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A Christmas of Contrasts : To Some, the Holiday Wasn't All Presents and Family Fun

December 26, 1985|HEIDI EVANS | Times Staff Writer

For convicted burglar Angie Aburto, it was the free pack of Marlboros and "Jingle Bells" over the prison loudspeakers.

To the Espinoza children, who live on Huntington Beach's most run-down street, it was the brand-new dolls they cradled in their arms.

And for Steve Pansky, a Jewish air traffic controller at John Wayne Airport, it was putting in a day's work so that his colleagues could enjoy the day off.

Whatever their circumstances, Orange County residents celebrated the summerlike Christmas Day in a spirit of good will and good cheer.

"A lot of girls get blue and down, especially when it comes to holiday time," said the 41-year-old Aburto, who along with 230 other women inmates spent the day behind bars at the County Jail. "We cheer each other up in here."

Aburto and fellow prisoner Mary Ravera even had kind words for their jailers. Referring to the free cigarettes and Wednesday's early mail delivery at the Santa Ana facility, Aburto said of Orange County Deputies Cheri Siefen and Barbara Good, "They don't have to do that, so it's nice."

Next door at the men's jail, Orange County Auxiliary Bishop John Thomas Steinbock told 90 prisoners during a Christmas service: "This is a lousy place to celebrate Christmas . . . but there's a captivity far worse than a jail--the captivity of selfishness, greed and hatred."

Under the watchful eyes of unarmed deputies, including one deputy

who looked out from a small glass window behind the chapel, the prisoners joined Steinbock in prayer, song and communion.

"I will keep each of you in my prayers," he told the subdued gathering, "and may your strength be your faith during this difficult time."

On Commodore Circle, Huntington Beach's most dilapidated street, Latino and Vietnamese families spent a quiet day at home, either talking with neighbors outdoors or recovering from Christmas Eve celebrations.

Unlike other Orange County neighborhoods, which were brightened by holiday decorations, the street retained a grim, neglected appearance. City officials recently cited the street's 10 absentee landlords for hundreds of health and housing code violations, but there were few signs of improvement on the one-block cul-de-sac.

Jose Espinoza, pointing to the rotted bathroom ceiling and damaged kitchen plumbing in the two-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and their four young daughters, said, "I would hope they (landlords) fix it, but I don't have any assurances. The man comes to get the rent and doesn't say anything."

A few miles away, in a parking lot at the Huntington Beach Pier, Dawn Lowrey, 22, soaked up the afternoon rays in her convertible while she wrapped last-minute Christmas gifts. With paper, tape, ribbon and boxes strewn about, the front seat of her gray Volkswagen Rabbit looked more like a living room floor the morning after Christmas.

Dressed for Season

"We've been too busy seeing family to get things done," explained Lowrey, who was waiting for her surfer boyfriend to emerge from the ocean.

While most of the beachgoers whiled away the balmy Christmas afternoon swimming, sunning or riding their bicycles, others came dressed for the part.

Wrapped in green tinsel, with large Christmas balls dangling from their ears, a vacationing British couple and a friend from Brea posed for pictures to titillate the freezing friends they left behind in the Channel Islands.

"How could we convince our friends back home that we spent Christmas on the beach?" said Michelle Yates, who was spending two weeks with her brother from Brea before going home. "This was the only way."

Elsewhere, Steve Pansky was helping to direct traffic at John Wayne Airport. For Pansky, it was just another workday--except that the pilots seemed surprisingly friendly, each wishing a Merry Christmas to the tower.

"I prefer to work Christmas, said Pansky, who celebrated the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah last week. "It's nice to let other people off for the holiday."

For some, however, the day was not so bright.

At the entrance to the Salvation Army shelter in Santa Ana, a heavyset, intoxicated woman had passed out in front, waiting for a police car to take her to jail.

Christmas Dinner

Inside, 38 men, women and children were having a Christmas dinner of turkey roll, salad, ice cream and an orange. But in contrast to the situation on Christmas Eve, there was not enough food for everyone. About 20 people had to be turned away with peanut butter sandwiches.

As dinner was served, two men came in trying to sell a wristwatch and the jacket one of them was wearing to raise money for enough gasoline to get them home to Phoenix.

"I feel that Christmas is cooling down for me," said a 26 year-old musician named Ronny, after he finished his meal inside. "It just goes by me now."

Ronny said he came to the United States four years ago from his native Brazil to study classical guitar.

"For four years I've been fighting hard," said the musician, who was reading a novel he had found at the shelter called "Fall From Grace."

"I know what I want, I know where I want to be, but I just don't know how to get there. It's very frustrating."

Times staff writers Ray Perez and Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this story.

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