table and proceeded to vomit everything she had eaten, while I sat quietly and rolled my eyes disgustedly at my friend, who had a horrified look on her face. Suddenly, none of us felt like eating anymore. As soon as my sister popped up from under the table, Mom hustled us out of there, leaving a disgusting mess and no tip for the unlucky person who was stuck with the clean-up. We didn’t return to that restaurant again.

The other all-you-can-eat place was the Bit of Sweden Smorgasbord. It was located just a few miles from home, up on busy El Cajon Boulevard, amid the car dealerships, furniture stores and funeral homes. The dining room was tiny, with round wooden tables that had real tablecloths. There were colorful wooden clogs and a framed old map of Sweden mounted on the wall for decoration. The buffet table was very small and featured mostly exotic stuff like cucumber and dill with sour cream and Swedish meatballs with gravy, but they also had roasted chicken, which made Mom happy. This food was too fancy to suit the simple palates of small children, and we didn’t care for it much.

Whenever Mom took us to Sir George’s to eat, she had a plan in mind. The plan was to not only fill our stomachs, but to fill other things too. She would give each of us kids a canvas tote bag, which we were to keep folded and stuffed in our jacket pockets when we entered the restaurant. As Mom hustled us through the buffet line, we kids could take what we preferred to eat, but we had to leave space on our plates, because Mom would simultaneously load them with chicken pieces.

After we returned to the table, Mom’s communicative eyes would signal us to pass our bags to her from under the table. She would look around to make sure no one was watching, then she would open up a stack of paper napkins in her lap. While we kids chowed down, Mom would snatch a piece of chicken from someone’s plate, drop it in the napkin her lap, roll it up, and place it in a canvas bag. She did this until the bags were full. Her goal was to leave the restaurant with at least five or six breast pieces in each bag. She never bothered with legs or wings. Mom would then fill her own bag with a dozen or more of those tasty fritters. When it was time to leave, each kid would have to carry out a bag of fried chicken. We always left very quickly, with our food bags jammed under our jackets.

When we got home, Mom would take the bags to the kitchen, containerize the chicken in yellow Tupperware and store it in the fridge. The fritters usually were eaten up that same night in front of the television, but the chicken would keep Mom fed for several days. I don’t remember us kids ever eating any of that stolen chicken. We didn’t really care much for it. So, while Mom dined on pilfered chicken, we kids were happy to return to TV dinners and Campbells soup meals.

Sir George’s suffered the most from Mom’s kleptomania. Perry Boy’s food was not really good enough to steal with regularity, although Mom was not averse to packing some bags there from time to time. My little brother and sister were too young to understand what was happening, but I aways felt pretty guilty about being an accomplice to these thefts. Mom seemed to know I was bothered by it, because she always justified her actions to me on the drive home. She would say things like, “Your father is dead, and you can’t blame me for doing what I have to do to keep my children fed.” Or, “Their prices are too high and I am trying to get more for my money.” She would also say, “They know they are going to have some losses, they figure it in the price, so we aren’t really doing anything wrong.” Mom felt that this activity was okay, as long as you didn’t get caught. I was 12 years old, old enough to know that we were stealing and her excuses didn’t make it right.

One evening, Mom took us kids to the Bit of Sweden Smorgasbord. As usual, she armed each of us with a tote bag and we knew the drill. But I was getting older, almost a teenager, and I was also getting a rebellious attitude. I didn’t want to be a part of it any more. As we waited at the red light at Park Boulevard, I defiantly told Mom that I didn’t want to carry a bag. She grabbed her hitting stick off the dashboard, swatted me, and told me that I did not have a choice in the matter. Her angry eyes clearly warned me that if I did not cooperate, I would be whipped when we got home.

I sullenly stared out the car window and said nothing else about it. I did not have a choice. I silently took note of the landmarks that we kids used as navigation coordinates whenever Mom took us on drives along El Cajon Blvd: The Lafayette Hotel and The Red Fox Room, whose red fox on the sign looked like a red Wile E. Coyote. Dave’s Flower Shop, the place where we went to pick out flowers for Dad’s funeral. The huge metal water tower, which we kids liked to call the big water bug. The Bob’s Big Boy statue, that big chubby blue-eyed kid in the red and white checkered overalls, beckoning us to come in and try a Big Boy burger. We were getting closer. Minutes later, we arrived at Bit of Sweden and entered the restaurant with our concealed canvas bags.

 Once we were shown to our table, Mom did her thing. She filled our plates with chicken, and we all sat down to eat. Mom started wrapping up chicken in her lap and filled the bags that were passed to her under the table. After she had filled three bags, Mom gave me the eye signal to pass my bag. I refused. I was not going to steal anymore. She couldn’t say a thing to me in the restaurant, but her frightening glare told me that I would soon be getting a sound beating. I didn’t care. I was through with smorgasbord shoplifting and was willing to take my punishment. Mom passed a full bag to each of my young siblings. We all got up to leave.

As we passed by the front desk, we were stopped by the manager, a tiny old woman with a foreign accent. She ordered us back into the dining room. “Attention guests,” she loudly announced. “I would like you all to look at these thieves and see what they stole from our restaurant.” Then a tall man came from the kitchen and stood in front of the door so we could not bolt. “Come over here, open your coats, and show everyone what is in your bags,” she sternly commanded, motioning to an empty table. Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating and turned to watch the free entertainment. Mom meekly dumped her bag of chicken out on the table. Some of the pieces plopped out of the napkins. My bewildered little brother and sister followed suit and dumped out the contents of their bags. There was now an outrageously large pile of chicken and napkins covering the table. It was my turn. I sauntered over to the table, turned my empty bag upside down, looked at the guests, and at Mom, and defiantly smiled as nothing fell out.

The tiny old Swedish lady lowered the boom: “Now take your bags and your children and leave! Never, ever, return! If we see you again, we will call the police!”

We turned and ran out of the Bit of Sweden, with Mom shouting, “We didn’t really like your food anyhow!” The drive home was silent. Even the little kids knew better than to say anything that would result in Mom grabbing the stick off the dash and threatening them with it. We never darkened Bit of Sweden’s door again. Even though we drove past the restaurant often over the years, we never spoke of that humiliating event. Mom never made us carry bags for her again. And no, I did not get a beating that night.

— Tammy Yorysh


GRACE

A day of simple translucence.

Awake early, no memory of dreaming.

Two cups of coffee just right, strong, softened with cream.

The melaleuca tree shimmered in sun through a transparent window.

No one called before noon. I felt such contentment.

Later, weeded the yard, thankful for fingers in earth, blue bucket brimming with green.

Down the street kids played baseball in afternoon light on a dirt diamond

while fathers and uncles coached new skills.

Thoughts of Quincy my grandson brought big grins and sweet longing.

Soon I’ll travel north to visit him and his parents.

And now, up high to the left a palm tree quivering, sings in breezes

at nightfall as I wait to meet Anaita, mi vecina, my friend.

— Peter Lautz


YIPPIE

(Gardener Pinnacles, Hawaiian Islands – June 3rd, 1942)

Up in the crow’s nest of the Southern Cross, Joao, a Portuguese crewman, was assigned an early morning watch to check for any enemy movement. “Bonito,” Joao said, observing the Milky Way galaxy, which splashed across the moonless sky illuminating the boat, and the coral-ringed Gardener Pinnacles off in the distance. The heavenly sight was the only noteworthy event Joao observed in the second hour of his watch.

Southern Cross, YP-251, was a San Diego tuna clipper repurposed for naval service in 1942 as part of a class of vessels known as “Yippie,” a slang term for yard patrol craft. They consisted of yachts, harbor craft, and fishing vessels, requisitioned for military service to supplement America’s growing maritime forces. Currently steaming south of Midway Island, the Southern Cross was assigned to assist in re-fueling patrol aircraft, rescue downed pilots, and check for Japanese activity along the length of the Hawaiian Islands.

Joao had come to the states from Madeira in 1939, living with his Tia’s family in San Diego’s Portuguese community. He commercially fished the elusive tuna along California’s Pacific Coast. When war broke out, as a non-citizen, Joao was not allowed to enlist. He felt rejected, believing it was his sacred duty to serve his new adopted country. But, when the U.S. military requisitioned tuna clippers as naval auxiliaries, they needed experienced crewmen. Joao was allowed to join the Reserve Navy due to his expertise, becoming a third class seaman. He vowed to give his all, and not let his United States down.

It had been a month since he’d left San Diego, and the burly twenty-year-old fantasized about his Irish girlfriend, a red-headed nurse’s aide named Evonne. He’d met her at a church social, timidly asking her to dance, being overwhelmed by her acceptance. “Indeed, I will,” she gleefully announced, joining her hands with his.

From that first moment, their affection for each other grew. Joao was in love, struck by the “thunderbolt.” He believed their unique ethnic customs, familial bonds and religious beliefs made them fit into a blended American culture. He dreamed of a future life together.

