Getting It Together With Bob

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I sit in the Ten Mile Justice Center courtroom in Fort Bragg, legs crossed, right foot bobbing in an effort to dissipate my nerves. I’m here for the second month in a row to request a continuance on a restraining order I was reluctant to file, but that law enforcement has encouraged me to pursue.

My lower back starts to painfully throb. I concentrate on taking deep, slow breathes, which manifest as shallow asthmatic wheezes. I want to cut and run.

The cases previous to mine are mundane—the opening of probate, something about a family trust, and an illegal eviction. About a half hour after court comes to order, someone enters through the back door. I don’t know who because I’m sitting in the front row of the gallery. The person sits behind me to the right of my peripheral vision. Cigarette fumes give me a nicotine contact high. All I can see of this person is orange and gray athletic shoes.

The judge calls a case for a someone named Bob (not his real name). The guy sitting behind me stands and moves forward. He’s a trim, grizzled 50-something who wears capri-length workout pants and a tank top with three horizontal slashes across the back. I’m somewhat alarmed that he seems to have ignored the posted rules for appropriate court attire—no shorts, no tank tops. His blonde streaked hair is combed forward and he’s got a healthy tan. If he were a few decades younger, he’d look like an attractive surfer dude.

The previously bored bailiff stands and rests his hand on his pistol.

The judge informs Bob the restraining order against him has been dropped. (This order has nothing to do with my case.)

“So I can go back to Ukiah?” Bob asks, incredulous.

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“I’ve been living in Ukiah getting my life together,” Bob announces proudly. “I’m off meth.”

“Good for you,” the judge says with genuine warmth.

“I have some clothes at that house. Can I get them before I leave town?”

“I cannot tell you what to do,” the judge says.

“Since the restraining order’s been dropped, I can go pick up my clothes?”

“I cannot tell you what to do.”

Bob shakes his head as if to dispel water from his ears. “I just wanna tell ya,” he says, “you’re the best. The best!” As if the judge had something to do with getting the complaining party to drop the restraining order.

“Thank you. You’re free to go.”

“I won’t forget this.” Bob turns to leave. “You’re the best. The best!” He’s giddy, pumping his fist in the air like his favorite team just won the World Cup.

The bailiff sits down.

I make note of Bob’s full name in order to later check the online Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Log. I’m certain—willing to put money on it—that  he’ll be arrested before nightfall for causing a kerfuffle at a house where nobody wants him, yet where some of his clothing still resides.

After he leaves, my case is called. For Bob, my experience would have been a day at the beach. For me, it was stressful enough to send me home to lay on the floor with an ice pack under my back and feeling what Southern women used to call “having a case of the vapors.”

The party I’m seeking a restraining order against, someone who made an obsessive series of calls to my home, someone who is well known to law enforcement, has a right to be served with notice of the filing. He cannot be found. I’m granted my continuance, but scheduled to return the following month. I want nothing more than to have this process over and done with, but fear I’ll spend the bulk of 2019 going to court.

A few days later, I remember to check on Bob to see if he escaped arrest the evening following court and made it safely back to his new life in Ukiah.

Exactly one week before his appearance in the coast courtroom, he was arrested in Fort Bragg for being a public nuisance. He was held overnight.

The day after his release, he was arrested in Ukiah (about an hour and a half drive from Fort Bragg) for disorderly conduct: alcohol, and held overnight.

Two days after that release, he was once again arrested in Ukiah on the same charge and held overnight.

The following day, he appears in the Fort Bragg courtroom to make it a matter of public record that he’s getting his life together.

Bob might have issues with substance abuse and appropriate public decorum, but the underlying struggles he’s dealing with have been visited upon all of us to some degree or another.

We’ve all made the Monday morning promises—“I swear to God I’m going to (fill in the blank).”

  • Quit smoking. Until you can no longer suppress the desire to chop someone’s head off (usually by noon on Monday when you bum a smoke from a co-worker).
  • Quit drinking. Until you get home after a stressful Monday at work.
  • Go on a diet. Go to the gym. Get in shape. Until, on your way home from work, you stop by McDonald’s for a value meal to pair with your tequila shots.
  • Give up that toxic girlfriend or boyfriend. Until 10:00pm when you start drunk texting.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—we’ve all made such proclamations, and we’ve all inevitably failed until for some reason—grace?—we follow through and actually turn things around.

Like a worried mother, I visit the booking log website every few days to check on Bob. I’m hopeful he’ll stay out of trouble for good—or at least for a time. Five days after I’m made aware of him, he’s arrested again in Ukiah for—you want to take a guess?—disorderly conduct: alcohol.

At least he’s not on meth, I tell myself.

Twelve days later, he’s arrested in Ukiah for indecent exposure.

I hope Bob eventually finds the grace to overcome his demons and find peace.

I hope I eventually get my own act together and stop checking on him.

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Aaron Haye

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As I drove to interview Aaron Haye—production designer for Bohemian Rhapsody, one of 2018’s hottest movies of the year—I have to admit feeling a bit starstruck and nervous. This soon evaporated after we met at the Cookie Company and I sensed the commonality he shares with the many others I’ve interviewed—the easy openness of someone who grew up in a small town surrounded by a community who loved and nurtured him.

