Archive for the ‘California’ Category

A Loss of Innocence

On September 18, 1986, a student at Benicia High School in Benicia, California was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend after an on-campus quarrel. I was a high school sports reporter for the Benicia Herald in 1986-87, and wrote the following column for the newspaper, which it published on September 21. At the request of a high school classmate who remembered it after the Aurora shootings, I am posting it online.

A loss of innocence

I hear about it all the time. A rumor spreads, a boyfriend gets jealous, starts an argument with his girlfriend, and kills her. But it always happens somewhere else. In San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont, Richmond, any big city…but never here. How could it happen here? This is a small town. Most people move here to get away from that sort of violence, to go somewhere where the streets are clean, the citizens are friendly and the schools are safe. Benicia’s always been that kind of town. It still is. But you wouldn’t have known it Thursday.

It’s been said that the worst time in a person’s life is the day he loses his innocence. The day he realizes that the world by its very nature is a place where sadness and death are a daily fact of life that touches all of us, regardless of who or where we are. Some claim that no one has any innocence [any more], that all the violence and death we see on television has numbed us to any sense of loss about death. I wish those people who believe that could have been at Benicia High School Thursday afternoon.

I never knew Heather Dunn. I’d heard an occasional comment about her flaws, but what else do people ever talk about? All I knew was that she was a reasonably good-looking sophomore who had a couple of friends that I knew. Nothing that would set her apart in my mind from any number of people at Benicia High. Until Thursday.

I only knew Leonard Rubio slightly. He was a good football player last year, but not someone who was particularly violent or hot-tempered off the field. If you’d asked my opinion of him, I would have described him as a young man who had been a credit to his high school and had a good future ahead of him. Until Thursday.

A happy couple, or at least as happy as a high school couple could be. The three-year age difference didn’t bode well for a good future between the two, but it was just a high school romance, and who ever thinks about the future anyway? Until Thursday.

When the news came, it was a shock. Most people in the school knew either Dunn or Rubio, and most couldn’t understand how it could have happened. We didn’t even need to know who Heather Dunn was to be shocked. Some people walked around stunned. Others gossiped about the why and how of the murder. Students who wouldn’t have cringed or screamed at the worst bloodbath in a horror flick cried. But everyone had one question on their minds. Why here?

The students of Benicia High School lost a lot on Thursday. Some lost a friend, others a classmate, still others their faith in the safety and isolation of Benicia. But for many of us, it was the day we lost our innocence.

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The years 1945 to 1965 were the Golden Age of the Golden State. The economy was booming and jobs were plentiful. A torrent of tax revenue (and the bond issues it supported) led to widespread expansion of the parks system, the university system, K-12 schools, and public works. In 1962, California passed New York to become the most populous state in the nation, but it long since passed it as the most envied and blessed.

But California has been haunted ever since by that Golden Age, as it has struggled to live up to the public expectations that were raised in happier times. The gold of California has hardly turned to lead, but the social upheaval of the ’60s, the inflation of the ’70s, the fiscal bodyblow of Prop 13 in 1978, the crash of the aviation industry in the early ’90s, the dot-com bust of the early ’00s, and the recent collapse of the real estate market have each made it more difficult to maintain the commitments the state took on when the future looked much sunnier.

From a distance, California politics look fatally split by the after-effects of the Golden Age.

On one side, we have the California Republican Party, whose voter base is people who mourn the passing of the Golden Age and hate the people who they think took it away. The children of the Okie and Midwestern migrants of the ’30s and ’40s refuse to pay for the schools and services needed by the children of the Latino and Asian migrants of the ’90s and ’00s. The California GOP committed suicide in the late ’90s to please this base, but will anything really make them happy?

On the other side, we have the California Democratic Party, which is committed to maintaining the full golden panoply of social programs in which Pat Brown clothed the state, regardless of its suffocating weight. Democrats have backed themselves into a corner with their own rhetoric, leaving themselves open to charges of being (at best) heartless and reactionary if they try to trim outlays to match sustainable revenues.

So we have a standoff in Sacramento between a party that is politically unable to approve of cutting programs and a party that is politically unable to approve of funding programs.

California has drifted from a Golden Age into a Silver Age and is now well into its Bronze Age. If California Democrats and Republicans — not just the parties, but the people in them — can’t find a common ground to work on, the Pewter Age is the next stop on the road.

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Ray Taliaferro

When I was in junior high school in the early ’80s, I had terrible insomnia. I used to lay awake at night and listen to the Giants game on KNBR, then listen to the Giants post-game show and the news. If I was still awake (it would be midnight by this point), I would turn the dial to KGO and listen to Ray Taliaferro until I finally dozed off.

I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb of San Francisco and considered myself to be a Reagan Republican, but I loved to listen to a guy from the City who eloquently and forcefully disagreed with what I had been brought up to believe. He didn’t change my mind, but he helped me understand what other people were thinking and what other ways there were to look at the world.

Taliaferro used to say that the KGO signal reached well into Oregon, Washington, and Nevada, and he would sometimes get calls from small towns hundreds of miles away. I wonder now how many other people in little towns across the West would lay awake at night, in those days before the Internet, listening to Ray Taliaferro spin their mental kaleidoscopes.

All this comes to mind because I have been getting over a cold, which has made it hard to get to sleep at night; so I’ve moved my transistor radio next to my bed and listened to KBOO as I laid awake sniffling. Two nights ago, it was the poetry of Richard Brautigan. Last night, it was reggae Christmas carols. If I can’t sleep tonight, it will be punk music, selected by the awesome Erin Yanke. I love KBOO.

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20 years ago

It was 20 years ago last night that I spent my first night in the dorms at Ohio State.

Last night, I dreamed that I was checking in to Morrill Tower all over again, but this time I was 38.

(The number of people who know me who would be surprised to see me moving into Morrill Tower at age 38? Smaller than you might think.)

My one enduring memory of that day had been caused the night prior, when my best friend and I celebrated my last night in California by spending five hours at the 24-hour bowling alley where we used to go. We bowled about 15 games, after which I didn’t sleep until I arrived in Columbus. So I woke up my first morning of college with absolutely no feeling in my right hand. (It did eventually come back.)

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