Joao watched as the rising sun crept up from an eastern horizon. The hazy sunlight illuminated the outline of a vessel bearing out of the western shadows. Joao strained his eyes, trying to recognize this shadowy intruder, which seemed to be maneuvering towards the Southern Cross. Then he recognized it...and it wasn’t good.

Filho da puta,” he muttered, then yelled down the voice tube to the helmsman in the pilot house, “Jap’a sub, porta quarter!”

Joao heard the command over the PA system, “Man the guns...let’s crank her up.” The crewmen scrambled to man up the three .50-caliber machine guns stations, load them with ammo, and start firing out at the sub. The tuna clipper vibrated as the full throttled diesel engine pushed the vessel towards its adversary. “Merda!” Joao winced at the staccato bursts of the machine guns. Realizing his action station was supplying ammo and delivering messages to the gun crews, Joao shinnied down the mast, hit the main deck, and ran to his machine gun post.

The crack of the Japanese sub’s main deck gun crashed out, its shell whizzed above the pilot house. Within a minute, a second shell hit the pilot house, exploding half of it into a thousand splinters, spewing wooden shrapnel over the boat’s main deck. Peeking over the gunwale, he saw the Japanese sub motor alongside, pumping machine gun bullets into the tuna clipper

The Southern Cross was dead in the water, listing to port. A small raft with Japanese sailors started across to the tuna clipper, hoping to find any intel on U.S. fleet movements. Smoke and fire rose from the boat’s stern, where the 50-gallon barrels of aviation fuel was stored. Then, in a thundering blast and a flash of flame, the boat exploded, spewing metal shrapnel and wooden debris through the air, smashing the Japanese raft and striking the upper decks of the sub.

Joao was in shock, his body peppered with slivers of wood, a large wooden splinter embedded into his upper leg. Ears ringing and buzzing, Joao fell back against the starboard gunwale. “Que diabo!” he mumbled, as the water rose around him, swirling and sucking the Southern Cross under. Joao struggled to pray, gripping the small crucifix around his neck, Forgive me father — I did my duty — let my madre and tia not suffer my death...Oh — take care of Evonne. In his confused mind, Joao thought it was a fisherman’s day — the tuna were running — the sky was so blue.

A U.S. destroyer, receiving the tuna clipper’s distress signal, raced toward the Pinnacles. They located the sub, creeping along, its conning tower demolished, spewing fuel from its damaged hull. The destroyer’s guns smashed what was left of the sub and watched as it slowly sank into the blue Pacific waters.

An hour later, the destroyer reached the Pinnacles, searching around the coral reef, finding no survivors from the Southern Cross. Amid the floated debris, a small, water-logged framed black and white photo was found. It showed a young couple embracing on a pier, a fishing boat in the background. They beamed at the camera, displaying the affection they had for each other.

An honor detail and a religious service was held with all hands, honoring the seamen who had died in that morning’s conflict. Knowing that the crew were mainly tuna fisherman, the destroyer’s chaplain, an Irish priest from a Portuguese parish in Masschusetts, gave the final blessing in English — and Portuguese, as the sun slowly disappeared into the western Pacific.

— Manuel Pia


HERO AND LEANDER

Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite and enjoined to chastity. But she fell in love with Leander, a young man who swam the Bosporus each evening to the shore below the temple. Hero always placed a lantern on her window ledge to guide Leander. One night a storm extinguished the lantern and Leander was drowned. When his body washed ashore, Hero leapt from her window to join him in death.

Tonight, as any other, I swim to your distant shore

Gasping, I cleave the narrow straits, and swear

I will cross no more

But you stand there, robed, exquisite; I rise up from the sands

This love, this splendid madness, seeks the touch of your sweet hands

And tonight, like wine in a great God’s cup

Swirls the jealous, hungry sea

Poseidon come to claim His price

One I knew would ever be

Yet knowing, priestess, I am yours

To embrace in the moon-swept air

For that slower, sweeter mingling

While your breath perfumes my hair

Hero, now rough waters fold me under

But I have loved, and ask this life no more

Your undiminished glory, tender, haughty

Sustain me as I glimpse beyond the door

Let Gods rule earth, and skies, and shades, and sea

And let Them say that They have envied me

— Howard D. Patterson


JEEVES AND GENTLEMAN JIM

The following tale, an homage to P.G. Wodehouse’s man-about-town Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves, was conceived and written during a period of incarceration in the San Diego County Jail. Though set in London, this account of an over-imbiber is certainly translatable to San Diego. The incarcerated’s family refused to provide bail, wishing to instill in him greater intestinal fortitude, similar to Aunt Agatha’s stance towards her ne’er-do-well nephew, Wooster. And, yes, Gentleman Jim is a real wire-haired dachshund who patiently awaited the release of his wayward master.

I awoke with the odd feeling it had been necessary to meander through a curtain of porridge to greet this particular dawn’s early light. We Woosters are made of prescient stuff, however, so I wasn’t surprised when the old orbs returned to full harness and I perceived that I was lying on the bottom level of a three-tiered metal bunk in a grim room liberally populated by same. Gazing down from on high was the unmistakable countenance of my trusted valet Jeeves, serenely conveying a not unfamiliar combination of concern and benign exasperation.

“I say, Jeeves, do we by chance find ourselves in the shadow of the gallows this curious morning?”

“Nothing quite so ominous, sir, though I regret to say that you are momentarily incarcerated.”

When the reliable duo of furrowed brow and chewed lower lip failed to summon to mind details of the itinerary that had led to the current crossroads, I appealed to Jeeves to spill the beans without sparing the horses.

“He is an amiable animal, but displays such a strong penchant for eccentric behavior that it was thought best to hold him in reserve until the opportunity for ownership by a similarly inclined master presented itself.”

“It would appear, sir, that last evening you and Mr. Bingo Little had just concluded an enthusiastic tour of your preferred public houses. The difficulties commenced when you paused at Trafalgar Square to discuss the next stage in the evening’s campaign.”

“Do tell.”

“The debate had barely left starter’s blocks when you became aware of the approach of a distinguished woman and her leash-bound dachshund.”

“My very favorite! That is, the canine element of the equation. The ‘distinguished woman’ part is much too reminiscent of the sense of impending doom that invariably frolics in the wake of my Aunts.”

“The woman in question was not dissimilar, sir. She is the Lord Mayor of London’s wife. When you approached to convey greetings to her walking companion, the little fellow perceived your swerving perambulation to be menacing.”

“Indeed?

“Most definitely, sir. He bared his teeth.”

“Dashed uncordial if you ask me, Jeeves.”

“His mistress was moved to impede any further attempt at communication by laying her umbrella aside your temple, whereupon you retreated to the relatively placid waters of a nearby fountain.”

“Oh now really, Jeeves, this is too much!”

“The foregoing was explained to me by Mr. Little some time ago during an unannounced visit to your flat. He confided that he used the umbrella blow as an opportunity to head for what he termed ‘higher ground.’ You remained in sight, however, long enough for him to observe the arrival of a constable who requested your immediate disassociation with the fountain, whereupon you removed his helmet and condemned it to the foaming currents encircling your knees.”

“Gave it a solid dunking, did I?! Well at least there’s a lifetime’s ambition realized, eh Jeeves?”

“Regrettably, sir, it was a course of action that attracted the attention of a goodly number of the constable’s like-minded associates who lost little time conveying you toward your present circumstances.”

“A rum do to be sure, Jeeves. By the by, how do you happen to be standing in my cell?”

“Your Aunt Agatha is not without influence, sir, and arranged for this visit in exchange for a full recounting of what she terms ‘the sordid details.’”

“So, she will soon know all! A decidedly dark cloud has descended to its familiar perch on the Wooster horizon. This requires fortification, Jeeves. If you will kindly convey to the relevant authorities my wish to expunge these surroundings from memory, I might just make a beeline for that oasis of sustenance that is the Drones.”

“I fear, sir, that your Aunt was quite insistent that you remain in place for the time being. She believes it will have a beneficial effect on your manhood.”

“What?! I willingly defer to Aunt Agatha on all subject matter pertaining to intractable backbone, but this is too much!”

“If I might offer a palliative consideration, sir, it occurred to me that this entire interlude might well have been averted had you been escorting a small friend of your own around Trafalgar Square last evening.”

My unyielding admiration for the machinations of Jeeves’ giant brain knows no bounds. “Are you suggesting a furry new addition to the flat?” I gurgled in happy anticipation.

“I am acquainted with a merchant who would be delighted to supply you with a wire-haired example of the dachshund breed he has named Gentleman Jim.”

“A sprightly pup?”

“Actually, sir, the dog has been in this man’s care for several years. He is an amiable animal, but displays such a strong penchant for eccentric behavior that it was thought best to hold him in reserve until the opportunity for ownership by a similarly inclined master presented itself.”