***

Aaron was born in Los Angeles in 1973. Some years before, his grandparents, a few uncles and an aunt had migrated north to Mendocino County. In 1975, Aaron’s parents loaded him and his baby sister into an old Chevy pickup and followed. Soon other friends and family joined them. “Growing up, I remember barn raisings and potlucks, families getting together. It seemed everyone had a baseball diamond or volleyball area on their property. They’d moved here from the city so they could build meaningful lives and land was cheap back then.”

Aaron speaks fondly of his childhood. “My friends and I spent hours in the woods and on the beach. We did what we called ‘schralping,’ where we’d follow a trail for a while and then veer off trail into the woods to explore. When we got older, we’d do the same thing in our cars, exploring back roads all around Northern California.”

He was interested in both art and science. “I loved being in nature and also loved to draw and take pictures.” He credits three teachers in particular for inspiring him in each—Rita Davies (fifth grade), Bill Brazil (high school art) and Robert Jamgochian (high school science) as well as the free-form learning of Bob Evans’ ROP Audio Lab at the Community School.

He graduated from Mendocino High School in 1991, and went to UC Santa Cruz. After two years of general science classes, he discovered a class in field biology where the instructor sent students to the beach to record elephant seal behavior. He loved it and decided to major in marine biology. The summer before his last year of college was spent on a remote island off Alaska where he observed, photographed, and drew Steller Sea Lions before completing his thesis on mating behavior of elephant seals at Año Nuevo Reserve in California.

So how does a kid who grew up on the Mendocino Coast and received a degree in marine biology go on to become the production designer for one of the biggest movies of 2018?

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“My dad was a carpenter here on the coast and moved to Marin when I was a junior in high school. There he worked as a model builder for the visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic (Lucasfilm). When I was 16, I was hired to sweep floors in the model shop. After I graduated from college in 1995, I was considering a PhD program when ILM hired me as an assistant in the model shop.” After a year or two assisting in various departments he was promoted to model maker, building miniature sets for visual effect shots.

Those early days working in visual effects gave Aaron an opportunity to contribute to many films, including Star Wars Episode I and II, The Matrix 2 and 3, and Men in Black.

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“At ILM I had the chance to learn from many talented people, but I knew I had to find my own path. Through opportunity and circumstance I taught myself how to design and build models on the computer. I had incredible mentors who were all huge innovators in their field and helped me every step of the way. They allowed me to push beyond my comfort zone. I try to pay that forward whenever someone comes to me for help or advice.”

In 2002, he left ILM and moved to Los Angeles. “By that time, I was designing sets on the computer, but had only worked in visual effects. I had no sense of what I was going to do next when an art director I had worked with recommended me to a production designer who was working on a Superman movie in Hollywood. There weren’t many folks working in the type of 3D design I had been doing. I was lucky enough to be hired as a set designer on that film.

The movie was never made, but Aaron was able to join the set designers union and gained insight into where he wanted to take his career. About five years later, he began work as an art director, and contributed to films such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Man of Steel, and Terminator Genisys. To date he has 45 feature film credits.

“Being a production designer is a very collaborative endeavor. There are hundreds of people who bring their talents and energy to a project. In the end, it’s a team sport.” As a way to explain it in a way people can relate, he describes his job as staging a huge wedding—every single day for months at a time. “There are hundreds of decisions to make each day. For example, if the script calls for a scene in a coffee shop, I have to ask what does the shop look like? How do we want to make the actors and the audience feel? How does the setting best tell the story, inspire it? My job is to be of service to the story.

“Every detail of a set has to be designed to make it realistic—every space, wall, color, piece of furniture, prop, graphic. We try to create a world that the actors can believe in. When they enter, they need to feel like they are their character.”

Aaron has a calm, easy going demeanor and I wondered how he handles the stress. “I’ve learned to ride the waves and not be engulfed by them. I have a high threshold for stress, until I don’t,” he laughed.

He loves his job, mainly because he never has to do the same thing twice. With each project he needs to build a team of dozens from scratch. It used to be one could have a career in film and live and work in Los Angeles. These days, films are made all over the world. We don’t have the luxury of working with the same folks again and again. This has its advantages and disadvantages. To be successful, I have to be a manager and psychologist, put together large budgets and schedules, know how to collaborate with large construction departments, how paint affects the mood of a setting, and how to play politics with studios and producers.”

In 2006, while in New Orleans working on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film about a man who ages backwards, Aaron met his wife Bridget. A coworker and I were looking for a specific restaurant and got lost. We decided to walk into the nearest place that looked interesting. While we were eating, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A stranger asked, ‘Excuse me but my friend and I were trying to think the name of Mork and Mindy’s son, the one who was born an old man, because we decided she was born an old soul and is aging backwards. You look like someone who might know.’ I’d never met this woman. She didn’t know the film I was working on.

