Mendocino, CA. July 17, 2017 — It had all the trappings of the shopworn and thread-bare 1980-something NBC-TV mellow-drama “Murder, She Wrote.” Strange stuff indeed. The only reason that the old bird has any wings at all in these parts is that it was set at our lovely and authentic Hill House here in Mendocino-town.
Our modern day mystery had all the elements of the now largely — and thankfully — forgotten 80's curiosity-piece and Angela Lansbury vehicle. There was the crime scene: In this case a steamy portrait emblazoned across one of the most easily visible and recognizable eateries in Mendocino-town, the Mendocino Cafe, located on Lansing Street. The Cafe, and associated mural, have what some around here consider to be one of the fairest views of seacoast anywhere in the world.
And there have been many happenings, most peculiar indeed.
Consider the alleged appearance of a shadowy, lurking figure, furtively taking notes about the crime scene and then mysteriously vanishing.
There have been conspiracies alleged – and publicly voiced on the “list-serve” the local intranet “Craigslist Jr.” These theories have been espoused for days now.
Is there any voice of reasoned inquiry in all of this zaniness? Anyone? Who indeed? We know very well who, and what: it is your faithful correspondent and the intrepid Anderson Valley Advertiser.
To this task we applied our vast analytical skills and went straight to the source: Meredith Smith, 31-year proprietress of the Mendocino Cafe. (Full disclosure: while backgrounding this story I ordered and paid full price for a most delicious Vietnamese salad, nicely finished with local organic cilantro sprigs.)
Ms. Smith related a brief overview of her “project” – a fifteen-plus year history of collaborating with local artist Karl Roth on an original mural that is created and presented to the community every July 4th, on the morning of the famous Mendocino-town July 4 parade and procession.
She said that each year she provides Karl with her idea for the message of the Mural and he has sole discretion to design the art elements. This year was no exception . But this year was different in one important regard. It was a homecoming for Karl, who had been out of county for five years, back in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Thus there had been a gap in the murals. The murals went on hiatus.
The vacay ended this year. Karl was back in town. As in past years Meredith provided KGGarl with very specific instructions on content, and he designed the artwork. Those elements are:
• A portrait of Michelle Obama giving voice to her “When they go low...we go high” quip, now famous as a rallying cry against political bullies, and
• a Rainbow flag, who most observers interviewed at random at the mural site associated with the LGBT movement and flag.
The reaction to the dramatic unveiling of the mural on Independence day was typical of every year a mural has been put up, according to Meredith — nearly unanimous positivity. But there was at least one other difference this year — the sudden appearance of a uniformed figure: alleged by many, whispered about electronically for days now, but until this reporting, never confirmed by eyewitness account.
Enter Ivan, Miss Meredith's imposing son, who runs the front of the house, as it were. He was there the day the mysterious visitor is alleged to have appeared. Indeed it is Ivan who is one of two known eyewitnesses to this uniformed-man's actual appearance, the other being a waiter at the restaurant who went to fetch Ivan upon the visitor's request.
When Ivan made his way forward to the desk of the restaurant he encountered a man in a dark tan uniform with a badge that read “Code Enforcement.” But Ivan was not able to see any information that would have enabled identification of the agency or jurisdiction. And he did not question the man. What Ivan did do was listen while the uniformed man told him that the sign had to go and that the cafe had a week to comply. Ivan went to get his mother Meredith, the owner of the restaurant, but by the time they returned to the Cafe front desk areas the agent had vanished, into the Mendocino-town vapors, as it were.
Meredith said she fully intends, as she does every year that she paints the mural, to be ordered by the venerable Mendocino Historical Review Board (or MHRB, as the locals imaginatively call it) to paint over and “plain-wall” the mural. Because she is fully aware that the mural violates the zoning provisions of the Review Board guidelines. Among many other things, these generally prohibit signs of any type in the Historical District.
Meredith said she is not aware of any particular hackles raised by this year's mural, though she has responded to comments on the list-serve. A random sample of visitors interviewed reported no adverse comment, and in fact elicited several expressions of solidarity with Mrs. Obama's sentiments.
Other locals are not so sure. An anonymous poster to the internet:
“This is what happens when you live in a bubble called Mendoland and lose sight of what real struggle and real oppression is about. All this hysteria (sorry, but that's what it is) is based on an alleged appearance — and then disappearance — of some mysterious figure in uniform. In the wake of that allegation, all sorts of accusations from bullying to conspiracy to even racism have ensued. Along the way, every time a voice of reason and clarification has chimed-in, they have been ignored and...”
One person interviewed for this story is a 25-year resident of the historical district proper and operator of a highly successful business well known to everyone in this small town. So naturally she wishes to remain anonymous. But her comments are perhaps an appropriate closing act for our little drama:
“One interesting thing is that someone said they doubted you could find five people that would publicly identify themselves as Trump voters in this town. I know you could because I have met many of them, and there are many more in Fort Bragg. But if you ask me, the whole thing (the controversy – if any – surrounding the mural) is a joke.”