For naught but an instant, the barest hint of a wry smile visited Jeeves’ reassuring visage before disappearing into the great unknown.

What could I say? The man is a marvel.

— Whip Kincaid

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It’s good to know that people still write, and better still, that they often write well.
It’s good to know that people still write, and better still, that they often write well.

The Reader’s editorial staff was gratified and frequently delighted by the response we got to our writing contest: 347 non-fiction stories, 31 pieces of fiction, and no less than 199 poems. It’s good to know that people still write, and better still, that they often write well. Selecting our winners was a difficult task, so difficult that we ended up expanding our list of Honorable Mentions from five to eight, and adding a separate Special Selections category for fiction and poetry ($100 award). Congratulations to our winners, whose work will be published over course of the coming month, and thanks to everyone who submitted. (If you didn’t win, don’t despair! You can continue to submit stories and pitches at sandiegoreader.com/submit/something, and we promise to keep an eye out for suitable material.)

THE WINNERS:

1st Prize:

Changing of the Guard, by Jake Peterson

2nd Prize:

To Hire a Thief, by Stan Sewitch and “Frank”

Honorable Mentions:

We Were Young, by Fallon Farraday

Falling, by Philip Kelly, Jr.

Fish Bones, by Jennifer Manalili

Cry Covid, by Molly Quillin-McEwan

Piano, con Amaroso, by Barbara Warner

Kitchen Spanish, by Michael J. Williams

Elvis Has Left the Building, by Nasreen Yazdani

Smorgasbords in the 1970s, by Tammy Yorysh

Special Selections, Fiction:

Marty & Rose, by Bob Doublebower

Dropping In, by Leslie Hotchkiss

Jeeves and Gentleman Jim, by Whip Kincaid

A Day in the Life of Charles Snelling, by Michael E. Monahan

Water Management, by Deb Nordlie

Yippie, by Manuel Pia

Rear-View Mirror, by Leo Rein

The Aziza Experience, by Richard Schere

Topless, by Stockdale and Broadus

Buffalo Skin, by Gary P. Taylor

Special Selections, Poetry:

Sagarmatha, by Janice Alper

Don’t Give Up the Ship, by Charlie Berigan

Lavender Haze, by Tina Castillo

Elegy for Diana Issa, by Jennifer Karp

Blasons, by Tommy L

Grace, by Peter Lautz

The Sea at Sunset Cliffs, by J.T. McKenna

Hero and Leander, by Howard D. Patterson

La Jolla: A Seagull’s Cry, by Alexander Pesiri

A Day of Banker’s Hill, by Akiko Russotto

Second Place Winner:

TO HIRE A THIEF

Stan, the Idiot

I got into my Miata after band practice at Mark’s house, 9 pm on a Tuesday night, early in 2002. I was half a block down the road when I suddenly realized that my jacket and backpack were not on the passenger’s seat next to me. Then I felt the night air coming through a slit in the convertible top. I stopped the car, letting the event sink in. I had been robbed.

It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced robbery. My home had been burgled twice in 1981, and the feeling was the same. Somebody had taken hard work from me, because whatever I’ve gotten in life, it hasn’t come from inheritance or a lottery ticket. And now I was going to have to work harder to fix the problem. And it was a huge problem.

I was traveling for business a great deal in those years. My backpack held my passport, checkbook, wallet, business cards, computer, cell phone and work papers. I also had passwords and bank account numbers in my wallet. I had discounted the chances of theft, like a dolt, and had written the codes down because I had a burgeoning number of places where passwords and special codes were necessary. I couldn’t remember them all. These days there are so many secret words and symbols in our lives because of the internet, voicemail, etc. And they must change frequently. Tough to keep it straight. But recording them all together like I did was just plain stupid. In retrospect, I can imagine the thief opening the backpack, stunned at their good fortune. Everything they needed to assume my identity was laid out like Christmas dinner.

For the next three months, I played a game of “Keep One Step Ahead of the Thief.” The game didn’t start right away. I had called in the robbery, filed a fraud report with the credit agencies, cancelled my cards, changed passwords that I thought were at risk. I stopped losses out of my bank accounts and credit cards quickly. But I didn’t do enough.

My first clue that something was still amiss: a few days went by and I didn’t receive any mail. At first, I thought it was unusual, but only that. Then, after about a week, I checked into it. That’s when I found someone had submitted a change of address for my mail, posing as me. On that same day, I got a call from the Loews Coronado Hotel asking me if I had wanted the American Express card I was ordering to come to the hotel room or to my home.

“Getting to know Stan actually put a face on the scams and cons I was perpetrating. The victims of my crimes were nice people, just like Stan, and it made me realize how wrong I was.”

I notified the police of these activities, and left work immediately. I found out where my mail routing was done at the local post office, so I walked into the Mission Valley routing center and just went up to the first person I saw, asking them how to find out where my mail was going. This turned out to be a big violation of postal service protocol. No one is supposed to have access to the mail center without prior authorization or being an employee on duty. They hurried me out, but gave me the forwarding address. I immediately went to the post box shop in Kearny Mesa where my mail was being sent. I walked into the shop, asked to speak to the manager, and told them why I was there. While I was doing that, a man came up to me and introduced himself as a special investigator on stakeout at that location. We left the shop and went to his car. He and another detective had been waiting for the thief to show up to claim mail so they could arrest him. They had a known suspect identified.

I learned that my thief was working seven victims concurrently, that he had done this before, and that they felt they had enough evidence to put him in jail quickly. I shared all of my information with the detectives and we began to stay in touch.

I continued my own investigation work, compiling a behavior pattern and staying just in front of the thief’s efforts. I narrowly avoided him receiving a check for $8000 that had been drawn on my credit union account. And then I got a call from a woman who complained that “my” check had bounced. She was the mother of the person to whom the check had been written, and her daughter had accepted the check for work done for the thief. It took thirty minutes to convince the mother that I wasn’t the person who wrote the check. I gave all this information to the investigators.

After a great deal of time and disruption to my life, I had successfully replaced the cards, the license, the passport ,and the checks. I had secured my accounts. I lost only a couple of hundred dollars from my wallet. The money that was taken from an ATM machine was insured by the bank. But I lost some things that were irreplaceable. In my wallet were pictures of my daughters when they were babies. In my planner were letters from my daughters. Those letters and photos had been solace to me in hard times, beacons of love when I needed them most.

One day, I got a call from the special agent of the Secret Service. They had arrested the suspect and found him with enough evidence to convict him easily. I began to breathe easier.

“Frank”, the Criminal

I first learned about financial crimes in 1995 from a call girl I met while I was in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Pendelton. She introduced me to mail fraud at its most basic level — the actual theft of other people’s mail. We cashed checks, activated credit cards, and applied for credit through the mail using their identities.

Then I left the Corps in 1997 and didn’t do crime again until the death of my mother in January of 2002. I was very angry about my mother’s death, and I decided to take it out on the world. I went on a crime spree, knowing full well that eventually I would be caught. And yet, I didn’t care if and when that would happen.

So, I began. The first thing I did was go to a bookstore on Adams Avenue which specialized in different varieties of seedy and sordid topics. I walked out with a copy of a book titled How to Create a Brand New Identity from Scratch. I lived from hotel to hotel, staying at all the nicest ones in the city for one to two weeks at a time, while I taught myself how to get by on other people’s money. Eventually I was arrested by Postal Inspectors in 2002. I was convicted on five felony counts of fraud. I served four months in the San Diego County Jail.

Upon my release, still filled with anger, I jumped right back into fraud, but armed with more ambition and courage than before. I had also acquired additional occupational knowledge from my colleagues in jail. I was learning what worked for me and what didn’t, which scams could give me a regular income while I continued to self-teach, always dreaming of the next bigger scam. I became very private, a recluse. Any women in my life had to be short-lived relationships, two to three days maximum. And close friends were a thing of the past.

I met a man who could make perfect I.D. cards. We became as close as two cons could possibly be. He was doing checks and I was doing account take-overs. We would meet and exchange stories. He became the only person I could trust. He got arrested buying Rolex watches, his personal fetish. I was alone again.

As much as I missed my friend, I really missed his fake I.D.’s. Without those cards, I had to reinvent my crimes. And not only were they much tougher to do, I needed to be more imaginative. I used P.O. boxes in ritzy neighborhoods like La Jolla for appearances, and found it very easy to open them over the phone with a credit card. I was rarely forced to show complete identification for every mailing name listed. Using a company name and later linking multiple names to that account, I was always able to receive at least three to four different people’s mail. When I had someone’s personal information (and very little was necessary), it was simple to contact their credit companies to cancel their current cards and have new ones issued. The card companies would mail the new cards to the home address, and I had already put in a temporary change of address for 12 to 14 days. The card simply got re-routed to the P.O. box I had rented. It was a basic scam, and it always worked. It became my bread-and-butter con.

