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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.]

 

NATHAN CALLAHAN: Hi, I'm Nathan Callahan. Even though I can't be with you in person tonight, I am deeply honored that OC Weekly has chosen me to be your guide for this multimedia spectacle honoring our dear friend, the namesake of the OC Weekly Outstanding Citizen of the Year award, Mr. Tim Carpenter.

[The title Tim Carpenter: The movie. A film by Nathan Callahan appears. As trumpets from Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" play, we see a video re-enactment of a struggling lower-middle-class family going about everyday life in their less-than-modest home in the desert. A scorpion skitters across the kitchen floor. Coyotes howl in the background.]

CALLAHAN: Tim was born on March 23, 1959, in Phoenix, Arizona. His early years were spent watching minor-league hockey games, listening to his father's World War II stories and sweating.

MAN IN SANTA CLAUS SUIT: That's not the way it was! Tim's dad never wore platform heels!

CALLAHAN: The Carpenters were good Catholics, sort of. Tim's mom worked when the going got rough and neutered—I'm sorry, nurtured—the three children: Tim, his older brother and his sister. Meanwhile, Tim's father sold ice cream toppings. Then in 1969, the elder Carpenter was appointed sales executive to the Ice Cream Topping Capital of the World: Southern California. With that, the family moved to the more temperate climes of Orange County.

[An aerial shot of suburban sprawl. In the background, the twin peaks of Saddleback Mountain are topped with assorted nuts and rainbow sprinkles. A Catholic steeple looms on the horizon.]

CALLAHAN: In the sixth grade at Tustin's St. Cecilia Catholic School, Tim picked a name out of a hat in his civics class. It was a turning point in his life. The name belonged to liberal Kennedy-look-alike politician John Tunney. While completing his civics assignment—working on Tunney's successful Senate campaign —Tim fell in love with politics, met Hubert Humphrey, and ate lots of ice cream toppings.

[Grainy footage of Hubert Humphrey shaking hands with Tim. Humphrey's huge bald head glistens in a surreal rainbow of colors while digitally transmogrifying into George Harrison singing "My Sweet Lord."]

CALLAHAN: In 1971, our precocious boy with questionable taste in music was transformed by George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album. The segue from "My Sweet Lord" to "Hallelujah, Hare Krishna" made it evident to Tim there was more than one way to find God. And to think that drug-addled son-of-a-bitch Harrison ripped off the song from the Chiffons' "He's So Fine." Go figure.

[A school hallway. Suddenly, classroom doors swing open and screaming nuns run out, holding their hands over their ears.]

CALLAHAN: Inspired by the idealism of Tunney and Harrison, it wasn't long before Tim organized an Alternative Religion Day on campus and took over the principal's office to play "My Sweet Lord" over the PA. Because of his antics, Tim was almost expelled by Father Sammon.

Tim continued school but was eventually expelled by another, less predictable force. After his freshman year in high school, he was diagnosed with arthritis, forcing him to complete his last two years by studying at home. To this day, Tim suffers from the disease. He limps, cannot turn his head, and on some mornings finds it nearly impossible to get out of bed. In fact, many of you know what I call "Doing the Tim."

[Callahan gets off his barstool and starts walking stiffly around the room like a penguin. The audience is sullen and mutinous. Members of the front-row picnic-dinner crowd begin throwing arugula and sun-dried tomatoes at the screen. Shouts of "Kill Callahan!" are heard.]

CALLAHAN [laughs]: I indulge myself. Anyway, in 1974, Tim, through his growing political connections, met Jerry Brown—the soon-to-be governor of California.

[The chorus to Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good" plays over a photo of a Nehru-shirted Jerry Brown.]

CALLAHAN: At the time, Brown was supporting the farm workers strike and denouncing the opulence of the governor's mansion in Sacramento. Brown and Carpenter had a long talk, and by the time it was over, Governor Moonbeam had changed Tim's life.

By the age of 16, Carpenter was on the liberal-activist fast track, working for Tom Hayden's Senate campaign. After Hayden was elected, Tim studied the art of political organizing at Jane Fonda's Santa Barbara retreat and witnessed the birth of CED—the Campaign for Economic Democracy—in California.

[Video of Jane Fonda as Barbarella fighting off a dose of lethal orgasm in the Excessive Machine.]

CALLAHAN: To make ends meet, Carpenter was an administrative aide to Orange County Supervisor Edison Miller and later worked as an assistant county budget analyst. But at 20, he quit his job, moved into a garage with three lesbians, and took a vow of poverty. And—I'm just guessing here—celibacy. It sounds like I'm making this shit up, doesn't it? Well, it's all true, my friends. Tim spent the next several years working against the military buildup under then-president Jimmy Carter. But no one—no one in their right mind, at least—was prepared for what happened next. The unimaginable: Ronald Reagan was elected president.

