Bolinas? Baloney!

The effort of one small town to remain untouched by time has bred enmity and disaffection as surely as it has produced anything else

"It's always the same," Horvath says, flapping his pinkies and thumbs, bird wings, croaking. "They're like crows, circling around."

"Why is that?" I ask him. "Because they don't get out of town much?"
"They don't get out of town at all," Horvath says.
Indeed.

In Bolinas, I'm at lunch in the Shop, across from Smiley's, and a man I saw two days earlier on a wooden beach bench with a Budweiser at five minutes to 11 in the morning motions me to his table. "Come sit with us," Julian Fox calls out. "Or I'll come sit with you."

I sit with Julian. I order pea soup. The waitress who brings it has dyed her hair in a very complicated rainbow, many distinct sections of different colors. Julian says, "How is your article going?"

"It's OK," I say.
"I missed you yesterday," he says.
A moment of silence ensues.
"I think we're going to have to turn you into a whore," Julian says.

On the beach, midafternoon. Gary is 44; he has long white hair that's yellowing, like a horse's mane, as it falls down his back, and he's wearing a white T-shirt with an African freedom slogan on it and tan khaki shorts. He's barefoot and skinny, and his eyes, sunk deep in his head, are the same color as the sea, a kind of slate blue.

"American society is squeezing out the middle," Gary is saying, waving his hands out toward my shoulder, then back again. "What's going on here in Bolinas indicates in general what's happening in the American economy." He looks at me, pauses, and switches gears.

"Ellen," he says, "you're pretty neat."
"Thank you," I say.
"Can I have a kiss?" he asks.
"No," I say.
"A goodbye kiss?" he says.
"No," I say.

Horvath laughs, later, when I tell him this story, at lunch in Sausalito. He makes his hands do the crow dance, and whistles the sound that the birds make, through his teeth.

"We are at a crucial point. Will we be able to finish what we started? Can we finish what we started? Can we and the people of this town stay with a project all the way from the early groping, to the plans, through the red tape and building? Can the ideas become incarnate? Can the gears be meshed?" -- Orville Schell, The Town That Fought to Save Itself, 1976

That does seem to be the question, these 20 years later. Is it possible to finish what was started? Is there a way for Bolinas to become what it set out to be? And if not, what happened? Because when you think about it, if there ever were a place for utopia, a tiny little peninsula with an ocean and a mountain all its own has as good a shot as anywhere else to make it happen.

So I call Orville Schell to ask him: "Can we finish what we started?" I figure since he wrote the book, he might know the answer. But after I introduce myself as a newspaper reporter, there is a pause on the other end of the phone.

"I just don't want to talk about it," Schell says.
"But you wrote this whole entire book about it," I protest.
"It's just not what I'm thinking about or doing," Schell says.
Oh.

Then I call Schell's business partner, Bill Niman. Like Schell, Niman has his name listed on the masthead of the Bolinas Peninsula Community Plan; he was a member of the BCPUD board around the crucial water-moratorium time. Niman and Schell are now ranchers -- they raise the Niman-Schell beef that you see on tony restaurant menus. Niman gets on the line and says he just can't talk either. "We're involved in some controversial things around the community," he says, mysteriously.

As it turns out, 20 years after the revolution that Orville Schell and Bill Niman helped to foment, things have gone a little downhill between themselves and the townspeople they once frolicked happily among. It's not so much that the cattle they raise are hard on the environment, although bovines are quite notorious that way. The source of the current hard feelings, Paul Kayfetz says, is that a townswoman named Pat Angel wrote in the The Hearsay News that one of Niman's ranch hands shot her son's dog.

"It was quite poignant," Kayfetz says.
I call Niman to ask him about this, but he doesn't want to comment. Pat Angel picks up the phone when I call her house, but says "not interested" -- just like that -- when I ask her what happened with her dog.

"Will you tell me why you won't comment?" I ask.
"I don't want to turn my family's tragedy into a newspaper story," she says.
"But you put it in The Hearsay News," I say.
"That's just within our little village," she says.

Funny, I think, but nobody asked me for my residency card when I bought my copies of The Hearsay News. Must have been a slip-up of the old Bolinas Border Patrol. Somebody's in trouble now.

"Fine," I tell her. She hangs up the phone.
Yet it remains that, just within their little village, Niman and Schell don't have the revolutionary reputation they used to enjoy.

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