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The Grandma institution: Grandma Chung cooks her way from Korea to Durango

Grandma Chung peeks out from behind the deli at Durango Natural Foods. Throughout the years, Grandma has shared good food and good health from locations all over Durango. /Photo by Stephen Eginoire

Originally published in the Durango Telegraph on May 19, 2010

Food means more to Grandma Chung than it does to most. For Chung, selling food became a survival tactic during the Korean War, then it became her piece of the American dream, and now, making and selling food is what keeps her healthy, alert and alive.

“I love it,” says Chung from behind her shiny marble countertop in her home east of town.

Chung’s home is modest, but her kitchen is as nice as they come. An expensive stove and refrigerator, a special room for all her pots and pans, lots of cabinets and a big lazy Susan – when Chung is in her kitchen, she’s at her best.

In her somewhat broken English, Chung continues to explain why she spends most of her time with a pot or pan in hand. “Nothing else to do,” she says straightforwardly, a reference to her empty nest, which was once filled with five kids and a husband who’s since passed away.  “Clean up the kitchen. I stay all day in the kitchen, you know. All the time I cook. I just love to cook. I look at the TV show, at the cooking show, and I say, ‘Oh, that’s junky.’”

Grandma Chung scrunches up her nose in disgust at the very mention of things like butter.

Chung’s food is healthy – that’s one thing most who’ve laid lips on her culinary creations can agree upon – and her cooking technique is both basic and experimental. Necessary ingredients for the feisty old chef include fresh vegetables, tofu, ginger, a tiny bit of olive oil and a whole lot of garlic. Her experimenting can be seen in things like her Southwest-meets-East Green Chili Tofu or her reliance on new-age ingredients like agave nectar and wheat-free soy sauce.

“I know what I need to make healthy people,” says Chung, who, despite her short stature, yields respect due to her confidence and uncanny ability to say exactly what’s on her mind at any given time. “Ginger is good for, you know. Garlic is good for. You look at American people, their food, and they have all this butter and sour cream and all this kind of stuff, you know. I just don’t like that – living that way.”

Over the years, Grandma Chung, whose given name is Hwa ja Chung, has become a well-known figure in the Durango community. Lots of people know her from her days as the owner of Grandma Chung’s restaurant on Main Avenue. More people know her from her time spent in the deli of Nature’s Oasis, and others know Chung from when she briefly owned an Asian market and deli near Fort Lewis College.

These days, Chung can be found behind the small deli case of Durango Natural Foods (DNF) a couple days a week, cooking her specialty stir-fries, putting together her spring rolls with homemade peanut sauce and doling out her kimchi, which she will sternly tell you is the secret to long life and wintertime health.

“She’s a very nice person,” says Ben Trufanow, a former board member at DNF and a lifetime member of the cooperative, “and she’s quirky. She’s always straight, and I wouldn’t want to get on her wrong side. I remember when she had the restaurant on Main she’d be in the back cooking and she’d only come out if something wasn’t right and she’d straighten it out right away … She’s an institution. Durango’s so lucky to have her, and I wish I’d see her more here at DNF.”

Chung is 78, but you’d never know it by looking at her. She says her own health and longevity are tied directly to the food she eats. While touting the benefits of eating natural foods, she shuffles off to another side of her kitchen and brings back two jars, one filled with dried pinto beans and the other filled with dried fruit.

“This, I eat,” she says, offering up a sample. “Very simple.”

Chung got her first job at the age of 14 at a sewing factory making children’s clothes. She quit at 16 and took a job at a suit-making factory, where she says she was treated like a slave. “It was pretty hard,” recalls Chung.Grandma Chung says she learned how to cook the hard way – by relying on limited resources in a war-torn country and doing what she had to do to feed herself and her two young children. Chung was born in North Korea to a family with a dozen siblings. Her mother died when she was young, right when things were getting bad in the north, so she was secretly sent to Seoul, South Korea, to live with an aunt. Chung lost touch with her family, and, to this day, has yet to reconnect with any of her brothers and sisters.

