20 Years Ago – A Wick(ed) Loss

RandyIt’s hard to believe that 20 years ago today we lost our treasured friend and editorial cartoonist, Randy Wicks. Say what you will about Saturday Night Live having a field day with politics and the humor promised by the upcoming election, Randy’s simple drawings of the circus around us brought home the irony, the reality and sometimes the comedy of politics.

Can you just imagine what he’d be drawing now? He’d need to be published three times a day, seven days a week to get them all out.

Only 41 when he abruptly shuffled off this mortal coil, Randy was a local hero who touched the hearts and minds of so many people, especially those of us who worked with him at The Signal. He knew exactly how to zing – gently when appropriate – those whose deeds were questionable or frustrating or just plain ridiculous.

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He brought us the heartbreak of starving children in Africa, a look at gun worshipers, the dangers of our own prejudices and the resilience of our community in a crisis, along with a plethora of other local and national issues, depicted perfectly with his “poison pen.”

 

 

RWGunsThere wasn’t a situation that escaped his attention. He skewered Presidents and Councilmembers alike, was an observer of local politics and a visitor to the Oval Office and he loved without bounds his beloved Santa Clarita Valley.

A Distinguished Alumni of CalArts, over the 15-plus years that he spent here, his talents were evident in floats he designed for the Fourth of July parade (there was a paper mache Statue of Liberty in the newspaper’s pressroom for a long time, a bit beaten and worn from riding in the back of someone’s pickup truck a few Independence Days prior) and in the countless flyers and programs graced with his quirky and character-driven drawings.

RWRentersHe designed logos for nonprofit organizations, personal friends and the City of Santa Clarita. His was the first Pride Week design, the first River Rally T-shirt, the popular Signal Newshound. He traveled to charity luncheons and school assemblies and gave tours of the newsroom and production area, always bringing along a newsprint pad and Sharpie for on-the-spot creativity.
                           

Sometimes he even drew his co-workers when things were slow. (It’s the most treasured piece of art in my office.)

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His office walls were covered with awards from the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, the National Cartoonists Society, the National Newspaper Association, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. I’m convinced the lack of a Pulitzer is only because he left us far too soon.

There wasn’t a kid he didn’t have time for during his visits and tours, or a community leader who didn’t appreciate his contributions (auctions always featured some of his original works) or his political nudges. Randy’s whole purpose in life was to make people think, even if it pissed them off.

No wonder we had to hold his memorial in the gallery at CalArts. The front walk to the Signal was covered in candles and flowers and tributes to this fine young friend to all. The funeral was packed, several speakers, hundreds of tributes from those he touched with his rapier wit and soothed with his compassion. And all for a kid from Iowa who always credited his parents for letting him “follow his cartoon dreams.”

RWApartTogetherThere was a fundraiser shortly after his passing to support a special collection of his cartoons, books that catalogued and contained his published work so that future generations could enjoy them. There was also artwork framed that hung for a while in the Valencia Library, a tribute to Randy’s support of the Friends of the Library. Somewhere in the transition from County to City, those all disappeared, and with them, the memory of Randy’s work and his contributions to our community is beginning to fade as new generations fill our classrooms and libraries. (He would have been thrilled with the Old Town Newhall Library and its homage to history).

The SCV Press Club was also formed in his memory with the purpose of raising scholarship money for students studying First Amendment courses such as journalism. Haven’t heard much of that lately. I’m sure he would have been amused at many of the previous years’ honorees. He and Ruth Newhall are probably still chuckling at her christening of one of the awards the “Ass Kisser Award.” I know someone who is proud to have won it more than once.

Randy would find that funny. And his body-convulsing laugh always made all of us smile, no matter how dangerously close deadline loomed.

A lot has happened in the last two decades. I’m determined to make sure we never forget the Wicked Wicks of the West. Here’s to the memory of a friend whose take on life made the ‘80s and ‘90s a lot more tolerable, brushed with his insights and humor.

