Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How to be a good Laguna Beach tourist

Every summer, locals batten down the hatches and prepare for the onslaught of tourists, or "visitors," as we politely call them. Like a dotty aunt or a toddler who hasn't yet learned his manners, the tens of thousands of visitors to Laguna Beach are nonetheless greeted with a collective brave face and a warm welcome from residents.

If I could give them each a primer on how best to enjoy their sojourn, I would advise summer guests to observe these do's and don'ts when visiting our fair city:


- Have a swim (but don't swallow the ocean water; we don't discuss our bacterial counts with outsiders).

-  Take a photo of your family in front of the hexagonal gas station building that has over time morphed into a beloved landmark at Main Beach.

 - Visit our festivals, museums, and restaurants. Be sure to get yourself a fresh new toe ring!

- Tip your hotel's minimum-wage housekeeping staff. Why? Because of math. Imagine living in Orange County on $15,080 a year, where the average cost of a two-bedroom rental in ground-zero Anaheim 92805 is $1,460 or $17,520 a year. Doesn't compute, does it?


- Get blotto and drive like an a-hole. Well, if you're going to do so, don't roll your Jeep, close a major residential hillside street, command extensive use of our emergency services, and break the pelvis of your passenger, permanently impacting her health and mobility. Oh......wait, too late, Mr. Ricardo Berge has that covered. I certainly hope his parents had other children.

- Steal a gigantic bronze rabbit sculpture that weighs at least 900 lbs. and has been displayed in an outdoor gallery area for years without incident. (Really??)

- Jaywalk. Even if you're a famous person. You, yes, even you, Russell Brand, ought to use the crosswalk.

Gentle reader, I imagine that you too sense the slight autumn chill when the police log loses a bit of its lustre due to the cessation of the tsunami of summer visitors. Here for the sake of memory lane are a few representative hijinks by our seasonal guests that simultaneously entertain and incense us:

Third Avenue & Coast Hwy | Drugs; Warrants
2:57 p.m. During a traffic stop, Brittany Lynn Caldwell, 27, Rancho Cucamonga, was arrested for a warrant with a charge of minor in possession of alcohol. A subsequent search led to her arrest for felony possession of a controlled substance with bail of $20,000. Antonio Charles Testa, 27, Rancho Cucamonga, was taken into custody for a felony burglary warrant with bail set at $15,000.

Laguna Canyon Road | 700 Block | Drugs
10:51 a.m. A routine traffic stop led to a drug arrest. Long Hoang Vu, 25, Huntington Beach was on probation and a search was conducted. Heroin was found and he was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance and violation of probation – no bail.

Petty theft 1200 block of S. Coast Hwy. 1:53 p.m. Eleven new beach chairs left on a sidewalk for a few minutes were stolen by a suspect who loaded them into a white truck.

Crescent Bay Beach | Juvenile; Possession of Alcohol; Resisting; False Info to an Officer
4:39 p.m. Beach Patrol requested the assistance of an officer when they came upon four girls drinking beer on the beach. A 16-year-old girl from Chino was detained and taken into custody for providing false information to an officer, resisting/obstructing/delaying an officer and minor in possession of alcohol after she continued to be uncooperative with police. Her parents picked her up at 6:59 at the police station.

S. Coast Hwy | 1000 Block | Shoplifting
3:46 p.m. A woman in her late 20s wearing a gray lightweight jacket over a white tank top and light brown pants took two pairs of multi-colored Capri pants from a retailer.

Aliso Beach | Nudity
5 p.m. A male caller told police that he had observed two young women who spoke with accents naked in the shower area. He said he’d watched them long enough to see them get into a vehicle and drive away. He was unable to describe the vehicle except to say it was some sort of small SUV. One woman, he said, had a striped towel.