When the Korean War hit, Chung was just a teenager. She was pregnant with her first child and sent to a refugee camp outside of the city. “We had to get out of Seoul city,” says Chung, “so I walked. I don’t know how many miles I walked; I just walked and walked.”

Chung had her first child in that camp and, soon after, in the middle of winter, was told to walk back to Seoul. She returned to a city in a state of total destruction and devastation.

“So many people dead,” Chung says. “So many people I see. Everywhere – just so many.”

Chung eventually got pregnant with another child, and to make ends meet, she started a food stand in the front of the house where she was staying. “I sell the pancake,” says Chung. “Make the pancake and sell for 10 cents or 20 cents.”

It was then that Chung started memorizing recipes, using simple ingredients and relying on hand measurements, which she still does today.

Life changed dramatically when Chung met a young American soldier by the name of Jerry Dickenson. After just a few months of arranging paperwork and working on getting a marriage certificate, Dickenson returned to South Korea to bring back his new bride.

Chung’s experience in the United States, though, wasn’t much easier than it had been in Korea. Dickenson got shipped back overseas, experienced hardships of his own, and Chung was on her own again, only now she had five kids to feed.

“So,” explains Chung, “all by myself, I tried to survive here. (The kids were) doing really good. They go to school all by themselves. I worked 80 hours a week and tried to help them as much as I can. Life is hell, but I don’t want to use food stamps. Five kids, myself raised, and look now – I have a house. I worked so hard.”

To put food on the table, Chung took another factory job at Ampex, an electronics company in Colorado Springs. After 24 years, when the kids were grown, she retired. A shoddy-looking clock – a retirement gift from Ampex – hangs on her living-room wall.

That first retirement didn’t last long. One of Grandma Chung’s sons, Jerry Dickenson Jr., convinced her to move to Durango and open her own restaurant. She did just that, and for three of the eight years she ran it, she lived downstairs.

“I stayed there,” says Chung, “downstairs. I had one mattress. The money (I saved), that’s what built the house, all this.” Grandma Chung motions toward her beautiful kitchen and pounds her fist down on the countertops with genuine pride. She then goes out to the garage and retrieves two bottles of Grandma Chung-labeled garlic sauce and peanut sauce and explains that she is now selling her secret sauces in markets throughout Durango.

“I always good at that stuff,” says Chung, “using my brain.

“Right now I’m pretty happy,” continues Chung, “but I want to win the lotto. Give to poor people. Give to my kids. I don’t want to take the money with me, you know. But for now, (I’m) still cooking. That’s all I know, you know. That’s all I know.” •

The Politics of Planting

Life on an organic farm isn’t as peaceful as you think

By Kinsee Morlan, originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 11/15/2006

Barry Logan starts most of his days at 6 a.m. with a cup of organic, fair-trade coffee mixed with a splash of fresh goat’s milk. With KPFA-FM, a liberal free-speech radio station based in Berkeley, streaming loudly from his laptop sitting nearby, he sips his coffee and plans his day. The sole owner of La Milpa Organica, a 20-acre organic farm in Escondido, Logan has a lot to do between sunup and sundown-and he’s got even more on his mind.

On a recent fall morning, Logan’s first after-coffee task was payroll. As he clipped together stacks of cash to pay his two apprentices and six field hands who help run things, he broke down the basic economics of La Milpa.

“Little farms are really expensive to run,” explained Logan, 51, a compact man who wears his hair in two long braids that frame his face. “Water’s expensive, maintaining the equipment is expensive, seeds are expensive, labor’s about half my cost, insurance on all the vehicles is expensive, and gasoline is outrageous with me driving six days a week to farmers’ markets and restaurant deliveries.”