Living from hotel to hotel seemed to lead the Secret Service to me. One day, I left a lot of my own personal information in a room I had to abandon. They got that information and so they knew my name and some of my aliases. Now they also had photos of me. They began to put up flyers in all the fancy hotels in the San Diego area. I had to keep moving every couple of days to avoid capture. I purchased merchandise each week worth about $2000 to $3000. I saved nothing. Shopping for other people became boring.

Then I started spending a lot of time concentrating on one particular victim, whom I saw as my own personal “golden goose”. His name was Stan Sewitch. I received his information from an Asian call girl who I met one night at the Motel 6 in Clairemont Mesa. She handed me a stack of papers which included a passport, bank debit card, two check books, a credit union business card with his account number and his various personal identification (PIN) codes on the back.

I quickly accessed the checking account for which there were checks. I found out there was $900 left in it. It felt like the money was being used as bait to see who would come in and cash the checks. What really had me intrigued was the new account he had opened at a credit union. The particular credit union he was using always applied a default code of 1-2-3-4 for new customers on their telephone banking line. The customers are supposed to immediately go in and change the password. Most don’t. Stan hadn’t done this yet. This is where many people fall victim to fraud, because they seldom use the telephone banking line when they can use the internet or just drop in. They end up changing the passwords for their check cards, for their website and for their in-person activities, but not for the phone access. That was how I got into Stan’s account information.

His new account was four months old and carried about $100,000 in savings, He averaged $3000-$9000 in checking. What I found interesting were his banking habits during that period. He made very large deposits into checking, transferred the monies into savings, then seemed to withdraw amounts, but always kept the balance at about $100,000. I didn’t know what he was doing with the funds, but my imagination went wild. I not only wanted all of his funds in those accounts, I also wanted to know everything about his whole life. I learned as much as I could about him, studying him intently. I even cracked his passcode for his home telephone answering service, and I would routinely check his messages two to five times a day. Not many people know that when they use message system software operated by their telephone service provider, it is accessible through this type of hacking by other people.

One day, I heard a message from a person who had called Stan to let him know that he was investigating the theft of Stan’s identity and that the detective had some leads. Now I knew I had multiple law enforcement agencies hot on my tail. But I refused to stop pursuing Stan’s assets. I felt I could “win”.

I decided to do an automatic withdrawal of $8000, and have the check sent to my P.O. box, which was all set up to receive Stan’s mail. I had previously put in a temporary change of address, redirecting Stan’s mail to my box. At this point, I was living on the concierge floor of the Marriott in Mission Valley. I had two new vehicles: a Chevy Blazer and a Suburban. I had a large new wardrobe, lots of cash and lots of drugs. I was posing as a big-time private security agent, complete with corporate credit cards, business cards, suits, a California Identification card, driver’s license, and a California weapons permit card. Impressive, but all bogus, of course.

Then one night around midnight, I drove up to the hotel, sat in the car with its motor idling and just stared up at the room I was living in. Something felt wrong. I kept staring until finally I trusted my instincts and drove off fast. I went back to Clairemont at about 100 miles per hour, and pulled into a Travel Lodge to visit a friend. Before I went up, I sat in my Suburban and smoked a cigarette, searching my suspicions and paranoia.

Then someone was screaming at me: “Get your f#@%ing hands up, Frank, or I will shoot you right in your f#@%ing face!!” The Secret Service and I finally became intimate acquaintances. They not only had me, they also had my briefcase, which contained all the evidence they needed.

I learned that the arresting officer and I had something in common: we were both former Marines. I believe knowing this made the agents ease up on me a bit, and they became more courteous during the processing. I received a conviction of four more felony counts of fraud, and I did about 8 months in County Jail.

Upon release, I again returned to my old ways except this time around, I got really heavy into drugs, and my ability to perform deteriorated. I got sloppy. Two months after my release, I got busted by the Secret Service again, the same agent. This time I had counterfeit twenties with me, and fraud paraphernalia—the tools of the trade.

I was as strung out as I had ever been in my life, and I was really embarrassed that I was being arrested again by my fellow Marine. I was brought to the Secret Service office downtown where the agent attempted to cut a deal. He asked me to rat out the people making the phony money. I declined and he didn’t press the issue further. I felt that I had maintained some amount of character, even at this low point.

I was convicted of five more felony counts of fraud, bringing my grand total to 14. I was sentenced to five years. I was sent to Jamestown to be trained as a wildland firefighter. At fire camp, my sentence got reduced to 35%. I did only 22 months of the five-year sentence. During this time, I asked my public defender if he could send me the police reports of all three of my arrests. I wanted to look at my mistakes, and also see if any of my friends had turned me in. This was how I first learned of Stan’s proposition.

My backpack held my passport, checkbook, wallet, business cards, computer, cell phone and work papers. I also had passwords and bank account numbers in my wallet.

When Stan was contacted by the Victims’ Restitution officer during my second arrest and trial, they asked him what he thought he deserved as compensation for the crime. He stated that he felt my sentencing was reasonable, and then he added that upon my release, he suggested I might work for him. He said that this was a way to put my abilities to better use, and might improve my chances of staying out of jail. He said he felt I was a very intelligent man and that if I could direct my energies in positive ways, I could do quite well.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My “golden goose,” the rich guy whom I studied harder than anyone else I pursued, actually wanted to help me after all the crap I did to him! Wow!! I had no idea how to take the whole idea, and pondered it over and over again. I debated if and how I should contact him after I was released.

I asked whoever would listen in fire camp what they thought about me contacting Stan. I got various opinions. My favorite bit of advice was given by an inmate from New Jersey. He was a real tough guy and said he was connected back east to the mob. He told me, “Frank, the Italians are good at whacking people, some of the best killers ever. But nobody, and I mean NOBODY, whacks people better than the Jews!”

Well, I finally got released November 4th, 2005. I was running around, trying to get situated as best I could. When you get out of jail, you have the clothes you came in with, a bus ticket back to your parole territory, whatever legitimate money you had when you arrived — and that’s about it. I think it was my second day out when I said to myself, “What the hell! What can it hurt?” I searched Stan’s name on Google, and there he was, all over the screen. Tons of public information about him and his career in business, the things he’d done, the things he’d written. I found his business website and email address. I contacted him.

Stan Gets to See If He Really Believes What He Said

On November 6th, 2005, two years after Frank was jailed for crimes related to theft of my identity and others, I opened my e-mail to the following message:

  • MR. SEWITCH, I’M NOT SURE IF YOU WILL REMEMBER ME OR NOT. MY NAME IS FRANK AND I WAS ARRESTED A WHILE BACK FOR FRAUD CHARGES AND IDENTITY THEFT IN WHICH UNFORTUNATELY YOU WERE INVOLVED. I’D LIKE TO TAKE THIS CHANCE TO APOLOGIZE TO YOU FOR ANY INCONVIENENCES I MAY HAVE CAUSED YOU. AT THE POINT OF MY ARREST SIR, YOU MADE MENTION TO THE ARRESTING OFFICER THAT PERHAPS YOU WOULD BE WILLING TO MAKE ME AN OFFER FOR POSSIBLE EMPLOYMENT AND MAYBE EVEN AN EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY. IF IT’S NOT TOO LATE SIR AND IF LUCK IS AT ALL ON MY SIDE, WELL THEN HOPEFULLY I’LL HEAR FROM YOU. THANK YOU.

I sat slack-jawed for a few minutes. Then I wrote back:

  • Frank,
  • Of course, I remember you. It took me four months to reconstruct my financial security and replace the documents you took.
  • When the Crime Victims’ Support officer asked me what restitution I would want from you, I said that you were obviously a smart, hard-working person, and that you had chosen the wrong career in which to apply your talents. I told her that I’d rather have you work for me for free for a year than see you behind bars.
  • I would consider helping you find work that could lead to a much better life than the one you have lived so far. It might include working for me, or it might be working for someone else. It might include training. I know a lot of good people in this county.
  • But for me to be able to help you, you will have to earn my trust. I hope you can appreciate that this is necessary, considering how you’ve acted in the past.
  • To begin earning my trust, I will need some information to start…

What followed was a long period of correspondence, where I asked a lot of questions and checked out Frank’s story. And I worked through my feelings of anger, outrage and desire for retribution. It didn’t take too long, because there was a time in my own life when the path I was on and Frank’s were not much different. Ultimately, I saw this strange turn of events as an opportunity to make amends for those insults and injuries that I had visited upon others myself, when as a young man I drifted directionless, without a moral compass.

Frank the Apprentice

I can’t recall the exact amount of time it took Stan to respond, but it wasn’t long. He replied, yes, he still meant what he said. And that’s how our relationship started. We emailed each other back and forth. He asked a lot of questions about me and my history and why I committed my crimes. After a couple of months of correspondence, we decided to meet. We were both nervous about it, and for good reason. When I was in prison, I imagined the worst-case and best-case scenarios. The meeting turned out to be the best case. Over time, we slowly got to know one another. Stan really wanted to learn about me as a person.

