Walking a dog in Laguna Beach is the entrée to meeting some terrifically wonderful people. One in particular is Deborah Carman.
Carman takes her two dogs, Cozy Coquetti and Teddy Confetti, down to Divers Cove, where she is a self-appointed cleanup artist, picking up the trash that thoughtless people leave behind.
"See these little plastic bottle caps," she said with disgust. "They don't degrade for years and years, and they get into the ocean, where fish and birds pick them up. And these plastic bottles little kids like to fill with sand and leave here, they don't degrade for 450 years.
"Styrofoam cups take 13 years to decompose at sea. The government statistics are staggering and why I am so passionate about the beach trash. But especially because it is not only harmful, it ruins our extraordinary scenery."
You can see her tall, slim figure in black pants and top, her blond hair piled high, bending every few feet to retrieve something carelessly discarded and put it into the bag she always brings. "I've been doing this for 23 years," she said.
Carman is not just a cleanup artist. She is a real artist, specializing in dog and cat bowls, paintings and children's books. Her style is recognizable by the bright wild smears of color she chooses. She has a studio at 2179 Laguna Canyon Road called FauxPaw Productions, where she decorates and fires bowls, many custom-made with dogs' names on them.
She has been doing this work since about 1990, when she had "a personal transformation," she said, and decided to start cartooning, painting and teaching herself ceramics. She created characters, many of featuring in some of the 18 children's books she has written. She has sold the foreign rights to her work all over the world and even sold several of her projects to animated-film developers.
Early in her career, she rose to executive positions in business. At 26, she bought a flower shop in Corona del Mar, then opened three others in Newport Beach and also started an event planning business. Her career in the floral industry was thrilling, she said, and successful. She did hundreds of weddings, parties, events, installations, thematic decorating and more.
Carman was raised by her great grandparents, who were of modest means. Their parents were from the Civil War era. Her granddad was a fire-and-brimstone type of Christian missionary.
She didn't go to school until she was 10 and was barely 17 when she left, "so I have no formal education or training," she said. "Everything I know and do has been empirically gleaned or acquired."
"My life has been a journey of self-discovery," she said. "One small thought grew into a concept, which grew into an intellectual property or a toy, a book or a sculpture. It's all been self-willed determination, tenacity and a tireless work ethic."
Carman was married for 29 years to Day Carman. He was a lifelong Laguna Beach resident, major in the Marine Corps Reserves, trial lawyer, journalist, CIA agent, civil rights activist and more, according to Carman.
The city is a better place because of her.
She said, "I am really proud of what I do, and I am always apologizing to people because I don't have much free time. I work a lot. But if you love what you do, then you can't call it work."
MARGOT ROSENBERG is a writer and editor who recently moved to Laguna Beach from Toronto.