Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Hot Breath of the Santa Anas

By Paul

Brush fires in the canyons.

One hundred degrees in the valleys.

A dry, stinging wind from the desert.

Over the weekend, the Santa Anas tossed tumbleweeds across Southern California. Close your eyes, and you’re driving a 1939 Ford coupe to San Berdoo, sand crackling against the windshield.

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” Raymond Chandler, TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS.

For a different take on the Santa Anas, check out the wry and witty Susan Kandel’s I DREAMED I MARRIED PERRY MASON. The protagonist, Cece Caruso, rejects a worker’s suggestion that the motor of her courtyard fountain is being fouled by sand from desert winds. “The Santa Anas were invented by Raymond Chandler purely for literary purposes,” Cece says.

Well, they do make a fine metaphor.


I grieve at each business section story reporting that the nation’s newspapers are in worse health than Fidel Castro.

I love newspapers. I have three papers home-delivered, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. I get three newspapers’ daily e-mail digests, Miami Herald, Washington Post, and Legal Times. I skim the websites of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the Harrisburg Patriot, the Centre Daily (PA) Times, and Penn State’s student newspaper The Daily Collegian.

When I was a child growing up in dairy farming country of central Pennsylvania, my father subscribed to the New York Times, by mail. The paper arrived two days late, but I started reading every issue. Haven’t stopped.

You can have your 24-hour television news networks with their endless stories of sexy female teachers seducing their male students. I’ll take my newspapers, thank you very much. All this is prompted by Monday's Los Angeles Times which has an excellent tabloid insert, “Parent Reading Guide.”

There are suggested reading lists for children and two dozen “parent tips” for improving children’s literacy. Tip number one is simple but effective: “Read to your child and have your child read to you for at least 20 minutes every day.” Amen.

Last week, I sent two books to my grandchildren.
For Lexi, age four, there’s “Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People,” by Dav Pilkey. And for Jonah, age six, there’s one of my favorite children’s poems, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” by Robert Service with illustrations by Ted Harrison. Many children know by heart the melodious opening (and closing) stanzas:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.


Great story in the current issue of the "Florida Bar News" about our cohort, Jim Grippando. No, he's not one of the dozen lawyers disbarred this month in the Sunshine State. The article features his forthcoming book, LEAPHOLES, which should get young adults reading. LEAPHOLES is a novel that also teaches legal history through the magic of time travel, actual Supreme Court cases coming to life. Do I have that right, Jim? We're hoping you blog about it as soon as the book hits the stores.

Happy Reading.



  1. I like that poem. And Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants books are a lot of fun. And, er, pooh on the teachers who don't like them. Get a sense of humor.

    Mark Terry

  2. Ah, newspapers. They're the canary in the mine for all of us who write books.

    But as I reformed newspaper columnist (The Orlando Sentinel, Fort Myers News-Press, New York Times regional newspapers) I cannot give them up. And even though I pay to get the NYTtimes delivered electronically each day, I still prefer to flip through the pages. I live a couple of blocks from Rollins College and each day I walk through campus, mainly because I can pick up a free copy of the Times from a rack outside the student union.

    But here's the depressing part: The college puts out about four dozen copies every morning, free for the taking. And by the end of the day, almost all of them are still there. Out of all the hundreds of people who pass by, I'm apparently one of the few who grabs a paper. I mean, they're giving away the New York Times and still no one will take them.

    Surely, this means something. But I don't want to think too hard about it.

  3. In addition to the LA Times, I used to get the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal, too, but I had to quit. By noon I was still reading, covered in ink, and high on caffeine from all that java.

    When I first moved to L.A. I couldn't understand terms like San Berdoo. Still don't after all these years. Where did the name come from?

    Congrats to Our James!

  4. Bob,
    To their credit, both The New York Times & USA TODAY have very aggressive student reading programs. More than 500 colleges and universities buy the papers in bulk at a discount and give them to their students.

    I'm familiar with the program at Penn State where students have their choice of those two national papers plus the local and student newspapers. (Or they can take all four, free of charge). The students' favorite seems to be USA TODAY.

    Penn State distributed 1.3 million newspapers to students last year. I'm told the number is down from a few years ago. Still, 87% of students report picking up at least one newspaper a week with the average student picking up a paper four times weekly). More info at http://www.newspapers.psu.edu/

    Sorry for all the stats, but I think there's a glimmer of good news there...at least when you give students the papers for free!

    Obviously, for newspapers to survive the onslaught of the Internet, they'll have to appeal to young people.

    Keep the faith.

  5. Paul, my friend, if you are reading the Florida Bar News, you do not merely love newspapers. This is an obsession that borders on psychotic. Please seek help immediately! Even I didn't know about the Bar News piece about Leapholes, and I wrote the book and live in Florida. . . . More about Leapholes this Thursday (thanks for the lob, pal).

  6. I'm a stringer for my hometown newspaper and have worked in print media for a good part of my career.

    I adore newspapers--can't imagine starting the morning any other way. But the industry is changing and changing fast--responding to bottom line pressures and corporate overlords. I think the big newspapers will survive, but I worry about the smaller ones that specialize in local news that really is not covered elsewhere (okay, local TV news tries, but...).

  7. Patty,
    I don't know the derivation of "San Berdoo." I believe Hells Angels was founded in San Bernadino after WWII and they called it the "Berdoo" chapter, but the nickname pre-dates that.

    I still can't figure out why the Spanish names are mispronounced out here. San Pedro becomes "San Pee-dro." Sepulveda is "Se-PUL-ve-da."