Los Angeles Times San Diego bureau chief Tony Perry was embedded with American marine troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Before moderating a panel on how veterans are changing the country, he offered his formula for calculating the appropriate price to pay for a haircut—nothing that costs more than two chimichangas and a beer will do—and explained why he’d like to be a cat in the Zócalo green room.
If you could be any animal, what would you be?
A cat. They spend their days stretching out in the sunshine, they seem very pleased with themselves, they only have a few small duties—stay away from dogs, for example—and they learn to discipline their masters to feed them at the appropriate time. They know what life is about, and they’ve really got it mastered.
What do you wake up to?
My cat trying to get me up at 5:00 in the morning to feed him. He’s my master. Charlie is his name; he’s a tabby.
What does San Diego have that most Angelenos don’t know about?
Not a lot. I think San Diego is a well-known and desirous commodity to people who are doomed to live, work, and try to play in Los Angeles. L.A. has this idea that it was built by great men, and now we don’t have them, and woe is us. San Diego has this idea that there is an ethos of perfection, and we don’t really need great people—in fact, great people probably get in the way. The difference is between a place that thinks it was built by great men and a place that thinks there’s something about it—that God provided sunshine.
How much is too much to pay for a haircut?
I have a friend who works at a barber college, so I tend to get mine for free. But I think anything that costs more than two chimichangas and a cerveza would be too much.
What’s your drink of choice?
I’m a Diet Coke habitué.
How did you get into trouble as a kid?
Skipping school to pollywog hunt and other Tom Sawyer-esque offenses that were treated like felonies in those days and now would be laughed at.
What’s your hidden talent?
I’ve learned to make popcorn in the microwave without burning the house down. Who knew you didn’t put that thing in for 10 minutes?
What profession would you practice in your next life?
I’d probably go back to the profession I started in, which was teaching. I had this idea of spending a pleasant career worrying about Shakespeare and Pope and Dryden and all those boys. That profession dropped out underneath me like a horse that had been shot out with artillery from beneath me.
Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?
A marine I had been with in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re going to get together and tell lies and discuss you know, what is it that women really want? The important stuff in life. How’s the mission going in Afghanistan. And how did it go in Iraq.
How would you describe yourself in five words or less?
Middle-aged, middle-class—but still frisky.