Chimney Sweep

Smug and grumpy Mill Valley? Look once more – Marin Impartial Journal

Ellen Mattesi with her 3-D creation, “Evil Clown,” on Montford Avenue. (Photo by Mary Ann Hogan)

The Urban Dictionary defines Mill Valley as “a city in Marin County, California that was the basis for the South Park episode ‘SmugAlert!’ The people … are generally smug entitled hermits who live in tiny 837 sq ft shacks that they paid $1.2 million for.”

The “generally smug” people tend to make everyone else grumpy. Or so the story goes. If only life here were that simple. As a dinner host said recently: “I get grumpy about people who get grumpy over what’s happened to Mill Valley.”

Just look around and you may find an old-fashioned village with a small-town ethos and a big-hearted soul. Here’s a potpourri of Real Mill Valley:

Frightfully good

At the bend in the road where Molino Avenue T-bones with Montford, you’ll find artist and designer Ellen Mattesi’s Halloween Valentine to the world. For the past eight years, Mattesi, a “fantasy environment creator,” has adorned her front yard with elaborate 3-D bodies, torso-less arms and hands, skulls, teeth, skeletons, odd bones and a bunch of clowns, including the massive Evil Clown with footlong teeth. Says Mattesi: “All the other clowns have to keep feeding him body parts.”

Every year, people honk and wave, flash a thumbs up, or scream like banshees as they come off Molino, a funnel for hordes from Mount Tam and the beaches, as well as neighbors who live up the hill.

A few years back, Mattesi injured her knee and couldn’t create her display. She apologized on social media. Neighbors didn’t waste a second: “Would you like help putting them up?” “I’d help too. Have appreciated our Halloween fun since we’ve lived here … ” Her teenage daughter jumped in and saved the holiday.

That year, the mayor of Mill Valley left a business card with a note in Mattesi’s mailbox: “Thank you for bringing Halloween back to Mill Valley.”

Yes, they can

One day last week, a wayward bird made its way into Scott Snyder’s Tam Valley stovepipe chimney. Snyder and his wife could hear the hapless flapping.

First, they called a chimney sweep. “They said they didn’t deal with critters,” says Snyder, a data engineer, voice actor and critter lover. Then Marin Humane, which sent out someone to look. “They thought it might be an owl.” The group transports creatures, but doesn’t dislodge them from stovepipes. So Snyder called WildCare. But they only receive and treat. They don’t dislodge or transport.

Snyder asked neighbors for suggestions. Several offered help. One suggested Southern Marin Fire District, which covers Tam Valley. “It had just rained the night before,” says Snyder, “so I didn’t feel so bad.”

Within a couple of hours, a team of three showed up. They climbed up the steep Snyder roof. Removed the top of the stovepipe. Lowered a rope down the chimney. The bird clawed up the rope, about half way. Then it took flight. It wasn’t an owl. “Probably a scrub jay.”

Neighbors cheered on social media. “What a happy ending! … Cats in trees, birds in chimneys, our Southern Marin Firefighters can do it all!”

Yes, they can.

And did.

Signs of optimism

Says the sign on wall of Two Neat, a long-time funky art-and-dog-centric gift shop downtown: “Unattended children will be given an espresso & a free puppy.”

One Friday afternoon, a posse of middle-school boys came in and told shop owner Bob Bijou: “We’re unattended 12-year-olds. Can we have our free puppy?” Bijou gave them each a free piece of 10-cent taffy instead. The kids gobbled it down. Before long, regular Mill Valley Fridays became Free-taffy Friday, for the original gang of “unattended” and their friends. Even when the taffy’s not free, says Bijou, it’s a bargain. “Where else in Mill Valley can you get something for 10 cents?”

Notable signs abound:

• At the organic produce stand, corner of Shoreline Highway and Tennessee Valley Road, a roadside sign: “Peace, Love, and Pickles.”

• On the chalkboard sign at the Book Depot & Café: “What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookshop. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul.” (From Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.”)

Befriend the parks

At the Sweetwater Music Hall next Thursday night, Nov. 2, 6:30 to 11 p.m., there’s a fundraiser for Friends of Parks and Recreation. Tickets, at $100, include wine, beer, appetizers and rock music by Mustache Harbor. Sponsors include the Mill Valley Soccer Club and the Southern Marin Lacrosse Club.

Beneficiaries include the new city skate park-in-the-planning, an effort of, by, and for a savvy group of Mill Valley middle-schoolers.

So have a good-hearted Mill Valley day.

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