A former computer programmer who got so fed up with mainstream America that he once shot-literally shot with a gun-his television set, Logan is fully committed to a life of grassroots activism and counterculture living (not to mention a life without TV). He’s a vocal critic of the so-called Green Revolution, the increase in agricultural production by use of new technologies like pesticides, fertilizer and mechanization that began in the 1940s, and has decided to absorb the extra costs and work that comes with operating a 100-percent-or as close to 100 percent as he can get-organic farm.

If you ask Logan about the meaning of the term “organic,” he’ll refuse to give you a straightforward answer. He agrees, somewhat, with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program standards, a dizzying list of requirements and regulations put in place in 2002 that includes ecologically based practices, an emphasis on sustainability and the ban of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers-but he says the standards fall short.

“They don’t talk about process,” Logan said. “It doesn’t talk about your relationship with the land.

“One of the things about organic growing,” Logan continued, “we don’t feed the plants; we feed the soil.”

That means chemicals like Miracle-Gro are a no-no. Instead, Logan and his crew rely on traditional farming practices. They rotate the crops, use chickens and beneficial bugs (like ladybugs) to help combat aphid and other insect infestations, collect compost and rock dust to use as fertilizer and-as Logan’s dirty jeans and cracked hands demonstrate-they get down on their hands and knees and pull weeds one by one. “Organic is the hard way to do things,” said Logan.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way. Logan says communities need small farms like La Milpa so people can know exactly where their food is coming from.

“The stuff you get at Vons,” Logan said, “we call that old food from far away.” He crouched down and grasped a bright purple eggplant growing on a vine in front of him. “Look at the color of this guy-now, see, these are really alive. What you find is that the quality imbedded in this living food, when you eat it you get the benefit of that, and the further it travels away from the plant, it diminishes, it diminishes, it diminishes….”

Logan has company. According to the USDA, certified organic cropland for grains, fruits, vegetables and other crops more than doubled from 1992 to 1997, then doubled again for many crops between 1997 and 2003. A report released this year by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), one of the largest and oldest USDA-accredited organic certifying agents in the state, says the number of organic farms in California is growing by approximately 100 new producers and processors a year. Louis Christie, the local CCOF regional service representative, estimates the current number of certified organic farms in San Diego County at 150. “But that number’s growing because a lot of people are transitioning,” said Christie. “It’s a hard number to keep track of.”

But while the organic market keeps growing-especially for vegetables and fruits-and places like Wal-Mart continue adding organic-labeled foods to their grocery aisles, the overall adoption level remains low. According to the USDA, less than half of 1 percent of all U.S. cropland was certified organic in 2003.

There’s another trend in U.S. agriculture that may be helping keep that number low. While some farmers are going organic, others are turning to biotechnology. More and more U.S. farms are growing crops with altered genetic material, Genetically Modified Organisms, known as GMOs or transgenic crops.

The U.S. is the largest producer of transgenic crops in the world. A high percentage of all U.S. crops of cotton, soybeans and corn are transgenic-according to the USDA, 85 percent of U.S. soybean acreage in 2004 was transgenic.

Logan cringes at the mention of transgenic crops. Earlier this month, he hosted the Zapatista Corn Harvest Festival, a fundraising event sponsored by local nonprofit Schools for Chiapas, to raise money for a program that supplies GMO test kits to the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico. Logan is among those who say the traditional maize (corn) seeds in Chiapas and other parts of Mexico are getting mixed in with the United States’ transgenic corn, which is not only illegal-the planting of transgenic crops has been banned in Mexico since 1998-but has vast cultural implications. About a third of the indigenous people of Chiapas are of Maya descent, and because of Maya mythology, they consider themselves “The People of the Corn.”

Logan stood in front of a small patch of Chiapas corn planted on La Milpa as a symbol of his support. While a row of small black ants marched across the brim of his faded mint green baseball cap, he decried the spread of transgenic crops. “It’s not only scary,” said Logan, “it’s sacrilege.”