Intrigued, I followed her back to their table to meet her friend. It really was one of those magical moments you hear about—love at first sight. We chatted for a while, but I never even got her name. They did tell me she was going to be at the farmer’s market the following day. So the next morning I got on my bike and rode to find this market. I had ridden less than two blocks when I turned a corner ran into her. She walked right up and said ‘Hi, I’m Bridget’. And basically that was that.

For about ten years they split their time between New Orleans and LA. With her background in public health, Bridget worked for the Annenberg Foundation in Los Angeles, a family foundation that provides funding for an array of environmental stewardship, social justice and animal welfare efforts. In New Orleans, she started an urban land trust to help preserve the city’s remaining green spaces as part of a comprehensive water strategy designed to mitigate land lost to a changing climate.

In 2011 while on working on a film in Vancouver B.C., their son August was born. Five years later, they welcomed son Nathaniel. Aaron also has a daughter, Bela, from a previous marriage who is about to wrap up her third year in college.

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A few years ago, after more than a decade of working on films outside of Los Angeles, Aaron and Bridget decided to make the Mendocino Coast their home base. Since that time Bridget’s father has also moved here. Because Aaron’s job requires him to be on location for many months each year, they aren’t home fulltime. “I love being back and reconnecting with family and friends. We gather for potluck dinners whenever we can. My brother Mikael, sister Sarah and I are close. We get together and play music at open mic Mondays at The Golden West.”

He also loves the interconnections of people living in a small community. “Before returning home to the coast this last time, I was working in Turkey and started searching for a piano online at the Mendocino Coast Swap Shop. I found one, and made arrangements to pick it up when I returned. When I told my mom, amazingly she said the piano’s owner had been her boyfriend when they were in high school in Southern California before she met my dad. And that he was married to my step dad’s cousin! Serendipity is everywhere if you know where to look.”

When asked how the area has changed since his youth, Aaron said, “There’s no longer a mill. The noon whistle was such a big part of this town. Where we’re sitting used to be the department store Sea Fair and then Daly’s. Many of our family and friends worked in the mill and the woods. When I was very young, my grandmother worked the main gate at GP and I remember sitting on her lap and pushing the button to let trucks in.

“Of course I’m not saying we need a mill, but it’s difficult to build a robust tourist economy when you are as remote as we are. Our parents’ generation are retirement age. Many of their kids moved away and it’s hard to come back because there’s not much in the way of an economic heart. Maybe new technology will help change that. Maybe the mill land will be put to some fantastic use and help drive us forward. There are some wonderful things happening here. I’m proud of folks like my brother [Mikael] and Jessica [Morsell-Haye] who own the Golden West and are working hard to bring new energy back to town.”

Despite these changes, Aaron is happy to be home. “Coming from here gave me a solid root and a real sense of community. You develop a certain amount of flexibility and resilience when you grow up rural and without much money as many of us did here. Tolerance for others is supported when you’re not surrounded by a culture that points out differences in people.”

After generously giving me over two hours of his time, we stood to part ways. He was going across the street to drop in on his mom who owns Teamwork, a business started by his grandmother in 1978. This touched my heart. Aaron Haye is a lot of things—brilliant, talented, and busy. He’s also a kind and thoughtful homegrown boy who goes to visit his mom.

***

To learn more about Aaron, check out his website—aaronhaye.com—and follow him on Instagram at aelvishaye.

A couple shots from the Live Aid set that Aaron designed for Bohemian Rhapsody:

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Seven on Sundays

satchelApparently many Scandinavians believe that by the time we die, the sum of our possessions should fit into a satchel. I suppose this makes disposal of our property easy for our kids—simply pick up the bag and toss it in the garbage. Being half Scandinavian, I suspect it’s really designed to make us feel guilty for accumulating stuff that makes us happy and comfortable. I was raised with the concept that it’s best to live a life of misery and deprivation.

I’m not planning to leave the planet any time soon, but after learning this I viewed my things differently. What is truly necessary to quality of life and what’s not? If I had to whittle away to the barest minimum, what would I get rid of? How long would it take? I’m a busy person and decided it would take way too long. I tried to banish the idea, but it haunted me.

I know I have too much stuff—things I don’t use, things that if occasionally needed could be borrowed. I finally devised a plan:

Break it down into small steps. Make it a game. Yay! I love games. Call it “Seven on Sundays.” Each Sunday, seven items or more can be tossed, but not less. If I got excited and went for more, the count couldn’t be carried over to the next Sunday. Make it an exercise in moderation. Place each week’s stash either in the garbage, recycle, or a box to haul to a thrift shop at the beginning of each month. By the end of the year, I’d have rid myself of at least 365 things.

I started Sunday, January 7, 2018. Here’s what I learned:

My enthusiasm tempted me to go on a spree, but I knew such obsessiveness would quickly cause burnout and failure. I mostly forced myself to stop at seven.

