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Setting Times stories to music: From Phoenix to the Beatles

November 16, 2013|By Kari Howard
  • Odara Pieda, 28, with others taking a class at the offbeat Peace Yoga studio downtown.
Odara Pieda, 28, with others taking a class at the offbeat Peace Yoga studio… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

During these first weeks when the nights are dark not long after 5, one thing offers solace: the bus ride home through Chinatown.

That’s because the flip has been switched on the neon: The show-stopping curves of the Chinatown gate, its spindly tentacles like some kind of sea creature. The fat Buddha on the K.G. Louie Co. sign. The red neon tracing the roofline of the Royal Pagoda Motel, with its mid-century, vaguely Asian-style font for the “Drive-In” and “Office.” And in the industrial wasteland north of Chinatown, the mysterious “Concrete is Fluid.”

Chinatown is retro-beautiful any time of the day, but the neon casts a nice glow over a humdrum workaday commute.

I like to think of the song pairings below as a bit of neon for the Great Reads: Sure, they don’t need it, but what’s not to like about a little extra glow?

Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I’d like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read (or, as they’re known in print, Column One) -- maybe they’ll buy your eye and you can settle in for a good weekend read. And you’ll also get the songs that inspired me while editing the stories, or reading them later if my fellow editor Millie Quan ushered them through. A story-song combo!

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Monday’s Great Read:

Murder or mercy for woman with disability?

Decorated by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower for bravery at the Battle of the Bulge, William Knox Roberts was a fighter. A surgery for liver cancer in 1999 had left him in the clear, but in February, he developed lung congestion that wouldn't clear.

X-rays revealed chronic pulmonary disease — and a mass on his liver. In July, Kaiser placed him under hospice care.

He confided in his 59-year-old son, Tom, that breathing was like being waterboarded, and he grew more and more apprehensive about the fate of Tom's sister, Marian, who had needed round-the-clock care since a brain injury in 1987.

“He told me: 'You can't do it by yourself. You can't do it alone,'“ recalled Tom, who had slept on an air mattress at the foot of his sister's bed for more than a quarter of a century.

The elder Roberts, now 88, had grown hard of hearing and become a bit paranoid. He slept with a gun under his pillow, Tom said, and would on some nights tromp midway down the stairs leading to the siblings' room and sit there for hours, armed, to “protect his daughter” from intruders.

On Aug. 17, however, he seemed in high spirits. He suggested a big dinner of prime rib and potatoes. Marian “loved it,” Tom said. The following night, brother and sister turned in at 11 p.m.

At 4:30 a.m., Tom leapt up to the sound of back-to-back pops and stepped on something he initially thought to be a tooth. As he raised it to his face in the darkness, he saw a shell casing coated in ceiling plaster.

“I dropped it and dialed 911,” he said.

#storysongs combo: “Mercy Street,” by Peter Gabriel. Although it’s an homage to the poet Anne Sexton, I thought the line “Looking for mercy/in your daddy’s arms” worked, in a negative kind of way.

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Tuesday’s Great Read:

In Karachi, crime leaves few families untouched

When the gunmen slid in the back seat behind Saad Qaimkhani and his friend, the college student thought they were after his cellphone, or maybe the car. Then the men told them to drive.

Almost all private cars in this shoot-'em-up city have an embedded device that allows a security company to lock the engine of a stolen vehicle remotely. In this case, though, when a bystander alerted the security company and the car came to a standstill, the thugs ordered the young men into another car and drove them around Karachi to make sure they weren't being tailed.

That's when Qaimkhani knew for sure: He was being kidnapped.

He and his friend were taken to a two-room house near the Northern Bypass, a neighborhood filled with poorly built one- and two-story structures where police are as rare as snow.

Their phones and wallets were taken and their legs chained to a bed. They were interrogated about family wealth and contact numbers, then beaten so their relatives would hear their panic during ransom calls afterward. The three kidnappers demanded $300,000 for the pair.

For six weeks, Qaimkhani and his childhood friend were locked to the bed, sleeping chained together on the mattress, interrupted only by visits to a primitive toilet. The two chain-smokers squabbled over their one-pack daily allowance and ate cheap, bad-tasting food. Occasionally, they were allowed to watch Bollywood DVDs.

#storysongs combo: “Victim of the Crime,” by Phoenix. My early passion for the French band has waned, but this is still a good song.

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Wednesday’s Great Read:

A hostile work environment, but 'these are not bad kids'

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