Whether or not transgenic crops are mixing with traditional Mexican maize is still up for debate. A controversial study published in the science journal Nature in 2001 found traces of transgenic corn in Mexican maize but was later retracted by the journal, which stated that “the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper.” Another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year found that “transgenic maize seeds were absent or extremely rare in the sampled fields.”

But Logan and Schools for Chiapas founder Peter Brown, who lives part-time in Chiapas, have no doubts that Mexican maize is being “contaminated.”

“The way people [in Chiapas] are finding it now,” Brown said, “they go look for the shittiest looking corn in the fields and that’s the corn with the contamination.”

Both Brown and Logan are committed to helping the people of Chiapas eradicate all transgenic corn. “I’m a professional Don Quixote,” Logan said. “I’m this eccentric guy working on a farm sustaining 11 people, but someone’s got to do it. You just got to get up and keep doing it every day.

You can find La Milpa produce at the Oceanside, La Mesa, Poway and Hillcrest farmers’ markets.

From idea to invention

City Heights’ Fab Lab is a place where anybody can make damn-near anything

By Kinsee Morlan, first published in San Diego CityBeat on 11/18/2008

Behind an unassuming storefront on 43rd Street in City Heights, a group of people squat around Rita Roberson, popping up every now and then to use the laser cutter behind them. “Let’s try this,” says Cathy Herbst, an architect and professor at Woodbury University, as she places a small cardboard creation on the armrest of Roberson’s wheelchair.

“Always good to have an architect on hand,” says Katie Rast, as she watches Herbst slide Roberson’s cell phone onto the cardboard holder for a near-perfect fit.

While the group focuses on turning the cardboard template into an acrylic cellphone holder for Roberston’s wheelchair, a mom and her two young children work on designing vinyl stickers on a few of the computers available. On the other side of the small room, Brian Kosedal, a young computer-chip designer who lives Downtown, types away on his laptop, working on his own invention, which uses software he’s designing for the ShopBot, a robotic precision-milling machine that cuts wood (among other things) and sits in the corner of room, taking up a good chunk of the small, bustling space.

“This is it,” Rast says after things calm down a bit. “The Fab Lab is sort of a place for people to experiment with stuff.”

Rast, a thin young woman who wears earth tones, hiking boots and striped scarves and exudes an contagious enthusiasm, helps run the Fab Lab with Xavier Leonard, a multi-media artist who was neck-deep in the dot-com fervor of the ’90s and has always been interested in the so-called “community technology center movement.” The two run the Fab Lab under the auspices of Heads on Fire, a nonprofit organization that goes by the slogan “Dedicated to bridging the digital divide” and often uses the made-up word “Technoliteracy” to describe its goal of making sure everyone—the poor and underserved, mainly—is part of the technology revolution.

Leonard started Heads on Fire in 2002 after he traveled to West Africa and Bolivia, two places he saw as having the necessary technology to help people affect wider-spread change (he describes Bolivia as being so wired that he could get wi-fi access in the middle of the jungle) but lacking in terms of putting the tools of technology into the people’s hands.

“I just realized that these people would never benefit from technology,” Leonard says. “The Internet was all around them, and it wasn’t changing lives…. It made me realize that there really needs to be some people or agencies or groups that are really picking up the benefits and taking them directly to the people, because it’s really not happening on its own.”

Heads on Fire ( started off working with schools in underserved communities, introducing technology and multimedia art to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. Late last year, though, the organization changed its direction when it was tapped by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to site and run a Fab Lab in San Diego. Fab Labs, or Fabrication Laboratories, are located around the globe, everywhere from rural India, where community members invented a bicycle that converts kinetic energy into electric energy and powers an entire school, to Norway, where one guy used the lab to invent a sheep-tracking device. The Fab Labs started as an outreach program run by MIT’s Media Lab, which describes the purpose of the labs as putting the proper tools in the hands of average people in hopes of inspiring inventions that tech nerds would never think of.

