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Stories by Laura McNeal

Love and Mariachis in Chula Vista

The Music Leaves No Space for Sadness.

This is a love story. It begins in Guadalajara and is rekindled four times a day in room 1204 of Chula Vista High, a setting that is not romantic. The windows of the band room, ...

Don't Look Down

When I signed my son up for dance and deportment lessons, I didn’t tell him. For one thing, it was called Mr. Benjamin’s Cotillion, and I couldn’t shake the image of Mr. Benjamin Bunny, Peter ...

Want to Be Sent Home in Pieces?

The Chula Vista kidnapping of Eddy Tostado by Arellano cartel guys

At 3:39 a.m. on January 7, 2007, Columbia Street was almost deserted. Little Italy had been plagued with car burglaries — “It got where you couldn’t drive too many of the streets down there without ...

She Really Was a Fashion Plate

In 1930, the San Diego yellow pages were as yellow as an egg yolk, the white pages listed the occupation of every customer, and the modern Woodmen of America met every Wednesday at Germania Hall. ...

How Truth Can Be Told

"I hate flattery, don't you?" she said to me once.

I was 26 and unemployed when a friend told me about the San Diego Reader and its editor, Judith Moore. I had published a few essays and stories in small literary journals while amassing a ...

My Life As a Mammal

A young mother brings a small man into the world with a detailed account.

When I informed my best friend almost nine years ago that I was expecting a male child, she said, after a distinct pause, "I can't even imagine you with boys." I couldn't imagine it either, ...

Let The World See Your Pretty Face

A heartbreaking job among the innocent and challenged.

Crushed: A Novel

Crushed by Laura and Tom McNeal. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; $15.95; 308 pages FROM THE DUST JACKET: The acclaimed authors of Crooked and Zippedbring their signature suspense and razor-sharp dialogue to this compelling new novel ...

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 ...

The Radiators That Ticked Heat into the Room

New school in South Carolina

The winter I was in fifth grade, my father brought home a National Geographic book that seemed to consist entirely of swamp photographs. He turned the thick, glossy pages for me, and I stared at ...

Notes Give Pathos to Clouds

Artur Schnabel Plays Beethoven, Volume 1 Sonata no. 19 in G Minor, op. 49, no. 1 My father bought my first piano from the Briscoes in Sumter, South Carolina. We knew the Briscoes from church ...


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."

As Thin as Butterfly Wings

My mother continues to sew.

My mother was born in the high desert of northeastern Arizona. Even now it's a hard place to thrive, with rain unlikely and resources few. Her father built their house out of adobe bricks he ...


I want the backwards clock to go forward and the forward clock to go backwards.

I often feel in downtown Fallbrook that I have walked through a door into the past, the door I have been looking for all my life. It happens at Jerry’s Barber Shop most often. Jerry’s ...

My Skin is a Museum

Ms. Papousek of La Mesa does the body-art thing.

Natasha Monahan Papousek is not Iranian. She is not Lebanese, Moroccan, Indian, or Pakistani. She lives in La Mesa, she has the red hair and pale skin of her Irish-Czech-Norwegian-American parents, but she’s a henna ...

The Death of Judy Huscher

Fallbrook’s home ec teacher spoils hot chocolate

The body lies in a position of repose, a 12-year-old girl in pajamas, on her bed, in Fallbrook, California. Her blue eyes, though open, see nothing, and for ten more minutes, no one sees her. ...

Horses and Their Women

To be a show horse is like being a beauty contestant.

It's nine o'clock on the day before the last day of Diane Wilson’s horse-showing career. Outside her window, the pointy hills of Escondido are wet from the rain. Inside, it’s warm because she has just ...

Follow Me

What’s going on in City Heights’ Waldorf School?

After the morning verse, the class sings a medieval round in preparation of the May Faire, and then it’s time to recite the choral passages of the play they’ll perform next month: scenes from Homer’s Odyssey.

Sheep to Sweater in North County

The Shepherdess Rancho Borrego Negro is home to white sheep, black sheep, black fish, a black-and-white sheepdog, and a couple of near-black llamas, but for Kathy Gluesenkamp, the hardest thing to produce on the Ranch ...

Sanctuary: A San Diego Man's Homage to the Missions

Survival has always been dicey for California's 21 missions

Between 1769 and 1823, Franciscan padres, Spanish soldiers, and Native Americans built an astonishing chain of settlements — 21 missions and four smaller asistencias — between San Diego and Sonoma. The money to start them ...

Black birdmen

San Diego's Tuskegee airmen

During World War II, Germans called them the schwartze vogelmenschen or “black birdmen.” White American bomber crews called them the Black Redtail Angels. Various other white Americans called them spades, spooks, coons, or sambos, and ...

When San Diego had an orphanage

Home for Rose

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, they were called orphans, and they lived in a home on five acres in Balboa Park. Those who weren’t orphans were “half-orphans,”“abandoned children,” or “those for whom we temporarily ...

Fashion Plate: When Women Wore Hats

Old-style San Diego

Although Beatrice still has, at age 72, all of her gloves, it was the hats she loved. "I tell you," she says Some people go buy shoes when they're depressed. I sued to buy hats."

The Clara Barton of Arachnids

Love on eight legs

Six days later, another tarantula crawled into a friend’s house across town. His kitten stalked it and his wife screamed. By then we had learned that tarantulas are “beneficials” who kill insects in the grove.