I’ll be raising a glass in his honor today. Won’t you join me? Randy was a funny old raccoon that we miss dearly.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

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Taking a trip to Who Knew Me When

keep-calm-and-go-on-a-road-trip-1So I’m hitting the road this week. Me and my Mazda, Pandora on my phone, lots of coffee and water and a protein-heavy lunchbox so I can resist those nasty road snacks. (Hmm. That would make a great band name – “Appearing tonight for one night only, the Nasty Road Snacks!!!”)

But I digress.

I love road trips. When I was dating my enamorada, whose parents lived in SoCal, I thought nothing of throwing a few things in the car and heading down the 5 for the weekend. It was a quick trip from San Jose to Newhall. Had Sunday afternoon return timed perfectly, if I left by 2, I was back in NoCal in time for dinner.

Then came life/marriage/kids and that ultimate closing act, responsibility.

Life is pretty good now and the marriage is running swimmingly after 40 years (yes, he deserves a medal). Kids have spread out – Sacramento, Anaheim and Virginia. Most days, it’s just the sweetie and me and our two fur kids, 170 pounds of pit bull snuggles around the house.

So it’s a travel day, heading north to Tracy and Manteca, which are kind of near the Bay Area. Not close enough to hit The City, but that’s not why I’m going. I’m not a tourist this time.

The 5 to me is a road filled with familiar landmarks. I’m leaving really early, planning breakfast at Harris Ranch and ending up in the land of the Giants (3 World Series titles in five years, just sayin’) around lunch-thirty.

imagesI’m going to visit two women who have more dirt on me than the huzzbee himself; women who knew me when, before kids, before LAPD, before NBC, before journalism and community volunteering and politics.

They remember the rough clay when it was thrown on the wheel of learning. When I was an ardent, unquestioning supporter of what we now call a questionable conflict; when I worked for an underdog Republican challenger to a juggernaut Congressman (yes, he lost), then moved on to work on the Nixon campaign (we all know how that ended….)

Together, we learned to dance, gave each other noogies, protested pollution, held farting contests, sang ditties about janitors, anguished over having a date for the prom, studied, complained about and had crushes on teachers, athletes, and  played baseball in the intersection. We cruised down the street where two of our crushes (students, not teachers) lived in the hopes of seeing them outside, knowing we’d just die if we did.

Image-1The friend I’ve know the longest was deemed a little too risky by my mom and I wasn’t allowed to go away for the weekend with her family, but the other my parents got to know better and mom was more comfortable with. I loved them both.

Both held my secrets, laughed with me at my awkwardness and inconsistencies and all three of us proudly walked out of Washington High School in 1971 with diplomas. I threw daisies over my shoulder as I walked to the stage, which might not surprise people who know me now. But then, I was a rebel.

images-2One of them used to hit the road with me, throwing a sleeping bag in the back of the car and pulling over to the side of the road to sleep under the stars. Yes. We know we were idiots. Thank God for park rangers who kept an eye out for us.

I introduced one of them to her future husband and I was a bridesmaid at their wedding. She chose yellow for my dress in a semi-flattering cut. I still have the dress. They’re still married, and from the pictures and postings on Facebook, it looks like the years have treated them well.

The other started college at San Jose State with me, then her father died suddenly and life turned upside down. Her father’s funeral was the first I ever attended – I had to ask my parents what to do and say. I would deal with the same loss a few years later and I realized it doesn’t matter what your friends say, knowing they love you enough to show up to help you cope with the loss is everything.

I don’t remember the circumstances of her first wedding, but I remember the second one was so much better. They are still married, although that bastard Alzheimer’s is robbing her of his companionship. I see the resilience and strength that she’s always had when we chat online.

images-1That’s part of the reason I decided to make good on the promises I would make when we’d touch base – “We need to get together soon,” “I’m going to try and make it up there sometime this year,” “Gosh, life got busy and time got away from me” were easy to type, but something clicked lately, something that reminded me that life is short, there are far more people that love you out there and we need to make good on those promises. To say I’m excited is a huge understatement.