“You never know where the next genius is going to come from,” says Kosedal, the computer-chip designer. “Who’s to say if things had been different, Bill Gates could have come from rural Africa.” Kosedal’s been going to the Fab Lab pretty much since it opened six months ago, and his idea for an invention was actually inspired by the ShopBot, a piece of equipment he couldn’t afford on his own.

“I think the Fab Lab is great,” he says. “It’s given me the opportunity that normally I wouldn’t have. The problem is, I’ve always had great ideas, but I’ve never had the tools to do it. The Fab Lab gives me a workshop where I can experiment to make my dreams come true; without that, I couldn’t bridge the gap from idea to actual product, and that’s a huge barrier for any entrepreneur—getting your idea into a product you can show people.”

While people like Kosedal and Roberson—who says her disabilities have given her idea after idea for inventions because the world isn’t built very well for her and her wheelchair—swing by the Fab Lab and immediately get to work, using the tools the lab provides (everything from laser cutters, 3D scanners, computers, printers and open-source software to double-sided tape, scissors and glue), others take some time to catch on. They walk in and receive the “you can make almost anything” speech by Rast or Leonard, but their eyes tend to glaze over. Instead of heading toward the 3D scanner, they head straight for a computer and, at least at first, stick with what’s familiar.

“There’s an interesting understanding gap,” says Rast, who was recently on crutches for three months and ended up using the Fab Lab to invent three things that made life a lot easier (a foot prop that folded out from the crutches and allowed her to rest her leg, crutch saddlebags that took the place of a purse and a third invention she’s keeping quiet because she says she may end up marketing it). “I’ve explained plenty of things to plenty of people plenty of times, but usually they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a community center and there’s lots of computers—cool, I need to check my e-mail.’”

“Yeah,” Leonard agrees, “you can talk and talk and talk to people, but they really don’t get it—like, really, really don’t get it until they’re actually here seeing people make stuff or being involved in making stuff themselves. We’ve realized it’s not this thing that you can just plop down and say, ‘OK, the doors are open.’”

The two are hoping to solve what they’re calling their “communications challenge” by setting up a mini Fab Lab in the next City Heights Farmers Market (4440 Wightman St., 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22). After people see what goes on in the Fab Lab, maybe even make a sticker or a wooden plaque themselves, Rast and Leonard think things will take off.

“I want to see lines out the door,” Rast says, “people waiting to get their hands on stuff.”

It’s nude, not naked!

What it’s really like to live life in the buff

By Kinsee Morlan and Kia Momtazi, originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/22/07

DeAnza Springs Resort sits in the middle of a desolate, dusty desert about an hour east of San Diego. Pavement turns to dirt as the road winds, ending abruptly at a protective gate guarding the entrance. It could be just another remote campground, but the possibility shatters as the gate opens, revealing a wooden sign depicting a naked couple and the words “Relax, You’re Home Now.”

This particular weekend, though, is anything but relaxing. DeAnza is playing host to an official American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR) convention, the main event of which, is an American-Idol-esque singing competition.

The grounds manager, a sunburned man in a tank top and mirrored sunglasses, drives a golf cart, manning a walkie talkie and sipping from a can of Budweiser. Leading the way through the rows of permanent housing, RVs and trailers, he says there’s been an accident—an older gentleman has fallen—so he drops us at the clubhouse and heads toward the commotion. The paramedics, whose uniforms seem especially cumbersome in this particular setting, help the naked man back to his feet.

Inside the clubhouse, a giant cardboard box of old shoes sits in the entrance of the reception area. The shoes don’t seem out of place–the DeAnza décor is anything but fancy. There’s a worn and slightly dirty southwestern-printed couch at the end of the foyer that opens into the dining room, gift shop and bar area; a Michael Goddard painting of martini olives driving an Airstream trailer hangs above it. In the dining room, smiling families sit around wooden tables—fully naked—eating tacos, rice and beans. In the bar, happy-go-lucky middle and old-aged men sip beer—naked or in robes—and flirt with the fully clothed busty bartender.