 

[The Partridge Family's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" plays as a forlorn Santa Claus sits in a jail cell.]

CALLAHAN: Star Wars, nuclear power, welfare cuts, claims that trees pollute more than automobiles, just say no to drugs—ahhhhh, yes: good old Iran-contra Ronnie. Even so, the Reagan years were a boon for Carpenter's political-organizing skills. In 1981, Reagan's first year in office, Tim held a mock press conference at the headquarters of Rockwell International, the builder of the MX missile and the B-1 bomber. Santa Claus was there, too, making the announcement that a nuclear war could turn the North Pole into radioactive waste. It was a historic day. Both Tim and Saint Nick were arrested for protesting for the first time.

MAN IN SANTA CLAUS SUIT: Boo-yah! Boo-yah!

CALLAHAN: But within a year, Carpenter's life took a very dark turn. After he had an unpleasant-looking mole cauterized, Tim was informed that he had Stage 3, Level 4 cancer in his lymph glands. Months passed. By the third operation, nuns were praying and Native Americans were holding sweat-lodge ceremonies for him. A priest even gave Tim the last rites. It was Monsignor Sammon—the same priest who, 10 years earlier, had almost expelled him. Call it a miracle or call it . . . an unmiracle: when the surgeon cut into Tim, his cancer had disappeared.

["Carry On" resumes playing as the naked Greek-god-like golden representation of Tim appears through an operating-room door.]

CALLAHAN: Orange County should thank its sweet ass it has Tim Carpenter for a friend. Tim helped organize the cross-country Great Peace March in 1986. [Long shot of Tim walking in Barstow with David Mixner.] He fought to preserve Laguna Canyon [Tim with a hawk and a gnatcatcher on his shoulder] and founded Housing Now! [Tim lobbying for the homeless]. He is a core member of The Orange County Catholic Worker, providing food and clothing to the poor. [Tim serving turkey dinners.] He was a founder of Democrats for Peace Conversion and co-founder of the Orange County chapter of the Alliance for Survival. [Red, white and blue twirling fireworks are set aglow at the corners of the stage.] He helped organize the Orange County chapter of Families Against Three Strikes. [The naked, golden Tim floats holographically out from the video screen and does a series of double-tuck somersaults with half-twists above the audience.] Tim has two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree and teaching credentials in two states. [The hologram begins singing "Carry On" in a garbled computerized voice that vacillates between Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Britney Spears.] Tim fights for the poor and the dispossessed against all odds. This amazing man, this saint of Orange County, doesn't even have vision in his left eye—complications from his arthritis caused it to hemorrhage. There's stuff floating inside it like a Christmas snow dome.

[Thousands of white balloons are released from a net suspended above the audience. Callahan seems possessed.]

CALLAHAN: I'm not done yet. In 1998, within a year of accepting his first job teaching, Carpenter was preparing for class when he collapsed. During emergency surgery, doctors discovered that his colon had burst from a logjam in his intestines. They had to sew Tim a new asshole.

[The audience gasps and then begins to boo Callahan. Plates of the eggplant-pasta main-course picnic dinner are hurled at the video screen. "I didn't need to know that," someone yells.]

CALLAHAN: Tim now teaches history and government at Huntington Beach's Marina High School, where he was named rookie teacher of the year. [A drum cadence begins as the Marina High School marching band enters from stage left, joining C, S, N and Y and the naked, golden Tim in the chorus of "Carry On."] Tim married in 1991. In 1997, he and his wife, Barbara, had their first child, Sheila. They are expecting No. 2 at any moment.

[A cascade of fireworks erupts. Barely visible through the smoke, hologram and balloons, a video of Tim in his empty Marina classroom rolls.]

TIM CARPENTER: When I introduce kids to my class, I tell them that there are two things they're going to learn here. The first is how to survive in an academic setting in college. The second, more important thing is to learn the skills and ability to function in the real world and to find an issue that resonates and is meaningful to them—gun control, decriminalization of marijuana, education, the death penalty. Each one of them is going to get involved and make it a part of their life.

 

CALLAHAN: What a guy. Despite all his setbacks, Tim does more good on a bad day than most of us do in our prime. Orange County would be a far, far, far less groovy place without him. Tim, wherever you are, I love you. We love you.

MAN IN SANTA SUIT [standing up in the audience]: I love you, too, Nathan. I love you all.

[He rips off his beard. It's Tim Carpenter. The crowd begins cheering wildly. Chants of "Do the Tim, do the Tim!" roll across the floor. The lights go up, and the screen sinks like a white-hot sun behind the stage as the camera pans high over the applauding millions in their still-smoky evening clothes.]

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, to present the Tim Carpenter Award for Best Citizen, Mr. Tim Carpenter!