It took two months to get out of the laundry/utility room! I was shocked to find three full bottles of Murphy’s Oil Soap within the dark recesses of the cupboard’s upper shelves. (I used to take pride in housekeeping and would pick up extra bottles when this was on sale.)

amoireIn my armoire, I found:

  • A pair of cute red polka dot slipper socks given by my daughter and worn enough times to create holes in the bottoms. When she was in college, she bought them with her limited funds because she knew I’d like them. The memory of this sweet gesture caused me to hold onto them long past their usefulness. It was sad to throw them out.
  • Two little mesh bags that once held forgotten gifts and could be used to present a little treat to someone. I had to concede they would never be filled with anything but air.
  • A sweatband I’d tried on only once because it made me look like Keith Richards. I like Keith, but the resemblance gave me the creeps.
  • A holder for a lightweight winter jacket that can fold into something resembling a small umbrella. It’s far easier to stuff the jacket into a suitcase.
  • A reading light that clips to a book. Years after receiving, it had never been used.
  • An expensive bra with straps that can be moved about to create a backless look. I was done with washing it and having the straps come loose only to refit them into the tiny holes where they continually pursued their fight for freedom. What possessed me to buy it in the first place? For the rest of my life I’ll never need a backless bra.
  • A sweater I knitted six years ago yet only wore a few times because it didn’t fit properly. It’s beautiful with fabulous buttons and cost me a bundle in yarn. I loved knitting it, which made the decision to relinquish it painful. There was no reason to keep it folded away when someone would find it marvelous and the Hospice Thrift Store would benefit from the sale.

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The following week, I determined it would take more than a month of Sundays to clean out the armoire. After the laundry room fiasco, I didn’t have that kind of time. So I modified the rules to seven minutes. I got rid of 24 things. Fifteen went immediately into the trash: socks without matches, panty hose with failed elastic bands and two half-slips bought in the early nineties (when was the last time I wore a dress?).

A week later, I braved the master bathroom. Makeup primer I’d purchased to enliven my aged face for my son’s wedding (two and a half years before) and never used since. Extra buttons that came with clothing purchases. Where was this clothing? Scraps of paper with reminder notes. Yes, apparently I once wrote reminder notes in the bathroom. (Go ahead, judge me. I’ve done worse.) A 10-year old pair of prescription glasses.

7onSundayshoesThe last Sunday of January, giddy that the dismal month was coming to a close, I celebrated by getting rid of two pairs of expensive, yet uncomfortable, shoes. Toward the end of the day I realized I hadn’t completed my seven. I went to my closet—the perfect place for unused crap to hide. I spied an old gym bag—some swag from two decades ago. I debated over and shoveled five pairs of shoes inside it.

The most difficult pairs to part with were in the back—black velvet shoes with embroidered Christmas decorations—pumps and flats. For years, I wore these during the holiday season. I bought them at Mervyn’s in Santa Rosa shortly after we moved to Fort Bragg (25 years before). They were covered in dust. I felt the heartbreak of bygone Christmas seasons when my kids were little. I cried as I put them into the bag. Our possessions are only things, but some evoke memories that make grief a part of the removal process.

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Set of 30-year old knives

I won’t bore you with the details of what I tossed each week. There were weeks when I forgot until evening and went into a panic over finding seven. That was eased by throwing away things as simple as old pencils (Who uses pencils anymore? Certainly not Scandinavians!) and pens with dried up ink. And blurry photographs that don’t make sense to keep. And spices—we all have spices in our cupboards that are long past expiration dates.

A few more revelations:

7onSundaysunglassesIf you’d asked me how many pairs of sunglasses I own, I’d have said two: a cheap-ass pair bought about 10 years ago and an expensive pair bought two years ago. Imagine my shock to open a cupboard door in my office and find SEVEN PAIRS OF SUNGLASSES!!!

The red framed pair are fashionable, but bulky and heavy. They’d been replaced with the cheap-ass pair. Don’t ask me why I couldn’t bear to part with them. When I started jogging seven years ago, I bought a pair of lightweight wraparound sunglasses that fogged up as I heated up. I’d bought a funky purple pair in Portland when I visited my son years ago. How could I possibly give those up? And so on…. Five went into a zip-lock bag for the thrift store. (The Portland funky and cheap ass pairs will have to wait for another day.)

One Sunday, I was mumbling curses as I scrubbed an old Pyrex glass casserole stained by years of use. It was so gross that I’d never show it to company. If I moved, I wouldn’t take it with me. If I died, my kids would throw it away. Gone!

A laminated map of San Francisco. How long have I had a smart phone to access for directions? At least six years. Gone!

Christmas decorations. I have many and love every single one except the bunch I don’t take out of the storage bins each year. For the first time, I questioned why I keep them. Perhaps it’s those blasted memories of bygone holidays, avoiding the grief that trashing might bring.

I was sad to give away the little grapevine wreaths I’d wrapped with ribbon and hung about the house when my kids were young. These had not seen the light of Christmas for years. Someone will find them festive and delightful. I cried as I put them in the donation box.

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Disturbing find in kitchen drawer

By the end of the year, I’d gotten rid of at least 500 things and don’t miss a single one. When I started this project, I had no idea what a relief it would be to get rid of stuff. More importantly, allowing myself do it systematically instead of manically, where I would quickly tire and give up.

