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Stories by Abe Opincar

Surreal Estate

A typical conversation went like this: “Excuse me, do you offer home mortgages?” “Well, yes.” She seems startled. “What sort of customers borrow from your bank?” “People who have no other choice.” On April 25, ...


That she was at least 20 years my senior never mattered.

"Execrable." And... "You sound like a fluttering dilettante." There were many more in a similar vein. I have all her editorial comments saved somewhere on the jittery hard drive of my old computer. The two ...

There Is One God

San Diego Sikhs run into trouble - on Miramar Road, at Charger games.

Sikhs don’t engage in door-to-door pamphleteering and they don’t broadcast television or radio commercials promoting their faith.

The Kids Are All Right

An introduction to the pygmy scene.

Dori Lowell, business manager for the National Pygmy Goat Association based in Snohomish, Washington, says, "People who love pygmy goats come from all walks of life, but they're usually animal lovers who've had some exposure ...

Out of Africa

Refugees tell of persecution in Uganda, war in Liberia

In the office where I met David Omen Acana II, paramount chief of the 800,000-member Acholi tribe in northern Uganda, a large color photograph of two hippos hung on the wall behind him. The animals, ...

Why Not the Red, White, And Blue?

San Diego immigrants not forced to come here

"I thought I had come into hell. Van Nuys was so hot. I mean, God. And at that time I was naughty: I smoked. And I thought, 'How can anybody have a cigarette in this ...

Don't Look Now

Abduction and murder at T.J.’s Camp Campestre

Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult not to stare at ten men dressed in black who brandished submachine guns. Under normal circumstances, ten men dressed in black who brandished submachine guns would be the ...

American Interests

The foreign service ten minutes from San Diego.

When Dean Haas considers his career so far, he describes its most emotionally difficult period as a two-week "hostage situation" involving a group of Americans "who'd gone to look for Noah's ark." There was, of ...

Tijuana Muscle

What's different about Mexican bodybuiding

"This gym, NeoSpa, opened in 1988. It was started by a Russian group that came to Tijuana. They came up with the name and made the original investment. They also opened a disco and a ...

When the Loud Bell Rang

22 Reader writers on school

My first day in school was really my second day — Jangchup Phelygal The Radiators That Ticked Heat into the Room — Laura Rhoton McNeal Rear Rank Rudy — Jim Morris Forget-me-nots — Rosa Colwin ...

Out of Africa

ASL via immersion method

It looks as if you're cradling a baby goat in your arms while something explodes from its backside. Right wrist rests atop left elbow. Right elbow rests atop left wrist. Right pinky and index finger ...

Life's Too Short To Be Small

Outlaw life and building muscle

"At the time it was cross tops and black beauties. Not yet the methamphetamine." "I was caught up in the first DUI sweep in San Diego. I had my picture on the front page of ...

Tijuana Gardens

Arenales, Guerrero Park, Real del Mar, Gaspar Rivera's home, and other hidden treasures

I didn't recognize where I was. "Things have changed a lot," said Jorge Rodríguez, leading me out of the rain, into his two-story cinder-block house. "I came to Los Arenales looking for new horizons," he ...


The woman we never forget.

"Careful, Ma; don't spill your soup," I warned. "First time you spill, that's it — you're going to the home.” Mom's reply was immediate. "I know. I've picked out what I want to take with me."

Bleach, Hand Cream, and Onions

A love that bordered on idolatry

"I visited your father's grave," my mother said when she last called. "And I gave his headstone a good kick." This is the sort of joke we share, my mother and I. Survivors of an ...

Normal Heights

Before the newlyweds across the street went on their honeymoon, they asked me to keep an eye on their house. Yesterday, a neighbor two doors down, an elderly Mexican woman, brought me a big bowl ...

Nowhere Zone: The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Normal Heights

North of Adams was like what south of Adams is now.

“Of all the things we did for Normal Heights, the most important was down-zoning. When the community plan was finalized in 1985, no one could build any more of those big ugly apartment buildings.”

Grateful to the Dead

Tijuana anatomy professor: My students learn compassion.

Not long after my brother died and was buried in Oregon, I found myself in the depósito de cadáveres, or morgue, at Tijuana’s Autonomous University of Baja California. My hand rested on the handle of ...

This Isn’t the Same Country, This Isn't the Same Town

Tijuana's Cultural Center turns twenty.

“On the morning of January 20, 1974, the police came. The neighborhood’s name was Tierra y Libertad, ‘Land and Liberty.’ The police marched right into the neighborhood. Perhaps they were state police. I’m not sure. ...

Tijuana Dream Tracker

Monuments to Lincoln, Cardenas, teachers, the free textbook

"Just like Florence, just like Rome, Tijuana, too, has its monuments." Professor Julio Rodríguez steers his blue Ford through Zona Rio, gesturing at one statue after another. "And what are monuments? What do they represent? ...

Blubbo's World

Reader writers and other friends remember Steve Esmedina.

Esmo’s phone manner was so hugger-mugger that I could be sitting four feet away and could not make out a single word. For all I could tell, he might have been laying fifty on a pony.

The Shadow Knows

Esmedina family and childhood friends talk.

In late January 1954, Dick Tracy found an infant abandoned in a tree. For more than a week the comic-strip detective searched for the mother. Suddenly, “as if dropped out of nowhere,” a Mrs. Catchem ...

Married to the Peso

In Mexico City in June of 1994, Pat Nelson took a friend, a Mexican financial consultant, to lunch. "My friend said to me, 'Pat, in '92 and '93 the Mexican government issued short-term bonds that ...

Survival Poet

'I'm totally lyric," says Erika Lara, a woman in her early 30s who sits on a metal folding chair on the marble landing before Tijuana's municipal government building. "A lyric poet. Uneducated. I barely finished ...