In anger, I had started my life of crime at age 33. But getting to know Stan actually put a face on the scams and cons I was perpetrating. The victims of my crimes were nice people, just like Stan, and it made me realize how wrong I was. I always feel a certain amount of guilt whenever we’re together, and that’s good, because I should. At the same time, being forgiven by him makes me feel as though I was forgiven for all of the victims’ losses.

I have met a few of Stan’s close friends and have created some ties with them as well. Out of the six or seven of his friends that I have met, Stan told only his wife and one other person (who has hired me for some projects) how Stan and I got to be acquainted. I have come to realize that I can talk to Stan about things in my life and look at him as sort of a mentor. My father passed in 1996 and he never really was like that when he was alive.

Because of my crimes and going off to prison, I have had to start all over, but my life is more positive now than it’s ever been. I am growing more and more confident that I can truly be an asset to society. Stan keeps pointing out my talents as well as my faults. He has taught me that short cuts are not the way to do things and that I can believe in myself and my abilities. At 37 years old, I feel as though I’m 21 again, or just out of High School, beginning my life. I feel very hopeful for my future.

It was a great blessing creating a relationship with Mr. Sewitch, and today I can truly call him my friend. I have a conscience today, where before there was none. The three or four years I spent doing fraud were the saddest, loneliest years in my life. I cannot stress enough how Stan’s idea of taking a negative and turning it into a positive really can work, and is something that should be sought after wherever possible. He could have easily had hatred for me forever; instead, he chose a different course, and it has been overwhelmingly beneficial to both of us. I could have not contacted him, afraid to face my victim, but I did, and that too has been beneficial to both of us.

I have two young daughters, seven-year-old Savannah, and Donna Jean, who is nine. They both know their father was in prison three times, for “using other people’s money.” And although I know they will always love me no matter what, I’m sure my incarceration was not something they liked to brag about at school. Now, because of Stan and I deciding to make a positive out of our prior relationship, my girls can read our story, if it’s published for all the world to see. And they can know for themselves that even Dads can make mistakes, that Dads can make really bad choices, but Dads can also learn from their errors. Wrongs committed should be righted.

I hope this published story helps them to feel better about me and the things I have done in my past. As they grow older, they can read it and re-read it, to know their father’s story started out pretty bad, but he turned it around.

And I’ll send a copy of this to my arresting officer, my fellow Marine, with a big “Ooooh Rah!”

So, Stan Hired Him

Frank did market research for a product line that I’d been working on for some years, related to martial arts training. He was an adept student in the business methods and, as expected, a very smart man. He was also pursuing his own career development in sales and marketing. He demonstrated that he has abilities to succeed in an ethical, professional career, using the same skills that he previously applied to stealing from others.

Now it was up to Frank, to stay on the path he’d chosen. And that path was to choose truth over deceit, hard work and diligence over the short cuts, and quality of relationships instead of using people as tools. He neared an anniversary of great importance to him—the most time he’d spent out of jail without being arrested, in over five years.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that by moving towards my enemy, I have a chance to not only make him my friend, but I have a chance to live a life of peace instead of anger and victimization. If I engage my attacker with an open heart, allowing him to change if he wants to, then I feel at peace. These are the concepts I study in my martial arts training, but thankfully have had few opportunities to apply. Frank represented that opportunity for me. Whether or not he continues with his new life won’t affect the peace I’ve felt in establishing a relationship with him.

Another thing I learned is that our “correctional” institutions and processes are only good at increasing the chances that criminals will repeat their crimes. Recidivism has been quoted at 80% and higher by law enforcement statisticians. Assuming the convict even really wants to change, starting over after a life of crime requires a tremendous amount of effort and the odds are stacked against it. A convict emerges from prison more educated in how to be a criminal, and with fewer options to pursue other than crime: no money, no job, no place to live, few employers willing to hire a convict and a set of acquaintances or “friends” that are typically still involved in criminal behavior. There’s got to be a better way to stop this cycle.

Frank and I were experimenting with a new set of methods. Let’s see how it turns out.

Stan, Now Many Years Later

Frank kept it up for a while, maybe a year. Then he returned to using meth, conducting fraud scams and flitting from place to place. He was soon incarcerated again, working the fire lines across Southern California. As far as I know he’s still in prison.

I don’t think the experiment was a failure, because it was just that: an experiment, me saying, “Let’s see what happens if we apply engagement and understanding. What if we give a hand up after a fall?”

In his case, Frank didn’t apply his abilities to the new path for long enough to see positive results or to develop new habits. So, for him, I would say the experiment failed. There was nothing I could do about his side of the experimental equation after extending the hand.

In my case, I benefitted greatly from engaging with my attacker. My attitude toward him changed from a threat to an opportunity to apply what I say are my values. I learned that I still like those values. They make my life more peaceful and positive. Even when I may experience personal losses. Perhaps especially then.

Part of my agreement with Frank when I hired him was that he had to work with me to write this story. My thought was that it would be a public service for him to educate others about the risks, methods and consequences of identity theft. Some of the techniques he used are no longer possible, now that security methods have improved a great deal. His mail-forwarding scam can’t work any longer, for example. Credit card companies are much more attentive to odd requests from their customers. But there are new ways to steal someone’s identity and use their sensitive information for personal financial gain.

My commitment to him was that I would find a way to publish this story for the benefit of others. I wasn’t able to do it in 2006 when it was first written. I got busy with work and life. But in the back of my mind has been this nagging awareness that I hadn’t followed through. Maybe if a “Frank” out there reads this story, they might decide on a different path. Maybe if a “Stan” out there sees this, they might decide to not be a victim and try a constructive response to such an attack.

And as a result of publishing this story, maybe I will be able to improve my own ability to stay constructive when threatened or harmed. These last couple of years have tested that resolve more than a little.

— Stan Sewitch and “Frank”


DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP

The plaque has stayed up there;

I’ve kept it aloft

as memento reminder

for myths and sea tales, they do have their uses

It’s not only shout out

to long gone “Commander”

but bookmark of boyhood thrills to imagine

and benchmark example for grace under fire

The thing’s a proud symbol;

an eagle with the scrip—a top 40 sentiment

“Don’t Give Up the Ship”—not just rah-rah apocrypha

but wise, fabled words

applicable to all manner

of situ and seascape.

And what about now?

All sorts of cultural grapeshot in play

This plaque is reminder

that taking the colors

finding a rowboat

and making a mad dash

as to continue the fight

Is not only an option

but DNA impulse

in the midst of the smoke

at the height of the struggle

So, you take the flag

and I’ll grab an oar

as wherever we land

we’ll start up once more.

— Charlie Berigan


ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

My father is a simple man. He likes fruit, one of his cats, the glorious game of cricket, and Persian mystical poetry. He can happily recite the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz by heart in his native tongue of Farsi, for hours. This brings him unspeakable joy. The only problem is finding an audience.

When the urge strikes, his strategy has mostly been to sit on the couch and call an emergency assembly of whoever he can find in the house. In past years, it ended up being a motley crew of family members and any unsuspecting visitors who happened to be in the vicinity, like the plumber or the pool guy. He would regularly summon the Guatemalan gardener from the avocado grove, an infinitely kind man who spoke neither Farsi nor English and would sit quietly with his arms folded, gazing sweetly at my father, I assume mentally reviewing his grocery list.

Oh, and the cat. My father would call to his favorite cat, a wildly handsome Maine Coon with zero bad hair days and a problematic attitude of superiority, and order him to sit on the couch, next to the gardener. The cat did not like the gardener, but for some mystical reason, he would sit for poetry readings.

It has been said that pets take after their owners in appearance. When my father immigrated to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan in the early 1970’s, he had what can only be described as Elvis hair — jet black, long lustrous waves, gratuitous sideburns. The situation was borderline unbelievable. People would stop him in the street and coo. He is normally a bit reserved around strangers, but after a while, he got used to his flashy Middle Eastern mane being a topic of conversation. It brought him out of his shell. I would find him unburdening his soul to random passersby:

“As a child, I used to climb mango trees and eat as many as I could reach. Now I’m prediabetic, so I grow avocados.”

“Football is nice, but have you been saved by our lord and savior, cricket?”

“Get a load of my handsome cat! He’s so handsome, I keep a photo in my wallet.”

Then, little by little, his hair blew away in the wind. One day in his seventies, he looked at himself and realized that his trusty conversation starter had... stopped. Elvis had left the building. So my father marched himself down to Walmart and bought a baseball cap. And now that I have figured out how to customize baseball caps, we’re about to up his game. I have enough slogans to span all the remaining birthdays and Father’s Days:

  • -#1 Rumi Fan
  • -The Karachi Kid
  • -Mango Addict
  • -Honk if You Like Avocados
  • -Let’s Talk Cricket
  • -Ask Me About My Handsome Cat

I’m just getting started. Imelda Marcos had 3000 pairs of shoes. How many hats can we fit in his closet?