I’m taking a brief hiatus, but will revive Seven on Sundays on March 3rd—a date arbitrarily set because it’s winter and right now my goal is to sleep as much as possible. Yes, there is more to toss, but I don’t aspire to get my possessions down to a satchel. After all, I’m only half Scandinavian.

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Old writing projects read one last time before putting in recycling bin

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Bought when Lucy was a puppy before learning she did not have the temperament to allow such indignity

Death of a Mortuary

mortuaryintroWe moved to Fort Bragg 26 years ago when our children were very young. Our house is across the alley from Chapel by the Sea, the town’s only mortuary. It was the summer between kindergarten and first grade for our older child Harrison. He had no friends and a limited capacity to interact with his three-year old sister (and his parents). At the time, Larry Blair was a partner in the mortuary and lived in the upstairs apartment with his wife Shirley and teenage daughter Charla. Older daughter Charise was married to Nathan who worked for Larry. They lived in the alley apartment.

That summer, Nathan and another employee were often involved in outside work activities. While taking walks with the kids, we eventually got to know everyone on the other side of the alley. Convinced these were trustworthy people, my husband Gary and I consented to let Harrison hang out with the guys when they were outside. As the summer wore on, this happened a few hours each day. It also became a bargaining chip whenever Harrison misbehaved. “That’s it, buddy. You’re grounded.”

Imagine the deep sadness of a cherub-faced six-year old as he stood at our alley gate howling like a wounded hound dog, “Nathan, I can’t come over to the mortuary today. I’m grounded.”

At times, Charla graciously consented to tossing a baseball around with Harrison, honing throwing and catching skills that carried with him into Little League.

When Harrison discovered the casket room, he chose one for each member of our family. Older sister Jennifer recalls him describing hers as having pink satin lining and a white pillow. She felt honored. When his dad and I told him our plan was to be cremated, he scoffed and said, “Nobody wants to be buried anymore.”

From first through third grade, he aspired to become a mortician. However, he was conflicted. He also enjoyed ocean fishing and was enamored by our commercial fisherman friend Jared Williams. Whenever anyone asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he’d reply, “A fishing mortician.” The inquirer flinched like someone splashed cold water in their face.

Over the years, our families socialized, celebrating birthdays and other events. But mostly, we visited across the alley, getting to know one another in a casual small town kind of way.

Eventually Larry and Shirley moved into their own home and later out of the area, but to this day Shirley calls me “Neighbor” whenever we meet. I have a deep and abiding affection for this lovely, kind woman.

Charise and Nathan divorced. She later married John Reynolds and they moved away. They had two children and returned to live in the mortuary alley apartment when Katelyn was nearly five and Jacob one and a half. This planted the seed of a deep, lifelong friendship where we shared many joys, including the birth of son Nick, and one major sorrow—John’s sudden death in 2010 when the children were 13, 10 and 7. Over the years, they moved to various places, but we remained close. Throughout it all, the looming red mortuary stood as a monument to these relationships.

And then, on Saturday afternoon January 12, 2019 there was a fire.

***

I wasn’t paying attention to the time, but later learned it was about ten minutes to two o’clock. I walked by my kitchen window and glanced, as I often do, at the mortuary. A work crew had spent the morning installing new windows in the upstairs apartment. This was part of a lengthy renovation project to a space that hadn’t been updated since the eighties.

I saw a large puff of what I thought was mist coming from the open door. Within seconds, the mist turned dark grey. I hollered at Gary, “The mortuary’s on fire!” I grabbed the phone and rushed outside while dialing 911. It had already been reported.

mortuaryonfireA flurry of law enforcement arrived to cordon off the street. Neighbors gathered, some inside my fence, all of us sharing looks of horror and tears. We watched the smoke grow in volume and black intensity. I cried for it to stop. This stately building stood for over 100 years, the past 26 years as our neighbor. This couldn’t be happening—STOP!

The fire had other ideas.

Within minutes, huge flames erupted from the door. Seconds after that, the newly installed windows exploded with fireballs. Our amazing volunteer fire department arrived and set to work, spraying the building with thousands of gallons of water. I held hope they could contain it at the upper level.

The fire had other ideas.

The violence of a structure fire is terrifying to witness. Despite the copious amount of water sprayed with extreme velocity, the fire spread to the lower level, eventually forcing those windows to explode.

Within a few hours, our beautiful mortuary was in ruins. The freshly completed apartment renovations had gone up in smoke. Julie, the manager who had moved in two weeks previously, and her dog Pillie had been out of town for the day. She had anticipated returning to new, draft-free windows only to find she had lost virtually everything—most devastating were her two young cats, two canaries, and a fish. When she arrived, she stood next to her friend Amy, tears rolling down her cheeks.

mortuaryfirefightersAbout 4:30pm, the fire department had contained the blaze and began wrapping up. I am in awe at how, despite the chaos of the fire, they maintained their professionalism and focus. Heavy hoses had been dragged about the property, yet they did not damage one plant of the major landscaping project that was completed this past fall.

mortuarysemifinalAfter a fitful night of little sleep, I rose the following morning worried about Julie. I didn’t want to, but couldn’t help, looking out our east windows to a sight I’ve always revered. It was horrible—a burnt out shell of a once stately building. My sadness runs deeper than I could ever have imagined. I can’t fathom how I’ll face this mutilated scar in the coming days and weeks.

mortuarysemifinal1For now, I try to find consolation in the fact that even though the monument is gone, the love it symbolized remains. Charise, Charla, Katelyn, Jacob, Nick, the Blairs and my family share a common grief, but we also share a special bond that will carry us through.