Au revoir, summer visitors! Until next year! Or, perhaps more accurately....until next weekend. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Art and Opal: Jim Rue's Eloquent Father's Day Tribute to his Deaf, Depression-Era Dad

Arthur Harold Rue was my father. He was born to a lead miner and an evangelizing, argumentative teetotaler in Joplin, Missouri in 1902. No dancing on Sundays, nor on any other day for that matter. Art was a good student and a prodigy on the piano but as a young adult he became profoundly deaf over the course of a few short months.  It was never certain what caused his deafness. Either his auditory nerves were killed by the massive doses of quinine used to keep him from dying from diptheria, or he  suffered permanent injury after being beaten with a truncheon by a railyard security thug.

He tried to stay in college but when holding an ear trumpet in each ear was no longer sufficient to hear the lectures, he quit. Then he wandered the country, riding the rails, looking for work on road gangs, ranging as far as California and Puerto Rico. In 1928 Arthur met my mother Opal in Tucumcari, New Mexico. They corresponded briefly and then he sent her bus fare to Kansas City, where they married.

Things were very tight in Kansas City and they didn't stay there very long. There was no work. Opal dressed as a man and the two hitchhiked to Detroit together, flat broke. The first night in Detroit, Art took his new wife to the city jail and asked them to hold her for safekeeping until morning, which they did. But Opal was 17 and looked younger. By morning the police had decided she was a runaway. They kept her for a week while Art hurriedly arranged for their marriage license to be mailed from Kansas.
Art and his new wife Opal, dressed as a man for their travels to keep questions from strangers to a minimum
There was no American with Disabilities Act nor anything similar. Art's deafness was a problem when looking for work. Using WPA funds, the Rue family opened one and then a second used bookstore in downtown Detroit. Finally Ford Motor Company began hiring. Art was large and fit. He could do assembly line work. As the economy struggled to recover, he stood in line all night, at least once in a driving rain, hopeful of getting one of Henry Ford's prized $5 per day production line jobs.

Three boys were born in six years–Bill, Bud and Bob. Arthur got what assembly line work he could. But he was often laid off when the factories shut down to retool for the new model year. He was an avid reader, especially interested in philosophy, history and religion. When his bookstores closed he moved his entire inventory into their home, buying and selling used books by mail for the rest of his life. Upon his passing, the local library received over 40,000 books that had been stored in the tiny three-bedroom house Art had built in Livonia, Michigan out of used lumber. He had had a lot of help with the building from Opal and the rapidly maturing Rue boys.

They also helped with farming. The house sat on an acre of land, small but enough land to grow pears, grapes, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, mulberries, rhubarb, corn, peas, beans, asparagus and much more, enough room to cook and can hundreds of jars of strawberry preserves and stewed tomatoes each year, enough room to raise and kill a hundred setting hens annually and to raise prize Californian rabbits for competition at the annual state fair. Arthur had a shoe box that bulged with blue ribbons. A career as a bunny in the Rue household was brutal. Losing bunnies became Sunday dinner. Winning bunnies were bred and then became Sunday dinner. At times there were a donkey, a goat, a wild turkey, even a pig for a time. Finally Arthur got union work at the Ford Transmission Plant, where he put in 15 years before bad knees and finally Parkinson's Disease took him out of the work force.

Though he had learned to talk as a child, years before going deaf, Arthur mostly kept his own counsel. Working afternoons or graveyard shifts, often coming home from work drenched in machine oil and covered with tiny metal splinters, he was stoic. He would stay out of the 'nice' rooms of the house for a week at a time, sitting in the washroom off the kitchen, reading.  He had little in common with the other production workers, and his friends were few. As he was 'deef and dumb' he was often addressed on the job as 'dummy.' He did his work and ignored his detractors. He couldn't hear them anyway.

In 1948 there was a late-in-life baby and that was me.  Jim Rue was born, 14 years after the birth of his youngest sibling. Opal had already raised three boys. One by one they joined the service and moved out. When I started public school, she was done. She got a two-year nursing degree and went to work.  I was born into a household of five boys and finished my childhood as a latchkey kid.

