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Stories by Stephen Dobyns

She told me my arm was gone. We argued about that for five minutes. I mean, I could feel it.

Certain San Diegans feel their missing limbs.

Most stories begin with a person or an event. This one begins with a book. Last summer I read The Brain That Changes Itself by research psychiatrist and psychologist Norman Doidge, M.D., which discusses developments ...

So Long, Pals

A great future in plastics

Maybe it’s my age — the dark side of my sixties, an elder proto-baby boomer, those 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. Maybe it’s because I’ve been tearing my hair filling out Medicare ...

Make Something Better

She was fierce about writers she didn't like, fierce about writers she said had done a bad job or were lazy.

I never met Judith Moore. To me she was a voice over the phone: slangy, half-cynical, eager to talk about her dog, and passionate about writing. I first talked to her in the summer of ...

Border Angels

They put out jugs of water in Otay Mesa, in Ocotillo, in Jacumba, in Campo.

"We know the kind of people we catch here. They're horrible people." The Border Patrol agent's tone was no more than blandly informative. It was 7:00 p.m. July 16, and we were at the edge ...

At times it was like shared music, at times like a skin graft or a root canal

Chunks of ice rode the whitecaps as the Nantucket ferry steamed out of the harbor in Woods Hole and into the Atlantic. The March wind had driven Isabel into the warmth of the cabin, while ...

Salvation Mountain

An old man and Somebody Upstairs.

My friend Rex says, "You'll love the Slabs in August. Some would call you adventurous and brave, and some completely out of your mind." The Slabs are Slab City, three miles east of Niland, between ...

Thomas Lux's The Cradle Place

Stephen Dobyns interviews Lux

"Much poetry is arbitrary, obscure, and inaccessible. It makes people feel stupid. That has a great deal to do with Modernism and Post-Modernism, even though many of the Modernists were great poets undeniably."

What You Do When You're Done Being a Playboy

Bob McElroy, head of the Alpha Project, and Martin Luther King III were walking slowly along the sidewalk as McElroy was telling King about homelessness in San Diego and the problems of alcohol and narcotics ...

Down and Out

John’s eyes were red and unfocused. He couldn’t stand still but took a few steps into the parking lot, then kicked the railing of the stairs leading to the second floor. “They set me up, ...

All the Good Scenery, Nice Sunsets, Sunrises

From the wheelhouse of the Harbor Commander, I spotted two fat sea lions lounging on a buoy about halfway between the Silver Strand and the Navy shipyard. It was a bright warm February morning, and ...

Smiths: What They Do and How They Do It

The black-caped, cast-iron devil figure was playing the violin and wearing a top hat and heavy horn-rimmed glasses. It rested on a cast-iron drum with a drumhead made out of a $450 piece of cobalt ...

They Make Their Home by the River

Down and out in Mission Valley

His name was Petey and he had lived in the riverbed for 20 years. “It’s a nice place.” He told us that that morning 30 “Mexican kids” had come down looking for a chrome bike, which had been stolen.

Crash, Crash, Crash

Cajon Speedway, the fastest 3/8 mile pave oval on the West Coast

Like two dancers executing half a pirouette, the two 3000-pound late-model Sportsman-class stock cars spun out side by side, squealing their tires, as their rear ends slid toward the crash wall and their front ends ...

Drag's Not For Sissies

To walk through Horton Plaza at lunchtime on a gorgeous day in late spring with a flamboyantly beautiful woman on your arm is a sure way to snag a lot of looks — quick, long, ...

Leave Aside This Absurd Sadness

Like two predatory birds performing a mating ritual high above the mountains, twisting and looping around one another before they lock together and fall hundreds of feet, still spinning, until they break apart moments before ...

Home on the Water

A precarious life in San Diego Bay's A-8 anchorage

“The Port Authority took away all the good anchorages and they put us out here because they knew we wouldn’t last, but it’s the furthest place from anything too. They couldn’t put it anyplace else.”

Positioned on a Pedestal

He credited his conversion to reading C.S. Lewis and the letters of St. Paul.

My father died in the autumn of 1989 of congestive heart failure. His name was Lester and he was 79 and, as he recedes into the past, he gradually ceases to be a single human ...

Crankshaft Carburetor Engine Block

Support your local junkie,” read the bumper sticker. “Ahh, Marion, do you have to?” said the police in Barrio Logan. The junkie is Marion Martinez, part-owner of Mini Truck Dismantling Center, what used to be ...


On January 22, San Diego Opera will burn a witch

A cockroach looking down toward the empty end of a cereal box — that’s my sense of the bare stage of the San Diego Civic Theatre viewed from the first row. No trace is left ...

The Big One

San Diegans play finders-keepers.

The faint sound through the earphones is like the buzz of a mosquito on the other side of the room when you're trying to sleep. It nags.

Once Upon a Time There Was a Big Fat Bass...

The drummer wears a puffy red cap over his dreadlocks, and dangling behind his head from a nail in the wall of the garage is a squashed red, yellow, and blue Sesame Street ball, so ...

Are You Happy, Brother Beast?

How to entertain a giraffe.

I tighten my right arm around the cheetah's neck. He has a deep purr, like a Harley-Davidson heard cruising two blocks away. I try not to think of his teeth and claws, but his teeth and claws are the only important subject. This is a 120-pound adult male that can hit 45 miles per hour in two seconds. I can't even hiccup that fast.

The World You Have and the World You Want

Some illusions cost $150 an hour.

The woman is sexy but very classy. She is tall, about five feet nine, with tousled brown hair. Her skirt and tight white blouse show off her figure in a way to bring about cardiac arrhythmia in youngsters and oldsters alike. She walks as if she owns the very air around her. She is 6 and her measurements are 34-24-34. She calls herself Michelle. She carries a beeper, a cell phone, and pepper spray on her key ring.

I can Find Out What You Do for a Living

Kiss your privacy good-bye.

The names and ages of your spouse and children. What kind of car you drive. The value of your house and how much you pay in taxes on it.

Coronado Watch

Lifeguards on the other side of the beach.

“You play games in the winter. You see how long you can drive the truck without stopping. You close the truck windows and turn on the heat full blast. The first one to open the windows loses.”

The Least Tern Says Something Ominous Is Coming

Bad news from the Tijuana estuary.

“They can be clumsy mothers. We’ve got videotapes of the mothers knocking the eggs out of the nest and sending them tumbling down the cliff.” Videos also show the mothers jumping up and down on their eggs.

How Would Aunt Sadie Feel about 70,000 Self-Proclaimed Drunks Anyway?

Former booze hounds flock to San Diego.

AA has been swamped by people sent to the program by courts: people arrest for drunk driving or other alcohol-related crimes.

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