“I have a theory,” says Dave Landman, owner of DeAnza, as he shows us around, “it’s impossible to be an asshole when you’re naked. It just can’t happen, you’re too vulnerable.”

Landman winks and leaves to prepare for the night’s talent competition, his tattoo of an elephant drinking a martini and holding a golf club wiggling on his right calf as he walks away. We chat with a man on a barstool, who kindly but insistently informs us of proper nomenclature.

“It’s nude, not naked,” he explains. He points to a picture hanging above the bar, an autographed black and white photo of Don E. Arnold–better known as Dr. Death back in his pro wrestling days–and tells us that Arnold is one of the full-time residents of DeAnza.

After multiple shots of tequila and a few beers, we muster up enough courage to get nude.

It’s getting dark by now, and a crowd has gathered around the outdoor stage. Though it’s not really necessary, we slip into the bathroom to disrobe, and then scamper out of the clubhouse giggling nervously, clutching white bath towels, wearing nothing but our tequila-induced sense of confidence. In a flash of extreme embarrassment and self-consciousness, the cliché nightmare comes true. Instead of slipping serenely into a sea of pink flesh, we stick out like painfully sore, stark naked thumbs.

Apparently, nudists—just like we clothing-inclined folk—still like to cover up when it gets chilly. Jackets and sweatshirts appear, but counter-intuitively, several assorted body bits are still left to dangle in the cold.

After the shock wears off, we wrap ourselves in towels, put on sweatshirts and borrowed jackets and enjoy the mostly clothed talent show. The rest of the night is a blur of fireworks, more drinking, Dr. Death dressed in a penguin costume, nude line dancing back inside the bar, more drinking, and lots of congratulations for living through our first public nude experience.

Modern American nudism started in the late 1920s with Kurt Barthel, a guy who took out newspaper ads and organized nude outings in the New York countryside. But most knowledgeable nudists like to cite nudism’s routes to Ancient Greece. Their sort of call to arms is the historical point at which 16th-century puritans, deathly afraid of nakedness and sexuality, outlawed bathing. Nudists laugh at the absurdity, pull the ‘we-were-born-naked’ card and describe the feeling of being naked in public as something magical that lots of people would dig if only they gave it a try.

“It’s just a stunning spectacular experience,” says Jay Goldby, one of three co-owners of Sun Island Resort, the other clothing-optional resort in San Diego County, “for some it’s not, but for many, many people it is.” Goldby points out that while the two resorts host the bulk of local nudists, there are also some “non-landed” nudist clubs that have house parties and travel around state parks, where being naked isn’t encouraged but is technically legal.

Goldby discovered nudism like many people in San Diego—he skinny-dipped at Blacks Beach, and has tried to stay as naked as possible ever since. He and his partners have owned Sun Island for only a few years, but the resort has been around for decades, barely surviving the Cedar Fire of 2003.

Sun Island’s nestled in a canyon, surrounded by sun-baked hills, but the small grounds are covered by sprawling oaks and lush green lawns. The palm trees are still a bit charred from the fire, but most of the buildings and the grounds have been completely rebuilt. Entering the bamboo gates of the resort is like entering a tranquil, tropical island—birds chirp, butterflies fly and a warm breeze gently tickles our skin.

Goldby, an older man with a long scar that runs from his right groin to his ankle and cute freckles peppering his ass, leads us through the grounds and attempts to explain the psychology of a nudist. He says it provides a physical way to shed the cumbersome burdens of daily life and creates a certain level of body acceptance that’s particularly enjoyable for women, who are more known for body-consciousness than men.