On Father’s Day last year, I drove up to Fallbrook to gift him his first cap in this series, which boldly announces to the world that he is very much #TeamRumi. I hope it starts a few conversations so he can make new friends, who can then be lured into his living room and seated next to the cat and the gardener for matinee performances.

My father is a simple man. He likes fruit, one of his cats, the glorious game of cricket, and Persian mystical poetry. He can happily recite the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz by heart in his native tongue of Farsi, for hours.

For dessert, I attempted an ultra-Persian riff on strawberry shortcake. The base was a vanilla cake mix from Trader Joe’s spiked with cardamom and interlaced with four layers of rose-infused cream, rose water macerated watermelon, fistfuls of strawberries, pistachios, pomegranates, and a sprinkling of edible rose petals, because, well, I love him. He got so excited, he swiped a watermelon chunk out of the middle before we could cut the first slice. We almost had to yell, “Jenga!”

My father is a simple man who used to have Elvis hair. He likes fruit, one of his cats, his faithful gardener, the glorious game of cricket, Persian mystical poetry, and his soon-to-be epic collection of customized baseball caps. His favorite Rumi poem goes like this: “Laughter always follows tears / Blessed are those who understand / Life blossoms wherever water flows...”

Years from now, I can imagine how this all plays out. “What are you doing, Papa?” I ask, as he stares up into the branches of an old avocado tree. He looks at me with wistful eyes, removes a worn cap that says MY CAT IS THE FELINE FABIO, draws it to his heart, slowly, with feeling, and runs a trembling hand through a few remaining strands of hair. Then he breaks into a mischievous grin and delivers his best original poetry to date: “Just thinkin’ about the ghost of Elvis.

In the early days of the pandemic, I took a photo that haunted me. It was a view of urban San Diego as seen from the driver’s seat in my car, but it could have been the Pakistan of my father’s childhood, or anywhere else in the world where life takes place out in the open. In strange lands far away, people get haircuts in the street, hold weddings in the street, buy groceries in the street.

Street food is king, of course. If you’re lucky, a few flies are thrown in as bonus protein. The locals will tell you a secret: If the food is good enough, squeamishness has a way of evaporating hypnotically, like steam out of an old brass tea kettle. Priorities tend to shift in flight. Some problems go away on the street. Others emerge, usually at night. Street life is complicated, like life itself.

Here in America’s Finest City, as we quarantined snug in our homes, a curious exhibitionist street culture was emerging in fits and starts, blooming in the fresher air of strip mall sidewalks and warehouse parking lots. It was typified by a nail salon in Hillcrest operating alfresco on a small portion of pavement next to its abandoned building.

Parking my car to run errands one day, I found myself unexpectedly in the mix, staring at a woman’s French manicure through my windshield. That’s when I took the photo and wrote a caption that still gives me pause, more than a year later: “This salon has no waiting room, no formal space to contain the process from start to finish. The waiting room extends into my car, to the freeway, and out past the ocean where ragged magazines litter the horizon with blond ambitions and dreams of celebrity hairdos far out of reach. I wait, but no one calls my name.”

We are all watching and waiting, adapting day by day to the amorphous empty spaces created by irreversible loss, scanning the sidewalk for new signs of life pushing its exotic fruit up through the cracks, wondering if our streets will ever be the same, or if we want them to be.

Meanwhile, the immigrants have been adapting forever. They’re painting our toenails in the open air in front of a neon sign that says OPEN, chatting with us about lovers and movies as cars whiz by, making us feel beautiful again, holding our hands gently in theirs, as if to say, “We survived by dreaming of a better world. You can too.”

We roll our eyes as steam billows from the foot bath like a snake emerging from a basket. Charmed, I’m sure. The sentiment seems too simple. But as the wind picks up, we can’t help but follow the steam with our gaze as it gyrates in a mesmerizing dance around an alley cat swishing a languid rumba down the road and a gardener who removes his baseball cap to reveal a perfect jet black pompadour, far above our heads, past a police helicopter, into the clouds, where the atmosphere is thinner and priorities shift in flight, where skepticism dissolves into whatever dreams are made of.

In strange lands far away, the locals will tell you a secret: Life blossoms wherever water flows.

— Nasreen Yazdani


ELEGY FOR DIANA ISSA, (1981-2021)

We were all together,

but not really,

she was missing,

but she was everywhere.

Dave poured her ashes

in the bonfire. The moon

drowned us. Windblown,

she flew in our eyes,

rode our tears, sizzled

bright like fireflies. We

danced to her favorite

song as snippets rocketed

past us, her smile, her

essence—glowdust—blazed

up, then fading away.

— Jennifer Karp


SMORGASBORDS IN THE 1970s: A SAN DIEGO STORY

Mom loved to eat. But she didn’t love to cook. Before Dad died in 1971, my younger brother and sister and I usually sat down in the kitchen to a dinner of Spaghetti Os and Banquet TV dinners while Mom and Dad ate their TV dinners in the living room in front of the television. After Dad’s death from an inevitable heart attack, Mom expanded our meal options several days a week by herding us into the car and venturing over to Washington Street, the main drag near our home in Mission Hills. For the next several years, we ate lots of take-out from the fast food joints that were conveniently located a few blocks away.

Thanks to the coupons that came regularly in the newspaper, we kids quickly exceeded our recommended lifetime allowance of chili dogs and fries from Der Wienerschnitzel. We were ecstatic when Mom would “pack up the kids, and crank up the car, to Jack in The Box.” There was so much to love about the place: Tacos, apple turnovers, milk shakes and onion rings, plus balloons for the kids. On Sundays, Mom would send me to the KFC, which was just a couple of blocks away from our house, to get a bucket of regular fried chicken. We also ate a lot of good pizza, thanks to the close proximity of Little Italy, which was just a quick car ride down Reynard Way.

And then Mom discovered the smorgasbords.

In the early ’70s, there were three popular all-you-can-eat places in San Diego. Mom’s preferred restaurant was Sir George’s, where you could “enjoy a royal feast at sandwich prices.” I think they were located in La Mesa and in Chula Vista, so Mom had to drive a bit to get there. It was worth the drive.

Sir George’s food was great. There were lots of salads and vegetables. I loved veggies, and since we didn’t get any vegetables, either at home or with our take-out meals, I always loaded up my plate with them when I had the chance. Their legendary fritters were delicately crispy on the outside and soft and slightly sweet on the inside. Mom would reserve an entire dinner plate for these tasty morsels. But the item that drove her to distraction was the chicken. She could not resist those crunchy golden pieces of fried chicken, which nestled together in a rectangular silver pan under the heat lamps, ready for the taking. Unlike the Colonel’s chicken, which was salty and had too many secret herbs and spices, Sir George’s chicken had mild seasoning and a thin breading. Mom could not get enough of it. The price for a dinner at Sir George’s was a very reasonable two bucks a person, and kids’ price was a bit less. We were never allowed to order a drink, however, because they came at an additional cost.

Mom’s preferred restaurant was Sir George’s, where you could “enjoy a royal feast at sandwich prices.” I think they were located in La Mesa and in Chula Vista, so Mom had to drive a bit to get there. It was worth the drive.

Perry Boys Smorgy was a newcomer to San Diego in the early ’70s. It opened up in Kearny Mesa, just off a freeway that Mom always referred to as Highway 395 even though it had been renamed 163 sometime in the ’60s. I think the restaurant was located near the current location of Target and Business Costco. Perry Boys Smorgy’s floor space was huge and had lots of oversized red vinyl-covered booths that sat six. Their menu included regular daily staples like fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy and lots of jello squares. But to keep things interesting, there were rotating menus as well. They would serve Italian food on Tuesday, Mexican food on Wednesday, and Chinese food on Thursday, for example. Perry Boy’s food was definitely not as tasty as the food served at Sir George’s, but it had two things in its favor that had us kids hooked on the place: the soft drinks and soft serve ice cream were included in the price, and we could serve ourselves.

The bad thing about unlimited trips to the soda fountain and dessert table was that we kids had no self-control. I will always remember our final trip to Perry Boys Smorgy. Mom allowed me to bring one of my friends. The four of us kids engaged in a session of soda and ice cream gluttony that ended when my six year old sister suddenly complained of a bad stomach ache. Mom told her to stop eating, but it was too late. She whined that she needed to throw up. Mom looked across the expansive floor towards the restroom and knew that she would never make it there in time. “Quick, get under the table,” Mom whispered. My sister ducked underneath the table and proceeded to vomit everything she had eaten, while I sat quietly and rolled my eyes disgustedly at my friend, who had a horrified look on her face. Suddenly, none of us felt like eating anymore. As soon as my sister popped up from under the table, Mom hustled us out of there, leaving a disgusting mess and no tip for the unlucky person who was stuck with the clean-up. We didn’t return to that restaurant again.