Arthur became my primary caregiver. He made sure I ate lunch, got me to camp each summer, coached me through the intricacies of marlinspike seamanship, animal husbandry, Morse code and waterfront safety, and the associated merit badges, making sure I became an Eagle Scout like my brothers. But he never taught me American Sign Language. The family had only two ways of communicating with him, either by fingerspelling or by writing him notes–both excellent ways to learn to spell, by the way. He could read lips, but he just never got that good at it. Quite apart from his deafness, he had a communication problem. Silence was generally easier, more peaceful in what was sometimes a noisy, chaotic home.

As I became a teen, I realized it was my father and me in the house alone. I could yell at the top of my lungs and he would not hear. He was deaf and I could get away with anything, I felt. Art was uncertain how to parent me alone. He knew more about my shenanigans than he let on. It wasn't that he didn't care. He simply didn't know the right course of action, and so often he did nothing. My parents fought about my upbringing, loudly and regularly. Art could see Opal chafing to escape the humdrum life of a housewife, but once the war was over he didn't really want her to work. She felt guilty that I was unsupervised, but that was very common then. She got over it. She was done.

A handful of times Arthur hit me with his belt to discipline me. He was a very imposing figure with a booming voice garbled by decades of profound silence. He would become very earnest and angry. He would terrify me with his belt, but his nature was gentle.  He loved me and would not hurt me. It was all for show. Never once did he leave a bruise or a welt. And I learned I still had carte blanche, a misapprehension that got put to rest on my first day in boot camp.

Opal and Arthur would drift from one church to another in the Detroit area looking for services for the deaf, one of the only social outlets they enjoyed together. Such programs were rare and when they did turn up, they were either a long drive for us or the program didn't last too long. A room full of deaf people 'singing' is a terrifying sight for a young child to behold.

In the late sixties, Dad's Parkinson's disease was becoming more pronounced. When he rear-ended a car as he was leaving his work one day, he realized he couldn't remember the actual accident. Soon afterward he stopped driving and retired.

After I left home and went to Vietnam in 1967, my parents traveled a bit. They took some nostalgic train trips, went on a tour of Ireland and Scotland, but as his Parkinson's advanced, Art had a harder and harder time getting out of the house.  When he could no longer speak or move about he was completely defeated.  In 1972 he had a heart attack and lingered in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I came home from college and was relegated the task of asking the doctor to abstain from any artificial means of life support. Within a day or two it came to that. I felt a little proud. As the youngest sibling by almost a generation and immature to boot, I had never been picked from the boys to do anything.  I also felt guilty.

The worst thing was seeing my father, who had lived his entire life in silence, grit and industrial grease, heavy physical labor and making do, die in a tiny institutional hospital room, hardly a shadow of the tower of strength he had once been. Then not even the shadow remained, and then even the bed was removed. What had been his life became an empty room, and somehow I had never gotten around to asking the most important questions I had for him. Somehow I never got to telling him I loved him often enough.

But the pastel colored photo of Art as a child had his spirit in it more than anything else. For 20 years or more I would make eye contact with that picture and feel his presence in the room and tell him about my day, and be more with him than I ever had been when he walked the earth. After all, when he was alive, as children and parents often are, we were one and everything was assumed.

Happy Father's Day, Dad, and happy birthday. Even when I was at my very squirreliest and most disruptive, underneath it all you always had the utmost of my honor, respect and love.

By Jim Rue
Shared by permission June 15, 2013

Sunday, June 9, 2013

An Embarrassment of Riches

The Laguna Beach High School Senior Honors Convocation is like a colonoscopy: important, dreaded, good for you, and you're really glad when it's over. The only difference is that, after the convocation ceremony, it takes a day or two for feeling to return to your bum.

For the uninitiated, this was the evening when 111 sponsoring service clubs, foundations, families, school groups, and various citizens, under the umbrella of the LBHS Scholarship Foundation, presented 271 awards to 107 individuals for a total of $328,955 in scholarships for graduating LBHS seniors. Gifts range in value from $200 to one full-ride, all-expense-paid, four-year scholarship. In addition to the  scholarships granted at the convocation to the Class of 2013, the LBHS Scholarship Foundation provided another $100,000+ to past LBHS grads from 2010, 2011, and 2012 for multi-year scholarships.