[From a camera in the wings, we see Tim from the back as he walks onto the immense stage, waving one hand at the cheering audience. They rise and cheer harder as he reaches the podium. Is this love? Adoration? It crescendos and then crashes over the stage like a wave of sonic affection. Mathews steps between Carpenter and the microphone and gestures for the audience to sit down. Silence.]

TIM: Thanks, Nathan. Thanks, Todd. Thanks to the Weekly. And thanks to you all. I'm deeply honored. I mean, you could have named this award after so many other people. Barbara Coe, who helped draft Proposition 187?

[Laughter.]

TIM: John Wayne? Bob Dornan? Harold Ezell?

[Laughter. Closeup of elderly couple —he shaking his head and clapping, she wiping tears of joy from her eyes.]

TIM: But really, all kidding aside, where else would a progressive activist want to live than Orange County? Where else would the tools of a political organizer be better-challenged? In the time I have been organizing on progressive issues, we've seen Bob Dornan join the ranks of the unemployed. We've seen the Weekly celebrate its fifth anniversary. Are these exciting times or what?

[Cheers of assent indicating that these are, indeed, exciting times.]

TIM: The list of finalists in the Weekly's Best Citizen category is very short, and I'd just like to point out that it could be supplemented by hundreds of other names. But these are, without a doubt, four people who have done much for Orange County, especially in the past year. The finalists are:

Deborah Muns-Park, an attorney with the LA-based firm of Sidley & Austin, handled the firm's pro bono work in Arthur Carmona's appeal case. You'll remember that Carmona's case was so strong it terrified the DA into releasing Carmona. Deborah Muns-Park is described by one associate as "a workaholic with a conscience." Which means she's not George Argyros, I guess.

[Much laughter. Muns-Park's photo spins onto one corner of the TV screen, followed by applause.]

TIM: Susie Newman is a Huntington Beach activist who is sometimes called the angriest homemaker in America. Newman is smart and dogged and was the Weekly's primary source in a series of investigations into Mayor Dave Garofalo.

[Newman, sitting in the front row, smiles. Applause. Her image spins onto another corner of the TV screen.]

TIM: Shirley Grindel is my good friend and a longtime good-government activist. She drafted the county's campaign-finance law and remains a terrific source for reporters and other activists trying to keep elected officials honest.

[Grindel smiles while an unidentified man next to her kisses her on the cheek. Much applause. Her picture spins onto the screen.]

TIM: Felix Schwarz, executive director of the Health Care Council of Orange County and one of the county's loudest, clearest voices on using tobacco-settlement money to fund public health services, not to pay off bankruptcy debt.

[Schwarz. Applause. Spinning picture.]

CARPENTER: And finally, Amin David, head of Latino civic organization Los Amigos. If Latinos are beginning to find their political voice in Orange County, one reason is my good friend Amin David.

[David. Applause. Picture.]

TIM: And the winner is . . .

[Tim fiddles with the envelope and appears stymied. He turns to Mathews for assistance.]

MATHEWS: I'll get my torch.

TIM: No, thanks.

[Nervous laughter. Carpenter tears at the envelope, removes a card, and reads it briefly—but long enough to create a twitching in the muscles of the finalists.]

TIM: The winner is . . . Shirley Grindel!

[Applause. Standing ovation. Wild cheering. Camera follows Grindel to the stage. Swaim comes onstage and hands her the trophy. She approaches the microphone.]

 

SHIRLEY Grindel: Thank you. Thank you. You know, in reflecting over the past 30 years as a resident of Orange County—what I used to refer to as "God's Country"—I am reminded of the dramatic changes. From thousands of acres of orange groves to wall-to-wall rooftops; from campaigns for county supervisor that cost no more than $l0,000 to the slick mail campaigns of today in which several hundred thousand dollars are spent; from a county known as "second only to Cook County in its political corruption" to a leader in the area of campaign-finance reform. But all is not perfect in this little corner of God's Country. If I had a genie's magic lamp, my wish list for Orange County would be: not one more house would be built; all undeveloped land would be purchased by the people to avoid more development. Elected officials would maintain the same degree of integrity and principles they claimed to have when they were running for office. No more "rush hour" traffic. Make the toll roads free. Marines should come back to El Toro and rid us of the divisive airport issue. Build an international airport between San Diego and Orange counties to serve the long-term airport needs of both. Get a new district attorney who is not afraid to prosecute political corruption cases. Convince the public they are better off with public funding of all campaigns than they are with all the special-interest money that gets special people elected to office—who then pass special laws for the benefit of the special interests that got them elected. My last wish?

[She pauses.]

GRINDEL: My last wish is that the genie would allow me three more wishes!

[Laughter. Applause.Fin.]

The festivities continue...


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