There will be much laughter, some tears, lots of “holy cow, I forgot about that!” and “Geez, we’re getting old” over the next few days. Like I said, these girls hold the secrets. There is no pretense with them; they know the real me under the smoke and mirrors, and I can’t wait to be reminded.

My point – have that lunch with a friend you’ve been trying to see. Even if you just meet at the Bucks for a cuppa, catch up. Don’t wait until they’re sick or moving or worse. Remind yourselves how good life is and how much you love and are loved.

But now, you’ll have to excuse me. The road is calling and it’s an old familiar song.

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Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Ignore them and they’ll go away – or will they?

Visitors from Kansas were given a friendly NIMBY greeting Sunday morning
Visitors from Kansas were given a friendly NIMBY greeting Sunday morning

Does a tree still fall in the forest if there’s no one there to hear it?

Logic tells us that it does, but the skeptics would like us to consider otherwise.

Last Sunday, a small contingent from the Westboro Baptist Church, which is famous for promoting hate, homophobia and opinions that usually shock people’s senses, visited our town on their way to the Oscars. They stopped at four churches, where they intended to proselytize to the attendees as they left their respective houses of worship.

Upon hearing the news that they were coming, several local residents decided to greet them and counter the Westboro message with one of love and tolerance.

By various accounts, there were six people from Westboro and 200 locals.

That is a lot of love. No incidents were reported and I saw only one mention of the Westboroians making it to Hollywood and Highland on a prominent website.

We struggle with that fine line between reporting the news and rewarding bad behavior. One of the newsroom fights of my career included a discussion of whether or not we would cover the Westboro folks when they were rumored to be enroute to the funeral of a fallen local soldier. I said we should cover them if an incident occurred, management was of the opposing opinion, wanting nothing to appear about them at all.

In other words, don’t reward their offensive nature, it’s only a way to give them the attention they crave.

I reluctantly agreed, reserving the right to report if one of them threw a punch. Fortunately, that never happened. In my recollection, they didn’t even show.

A few days after the recent love fest in the church parking lots, someone posted online about “Passages,” a traveling exhibit from the Museum of the Bible that features the Green Collection of biblical artifacts, which is owned by the founding family of Hobby Lobby, that will open in April in the abandoned Orchard Supply Hardware space that Hobby Lobby will take over some time in 2017. The conversation was spirited, as emotions in the community are mixed about the controversial craft store, which was singled out by the US Supreme Court for its stance on employer-supported birth control.

In other words, there was a little hate in the mix.

We protest intolerance, yet practice it in online forums. Is the keyboard mightier than the picket sign? More importantly, has this replaced sitting around the kitchen table, face to face, and working out differences that can be resolved?

Speaking of protests, remember when Albertsons closed their market on Lyons Avenue in 2005 and Vallarta Markets moved in? Nearly 100 angry villagers – neighbors surrounding the shopping center at Old Orchard Road – filled the City Council chambers to protest Vallarta’s opening, contending that it didn’t “fit in” with the community. I got calls from people who told me that drug dealers and (gasp!) THOSE PEOPLE (Hispanics? Mexicans? People who liked to cook and appreciated a wide selection of fresh foods?) would overrun the center and surrounding apartment complexes and neighborhoods, surely causing property values to plummet. It was one of the ugliest displays of racism since Signal publisher Scott Newhall faced down the Ku Klux Klan in Saugus back in 1966.

Conventional knowledge says that if we ignore something, it might go away. Operative word: might. Another theory is to keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. That’s the same logic that gives us pause when we’re tempted to unfriend or block someone on our social media pages, because we might miss something that we want to react to later. I believe it’s also referred to as one step away from stalking, but that’s another blog.

The good news is that in our crazy quilt of community, there are people willing to stand up and offer the best they have to give – love and tolerance – in the face of adversity, whether they are a group on Facebook or a sea captain who would not let the bastards keep him down. The Westboroians left, Passages will be open to all, a second Vallarta opened in our city just this week (the parking lot was packed, as it has been in Newhall for the last 10 years, by customers of all races, ages and creeds) and people have the freedom to spend their money at a craft store the size of an aircraft carrier – or not. Their choice.

Remember that.