Chimney Sweep

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

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

The Urban Dictionary defines Mill Valley as “a town in Marin County, California, that served as the basis for the South Park episode 'SmugAlert!' The people there… are generally smug, spoiled recluses who live in tiny, 800-square-foot shacks for which they paid $1.2 million.”

The “generally complacent” people tend to make everyone else grumpy. Or so the story goes. If only life were that easy here. As one dinner host recently said, “I get grumpy at people who get grumpy when they hear about what happened to Mill Valley.”

Just look around and you might find an old-fashioned village with a small-town atmosphere and a big-hearted soul. Here's a potpourri of the real Mill Valley:

Terribly good

At the bend in the road where Molino Avenue meets Montford Avenue, you'll find artist and designer Ellen Mattesi's Halloween Valentine's Day gift. For the past eight years, Mattesi, an “inventor of fantasy environments,” has decorated her front yard with elaborate 3D bodies, torsoless arms and hands, skulls, teeth, skeletons, strange bones and a whole lot of clowns, including the giant evil clown with 12-inch-long teeth. Mattesi says, “All the other clowns have to constantly feed him body parts.”

Every year, people honk and wave, give a thumbs up or scream like the dead as they pull off Molino, a funnel for the crowds from Mount Tam and the beaches, as well as for the neighbors who live up the hill.

A few years ago, Mattesi injured her knee and couldn't put up her decorations. She apologized on social media. The neighbors didn't hesitate for a second: “Would you like to help put them up?” “I would help too. We've enjoyed our Halloween fun since we lived here…” Her teenage daughter stepped in and saved the holiday.

This 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, you can

One day last week, a lost bird flew into Scott Snyder's chimney in Tam Valley. Snyder and his wife could hear the helpless fluttering.

First they called a chimney sweep. “They said they didn't know anything about animals,” says Snyder, a data engineer, voice actor and animal lover. Then they called Marin Humane, which sent someone to search. “They thought it might be an owl.” The organization transports animals but doesn't release them from chimneys. So Snyder called WildCare. But they only receive and treat the animals. They don't release or transport them.

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

Within a few hours, a three-man team showed up. They climbed the steep roof of the Snyder. Removed the top of the stovepipe. Lowered a rope down the chimney. The bird climbed about halfway up the rope. Then it took to the skies. It wasn't an owl. “Probably a Florida 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, you can.

And he did.

Signs of optimism

The sign on the wall of Two Neat, a long-standing, funky art and dog gift shop downtown, reads: “Unsupervised children receive an espresso and a free puppy.”

One Friday afternoon, a group of middle school students walked in and told store owner Bob Bijou, “We're unsupervised 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 up. Soon, regular Mill Valley Fridays became Free Toffee Fridays for the original gang of “unsupervised” and their friends. Even if the taffy isn't free, Bijou says, it's a bargain. “Where else in Mill Valley can you get something for 10 cents?”

There are numerous notable signs:

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

• The sign at the Book Depot & Café reads: “I say a town is not a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but if it has no bookstore, it knows it is not fooling anyone.” (From Neil Gaiman's “American Gods”)

Make friends with the parks

Next Thursday night, November 2nd, there will be a fundraiser for Friends of Parks and Recreation from 6:30-11:00 p.m. at Sweetwater Music Hall. Tickets are $100 and include wine, beer, appetizers and rock music from Mustache Harbor. Sponsors include the Mill Valley Soccer Club and the Southern Marin Lacrosse Club.

Among the beneficiaries is the city's planned new skate park, a project by and for a savvy group of Mill Valley middle school students.

So, have a nice Mill Valley day.

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