San Diego characters I met in 1979

Ruth Norman, Clint Gary, Harold Gee

People who live back East like to say smugly that their part of the country is saner than ours because all the unbalanced people tend to follow the pull of gravity into Southern California. This, of course, is one of the less scientific reasons for San Diego's wide cross-section of inhabitants, but still we can't dispute the fact we have more than our fair share of, er, rugged individualists. No matter what you think of them, they contribute as much as anyone to our unique cultural heritage. For example:

Jack Johnson, the Squirrel Man of Balboa Park: Johnson began caring for and feeding the dwindling population of squirrels in the park in 1975 when he realized they were nearly starving to death. He now feeds them every day, and has named and can identify each of them. (He also considers himself to be their protector, a role that this year led to his being charged with misdemeanor battery against a dog owner whose pet, Johnson thought, was threatening the squirrels.) He has increased their fold from thirty-one to 153 at last count.

Mary Bryan, the sixty-year-old "lost" woman who hitchhikes for Christ. Bryan is being sought by California to sign important family documents, but dropped out of sight years ago to care for the elderly and evangelize in the towns she traveled to by thumb. She was recently interviewed by a local paper. but has since fled city and was last seen hitching a ride near the Interstate 8 freeway in Ocean Beach.

Howard Moon, newspaper publisher: Moon, the fictional creation of North County artist Bob Ingraham, this year put out the irreverent humor paper It's News To Me, a journal that gently mocks the city of Escondido while giving the citizenry a chance to laugh to themselves (which, according to Ingraham, is pretty easy to do). Sample stories included: "Poway Disappears," "Beetles Reunite for Palomar Concert," and "(Scientists Say) Escondidans Stupider Than Most."

Betty Blair, owner of the Royal Suite beauty salon in La Mesa: Blair, not sure whether her customers want their hair rinsed or their brain washed, hired psychic Norman Armin last summer to give mind readings while the patrons are being made more lovely. Blair reports an enthusiastic response.

James Edward Smith, Del Mar's mysterious milllonarre: Smith, forty-seven, has thirteen Cadillacs and dozens of hospital beds scattered around his hilltop estate, has another air-conditioned Cadillac in which his Dobermans live when in Las Vegas, and allegedly held off Del Mar fire officials with a gun when they wanted to enter his estate to put out a fire. A feature story last September in the local edition of the Los Angeles Times gave a rare glimpse into the lifestyle of this rich recluse, who 'has been a San Diego character for seven years.

Ruth Norman, earth leader of the Unarius Socety: Norman runs her society from a storefront office in EI Cajon, and is dedicated to maintaining contact with the extraterrestrial Space Brothers. The wealthy Norman purchased forty acres of open land near Jamul several years ago so the Space Brothers would have someplace to land their interplanetary vehicles. At last report, Norman was still waiting.

Clint Cary, the space man of Ocean Beach: Cary has renewed his UFO bulletins he began ten years ago. "I've got a flash," Cary said recently. "On my birthday, two UFOs came into Ocean Beach. Seventy-five people saw them. They were in color and we have their voices on tape. They'll be back any time. I'll let you know when they're coming." Clint, meet Ruth Norman.

Douglas Wargo, the patriotic prankster: Wargo, writing under the nom de plume Thomas M. Kozel (actually the real name of one of Wargo's friends), sent a letter published in the Evening-Tribune last November condemning America and saying he would like to go to Iran if only someone would give him the price of a one-way ticket. The letter elicited several virulent responses as well as at least one contribution to the nonexistent Kozel Escape Fund. The real-life brother of Kozel, whose name and number are listed in the phone directory, received several threats of violence. Wargo later apologized for using Kozel's name without permission, but justified it by saying the reactions to the letter proved that San Diego "still has the good old fighting American spirit."

Deputy City Marshall Douglas K. Smith, sore loser and wise guy: Smith, forced this month to pay off a losing bet that fellow deputy Arthur Specht couldn't quit smoking, delivered the hundred-dollar payment like so: ten dollars in pennies embedded in a large tub of peanut butter, and 9000 pennies individually wrapped in foil and mixed into a thirty-gallon trashcan full of popcorn.

Harold Gee, punk-rock concert promoter and publisher of The Rent Paper: Gee has come into prominence this year with his dubious concert enterprises and his eerie resemblance to Elvis Costello. Gee's latest endeavor has been his one-sheet, mimeographed newsletter explaining how he paid the rent in past months, and which he sells to passers-by on the street and at concerts for a one-dollar donation. Copies are limited to fifty per issue, because his rent is only fifty dollars per month. "Hey," he said at a recent performance of the Dinettes , "I mean, I'm not trying to make a profit off this or anything."

Roman Crystal, the Californiazation man: This half-Italian, half-Danish native of Copenhagen began offering one of the year's most unusual courses — How to Become a Californian. Realizing that many new residents of the state feel out of place in the unique milieu of California, Crystal started a formal organization for dispensing tips on how to look and act like a coastal Beautiful Person. Included in the course are lessons on attire (cut-offs must have slits at the seams "so you..look sexy".

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