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First Person:

Remembering Mom, honoring the Boom

April 24, 2009|By John Keitel

It worked. Over the weeks that turned into months I found myself rediscovering Laguna. People I had somehow missed my first time around were eager to share their own Boom histories with the audience my camera promised. And places I had been countless times before offered up new surprises.

Nestled on the bluff below the Boom, The Garden of Peace & Love had been there the whole time. I must have passed it a million times on my way to the beach at the foot of Mountain Avenue. But the vagaries of youth blinded me to a lot of things, and the garden was one of them.

Founded by Michele Martinay in the 1980s, it began as an impromptu AIDS memorial. With the ocean surf crashing just beneath it and under the watchful care of Michele, it evolved into a hallowed ground where all Lagunans could memorialize loved ones of any stripe. I realized that my film was no longer just about a bar but about a history and the community that history had launched and nurtured.


It was also inexplicably and inescapably about Mom. The pine box where she resided had become an interesting if macabre conversation piece back home in L.A.

Ironically, her only request had been that she not end up in my closet. For more than eight years, I had been looking for an answer to a question I had been unwilling to ask. In saving the Boom, I found my answer.

With the bar and dance floor already shuttered for months above us, my siblings and I gathered at the foot of Mountain with our mom one last time. We added her name to those that had come before, painted on rocks and etched in wood, and gave her the ocean view she had always wanted.

As the breeze carried her away, I caught a glimpse of the boy that I had been. I wondered if he had become the man she had intended. I wondered if Laguna was still the town it wanted to be.

JOHN KEITEL has two films screening at the Newport Beach Film Festival. His “Saving the Boom” screens at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Edwards Island 2. “Prodigal Sons” screens at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Edwards Island 4.

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