Rats and Lilies

The short adventure of little Ray T. Arnold

The rules of gardening and housekeeping are clear on rodents and lilies. Lilies are good, rats are bad. Childhood reading had ill-prepared me to whack off rats’ heads. I was raised on Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry.

Trees of Life

How do you tell a stolen avocado from a regular one?

Despite the revolver, the man got out and tried to push the car. It wasn't until Jeanne fired a shot in the air that he stopped, got out of the car, and put the avocados back into the bin.

Bill's Memory Machine

The next week, I met Mrs. Ferguson, aged 82, during Mike’s regular Thursday visit to Sun City Gardens, a triangle of blue-carpeted buildings by the freeway that overlooks, on three sides, the hot suburban desert.

What's on a cheerleader's mind

Girls go up, girls come down

It's noon on a midsummer Saturday in a camp of the church of cheer, and eight million blades of grass are about to die. For the next four days, UC Irvine’s Mesa Court Field will ...

What Happened? A Pioneer Family's Tragedy

Booze and tragedy for the Fletchers in Borrego Springs

At midnight on August 24, Kent rang the doorbell at the Fletcher Hills house of his grandfather, Ed Jr. The housekeeper testified that Kent asked to come in the house and sleep, but she told him that was against his grandfather’s orders.

Faith Healing

That the children may live long, And be beautiful and strong, Tea and coffee and tobacco they despise Drink no liquor, and they eat But a very little meat... - from a 19th-century Mormon song ...

Vampires on My Front Porch

The care and feeding of pale wigglers.

Sharon has found vermiculture to be fun and profitable, but her friends and relatives thought it was a nutty idea. “They thought I was absolutely crazy.” They’ve changed their minds now that she’s making money,

The Moment Leaves Started to Turn

The translation of wisteria

My husband, too, is a temperate, practical man, so the walls of our house are barren, but certain members of the vine family are making their greedy way. We planted two wisteria by the front porch.

Fairy Godmother's Art

Outside the windows, chimes touch together. They ring exactly as they did when someone lived here, when Blue Willow china was set on the table and cows were milked in the barn.

Their Babies Smell Like Freshly Opened Hickory Nuts

Important Features of Squirrel Husbandry

By June the Beecheys and their dark-eyed young promised to become an Egyptian plague, and my husband, who carries spiders out of the house instead of flushing them, suggested poison.

I Wanted to Own Him Until He Opened His Mouth

The weasel's secrets

Outside my American window, the weasel was winding himself through the bird of paradise and dashing into plastic conduits. We put the conduits there for our own use, but the animals use them as subway tunnels.

Stop food fights, clean up after motion sickness

The tough female school bus drivers of Fallbrook

When Sherry —the sort of woman who could play Mary in a live Nativity scene — decided to become a bus driver so her husband wouldn’t have to work such long hours, her father was horrified. “Oh, Sherry, no!" 

I know that one day not very far off, in a corner of this world someone is going to say, "We need you."

Next to the bed, in a box painted like a clock face, is a short history of our attempts to have a child. The folded pamphlets assist me in Understanding and Recording My Ovulation Cycle, ...

Welcome, GOP Convention Delegates, to San Diego, City of Shame

The maid had been referred to the Wilsons by Neil Morgan’s wife. The legality of her work status was still not known, said Davies. He said Wilson’s ex-wife Betty had handled all of the other details.

A 180-Million-Year-Old Friend

A meeting with Uta stansburiana

I dropped a roly-poly in the bucket as though I were an animal trainer at Sea World, and then I made a twiggy ramp that would encourage the captive to show me his delicate, blue-tinged undersides.

Where the Kissing Never Stops

All you need is love.

The first lesson I learned in church was that a finger thins itself to hold a wedding ring, making a bed for the metal that slips back and forth all day, smooth and familiar and ...

Diary of an Orange Grove

The other trees in the neighborhood are flamboyant this time of year: blood-red pomegranates, nippled lemons, waxy persimmons, navel oranges, all of them still flecked with cinders that floated down in a brush fire.

As Long as the Grass Grows

Local Manzanita tribe wants to cut itself off from Washington

The Sycuan, Barona, and Viejas casinos spent about $10,000 each to send local leaders to Washington. “Since the Sycuan [hand] has only 100 members,” the spokesman said, “we can afford to send other members.”

Bury My Olla in Anza-Borrego

“Who said you could come into this cemetery and write things down?”

I explain about Frank Salazar and his position in the office up the hill. I say he gave me permission, but she says, “He can’t tell you that. You have to go through the whole tribal members.”

Feathered World without End

Quilts of Silence: Hands All Around, Courthouse Steps, Tumbling Blocks, Joseph's Coat

The names of quilts are like children’s games that are played with a loop of string: Feathered World without End, Hands All Around, Courthouse Steps, Tumbling Blocks, Joseph’s Coat. Some quilters, including Reggie, know the names at a glance.

The Desire to Leave Hangs Like Heat

My life as substitute teacher at Pendleton, La Paloma, Fallbrook Elementary, Potter Jr. High, and Fallbrook High

I’m the substitute, so I sit at a stranger’s desk beneath a poster that displays a Ferrari in the driveway of a mansion. “The rewards of higher education,” it reads. A boy named Eric, who was called to the office during the first hour, is working on his test and talking to two girls, so after three warnings, I give him detention. “You bitch!” he shouts across the room.

Let’s Be Friends

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