In front of the clubhouse, a masseuse wearing nothing but socks and shoes digs her elbows into the back of a man resting facedown on her table. Three skinny, tan, golden-haired little girls scurry through the pool gate wearing nothing but towels wrapped around their necks. For a day that’s 80 degrees in the shade, the nude Sun Island clientele appear to be comfortable and cool.

Jan Hansen is perhaps the most comfortable of the crew. When she’s not naked at Sun Island in the summer, during the school year she’s naked in San Francisco, nude modeling for art students. Hansen relaxes in the shade, playing a semi-serious game of cribbage with a friend, a big, furry man wearing a Monty Python Spamalot hat.

Hansen explains that, for her, being nude is being natural. She says she associates herself more with the naturists of the 1960s and 70s–with her long, flowing grey hair and free-spirited demeanor, she looks the part. Her friend, however, who asked to remain anonymous due to what he describes as a highly conservative job, describes his experience with nudism as personality-changing.

“Before, I hated dancing, I wouldn’t do it,” he explains, “now I love getting out and dancing, you can’t drag me off the dance floor. You just get so much more comfortable with yourself and the people around you. You relax and enjoy your life a lot more.”

If you spend about four or five days or more out here,” he continues, “the idea of putting on clothes and going back outside is horrendous.”

“Outside” is a term used by several nudists at Sun Island including Christine, the stand-in bartender who grew up at the resort. Living at Sun Island wasn’t a problem for Christine—a short, cute Latina–until she hit high school. She became “the nudist,” had trouble getting a date, and tried to hide her way of life by having friends drop her off up the street. At 15, she gave up and moved away, only to eventually return to what she now lovingly calls “the nude farm.”

Now common-law married with three kids, Christine owns a house at Sun Island and doesn’t plan on leaving. She feels safe there, knowing she can see her daughters from almost every place on the grounds. She admits that one or two pervy characters find their way on the grounds per year, but says that people are quickly escorted off the ground as soon as they start exhibiting inappropriate behavior. As for well-intentioned men who inadvertently become aroused, “it absolutely happens,” says Christine, but she jokes that they either roll over on their stomachs or “hang a towel on it.” If they have absolutely no control over their erectile response, however, she says the resort’s not the place for them.

Like many nudist resorts, Sun Island’s a private club that keeps out 90 percent of the creeps by using Megan’s Law, the California state law that requires sex offenders to be entered into a public registry. Goldby scans everyone who passes through the front gate.

“We clearly reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” Goldby says, “and I don’t even have to give them a reason,” Goldby pauses, then retreats to his sense of humor, “but the one thing we don’t say here is ‘no shirts, no shoes, no service.’” or

The Durango Discovery Museum

A video by me.  Originally posted on

Roller Racing in Durango, Co

A BuzzTown video by me.  Starring Jeff Hammett, Vanessa Wilde and others.  Shot at Papa Wheelies bike shop in Durango, Co.

Device Gallery in San Diego

Device Gallery takes art, and us, into the next century

By Kinsee Morlan, first published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/26/2008

Walking through Device Gallery, it’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant future, in which man meets machine in an imperfect and awkward, yet intriguingly beautiful, union. The biomechanical works of artists like Stéphane Halleux, with his darling found-object sculpture of a civil servant holding a briefcase and zipping around via propellers sprouting from his head, remind us of the possibilities. As we strive more and more toward immortality, or at least living a few years longer than our parents, could our unreliable and deteriorating flesh one day end where permanent, more dependable and imaginative machine and metal begins?

In the future that Device Gallery’s current show, Fantastic Contraption, proposes, the answer is yes.

Sound extreme or absurd? Try to think of an old song lyric you swear is at the tip of your tongue and see how long it takes before you give up on your failed firing neurons and run to a computer where Google makes the synaptic connections for you. The man-machine interdependence has already begun. The artists in Fantastic Contraption simply look ahead and show us what we’ve started.

