A friend of mine, Patrick Mott, who writes for a local newspaper finds the juciest stories going on about town. Following is a recent article he wrote regarding a favorite local hang-out.
If you think the art of storytelling is dead in 21st century
America, just drop into a good lively bar. Because bars, at their core, are not about drinking – they are about stories. Great stories. Stupid stories. Tall stories. Sob stories. Appalling stories. Hilarious stories. True stories that are all lies and impossible, stories that are all true. And all good bars have a pantheon of stories that mutate over time into genuine legends.
I don’t know what category the Eccentric Evangelist story is going to fall into 10 or 20 years from now at the Village Inn on Balboa Island, but bet on this: Whatever the actual truth of the story, it’ll get inflated, edited, redacted, chopped, channeled, raked, lifted and tuck-and-rolled into the hairiest shaggy dog tale since Adam and Eve.
Here’s the nut of it: Anne Lemen, a 58-year-old nurse and self-styled Christian evangelist who used to live in a cottage on Balboa Island across the alley from the Village Inn, apparently decided some time ago that the inn and its owner and patrons were up to no good. So, according to court documents, she decided to tell anyone who would listen all about it.
The inn crowd, she said publicly on several occasions, makes porn videos, engages in child pornography, distributes illegal drugs, encourages lesbian activity, operates a brothel and sells tainted food. Court documents also said that Lemen videotaped Village Inn customers going to their cars, called them “whores” and “Satan” and shot flash photos through the restaurant’s windows.
The inn’s owner, Aric Toll, said that on one occasion Lemen parked her car in front of the restaurant and blew the horn nonstop for 30 minutes. On another occasion, she approached people reading the inn’s window menu and told them the food was poisonous and the inn was filled with rats. The would-be patrons beat a retreat.
She also helped organize a campaign to persuade the city to deny the inn an expanded entertainment permit. The campaign failed.
She also claims “the bar” – she routinely reduces the inn, its owner and patrons to a single entity – has tried to kill her. The police will do nothing, she says, because the cops are in league with “the bar.”
The cottage nearly adjacent to the inn that Lemen owns and rents out has a replica of the Statue of Liberty in the front garden. The statue holds a Bible. A large stone Bible with scripture verses also is in the garden, along with a little lighthouse emblazoned with the words, “The Lord Is Our Light.” Free booklets about Christianity also are available.
Toll sues. Case goes to court. Judge finds that Lemen’s statements about the inn are untrue, rules that Lemen must clam up, even though she denies making many of the statements.
If it ended there, it would be a great story. A classic. Good for decades of yuks over another round of cold ones.
But wait. There’s more. Maybe a LOT more.
Appeals court hears the case. Strikes down most of the original order. The problem: that pesky First Amendment. Judge says muzzling Lemen constitutes prior restraint—prohibiting speech before it has actually occurred.
Case goes to the California Supreme Court late last month. Justices are split. Three of them say they think the case justifies prior restraint. The other four aren’t so sure. Heavy hitter shows up: Duke University constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. Pays his own way, works for free, in order to tell the court that if they tell Lemen to shut it they’re violating the U.S. Constitution.
The California Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on the case sometime before May 1. If the justices say the order is constitutional, the case likely will go to the United States Supreme Court.
Tricky, this free speech business.
But if you tell that story with panache 20 years from now at the Village Inn, somebody should buy you one. They really should.