The other all-you-can-eat place was the Bit of Sweden Smorgasbord. It was located just a few miles from home, up on busy El Cajon Boulevard, amid the car dealerships, furniture stores and funeral homes. The dining room was tiny, with round wooden tables that had real tablecloths. There were colorful wooden clogs and a framed old map of Sweden mounted on the wall for decoration. The buffet table was very small and featured mostly exotic stuff like cucumber and dill with sour cream and Swedish meatballs with gravy, but they also had roasted chicken, which made Mom happy. This food was too fancy to suit the simple palates of small children, and we didn’t care for it much.

Whenever Mom took us to Sir George’s to eat, she had a plan in mind. The plan was to not only fill our stomachs, but to fill other things too. She would give each of us kids a canvas tote bag, which we were to keep folded and stuffed in our jacket pockets when we entered the restaurant. As Mom hustled us through the buffet line, we kids could take what we preferred to eat, but we had to leave space on our plates, because Mom would simultaneously load them with chicken pieces.

After we returned to the table, Mom’s communicative eyes would signal us to pass our bags to her from under the table. She would look around to make sure no one was watching, then she would open up a stack of paper napkins in her lap. While we kids chowed down, Mom would snatch a piece of chicken from someone’s plate, drop it in the napkin her lap, roll it up, and place it in a canvas bag. She did this until the bags were full. Her goal was to leave the restaurant with at least five or six breast pieces in each bag. She never bothered with legs or wings. Mom would then fill her own bag with a dozen or more of those tasty fritters. When it was time to leave, each kid would have to carry out a bag of fried chicken. We always left very quickly, with our food bags jammed under our jackets.

When we got home, Mom would take the bags to the kitchen, containerize the chicken in yellow Tupperware and store it in the fridge. The fritters usually were eaten up that same night in front of the television, but the chicken would keep Mom fed for several days. I don’t remember us kids ever eating any of that stolen chicken. We didn’t really care much for it. So, while Mom dined on pilfered chicken, we kids were happy to return to TV dinners and Campbells soup meals.

Sir George’s suffered the most from Mom’s kleptomania. Perry Boy’s food was not really good enough to steal with regularity, although Mom was not averse to packing some bags there from time to time. My little brother and sister were too young to understand what was happening, but I aways felt pretty guilty about being an accomplice to these thefts. Mom seemed to know I was bothered by it, because she always justified her actions to me on the drive home. She would say things like, “Your father is dead, and you can’t blame me for doing what I have to do to keep my children fed.” Or, “Their prices are too high and I am trying to get more for my money.” She would also say, “They know they are going to have some losses, they figure it in the price, so we aren’t really doing anything wrong.” Mom felt that this activity was okay, as long as you didn’t get caught. I was 12 years old, old enough to know that we were stealing and her excuses didn’t make it right.

One evening, Mom took us kids to the Bit of Sweden Smorgasbord. As usual, she armed each of us with a tote bag and we knew the drill. But I was getting older, almost a teenager, and I was also getting a rebellious attitude. I didn’t want to be a part of it any more. As we waited at the red light at Park Boulevard, I defiantly told Mom that I didn’t want to carry a bag. She grabbed her hitting stick off the dashboard, swatted me, and told me that I did not have a choice in the matter. Her angry eyes clearly warned me that if I did not cooperate, I would be whipped when we got home.

I sullenly stared out the car window and said nothing else about it. I did not have a choice. I silently took note of the landmarks that we kids used as navigation coordinates whenever Mom took us on drives along El Cajon Blvd: The Lafayette Hotel and The Red Fox Room, whose red fox on the sign looked like a red Wile E. Coyote. Dave’s Flower Shop, the place where we went to pick out flowers for Dad’s funeral. The huge metal water tower, which we kids liked to call the big water bug. The Bob’s Big Boy statue, that big chubby blue-eyed kid in the red and white checkered overalls, beckoning us to come in and try a Big Boy burger. We were getting closer. Minutes later, we arrived at Bit of Sweden and entered the restaurant with our concealed canvas bags.

 Once we were shown to our table, Mom did her thing. She filled our plates with chicken, and we all sat down to eat. Mom started wrapping up chicken in her lap and filled the bags that were passed to her under the table. After she had filled three bags, Mom gave me the eye signal to pass my bag. I refused. I was not going to steal anymore. She couldn’t say a thing to me in the restaurant, but her frightening glare told me that I would soon be getting a sound beating. I didn’t care. I was through with smorgasbord shoplifting and was willing to take my punishment. Mom passed a full bag to each of my young siblings. We all got up to leave.

As we passed by the front desk, we were stopped by the manager, a tiny old woman with a foreign accent. She ordered us back into the dining room. “Attention guests,” she loudly announced. “I would like you all to look at these thieves and see what they stole from our restaurant.” Then a tall man came from the kitchen and stood in front of the door so we could not bolt. “Come over here, open your coats, and show everyone what is in your bags,” she sternly commanded, motioning to an empty table. Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating and turned to watch the free entertainment. Mom meekly dumped her bag of chicken out on the table. Some of the pieces plopped out of the napkins. My bewildered little brother and sister followed suit and dumped out the contents of their bags. There was now an outrageously large pile of chicken and napkins covering the table. It was my turn. I sauntered over to the table, turned my empty bag upside down, looked at the guests, and at Mom, and defiantly smiled as nothing fell out.

The tiny old Swedish lady lowered the boom: “Now take your bags and your children and leave! Never, ever, return! If we see you again, we will call the police!”

We turned and ran out of the Bit of Sweden, with Mom shouting, “We didn’t really like your food anyhow!” The drive home was silent. Even the little kids knew better than to say anything that would result in Mom grabbing the stick off the dash and threatening them with it. We never darkened Bit of Sweden’s door again. Even though we drove past the restaurant often over the years, we never spoke of that humiliating event. Mom never made us carry bags for her again. And no, I did not get a beating that night.

— Tammy Yorysh


GRACE

A day of simple translucence.

Awake early, no memory of dreaming.

Two cups of coffee just right, strong, softened with cream.

The melaleuca tree shimmered in sun through a transparent window.

No one called before noon. I felt such contentment.

Later, weeded the yard, thankful for fingers in earth, blue bucket brimming with green.

Down the street kids played baseball in afternoon light on a dirt diamond

while fathers and uncles coached new skills.

Thoughts of Quincy my grandson brought big grins and sweet longing.

Soon I’ll travel north to visit him and his parents.

And now, up high to the left a palm tree quivering, sings in breezes

at nightfall as I wait to meet Anaita, mi vecina, my friend.

— Peter Lautz


YIPPIE

(Gardener Pinnacles, Hawaiian Islands – June 3rd, 1942)

Up in the crow’s nest of the Southern Cross, Joao, a Portuguese crewman, was assigned an early morning watch to check for any enemy movement. “Bonito,” Joao said, observing the Milky Way galaxy, which splashed across the moonless sky illuminating the boat, and the coral-ringed Gardener Pinnacles off in the distance. The heavenly sight was the only noteworthy event Joao observed in the second hour of his watch.

Southern Cross, YP-251, was a San Diego tuna clipper repurposed for naval service in 1942 as part of a class of vessels known as “Yippie,” a slang term for yard patrol craft. They consisted of yachts, harbor craft, and fishing vessels, requisitioned for military service to supplement America’s growing maritime forces. Currently steaming south of Midway Island, the Southern Cross was assigned to assist in re-fueling patrol aircraft, rescue downed pilots, and check for Japanese activity along the length of the Hawaiian Islands.

Joao had come to the states from Madeira in 1939, living with his Tia’s family in San Diego’s Portuguese community. He commercially fished the elusive tuna along California’s Pacific Coast. When war broke out, as a non-citizen, Joao was not allowed to enlist. He felt rejected, believing it was his sacred duty to serve his new adopted country. But, when the U.S. military requisitioned tuna clippers as naval auxiliaries, they needed experienced crewmen. Joao was allowed to join the Reserve Navy due to his expertise, becoming a third class seaman. He vowed to give his all, and not let his United States down.

It had been a month since he’d left San Diego, and the burly twenty-year-old fantasized about his Irish girlfriend, a red-headed nurse’s aide named Evonne. He’d met her at a church social, timidly asking her to dance, being overwhelmed by her acceptance. “Indeed, I will,” she gleefully announced, joining her hands with his.

From that first moment, their affection for each other grew. Joao was in love, struck by the “thunderbolt.” He believed their unique ethnic customs, familial bonds and religious beliefs made them fit into a blended American culture. He dreamed of a future life together.

