Apr 23 2011 11:42am

San Diego Noir: The National City Reparation Society

San Diego is home to miles of beaches, Balboa Park, a world-famous zoo, and some of the country's most expensive home and resort real estate. Yet the city also houses a few items that aren't actively promoted by the visitor's bureau: a number of the country's most corrupt politicians, border-related crimes, terrorists, an the occasional earthquake. In the 50-plus years since Raymond Chandler set Playback in Esmeralda, his name for La Jolla, the population has grown by more than a million, and crime has proliferated as well. San Diego of the past and present offers the book's contributors a rich selection of settings, from the cross on Mount Soledad to the piers of Ocean Beach, and perpetrators and victims from the residents of its wealthiest enclaves to the inhabitants of its segregated barrios.

“National City Reparation Society” is an exclusive short story by Luis Alberto Urrea from San Diego Noir, edited by Maryelizabeth Hart (Available June 1, 2011 from Akashic Books)


It wasn’t like Junior Garcia only hung with white people now. But he didn’t see much Raza, he’d be the first to admit. Not socially. That’s why you leave home, right? Shake off the dark. 

As soon as he picked up the clamoring cell phone, he had that old traditional homecoming feeling: why’d I answer this? He didn’t recognize the number—some old So Cal digits. He stared at the screen as if it would offer him further clues.

When he answered, an accented voice said: “Hey, bitch.”

“Excuse me?”

“Said: Hey. Bitch. You deaf, homes?”

“You must have the wrong number,” Junior said, about to click off. Homes, he said to himself. What is this, 1986?

“Junior!” the guy shouted. He used the old, hectoring fake-beaner accent the vatos had affected when mocking him in school: Yoo-nyurr! “I bet you got some emo shit for a ringtone. Right? Like ‘The Black Parade,’ some shit like that.” The guy laughed.

“I’ve been talking to you for, like, almost a whole minute, and you already insulted me. I don’t even know who you are.” His ringtone was Nine Inch Nails, thank you very much. Emo? Shit. “I’m out, homes.”

He clicked off and pulled on his Pumas. Got his jog on along the beach. It was one of those rare sunny days, and everybody was out, looking in their Lycra and spandex like a vast, roving fruit salad. He tucked the celly in his shorts pocket. Who’s the bitch now? he wanted to know.

His nemesis caught him again as he was cooling off, jogging in place beside a picnic table, breathing through his nose, pouring good clean sweat down his back—he could feel it tickling the backs of his legs. “You let me penetrate you,” his phone announced. “You let me penetrate you.”

“You again?” Junior said.

“It’s me. Damn!”

“Me, who?”


Junior wiped his face with the little white towel he had wrapped around his neck. “I should have known.”

“That’s what I’m sayin’.”

“Fucking Chango.”


Junior could hear him smoking—he still must like those cheap-ass Domino ciggies from TJ. They crackled like burning brush when the guy inhaled. “Why you calling me, Chango?”

“What—a homeboy can’t check on his li’l peewee once in a while? I like to make sure my boyz is okay.”

“I haven’t talked to you in ten years,” Junior said. He sat on the table and lay back and watched the undersides of gulls as they hung up there like kites.

“So?” said Chango. “You think you’re better than us now, college boy?”

Apparently, the 1,000-mile buffer zone was not enough barrier between himself and the old homestead.

“Nice talking to you, Chango. Be sure to have someone send me an invitation to your funeral. So long. Have a nice day.”

“Hey, asshole,” Chango said. “I’m gonna live forever. Gonna be rich too. I’m workin’ on a plan—cannot fail. You gon’ want some of this here.”

“A plan?” Junior said. 

And when he said it, he felt the trap snap shut over him and he couldn’t quite figure out how or why he was caught.

It was a short flight. Lindbergh was clotted with GIs in desert camo and weepy gals waving little plastic American flags. Junior caught the rental car shuttle and grabbed a Kia at Alamo. No, he wasn’t planning to take it across the border. Put it on the Visa, thanks. Oh, well—the homies were going to give him shit about the car. It would be badass if they rented ’67 Impalas with hydraulic lifters so he could enter the barrio with his right front tire raised in the air like some kind of saluting robot. He didn’t smile—he was already thinking like Chango! He poked at the radio till he found 91X and the Mighty Oz was cranking some Depeche Mode. At least there was that.

On his way south, he hopped off on Sports Arena, but Tower Records was gone. What? He pulled a U and tried again, as if he’d somehow missed the store. Gone? How could it be gone? Screw that—he sped to Washington and went up to Hillcrest and looked for Off the Record. He was in the mood for some import CDs. Keep his veneer of sanity. It was gone too. Junior sat there in the parking lot where the Hillcrest Bowl used to be. He could not believe it—all culture had vanished from San Diego. His phone said, “You let me penetrate you.” Chango. Junior didn’t answer.

He’d only come to check it out. It was a crazy adventure, he told himself. Good for a laugh. Chango had picked up a magazine in a dentist’s office. New dentures: our tax dollars at work. He thought it was a Nat Geo, but he wasn’t sure. Some gabacho had written an article about abandoned homes along the I-15 corridor. Repos. Something like six out of ten, maybe seven out of fifteen or something like that. Point was, they were just sitting there, like haunted houses, like the whole highway was a long ghost town, and the writer had broken in to look around and found all kinds of stuff just laying around. Sure, sad shit like kids’ homework on the kitchen table. But it’s on a kitchen table, you catch my drift, Chango demanded. There’s whole houses full of furniture and mink coats and plasma TVs and freakin’ Bose stereos. La-Z-Boys! Hells yeah! Some have cars in the garages. And it’s all foreclosed and owned by some bank. But the kicker—the kicker, Yuniorr—is that the banks can’t afford to resell this stuff, so they send trucks to the houses to haul it to the dump. Friggin’ illegals driving trucks just drag it all out and go toss it. A million bucks worth of primo swag. 

“You tell me, how many freakin’ apartments gots big-screen TVs that them boys just hauled home? You been to the swap meet?” And Chango had noted, in his profound research (he stole the magazine from the dentist’s) that the meltdown had banks backed up. Some of these houses wouldn’t be purged for a year or more.

“Ain’t even stealin’, peewee. Nobody wants it anyway. Worst case is breaking-and-entering. So I got this plan and I’m gonna make us a million dollars in a couple of months. But I need you to help.”

“Why me?”

“You know how to talk white. Shit! Why’d you think?”

There's more! To read the full story The National City Reparation Society by Luis Alberto Urrea, please login or register. 

Copyright © 2011 Akashic Books

Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph.
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1 comment
Cathy Chen
I love that this story reads like a caper, told with style and swagger. As Fran Lebowitz once said, "Contrary to popular opinion, the hustle is not a new dance step---it's an old business procedure."
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