Did I mention that on Friday night, one hundred eleven different sponsors doled out scholarships, and that the ceremony took almost four hours? And that's not counting previously awarded scholarships for athletics, Rotary Club, specific universities, scouting, National Merit Scholars, AP scholars, and many others.

If you're a parent of an LBUSD student, know this: there is a scholarship for practically every graduate, so when the time comes, encourage your child to take the time to apply. There's a wide range of general  awards as well as highly specific areas where students can distinguish themselves: golf, linguistics, surfing, business, journalism, dance, drama, environmental stewardship, sober service – and selections are made based on both merit and need. All it takes is a careful perusal of the available scholarships and their criteria, and applying – which can mean simply filling out a form, writing an essay or interviewing with a committee.

Bottom line: the generosity of this community cannot be understated.

Initiated in 1947 by the Ebell Club, the scholarship program has become a big night for hometown philanthropy that supports our grads. Dozens of hardworking citizens toil throughout the year to put together this ceremony where hundreds of thousands of dollars are distributed to the graduating class. It's difficult not to get a little verklempt when you see a kid striding across the stage, head held high, collecting a scholarship when you know she had a rough time focusing on school due to heartbreaking circumstances at home, or witness the sheer happiness on the face of the boy with special learning challenges, thrilled beyond words to hear his name announced.

On this night, we recognize and reward the overcoming of hardship. We praise perseverance. We reward focus and passion. Some names are repeated again and again, others are announced once. We hear the stories of one amazing young person after another. We maybe also zone out a teeny bit here and there as the awards tick by, some with one winner, some requiring traffic control onstage because there are as many as 25 recipients.

We hear poignant tales of the people in whose name scholarships have been established. We listen to long – yes, it must be said, boring – verbal resumés of scholarship winners from presenters who didn't get the memo about brevity. We sigh over the tragedy and triumph of a surrogate family that's been created over the years via the scholarship a father established in the name of his deceased teenage son. His newly reconstituted circle includes a young man who once received the scholarship and is now home, a veteran of numerous tours of Iraq and Afghanistan with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He received the night's only standing ovation.

How we long for the hook to release us from the tyranny of the sweet little lady at the lectern. Not to judge by the dollar sign, but did that presenter really just spend five precious minutes taking us through her club's history and giving us the entire resume of the recipient...of $250? Lighthearted moments were welcomed like water in a desert, as were the brief, no-nonsense presentations by highly regarded LBHS principal Dr. Joanne Culverhouse. Refreshing too was the spontaneous doubling of one award. Once onstage, a boy and a girl winner  of the "Driven to the Max" scholarship were each asked to name another senior in the auditorium who exemplifies the positive qualities for which they received their award, and the gift was instantly doubled with awards to their friends.

How we appreciated the thoughtful decision of the man announcing that the scholarship funds established for a beloved daughter who died in high school will be disbursed this year among four recipients, the balance given to the LBHS scholarship fund. It was too hard on the family, he said, and the time has come to close this chapter of their lives. How humble; how kind and sensible. It's ok for traditions to end to make room for new ones. We wonder if anyone else might consider taking his lead. There are, after all, 111 scholarship presenters, and more each year – 12 new ones on Friday night. Honoring a loved one can mean simply funding the larger established organization, á la Warren Buffett entrusting the Bill Gates Foundation to intelligently bequeath his money to worthwhile initiatives.

Yet, we have to trust the motivation and give the benefit of the doubt when the pursuit is of homegrown educational scholarships. It's perhaps a literal pain in the bum to sit through it all, but what a bounty of blessings, what an embarrassment of riches from this resource-abundant community. It's all good.

But it's especially good when, after the marathon ceremony, you walk through the lobby, legs numb, eager to breathe fresh air, and catch in the corner of your eye an emotional moment: a boy whose family has few financial resources being hugged by his mother as she dissolves into joyful tears. A new world has been opened to him tonight. He will go to college because his community, in the form of the Laguna Beach High School Scholarship Foundation, supports him. Right there – that's the payoff for us all.

[A complete listing of scholarships and recipients can be viewed here.]