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A Go Fund Me account has been set up for Julie who lost nearly everything in the fire:   https://www.gofundme.com/julie-and-pillie-start-again-fort-bragg-ca

To read about the most common causes of house fires and how to prevent them, go to:  https://www.realinsurance.com.au/home-insurance/home-safety/the-most-common-causes-of-house-fires

Jessica Morsell-Haye

Jessica Morsell-Haye 2018 headshot 2- BigFor over 130 years, the Golden West has stood tall on Redwood Avenue in Fort Bragg. Apartments occupy the top two floors and there’s a retail space at ground level, but the building is most noted for its popular saloon.

Jessica Morsell-Haye and her husband Mikael have a shared nostalgia for that saloon. In the summer of 2000—in the early years of their friendship which eventually blossomed into romance—they often hung out there, surrounded by the massive oak bar and artifacts from the glory days of logging and fishing that adorn redwood walls. They dreamed  how cool it would be to own the place.

“We both loved the gorgeous, unadulterated interior,” Jessica said. “You could feel and see its history when you walked into the room. We also respected the previous owners. It was a point of pride if they tolerated your presence and we felt honored that they welcomed us. Mikael and I both worked in bars over the years and we felt like the Golden West was the ideal combination of beauty and dive bar.”

Fifteen years later, the building went up for sale, giving them a chance to fulfill their dream. There was only one problem—they didn’t have any money.

***

Jessica grew up in a variety of areas along the coast—Mendocino, Albion and Comptche. “I liked Comptche the best. We had no electricity and I loved living off the land. We didn’t have television. My brother and I used our imagination for entertainment.”

She attended Mendocino Community High School and was on the basketball and track teams at Mendocino High. In 1997, she entered UC Santa Cruz and played basketball her first year. She majored in Fine Arts and chose to do her junior year abroad at the Art Academy in Bologna, Italy.

Jessica&MikaelThe following summer, she returned to the coast where became friends with Mikael. “We were together for a year and then broke up for a year. After I graduated from college in 2002, I came back and we got together.”

In 2003, Jessica entered the visual communications program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise in Los Angeles. “Mikael and I moved on April Fool’s Day, which made us laugh. Our goal was to make it for a year. We ended up staying for ten.”

That same year, Jessica was hired by Marimar Textiles, to organize and file artwork. Marimar is a company that converts artwork to make it production ready for fabric. Six months later, the head designer quit. “The owner asked if I knew how to use Photoshop. I barely did, but said, ‘Sure!’ She hired me as their in-house artist. I jumped in and worked my tail off until I figured it out.”

During their years in LA, Mikael worked as a bartender, an occupation perfectly suited to his warm, gregarious personality.

Jessica finished her program and went on to have a number of jobs in the fashion industry. She dressed celebrities at Giorgio Armani, and was promoted to stylist at Marimar Textiles, coordinating half of the company’s accounts which included Anne Klein, Michael Kohrs, Quicksilver, and Speedo Girls.

Three years later, she was recruited as a textile designer for BCBG Max Azria, a billion-dollar international clothing company. “It was a pressure cooker. Working all day until three in the morning wasn’t unusual. As the director of textile design, I was getting to put three separate lines down the runway each season, which was thrilling and unheard of.”

When the economic crisis hit in 2008, she escaped widespread layoffs. She continued to work long hours until she gave birth to her son Caspar in 2012. She returned from maternity leave and stayed eight more months. “I wasn’t willing to sacrifice time with my son for a company.”

In 2013, they moved to Petaluma. Mikael stayed at home with the baby while Jessica commuted to San Francisco to her job as a fabric designer for the Banana Republic Factory Store. She also did freelance work for the clothing company Tart Collections in Concord. Tart offered her a job in 2014, and she took it.

jessicagoldenwestinsideb&wThis was when she and Mikael learned that the Golden West was for sale. They lamented they had no money to make their youthful dream of owning it come true. They heard that the Hospitality House was looking to purchase the building to use as a homeless shelter, and felt an urgency to save it and preserve its history.

“History gives a place soul. The old materials and aesthetics were made to last. We love that we can see where an old wall was built to section off the bar during prohibition. Stories come alive when you can see the marks they left on their environment.”

With her typical canjessicaoldyellowbldg-do attitude, Jessica went to work figuring out how to make it happen. “A financial advisor helped me put together a business plan that turned into a three-inch thick document. After pushing hard, it was clear that traditional financing wasn’t an option. The building had 30 years of  deferred maintenance. Private investors also turned us down. We made an offer anyway and went into escrow. At the eleventh hour, the sellers agreed to do owner financing and we got it.”