Joao watched as the rising sun crept up from an eastern horizon. The hazy sunlight illuminated the outline of a vessel bearing out of the western shadows. Joao strained his eyes, trying to recognize this shadowy intruder, which seemed to be maneuvering towards the Southern Cross. Then he recognized it...and it wasn’t good.

Filho da puta,” he muttered, then yelled down the voice tube to the helmsman in the pilot house, “Jap’a sub, porta quarter!”

Joao heard the command over the PA system, “Man the guns...let’s crank her up.” The crewmen scrambled to man up the three .50-caliber machine guns stations, load them with ammo, and start firing out at the sub. The tuna clipper vibrated as the full throttled diesel engine pushed the vessel towards its adversary. “Merda!” Joao winced at the staccato bursts of the machine guns. Realizing his action station was supplying ammo and delivering messages to the gun crews, Joao shinnied down the mast, hit the main deck, and ran to his machine gun post.

The crack of the Japanese sub’s main deck gun crashed out, its shell whizzed above the pilot house. Within a minute, a second shell hit the pilot house, exploding half of it into a thousand splinters, spewing wooden shrapnel over the boat’s main deck. Peeking over the gunwale, he saw the Japanese sub motor alongside, pumping machine gun bullets into the tuna clipper

The Southern Cross was dead in the water, listing to port. A small raft with Japanese sailors started across to the tuna clipper, hoping to find any intel on U.S. fleet movements. Smoke and fire rose from the boat’s stern, where the 50-gallon barrels of aviation fuel was stored. Then, in a thundering blast and a flash of flame, the boat exploded, spewing metal shrapnel and wooden debris through the air, smashing the Japanese raft and striking the upper decks of the sub.

Joao was in shock, his body peppered with slivers of wood, a large wooden splinter embedded into his upper leg. Ears ringing and buzzing, Joao fell back against the starboard gunwale. “Que diabo!” he mumbled, as the water rose around him, swirling and sucking the Southern Cross under. Joao struggled to pray, gripping the small crucifix around his neck, Forgive me father — I did my duty — let my madre and tia not suffer my death...Oh — take care of Evonne. In his confused mind, Joao thought it was a fisherman’s day — the tuna were running — the sky was so blue.

A U.S. destroyer, receiving the tuna clipper’s distress signal, raced toward the Pinnacles. They located the sub, creeping along, its conning tower demolished, spewing fuel from its damaged hull. The destroyer’s guns smashed what was left of the sub and watched as it slowly sank into the blue Pacific waters.

An hour later, the destroyer reached the Pinnacles, searching around the coral reef, finding no survivors from the Southern Cross. Amid the floated debris, a small, water-logged framed black and white photo was found. It showed a young couple embracing on a pier, a fishing boat in the background. They beamed at the camera, displaying the affection they had for each other.

An honor detail and a religious service was held with all hands, honoring the seamen who had died in that morning’s conflict. Knowing that the crew were mainly tuna fisherman, the destroyer’s chaplain, an Irish priest from a Portuguese parish in Masschusetts, gave the final blessing in English — and Portuguese, as the sun slowly disappeared into the western Pacific.

— Manuel Pia


HERO AND LEANDER

Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite and enjoined to chastity. But she fell in love with Leander, a young man who swam the Bosporus each evening to the shore below the temple. Hero always placed a lantern on her window ledge to guide Leander. One night a storm extinguished the lantern and Leander was drowned. When his body washed ashore, Hero leapt from her window to join him in death.

Tonight, as any other, I swim to your distant shore

Gasping, I cleave the narrow straits, and swear

I will cross no more

But you stand there, robed, exquisite; I rise up from the sands

This love, this splendid madness, seeks the touch of your sweet hands

And tonight, like wine in a great God’s cup

Swirls the jealous, hungry sea

Poseidon come to claim His price

One I knew would ever be

Yet knowing, priestess, I am yours

To embrace in the moon-swept air

For that slower, sweeter mingling

While your breath perfumes my hair

Hero, now rough waters fold me under

But I have loved, and ask this life no more

Your undiminished glory, tender, haughty

Sustain me as I glimpse beyond the door

Let Gods rule earth, and skies, and shades, and sea

And let Them say that They have envied me

— Howard D. Patterson


JEEVES AND GENTLEMAN JIM

The following tale, an homage to P.G. Wodehouse’s man-about-town Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves, was conceived and written during a period of incarceration in the San Diego County Jail. Though set in London, this account of an over-imbiber is certainly translatable to San Diego. The incarcerated’s family refused to provide bail, wishing to instill in him greater intestinal fortitude, similar to Aunt Agatha’s stance towards her ne’er-do-well nephew, Wooster. And, yes, Gentleman Jim is a real wire-haired dachshund who patiently awaited the release of his wayward master.

I awoke with the odd feeling it had been necessary to meander through a curtain of porridge to greet this particular dawn’s early light. We Woosters are made of prescient stuff, however, so I wasn’t surprised when the old orbs returned to full harness and I perceived that I was lying on the bottom level of a three-tiered metal bunk in a grim room liberally populated by same. Gazing down from on high was the unmistakable countenance of my trusted valet Jeeves, serenely conveying a not unfamiliar combination of concern and benign exasperation.

“I say, Jeeves, do we by chance find ourselves in the shadow of the gallows this curious morning?”

“Nothing quite so ominous, sir, though I regret to say that you are momentarily incarcerated.”

When the reliable duo of furrowed brow and chewed lower lip failed to summon to mind details of the itinerary that had led to the current crossroads, I appealed to Jeeves to spill the beans without sparing the horses.

“He is an amiable animal, but displays such a strong penchant for eccentric behavior that it was thought best to hold him in reserve until the opportunity for ownership by a similarly inclined master presented itself.”

“It would appear, sir, that last evening you and Mr. Bingo Little had just concluded an enthusiastic tour of your preferred public houses. The difficulties commenced when you paused at Trafalgar Square to discuss the next stage in the evening’s campaign.”

“Do tell.”

“The debate had barely left starter’s blocks when you became aware of the approach of a distinguished woman and her leash-bound dachshund.”

“My very favorite! That is, the canine element of the equation. The ‘distinguished woman’ part is much too reminiscent of the sense of impending doom that invariably frolics in the wake of my Aunts.”

“The woman in question was not dissimilar, sir. She is the Lord Mayor of London’s wife. When you approached to convey greetings to her walking companion, the little fellow perceived your swerving perambulation to be menacing.”

“Indeed?

“Most definitely, sir. He bared his teeth.”

“Dashed uncordial if you ask me, Jeeves.”

“His mistress was moved to impede any further attempt at communication by laying her umbrella aside your temple, whereupon you retreated to the relatively placid waters of a nearby fountain.”

“Oh now really, Jeeves, this is too much!”

“The foregoing was explained to me by Mr. Little some time ago during an unannounced visit to your flat. He confided that he used the umbrella blow as an opportunity to head for what he termed ‘higher ground.’ You remained in sight, however, long enough for him to observe the arrival of a constable who requested your immediate disassociation with the fountain, whereupon you removed his helmet and condemned it to the foaming currents encircling your knees.”

“Gave it a solid dunking, did I?! Well at least there’s a lifetime’s ambition realized, eh Jeeves?”

“Regrettably, sir, it was a course of action that attracted the attention of a goodly number of the constable’s like-minded associates who lost little time conveying you toward your present circumstances.”

“A rum do to be sure, Jeeves. By the by, how do you happen to be standing in my cell?”

“Your Aunt Agatha is not without influence, sir, and arranged for this visit in exchange for a full recounting of what she terms ‘the sordid details.’”

“So, she will soon know all! A decidedly dark cloud has descended to its familiar perch on the Wooster horizon. This requires fortification, Jeeves. If you will kindly convey to the relevant authorities my wish to expunge these surroundings from memory, I might just make a beeline for that oasis of sustenance that is the Drones.”

“I fear, sir, that your Aunt was quite insistent that you remain in place for the time being. She believes it will have a beneficial effect on your manhood.”

“What?! I willingly defer to Aunt Agatha on all subject matter pertaining to intractable backbone, but this is too much!”

“If I might offer a palliative consideration, sir, it occurred to me that this entire interlude might well have been averted had you been escorting a small friend of your own around Trafalgar Square last evening.”

My unyielding admiration for the machinations of Jeeves’ giant brain knows no bounds. “Are you suggesting a furry new addition to the flat?” I gurgled in happy anticipation.

“I am acquainted with a merchant who would be delighted to supply you with a wire-haired example of the dachshund breed he has named Gentleman Jim.”

“A sprightly pup?”

“Actually, sir, the dog has been in this man’s care for several years. He is an amiable animal, but displays such a strong penchant for eccentric behavior that it was thought best to hold him in reserve until the opportunity for ownership by a similarly inclined master presented itself.”

For naught but an instant, the barest hint of a wry smile visited Jeeves’ reassuring visage before disappearing into the great unknown.

What could I say? The man is a marvel.

— Whip Kincaid

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