Monday, May 20, 2013

So there we were in our underwear

What was the best part of Saturday's Boutique Benefit put on by Evonne Kane and her merry band of volunteers? Was it that it helped not one but four nonprofits? Was it that its seventh year was its most successful ever? Was it that I snagged a dress I tried on in a boutique four months ago for one-tenth of its original price? Those were all peak moments,  but the best was the tiny, hot communal women's dressing room.

Inside the anteroom with a half-curtain cobbled together from a bedsheet and a tablecloth that did a poor job of covering the doorway to the main hall, trying on clothes among the other bargain-hunting women was a singularly  entertaining, even life-affirming experience. Stripping down together is a great equalizer. Pretensions and pecking orders are set aside. There stood the editor of the local newspaper in her bra and panties, just like me. And the cool mom from the dance boosters, asking whether a slinky silver dress looked good on her (it did). We all had work to do. Every woman in there, whether solo or with a friend, had her mental list going as she chatted good-naturedly, organizing which items would be purchased and which were go-backs, whether the borderline items needing alterations were worth it. If someone asked for an opinion on a particular item, she got it.

It was sweltering in the small room, so a vote was taken as to whether to turn on a huge old metal standing fan. The fan won, and when plugged in, the sound was like the roar of a DC-10. Plumes of dust arose from the unswept floor. But it was slightly cooler and we could get on with the business at hand without perspiring on the merchandise.

"Are you gonna buy that? If not, I'll try it on."

"This dress makes me look like I should be collecting the harvest in a Russian wheat field."

"What a shame I spent so much time getting these pants on – I will never get them off."

"Are you kidding me – this is an Azzedine Alaia, but here it's a $5 skirt!"

"How about this dress – costume, or intriguingly arty?"

The constant wisecracking and camaraderie of the dressing room presented a moment to appreciate women and their inexplicable common bond around shopping.

It is the rare occasion when we take our clothes off in front of each other and ask each other's honest opinions. This kind of literal and figurative disrobing was at once fun, charmingly unself-conscious, hilarious and remarkable. Two feet away from another lady in her bra and panties in the hot, loud room, you just worked your way through your finds with good cheer and the hope that you and everybody else would come away with a wonderful new wardrobe treasure. Besides my bargain dress, I also left with a warm admiration of my gender.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Out of the Closet

Evonne Kane and longtime BB volunteer Kate Weiss at last year's sale

Evonne Kane's Boutique Benefit is a grass-roots, y'all-come, everybody-roll-up-your-sleeves event with some of the most gorgeous wardrobe gems you will find at what they use to call a "rummage sale." There was no lowly rummaging here, except by the owners of some of the pricier boutiques in town (Fetneh Blake, Hillary, lala, Katharine Story, Anastasia, Aris, Laguna Supply, 11th Moon, to name a few), including those that were too wonderful to survive. Many of the goods for sale are never-worn designer pieces with the tags still attached; others were little-worn items donated by the fashionistas of Laguna. One of my go-to wearables is a chic little black Chanel-style jacket in perfect condition I picked up at last year's magnificent boutique for a few dollars. Last year, I also bought a short, grey suede dress that I wore once, to a fashion show at the Montage, feeling very European, and donated back to the Boutique this year. It served me well. Why should I have all the fun? 

No matter what your style or size, you are certain to find something of interest at the Boutique Benefit this Saturday at the Neighborhood Congregational Church (340 St. Ann's  Drive at Glenneyre). Or if you are a true BB aficionado, you know the choicest goodies can be purchased at the presale on Friday evening. Evonne knows what works – for your $40 donation, she and her merry band of volunteers will ply you with food, wine donated by Organic Cellar, and set you free for the full run of their pop-up shop from 5 to 8 p.m. Everyone's favorite Forest Avenue breezeway singer, April Walsh, will be belting out her beautifully wrought standards during happy hour (which, I suspect, just might be designed to loosen up our purse strings. Could it be so?). 