Our Students Don't Kill

'We currently have 20 kids here who've committed homicides. We get about one a month. In every case except one, it was an armed assault, usually a robbery, involving money, drugs, or both. The one ...

Alejandra's Difficult Choice

'Let me explain it to you slowly, because my life is very complicated. When I was 15 years old, I went from my small town in Puebla to Tecate, where I crossed into the United ...

Mother Tongue

“I even speak Yiddish with a Mexican accent. I can’t help it.” If you call the Institute for Jewish Research in Manhattan and ask to be referred to a Yiddish speaker in San Diego, you’ll ...

Tijuana's Troubled Families

'Go to the border between 5:00 and 7:00 in the morning, and you can understand something about my patients' lives. At that time in the morning, the border is crazy. People honking, yelling, fighting for ...

Rules for Your Life

American freedom puzzles an Egyptian taxi driver

"I knew Somalis who drove taxis and said I should try it.. For three months, I've been driving a cab. I live with a friend in a small house in Lemon Grove. I pay $300 a month"

Escape from Iraq

It's difficult to get away from Saddam Hussein

"There weren't so many big strong guys in Iraq, and so Saddam Hussein's security service was looking for strong guys to work as his bodyguards. You looked big. You looked frightening, like you might kill some people"

Cornucopia: Stephen Facciola's Edible World

The world-famous food expert lives in Vista

“You’re eating bug excrement.” Stephen Facciola and I are standing in the parking lot of a Middle Eastern grocery in disheartening Anaheim. The streets are eight lanes wide. The blocks, a mile long. The air ...

African Luck

How a young African learned to drive a cab.

"As an African you think that you're going to have a lot in common with black Americans. You don't. They really don't like us. So, in 1998, I went back to my village"

When There's Trouble in the World

'In late 1985, we fled Kabul and crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan in the dead of winter. We walked ten days and nine nights. There were about 60 people in all. Friends, neighbors. Eight members ...

Fraternal Spiritualist

Denomination: Fraternal Spiritualist Address: 4720 Kensington Drive, Kensington; 619-281-4557 Year founded locally: 1932 Senior pastors: Millie Landis, Chris Christensen Congregation size: 83 members Staff: all volunteer Church school enrollment: no Sunday School Annual budget: $99,000 ...

American Cabstand

From Afghanistan to dentistry school via taxi

"People jump out of the cab to keep from paying. I had one Mexican guy jump out of my cab while it was still moving. Some day one of these people is going to get hurt.”

Cracking the Coconut

Thais are losing their taste for Thai food.

"Back in the late 1960s, there was only one Thai market I was aware of, Bangkok Market on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. It opened in 1968 and it carried mostly canned goods, no vegetables, no spices."

Check in at Hotel Internment

A wicked Hungarian count tries to seduce a pubescent American blonde. A resort manager falls hard for a German baroness. Hitler masterminds the slaughter of millions. There are love ballads and some tap dancing. When ...

His Lightness, My Weight

My birth was a clear break with his previous life.

Until he lost consciousness eight hours before his death, my father was lucid. He did have night terrors, usually around 4:00 a.m., when, animated by morphine dreams, he’d rise cackling from his bed, hairy arms ...

Galli's Survival

Last December Todd Galli made a list he entitled "Things I Want to Accomplish in My Life." Dissatisfied with how that sounded, he started again with "Things I Will Accomplish in My Life." At the ...

Long Gray Line

General MacArthur changed a young soldier's life

"The Japanese were literally dying in the streets from hunger. MacArthur commandeered all the food that had been stored up but never used for the invasion of Kyushu, and he turned it over to the Japanese people.”

Mark Chapman's Bane

On the evening of December 8, 1980, Kristy Mundt, a cashier at Vons, was relaxing in her Lemon Grove home, watching the Miami Dolphins play the New England Patriots at the Orange Bowl. When Howard ...

A roasting hen and divorce

I wanted to taste her breath again

l baked a chicken the night I left my wife. It was a chubby-thighed roasting hen I rubbed with olive oil and salt and hefted into a 500-degree oven where I left it to sizzle ...

Art of Glass

For the past 25 years, Peter Dreher, an artist from Freiburg, Germany, has painted the same 100-year-old, half-liter glass 3200 times. Dreher's method is simple: in either day or night, in either artificial or natural ...

In Defense of the Ultimate Underdog

'Let's say that you're an American man, living in France, and you meet and marry a French woman. You decide to spend your honeymoon in America, and while you're here your wife discovers she loves ...

Wind, Water, a Rice Field

What does it mean to be Chinese?

“I can tell when someone’s from that area. There’s a way they pronounce words, a certain intonation. Sometimes they’ll try to disguise it. The Chinese are just as class conscious as anyone else, maybe more so.”

Not That Liberal

When Martin Luther invented Protestantism, he created anarchy. Luther's unmooring of Christianity from centuries of Church practice and teaching generated ironies and contradictions that remain unresolved. Reverend Cindy Witt is a recent orphan of the ...

Twelve gates of heaven

He pointed out the apartment where, in 1992, two Hmong boys had been shot by Crips. With his finger Vang traced the path across the lawn that one boy had taken as he tried to escape.

What Mexican cooking's Diana Kennedy has to do with San Diego

Cristina's kitchen

At around 1:00 a.m. a hard rain began to fall, chasing everyone from the plaza, sending dogs scuttling under trucks, silencing the skyrockets that had rattled the air above this small town since dawn. Midday ...

Comedian in the Mist

Author David Sedaris visits San Diego primates.

Sedaris was smoking a Kool near the entrance to the La Jolla Marriott when I explained that the zoo was probably touchy because the feds had recently nailed the zoo's reptile curator for dealing snakes on the side.

Let’s Be Friends

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