Would You Care for a Little Controversy With Your Coffee?

It's over now, but Bob Sinclair still isn't sure how he feels about it.

Sinclair, 49, owner of the chic Pannikin Coffee & Tea Cafe in La Jolla, just completed a crash course in the modern dilemma: Sensitivity vs. Artistic Freedom.

Pannikin, you see, is the place for the artsy, often UCSD-linked set: a spot for tea and scones after an evening of theater or a Sunday morning 10-kilometer bike ride. A little bit of Left Bank ambience.

Recently, Sinclair decided to further enhance the effect by sprinkling a little local artwork on the walls.

Everything was ducky until a batch of freshly modern stuff went up: collage-like, a cascade of pictures, images, words, phrases, make of it what you will.

Sinclair says his own taste runs more to craft work, but he figured, hey, somebody must like this stuff.

Trouble was that attention was soon drawn to one peculiar phrase on one piece: Merry Christmas, father, son, Heil Hitler.

Patrons began complaining. The San Diego branch of the Anti-Defamation League expressed concern.

Morris Casuto, branch director, said it was probably the location of the work, rather than the work itself, that upset people.

"In an art gallery, or someplace known for 'shock' art, that would have been one thing," Casuto said. "But people were not prepared to walk in for coffee and a croissant and see something like that."

Sinclair felt torn. He says he had not spotted the phrase before the flap.

"If I took down the art, I'd be out with Jesse Helms and the other censors," Sinclair said. "But if I didn't take it down, I'd be in another ashcan, with people who like art to offend people."

In the end, Sinclair took down the art, much to the artist's chagrin. He wishes the whole incident had never happened.

"Maybe I should go down to the warehouse where they sell art for Howard Johnson motel rooms and buy some," Sinclair said. "Maybe that's safer."

The Broom Is Mightier . . .

There's a city out there somewhere.

* The more things change . . .

The tale of the San Diego Union reporter who used flowers to bluff his way into the hospital room of a wounded Marine reminds old-timers of a similar brouhaha during the Vietnam War.

A flier had been shot down over Laos but escaped his captors and was miraculously rescued behind enemy lines. Navy brass refused to even confirm that he was at Navy Hospital in Balboa Park.

A San Diego Tribune reporter got the first interview by donning a smock, pushing a broom and passing himself off as a janitor. Then as now, the brass cried foul.

* San Diego bumper sticker, on a Ford Bronco: "GAS BETTY. Murder Is Murder."

That's Betty Broderick.

* San Diego Councilman Wes Pratt says he's more than ready for a rematch with the Rev. George Stevens.

Stevens got more votes than Pratt did in the 1987 district primary. Yes, but Pratt notes that in the runoff he beat Stevens both citywide and inside the district (57%).

"He can run if he wants to," Pratt vows, "but I plan to do that well or better this time."

Hair-care/radio station/community newspaper entrepreneur Willie Morrow plans a major fund-raiser for Stevens next month.

* Political consultant Bob Trettin and Solana Beach Councilwoman Marion Dodson are considering a run next year for the seat held by Supervisor Susan Golding.

To try for mayor of San Diego, Golding has to skip reelection. Trettin is a former Golding aide.

* Patriotism is where you find it.

Panhandlers in downtown San Diego are wearing tiny American flags.

Supporting Evidence

All this and baggy knees, too.

A study published in today's Science magazine by two chemists at UC San Diego has unmasked yet another environmental villain: nylon.

William Trogler and Mark Thiemens say the nitrous oxide released during nylon manufacturing is destroying the Earth's ozone layer and contributing to global warming. The stuff lingers for centuries.

Think of it: Killer Hosiery.

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