Within the first year, Jessica and Mikael gave the building’s façade a facelift by changing  the crumbling yellow paint to a dark charcoal with red trim and replacing the roof. The bar soon became the go-to spot for young people. “We wanted to make it more inviting without changing its essence. We expanded our liquor offerings and found there’s a desire for more variety and top shelf alcohol.”

jessicagoldenwestnewpaintThe rooms above the saloon were at different times a hotel, boarding house, and brothel. “There are 26 rooms, some of which are used for storage. We have about 16 tenants. When we took over the building I cleaned out a bunch of rooms. It was fascinating—ancient silk curtains, boudoirs, layers of wall paper telling a chronological history.”

Jessica proudly reports that they have not raised the rent on existing tenants. “Once someone is in a home I think it’s critical not to price them out of it.”

For the next three years, Jessica worked for Tart remotely from home, commuting to Concord one day a week. In March 2017, daughter Magnolia was born.

This past spring, they opened the General Store in the building’s retail space. “We wanted an outlet where we could sell things we make as well as items from other artists.” As part of this effort, Jessica and another local designer started The Blue Collective on McPherson Street, offering shared workspace for artists.

In April of this year, Jessica was laid off from Tart, although she continues to do freelance work. “It seems every company in the fashion industry is contracting due to skyrocketing manufacturing costs from China.”

jessica&kidsWhen she was approached with the idea of running for a seat on the city council, it ignited a passion. “The decisions made in the next four years will affect this town for decades. The future of Fort Bragg is critical to me and my family. It’s important that the town’s growth with the mill site and subsequent expansion of infrastructure be done mindfully, in a forward thinking, responsible manner that keeps the soul of our city intact and leverages its natural and historic beauty.

“One of my main strengths is seeing the big picture and finding the points of connection. As I connect the dots, my focus is on actionable steps that usually lead to alternative solutions. This can be leveraged as we try to create more jobs, housing, industry, a healthier hospital, and tackle problems like homelessness. They’re all related and each decision will affect multiple sectors.

“I love how our windy roads give our area a filter and prevent urban sprawl. Mikael and I decided to buy the Golden West because we feel there’s life in this building, on this street and in this town. It’s an exciting time for Fort Bragg.”

That excitement is due, in large part, to the efforts of young people like Jessica and Mikael who are pumping new life and energy into our beloved area.

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Going, Going, Gone

hoarding1On the morning of January 20th, I was alerted to a fire at what I called the Hoarder House. I’d never witnessed a fire in real time. It was equally fascinating and disturbing (see January 31 blog post). When the burning finally stopped, the property was surrounded by barricades and crime scene tape. Eventually, a chain link fence was erected to keep passersby safely away from the crumbling mass of charred rubbish.

rubbleMonths went by. Winds and rain caused the waterfall of junk to precariously shift. People started asking me why the City hadn’t torn the place down. I’m flattered they have the impression that I’m privy to the goings on around town. I actually know next to nothing, and often stifle an urge to make things up.

Due to my years-long obsession with this house and people counting on me to know stuff, I recently took precious time and energy away from watching “Judge Judy” and launched an investigation. City Manager Tabitha Miller eased the burden of this task by sending a press release dated July 9, 2018.

Apparently, the City had a heck of a time getting someone to take responsibility for clearing the property. None of the parties involved—the owner, mortgage holder or insurance company—would cooperate. In April, Nationstar (the mortgage holder) received an insurance payout of $175,000. In May, they foreclosed on the property, which made them the official owner.

House2bSo what you think Nationstar did?

  1. Acted like grownups, admitted their liability, and offered to immediately clean up their property that stood like a gaping wound on the edge of downtown just off Main Street.
  2. Acted like juvenile delinquents, stuffed the money in their pockets, and ran.

Sadly, they chose number two. The City diligently tried to contact Nationstar, but they would not return phone calls or respond to letters.

On June 8—nearly six months after the fire—the Community Development Director sent a certified letter to Nationstar informing them that they had until July 10 to start cleaning up the property. For each day of delay, they would be assessed a $1,000 fine.

The threat of $1,000 a day seemed to catch the attention of the suits at Nationstar. By July 3rd, the contractor hired for cleanup applied to the City for a permit.

House3aA few weeks ago, black tarps were draped over the chain link fence and the demolition began. Within a couple days, the dumpsters supplied by Waste Management were filled to capacity and work paused until they could be hauled inland and emptied.

As the process unfolded, I finagled my way around the tarps to snap photos. For decades, this house stood as a shameful monument to hoarding. Within days, it was no more.

I find it hard to say goodbye.

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Heather Sears

HeatherHead2Heather grew up in Morro Bay where she learned commercial fishing from her dad. “I moved here in 1999, and immediately began a flaming love affair with Mendocino County.” By 2001, she had saved four thousand dollars and bought a small boat, the Julie. “My idea was to have a floating fish market—to sell fish right off the boat.” She admits that running her own boat was a different experience than crewing with her dad.