The artwork currently exhibited in Device Gallery is futuristic and mostly mechanical, but there’s also something primordial and organic about most of it, too. Take the installations by Wayne Martin Belger on Device’s easternmost wall: The displays consist of pinhole cameras made of perfectly fused titanium and copper welded to things like vials filled with HIV-positive blood, a real human heart from a deceased infant and a 500-year-old Tibetan skull. All the handmade cameras are surrounded by a few of the eerie prints the cameras have produced over the years.

The dark and freaky nature of Belger’s installations is startling at first—especially to the older La Jolla socialites who’ve been wandering in since the gallery opened its doors in July—but when Amy Brotherton, who co-owns Device with her husband Greg, tippy-toes up behind you to talk about Belger’s work, the vision of both the artist and the show is eventually understood.

Amy will cheerfully explain how Belger starts with a subject, studies it for months, and then, using machinist skills he acquired from his father, builds a pinhole camera out of precious metals, relics and artifacts directly related to the subject. Not until all of that is done, she’ll explain, does Belger finally feel comfortable enough to actually shoot the subject.

Belger explained things himself last month while pulling on a wetsuit and preparing to dive into a tank at Scripps Aquarium to photograph his latest subject, manmade kelp forests, with his handmade underwater pinhole camera.
“I’ve always believed in the rabbit-hole theory,” he said. “You know, if you’re gonna get into something, you should get into something completely and totally.”

It’s this kind of hardcore dedication, deep-rooted understanding and mechanical craftsmanship that Amy and Greg looked for while piecing together Fantastic Contraption. In all of the works exhibited in the show, even the more traditional two-dimensional paintings by Eduard Anikonov, there’s a quality of expertise and know-how that’s hard to find in these postmodern, anything-is-art times. Every piece in the show is just as much about the process as it is about the finished product.

“We wanted to see craftsmanship brought back,” Greg said. “We missed things made by hand. Our contemporary art world has a deficit. We’ve rejected craft in favor of conceptual, and I think people miss that, because I think there’s something very human and—”

“Oh, how did that guy describe it?” Amy interjected. “He said all the work in the show had—”

“Integrity,” Greg finished.

Like a surprising number of artists in Fantastic Contraption, Greg and Amy come from a background in the film and entertainment industry—Greg as an animator and graphic designer, Amy in public relations. The young couple left the hustle-bustle of L.A. and opened Device Gallery, mostly because of their son, Jack, an energetic 4-year-old who loves striking ninja poses and playing with Legos.

“I just think we wanted to do something that we found interesting and pass that on to our son,” said Amy. “You know, my dad always said, ‘I don’t know why you think work’s gotta be fun; if it were fun, it’d be called something else.’ But I don’t want to say that to my son, because you spend so much time working—most of your day is spent at work in the U.S. So I don’t want [Jack] to think you work to make money. I want him to think you can do something that’s fun or interesting.”

“Yeah, you can follow your dreams no matter how insane or impractical,” Greg said, erupting into a fit of his characteristic, semi-maniacal laughter.

Amy smiled, and then explained how Jack has already played at the feet of “Mercury,” the steel sculpture Greg built that stands 9 feet tall in the corner of Device (Greg has several sculptures in the Fantastic Contraption show). Amy says Jack has developed respect and appreciation for works of art; in fact, he even started referring to some of his toys as sculpture.

With all the looming robotic sculptures, crawling mechanical bugs and torture chairs lying around Device, it’d be easy to assume Greg and Amy have a dark aesthetic that will surface in all of their upcoming shows. But the couple says it isn’t so. The next show, Divide and Contour: The Retro Future, which opens Sept. 27, will again look toward the future, but this time (aside from the ray guns by Greg), the future is mostly bright, if somewhat strange.

“It’s not about being dark” Greg explained. “It’s about being different.”

Fantastic Contraption is on view at Device Gallery, 7881 Drury Lane in La Jolla, through Sept. 20. The gallery will hold a special reception with Wayne Belger from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13. RSVP to

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