Captain Rainbow – November 21st, 2008

IMG_0039I tracked down Rainbow at a cabin he is building on the Wiley Ranch up in the hills just south west of Navarro. We opened a couple of beers and sat down as the late afternoon sun streamed in through the windows…
He was born in Missouri but following the death of his father he grew up on the east coast with his mother’s family in the suburbs of Boston. He initially attended a prep school before being expelled and going to a Free School. There he “basically smoked cigarettes and made-out with my girlfriend before they also kicked me out”.
He then left home and spent a couple of years in Seattle at a ‘conference’ run by the Unitarian Church. “My friends and I were too radical for them with our anti-establishment behavior so we left and I headed for San Francisco and enrolled at Mission High School”. Again he did little until he was offered an opportunity to go to S.F. State but only if he could graduate from High School. Four months later he had graduated, completing one year’s worth of high school by going to night school three times a week. “I was stoned the whole time”. Being the only kid who could speak fluent English at the school he was the valedictorian! He had made an “earnest attempt” to prepare a speech but on the way to the graduation the taxi driver offered him a smoke and he got stoned once again – “My earnest speech soon turned into a series of hippy-dippy thoughts and it was a complete flop”…
He attended S.F. State for one semester – “it was late 1969 – the time of the anti-war riots in S.F. and I was a ‘peace and love hippy’. I left town and went back up to Washington State without even waiting to learn my grades for that one semester”. He spent some time picking apples and lived on a houseboat near to Seattle. “In the early summer of 1971 I thought I’d make a return visit to California and set off in a 1946 Dodge pick-up with camper attached. I stopped off in Boonville to see some friends – just to go by and see what’s happening. I never left”.
Rainbow was amongst the first wave of hippies to come to Anderson Valley, moving into an unofficial commune near Bear Wallow on Mountain View Road, a few miles west of Boonville. Initially they were in very basic shacks on the Lambert Ranch and his earliest memories of the Valley are dominated by the fact that there was a very distinct divide between “them and us – rednecks and hippies”. Most of the time Rainbow was cloistered away in the hills with his hippy friends, “it was a big deal to go to Boonville and a huge one to go to Ukiah – it was ten years before I felt comfortable enough to venture into The Boonville Lodge – The Bucket of Blood as it was often referred to then”.
“In those days we newcomers were definitely at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder – we were the grape-pickers. We were certainly looked down upon and when there was talk of building a community swimming pool the idea was ultimately rejected because it was thought that the ‘dirty hippies’ would always be in it”…
Being unwelcome was not something the hippies were too bothered about however. “It was an idyllic time living the hippy lifestyle up in the woods and following the ideals of the back-to-the-land movement”. It was like “playing house”, living in cabins and tepees, and everyone pooling their resources garnered from various sources. This was before the dope-growing industry really kicked in – “we would smoke Mexican weed” – and he would go to the Sacramento Valley with others to pick fruit and get paid in produce before returning to the Valley at the end of harvest and trading his ‘wages’ for those of others. It was a “gift economy”. “Then somebody said they had sold a pound of sensimilla – seedless marijuana, very strong – for $300 and the rest is history”…
“We were not totally isolated and would go to various functions in town. I remember at one County Fair we were looking around the fruit exhibits when suddenly ‘Ed the Nose’ produced a huge perfect cola or bud, put it on a paper plate, and then affixed a stolen blue ribbon and placed it amongst the other prize winners. We watched as people walked past and nodded their approval although most would not know what it was. Eventually a couple of high school kids grabbed it and ran – they had a good time I’m sure”…
“We occasionally attended dances in town at The Apple Hall and clearly stood out in our hippy gear – braided hair, beads, velvet tunics, feathers, etc. It was always the rednecks and us, with sometimes a few Indians from Pt. Arena – they didn’t like us anymore than the rednecks did. One night the Indians tried to provoke a fight and teased us by saying, ‘Are those chicken feathers?’…’Yeah, they are’ we said. They really were, and it diffused the situation when they began to laugh – we were obviously into peace and love, not fighting”…
As the hippies gradually moved on to different things and the community spread out, Rainbow bought himself a truck, picked fruit etc. in the Sacramento Valley, and made a living by traveling through Anderson Valley and stopping at various spots to sell his produce out of this mobile fruit stand. “I never had a license – it was the longest application form I have ever seen and I would have to pay them to give my fingerprints! I had the best stuff and would love to give a piece of delicious fruit to a kid and see his or her eyes light up…Even the government officials who checked for my license would let it ride because my fruit was so good. It was a good time but I never took care of the business side and when my truck broke down I had no money to fix it and that was the pretty much the end”.
For a time Rainbow went on to dig ditches for a living, learning to wear two shirts on hot days, “a la Mexicanos”, and the correct way to use a shovel from a fellow called Balthazar – “don’t use your back – use your knees and lever the load”. When not working he would enjoy the hippy scene at various events such as The May Day Fair, the Harvest Ball to celebrate the end of the marijuana season, the Albion People’s Fair – “maximum hippiedom”, and whatever was going on at Rainbow Enterprises – “a real hippy commune where the young Winona Ryder grew up – skinny-legged little thing”.
Eventually he joined a construction crew as a laborer employed by John Burroughs and by investing in one tool at a time he gradually learned the carpentry trade that he has been doing for the last thirty years. In that time he also befriended an old-timer called Adrian Newton, born in 1903 and a regular horse-drawn stagecoach rider between Ukiah and Mendocino. “Adrian was from a small logging community called Melburn (?) near Comptche and he taught me how to correctly split redwood – a real art – he was known as The Redwood Guru”.
In more recent times Rainbow has traveled to a couple of places that are just about as far away from Anderson Valley as you can get, in every sense – Sri Lanka and Timbuktu in North West Africa. “These places make you appreciate the Valley but also expose its limitations. Its greatest joy and gift is the Valley’s separateness from the world – I love the Valley because of this. However, having traveled to these places I found it harder to come back here than to leave. It was like being on a really good “trip” but eventually that comes to an end and once settled back I find it very easy to be here once again. However, my travels changed me, gave me a different perspective. Anderson Valley is home but it does limit you in some ways, although, as my girlfriend Yvonne points out, ‘there is more shit going on here than anywhere I know!’ “.
Next I asked Rainbow for some spontaneous responses to various entities in the Valley…The wineries? – “If they are owned by non-residents then they are destroyers of community”…KZYX & Z public radio? – “Good asset for the Valley but does not cove everything it could”…The A.V.A. newspaper? – “Often stimulating but again it does not give the whole picture. Bruce has mellowed. He used to annoy me but it was sort of fun”…The High School? – “I like High School sports but fail to see why theatre and the arts cannot get the same emphasis. I hear people say that sports build teamwork and give much joy. It often does but I remember lots of defeats in my sporting days, which was not fun at all. If you put on a play with a bunch of people you get wonderful teamwork – and everyone wins”…The Variety Show (which he has been organizing since its inception in 1992)? – “ I absolutely love doing it still – the audience is great and the acts, whether they are good or not-so-good, are our acts, Valley acts, and that’s what it’s all about”…
I next asked Rainbow what he would do if, assuming there was such a position, he was Mayor of Anderson Valley and had the power to change/improve anything in the Valley. “I would introduce a local law that all ownership of business and land had to be by permanent residents with a true commitment to Anderson Valley. The joys and terrors of small-town rural life are that we are all in a small goldfish bowl – you have to answer for your actions and this is what outsiders are able to avoid”.
To end the interview, I posed a few questions from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
– What is your favorite word? – “Succulent “
– What is your least favorite word? – “Engineering”
– What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “People – all kinds”…
– What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Mind-numbing bureaucracy that sucks the vibrancy out of life”…
– What sound or noise do you love? – “When the wood is in and I’m warm and dry, I just love the sound of rain on my roof…And music of course – making a joyful noise is something special”…
– What sound or noise do you hate? – “Gunshots…and artillery – when in Sri Lanka     building homes for villagers I had to sit and watch the government bombing the villagers who I was building homes for”
– What is your favorite curse word? – “Pendejo – yes, I am working with a Spanish-speaking crew at the moment!”…
– What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “Acting on the stage for a living would be a great profession”…
– What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything involving bureaucracy and saying “no” all the time…I’d hate to be a cop”
– Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Nice try – now go back there and get it right this time”…

