I wasn’t a news hound but caught whiffs of the may­hem flash­ing across the tele­vi­sion. Fires- both lit­er­al and sym­bol­ic were sparked by demon­stra­tors seem­ing­ly every­where. Race riots flared up in city after city as ghet­tos burned. The US draft calls for the war in Viet­nam were increased ten­fold and col­lege stu­dents protest­ed loud­ly from cam­pus­es through­out the coun­try.

At a ral­ly in Man­hat­tan, a Catholic paci­fist and col­lege ballplay­er, David Miller, burned his draft card and was prompt­ly arrest­ed, tried and con­vict­ed under a new law aimed to sup­press the “beat­niks” against the war. At the US con­sulate in South Viet­nam, anoth­er Bud­dhist monk torched him­self in protest of the war. It made me think of that shock­ing pho­to I saw in Life a few years before of Thich Quang Duc, the first Bud­dhist monk to immo­late him­self. The priest sat in a tra­di­tion­al lotus posi­tion of med­i­ta­tion, not mov­ing a mus­cle as his body was con­sumed to a blacked stump.

I knew about mar­tyrs.

Anoth­er image burned into the pub­lic con­scious­ness was the mug shot of a pock-faced blank-eyed sea­man named Richard Speck. Speck bru­tal­ly slaugh­tered eight nurs­es in their south Chica­go dor­mi­to­ry. The lone sur­vivor iden­ti­fied the killer as a man with a tat­tooed arm that read “Born to Raise Hell.” Bon­fires of Bea­t­les mer­chan­dise burned in the South after John Lennon said the Bea­t­les were more pop­u­lar than Jesus. I nev­er heard any Jesus albums, so the Bea­t­les were still num­ber one in my book.

I don’t know if it was my age or because I was total­ly rude, but out­side of the home, I wasn’t into hang­ing out with my sis­ters, the same went for my broth­er John. The stuff I did wasn’t some­thing you couldn’t drag lit­tle girls or four year-olds to. They could be killed or severe­ly injured in my world. I climbed moun­tains, road skate­boards down dan­ger­ous steep hills and wran­gled lizards and scor­pi­ons. At the time, I thought all Paula and Lau­ra did was play house, have tea par­ties on the patio and dressed their Bar­bi­es and Kens in fash­ion­able ensem­bles. John became a hap­less par­tic­i­pant in their girly games. Joe and I were too pre-occu­pied and weren’t there to pro­tect him. For­tu­nate­ly, there wasn’t any long-last­ing dam­age from this ear­ly cor­rup­tion because he grew up to be a man­ly man.

The con­trast between my way of life and my younger sis­ters was as dif­fer­ent as pas­tel-pink is to dirt-brown. I talked with my sis­ter Paula, who vis­it­ed the oth­er day, and we rem­i­nisced about San Car­los. I was stunned when she admit­ted to a deed that to this day had been a long-for­got­ten San Car­los mys­tery.

At the bot­tom of the hill on Lake Badin Ave. was a cement­ed gul­ly and drain­pipe that went under it. The drain­pipe was huge, five feet around, a hun­dred feet long and a fre­quent hang­out for kids in the neigh­bor­hood and an occa­sion­al snake. We’d go there to cough on stale cig­a­rettes, blow off fire­crack­ers and try to throw rocks all the way through. “The Tun­nel,” as we called it, was a cool refuge from the heat, and except for a cou­ple times a year, was dry as a bone. Every­thing was dry as a bone.

Paula and Lau­ra ven­tured into the tun­nel one after­noon with a pack of match­es snatched from a kitchen draw­er. Paula just turned eight and was a recent Girl Scout recruit. She had been to a Brownie’s cam­pout and been exposed to camp­fire craft. All they need­ed was a lit­tle kin­dling to get it start­ed and add on sticks and such. Dry grass and dead wood were read­i­ly avail­able for a hun­dred miles around. They gath­ered hand­fuls of grass that draped into the gul­ly on both sides and piled the tin­der into a neat heap in the gul­ly at the open­ing of the tun­nel. The first match was snuffed out by the wind blow­ing through the tun­nel. The sec­ond attempt was suc­cess­ful and the pile flared up into a hun­gry and glo­ri­ous pyre of hyp­not­ic yel­low and gold. Sticks were fed to sat­is­fy the rav­en­ous beast as it blew ten­drils of smoke through the tun­nel like an exhaled pipe and drift­ed into the field on the oth­er side.

All of San Diego was kin­dling; and as luck had it, the winds were fick­le that after­noon. The tun­nel sud­den­ly inhaled, suck­ing the fire on to the parched grass along the top of the gul­ly. Paula and Lau­ra beat the flames fran­ti­cal­ly with sticks, then pulled-off sneak­ers to no avail as the fire spread away in a tide of smoke and flame. The pyro­ma­ni­acs pan­icked and fled through the tun­nel. They came out into the field on the oth­er side of Lake Badin Ave. and high­tailed unseen it to safe­ty and watched in hor­ror from a block away. White smoke bil­lowed as the fire churned, leav­ing a widen­ing car­pet of black scorched earth behind as it steadi­ly devoured the hill and raced toward the hous­es above. A crowd clus­tered along the Cayu­ga Lake Dri­ve below and on Beaver Lake Dri­ve above and watched help­less­ly at the approach­ing dis­as­ter.

The beau­ti­ful cry of dis­tant sirens became loud­er as the fire engines approached and sped by in a blur of red as daz­zling as the fire. One stopped to set up at the bot­tom of the hill, the oth­er at the top of the hill some­place out of view. The fire reached a fence above and roared into a wall of crack­ling flame. The fence was kicked down by fire­man as two oth­ers wres­tled with a fire hose and doused the fire at the edge of the yards above, stop­ping it in its tracks. In a half an hour the blaze was con­tained.

I was up at Kevin’s a block away on Beaver Lake Dri­ve and we ran out­side when the sirens called us out. It hap­pened so fast. Some self-impor­tant fat guy blocked the way and stopped us from get­ting close to the action. We ran down the hill and caught the tail end of the fire­fight from below. It was excit­ing, but it could have been a dis­as­ter. I spot­ted Paula and Lau­ra in the crowd at the cor­ner of Cayu­ga.

Geeze, did you see what hap­pened?” I asked.

Lau­ra and Paula faces were ashen and looked quite upset. They were speech­less, but nod­ded yes.