The best part isn't the sprucing up your wardrobe will receive; it's that all proceeds go to four nonprofit organizations: Laguna Food Pantry (formerly known as the Laguna Resource Center), Friendship Shelter, the 25-year-old service program for homeless men and women in Orange County; Impact Giving, an OC women's giving collective; and Women for Women, an international aid organization that helps women recover from the ravages of war, chiefly through economic aid. In its six years, the Boutique Benefit has raised $85,000 and donated it to these and other worthy organizations. 

Click here to buy your Friday night presale ticket.
And if you have to miss Friday night, don't THINK of missing Saturday. Admission is $4; doors open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 3 p.m. Be prepared to browse and try on in a (ladies') communal dressing room, see friends, chat, rest up with a snack, and dive back in. It's Filene's Basement/Loehmann's with the friendliest of attitudes. If you love fashion, shopping, and getting a screaming deal, don't miss it.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

No Line Between Work and Play

A still of ceramic artist Thom Chambers from Fred Stodder's YouTube sensation "Ceramic Displacement"
Ceramic artist Fred Stodder, by all accounts, is a great guy. I am inclined to agree. After I posted Ceramic Displacementthe video he shot with a Super 8 and painstakingly edited, Fred emailed me with details about the video that reflect his life as a Laguna artist circa 1979. It makes me muse over how a Thom-Fred duo may have continued to impact and inspire other local artists  had Thom Chambers's life not been so tragically brief. 

Here's what Fred wrote: 
"Thom and I met in fourth grade and became friends in fifth or sixth grade. Thom got  into ceramics in seventh grade and had a great talent for it. By the time he was 16 years old he was one of the best potters in the area. Also at  about 16 years old he was teaching an adult ed ceramics class at UC Irvine. That is about the time I started making pottery.

"Thom graduated from Laguna High in 1976. Shortly after we began working together and shared a booth at the 1976 Sawdust Festival. Thom was very influential to me. He was funny, extremely talented and filled with enthusiasm. We always had fun and there was no line between work and play. He was one of my best friends ever.

"In the winter of 1977 we rented a studio in north Laguna from Margaret (Mocky) Kuntz, which had formerly belonged to the great painter Roger Kuntz. That is were the van pulls in at the end of the movie; it begins in the alley behind the studio. I worked there for 11 years. Thom and I shared it for six or seven years.

"We collaborated on four films and several art projects. Ceramic Displacement is probably my favorite film that I did with Thom. We thought it up together. The concept is simply what it is. Thom is throwing on a kick wheel. I did all the filming and editing. The Pottery Shack shot was funny to me because they used to have potters throwing pots as an attraction, and as we are driving by there is a potter throwing with a crowd around him, and I think they were kind of shocked to see Thom throwing in the van. I wish that it lasted a little longer so you could easily see that.

"I started messing with Super 8 films when I was 13 and made several little films. A few are worth watching. They include clay animations, painting animations, surfing and a couple of dramas. I plan to post more of my old Super 8 films in the future but it will take a while because I want to have all original music for them and they weren't made that way."

We'll look forward to more hand-crafted Super 8 films with original music as Fred posts them to YouTube. Thank you, Fred! 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Throwing pots in and from a VW bus

Got six minutes for a little time-travel back to Laguna Beach circa 1979? 

Click here to see "Ceramic Displacement" - it's guaranteed to put a smile on your face. If recognizing iconic spots around Laguna Beach doesn't do it, then surely the free-roaming dogs, that kid on his Big Wheel, the ponchos and other '70s sartorial choices, the hair, the cows, and the literal throwing of pots will! Also, I think it's a good idea to always listen to something akin to the video's accompanying jazz piece while you're working – surely you'll get more done.

A bit of Google research on the potter, Thom Chambers, reveals, sadly, that 1974 LBHS grad died suddenly in 1991 at age 33. At the time of his death he was an art director for Quiksilver. Cameraman and video co-conceptualist Fred Stodder is a successful working ceramic artist and teacher with an impressive list of shows, collectors, and art show prizes. (I've tried to contact him to learn more about the inspiration for this video; I will post more here if I hear back from him.)

Savor your Friday!