Is the reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon hiding in North County?
Is he buying doughnuts at Dudley's in Santa Ysabel, chewing the fat with locals in Rainbow, and sneaking into Phil McNasty's nightclub in Escondido to watch "foxy boxing" and female oil wrestling?
Hold on, this isn't as far-fetched as you think.
Pynchon, now 52, disappeared from the public radar in the 1950s, even before the celebrity of "V" and "Gravity's Rainbow." We do know he grew up on Long Island and served in the Navy (San Diego, remember?).
His latest novel, "Vineland," his first in 17 years, shows clearly that he is familiar not only with the geography of North County but also its Zeitgeist.
Mostly the novel is set in a woodsy part of Northern California where our protagonist thrives on beer-swilling chic and leftover anger from the 1960s. But there is also a locale called Traverso County.
It has a long curving coastline, a large military base stretching from ocean to desert, a bluff-top campus called College of the Surf (read: MiraCosta College), and a pleasure-seeking ("sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll") attitude that sets it apart from its conservative neighbors to the north and south.
Gregory Dennis, editorial director of the (Encinitas-Solana Beach) Blade-Citizen, discovered this before I did. He also says that Pynchon mentions a Cardiff in his "The Crying of Lot 49."
I'll have to take his word for that; "Lot 49" is one of those more impenetrable Pynchon works that I would rather praise than read.
But I'm hip-deep in "Vineland." As I say, most of the topography is Mendocino-esque, but the attitudes could easily be something Pynchon noticed in his North County neighbors.
I could see the anti-authoritarian Zoyd Wheeler and his daughter Prairie living in Elfin Forest or amid the covens of Harmony Grove. Each year Wheeler has to run through a window at a local tavern to keep his mental disability pension.
OK, so he'd have to drive to Lakeside for something like that. He could probably just bum a ride from J.D. Salinger.
BERNHARDT PAYS LANDLORD'S SALARY
Every new crop of San Diego City Council members presents anew the question of what constitutes a financial conflict of interest.
Mostly, the questions deal with investments, spousal connections and former employers.
But the arrival of Linda Bernhardt presented the city attorney's office with a question never before encountered: Is it a conflict for a council member to hire her landlord?
Explanation: Bernhardt hired Aurie Kryzuda as her assistant chief of staff at $45,600 a year. Kryzuda was Bernhardt's campaign manager.
As her boss at City Hall, Bernhardt has the power to set and raise Kryzuda's salary. Bernhardt and Kryzuda also share a home in Scripps Ranch.
A spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission says the arrangement is not improper under state regulations unless Bernhardt benefits financially by hiring Kryzuda, like getting a cut in rent.
Chief Deputy City Atty. Ted Bromfield says the same would be true under the city's 1967 ethics policy.
Bernhardt says there has been no change in her rent since she hired Kryzuda to manage her council office. She says she pays half of Kryzuda's monthly mortgage, although she declines to say how much that is.
ITEM 128: How to Hire a Consultant
From me to you.
* You've heard about government by consultant?
Try this: Item 128 on today's agenda asks the San Diego City Council to spend $64,000 for a consultant.
The consultant will develop guidelines for hiring more consultants.
* Mathematics teachers at Poway High School have offered to buy the Padres. They sent Joan Kroc an offer of $10,000 down and a lifetime supply of calculus.
* "Chanel, Dad Loves U" has been spotted in Hollywood and Los Angeles.
* Press releases for the San Diego premiere this week of "The Hunt for Red October" are red-stamped "Classified Information." Pictures are in a sealed plastic pouch.