“I made a lot of mistakes. The first time I took the boat out, I went on the wrong side of the red can [at the entrance to the harbor]. Kelp got tangled in the wheel and killed the engine. I was able to reverse the boat a few times and got untangled. Another time, on my way to Eureka, I ran into bad weather. I thought the boat was going to roll and I was going to die.”

HeatherDogsHer dad tried to help her, but she was intent on doing things her way. “At one point, he threw his hands up and said, ‘You’re going to kill yourself,’ and went back to Morro Bay. Bless his heart, he must have been so worried. This strained our relationship, but a few years later, we fished together in Alaska.”

As she worked towards saving money for a larger boat, she took classes at College of the Redwoods. “In 2001 a friend said, ‘You can go to college anytime, you’ll never see fishing like this again.’ I literally walked out of my English class, went down to the boat, and started fishing.”

The local commercial salmon season closed in 2006, and she fished in Alaska. “When the season reopened in 2013, I came back to Fort Bragg and vowed to do whatever it takes to stay.” After living on her boat for years, she bought a house that same year, anchoring herself to the area.

HeatherCrew2Along the way, she sold the Julie and bought and sold two other boats. In 2009, she purchased a larger vessel with a blast freezer named Princess. Given that she has an all-woman crew, it’s the perfect name. “Because we’re able to freeze the fish on board, we can stay out for 18 days and catch up to 11,000 pounds of salmon. When we return to port, the fish is unloaded into a freezer truck and taken to storage in the Seattle area. After the glut of fresh caught fish is over, we can sell our sashimi grade fish at a higher price. The process we use makes it better than fresh.”

Heather was so excited about her ability to provide the market with this type of seafood that she caught 44,000 pounds of fish her first year. “I started direct marketing and thought people would be knocking down my door, but I didn’t have the connections the other boats with freezers had. I was scared I’d lose my house. I started selling at the Fort Bragg and Ukiah farmers’ markets and off the boat. Most of it went to San Francisco. It took me a year and half to sell it all.”

For four years, the Princess was the only boat in Noyo Harbor with a flash freezer. Recently, another fisherman purchased a boat with this capability, but he only freezes tuna. The Princess is one of only five boats in the lower 48 that freezes salmon at sea.

The life of a commercial fisherwoman is often rugged and demanding. “When I go to Alaska for king salmon, it takes 15 days and $3-5,000 to get there. Once there, I only have four to six days to make 80 percent of my income for the year. I’ve always managed to find fish, but because of the stress and long hours there’s no joy in it.”

HeatherCrewAs a woman in this field, Heather is not unique, but rare. “There are a lot more women in Alaska.” She admires her crew which includes Maia and Anna—graduates of Humboldt State. “The salmon season lasts about six months. It requires a great deal of endurance. We get only five to six hours of sleep a night and are away from home so much. I got a crab permit last winter. Catching crab is easier and is a lot more fun.” Maia and Anna also sell the fish at the farmers’ markets.

She’s grateful for the comradery she’s developed among the other fishermen and women who travel up and down the coast. “I can look out and see a boat a mile away and know we have each other’s backs if there’s a problem. Even if we don’t like each other on the dock, we put those differences aside on the water.”

Heather is passionate about educating the public to support sustainable fishing. “All fisheries in the United States are sustainable, which means not harvesting past the point of the stock being able to replenish itself. Since the seventies, the 4000-boat California salmon fleet has been reduced to 100. Our port went from 20 draggers to six—and these are managed very carefully. Every boat has a tracking system that is monitored by a team in Washington DC. All fish stocks are rebounding, but many of the seasons that were closed have not reopened.”

Between seasons, Heather does maintenance on the boat. “A woman once told me we have to repay the boat for the service it gives us.” In 2016,  she received a grant from the Mendocino County Air Quality Board and spent that winter installing a clean-running motor.

Heather has recently expanded her business by partnering with friend a former crew woman Wendy Holloway to reopen Nemo’s Fish Market as Princess Seafood Market and Deli in Noyo Harbor. “Wendy was my first crew member back in 2004. Our goal is to make our amazing, west coast wild seafood more accessible to our local community in the most delicious way possible. Sustainably caught sashimi grade fish and shellfish will be our specialty. We also offer healthy cooked food, local beer, wine and a selection of seafood-centric prepared food for take out.”

Despite the challenges of a life at sea, Heather can’t imagine doing anything else. “I love being my own boss and being out on the ocean. The Lost Coast around Shelter Cove is stunningly beautiful. The upsides of this business are so great—like seeing a rainbow at the same time a gray whale leaps out of the water. I love it so much.”

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Heather offers wholesale and retail sashimi grade king salmon, coho salmon, albacore tuna, lingcod, rockfish and black cod. Live Dungeness crab is available in the winter. You can find her crew at the Ukiah Natural Food Coop, Fort Bragg, Ukiah, Santa Rosa & Sebastopol farmers’ markets and on the boat at Dock A in Noyo Harbor. The food at Princess Seafood Market and Deli is fresh and delicious. If you’re busy, you can get it to go. Better yet, take some time to enjoy the patio and soak in the unique ambience of Noyo Harbor.

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