Part 11: The Tim Carpenter Award for Jeffersonian Achievement

Photo by Jack Gould[Stagehands dressed in black push a platform to center stage. Atop the rolling platform stands a tall, gaunt man dressed as the Statue of Liberty. His face, robes, hair and really flaming torch are the color of patina; his eyes are set resolutely upon some future only he can see. Several audience members gasp. A large woman with an oversize bosom rises, clutching a hankie to her heaving chest. She sobs and then begins to sing through her tears.]

WOMAN: Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies . . .

[Patriotic interlude during which the remainder of the audience rises and sings. The torch burns surprisingly hot. Todd Mathews—for it is he under the green makeup—eyes the flame nervously. More singing. And then . . .]

MATHEWS: Damn!

[He hastily drops the flaming torch. It rolls—red-hot—dangerously close to the lip of the stage, its flame licking along the boards. The patriotic singing stops abruptly. Cameras tilt dramatically upward as camera operators make for the exits; we temporarily examine the strange network of ropes, pulleys, boom mics and the harsh glare of stage lights against the darker-than-dark ceiling. Panic ensues. The fire alarm shrieks. Time passes. The strange network of ropes, etc. is replaced by an Indian-chief test pattern on the screen. Delightful music. You listen. Then the picture returns. Mathews is at the podium, his robes blackened. Cut to audience, with their smoldering evening gowns and tuxedos, their hair dissheveled and eyeglasses askew.]

MATHEWS [sleeves smoking]: George Eliot wrote, "The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistorical acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs." So here's to all the hidden people who are real heroes in our community, citizens whose names we don't even know but whose kindness and compassion in everyday life are the pillars on which we stand tonight!

[Much clapping and whistling.]

MATHEWS: That's right, that's right. Just so many good people! You are surrounded by saints!

[Clapping stops suddenly. Hubbub of much conversation. Cameras pan the audience: people talk with one another as if investigating the possibility that they are, indeed, surrounded by saints.]

MATHEWS: Not right now, of course. Not here. Tonight, we honor Orange County's Best Citizen, an award we bestow upon the individual who has done the most to elevate civic life. But how can we possibly choose just one? How do we evaluate such a thing? Where can you get a good pastrami sandwich? We can't. We don't. And I have no idea.

[Confused applause. Shots of audience members checking one another's heads for halos.]

MATHEWS: We do this because it's an opportunity to recognize the contributions of many good people. People like Sharon Kennedy, who continues publishing the Fullerton Observer, the muckraking newspaper founded by her father, the late Ralph Kennedy. Or Tom Rogers, the former Republican Party chief whose recent published history of Orange County demonstrates a mind free of ideology and cant and who remains committed to the creation of good government. Or Bob Cronk, a Huntington Beach resident who sacrificed his evenings and weekends to block the creation of a Wal-Mart that would have cast a shadow over his neighborhood. Or the late Julie Mandrake, a woman whose commitment to beauty and organic feminine hygiene was so powerful and so terrifying that some say she was mythical. Or Ava Park, defender of animals and head of the county chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Or Laura Davick and Brenda Stouffer, who crawled through a terrifying sewage pipe to locate the origins of strange runoff spilling onto the shores of Crystal Cove.

[Audience groans in revulsion.]

MATHEWS [pauses dramatically and looks around at the audience. He has them in the palm of his hand]: Or Tim Carpenter, an activist who appears in so many places, leading so many causes for the homeless, the poor and the otherwise afflicted that we have bestowed upon this award a new name. We call it the Tim Carpenter Award.

[Much cheering and happiness. Cries of "splendid" throughout the hall. The lights go down, as an immense screen rises. Mathews walks from center stage. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Carry On" booms over a wide-screen collage of Tim Carpenter snapshots. Tim feeding the homeless. Tim protesting the arms buildup. Tim arrested for protesting. Tim with Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt. Tim with Bob Dornan. (The audience boos.) Tim with Howard Zinn and Michael Harrington. Tim protesting the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Tim speaking at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Tim standing, arms akimbo, slowly morphing into a naked, Greek-god-like, golden representation. A few in the audience gasp at the anatomical correctness. As if on cue, a person dressed as Santa Claus sitting near the front of the auditorium does a spit take. A slow dissolve to a spotlit, desperate-looking man squirming on a barstool. He mutters under his breath, "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—what horseshit," and then looks surprised and begins talking to the camera.]

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