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Published in: on November 24, 2008 at 6:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Emil Rossi – November 14th, 2008

101_0039Last Friday afternoon I sat down with Mr. Emil Rossi on the porch of the Rossi ranch nestled in the foothills just east of downtown Boonville – a beautiful spot on lovely day. Even though I had interrupted his garden work Emil, along with family dog Duke, had greeted me warmly and we sat down to talk about his life and times in Anderson Valley …
Emil was born in 1925 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His Italian father and mother, from Venice and Genoa respectively, had each settled there, like so many others from Europe, in the period before the First World War – a conflict that was to see his father join the army and head off to the fighting in Western Europe. His parents met after the war and were soon married. They had two sons – Gene and, two years later, Emil.
Their father bought a house and some property in Anderson Valley in 1932 and brought his young family out here in 1933-34 to stay for one year – to experience country life. Emil attended school at what is now the Veterans Building – he enjoyed his stay. On their return to New York, Emil was enrolled in an agricultural school situated on fifty acres in Queens, New York – “yes there was such a thing there then”, says Emil, knowing it sounds strange today. His father had plans to move here to rural California at some point and wanted Emil to be aware of the rural way of things.
The family moved here permanently in 1940 when Emil was 15 and he went on to complete high school at Anderson Valley High. ”The A.V. school only had 52 kids at that time, just 12 in my graduation class. Some of them are still around– James Gowan, Ray Pinoli, Dick Mailliard – and they’re all still working!”…Before enlisting in the army in 1943, and whilst still in school, he built a large chicken barn and by the time he went to war there were over 1500 chickens on the ranch – just one of four large chicken farms in the Valley at that time.
When he came out of the army in 1946 he returned to the Valley to discover that his father had let the chicken farm run down and had bought the hardware store in town. “My pop loved to farm but he was lousy at it. However, he was a good business man”. Emil went to work at the store with his dad and lived with his parents in the same house that his father had purchased in 1932 – the one in which he still lives and of which he says, “it’s probably the oldest house in the Valley that is still lived in– it was built sometime in the late 1860’s”.
John Rossi and Sons (Gene was going to be involved but never really was so the sign was eventually changed to read “& Son”)) opened in 1945 and has been in business ever since, with Emil still working two days a week – Tuesday and Saturday. Emil’s sons Chris and Nick run the show the rest of the time. Emil has worked at Rossi’s Hardware Store for 62 years but has had numerous projects and jobs on the ranch that have kept him busy when not there serving the people of the Valley from behind the counter.
In the early days, before he got married, he would work hard each day and then hang out with friends at The Boonville Lodge. There was always a Saturday night dance in town and, although not a big drinker, he thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant social scene of the Valley following the Second World War. It was a thriving community thanks to the booming logging industry and he found himself in demand as an entertainer both as a leading light in the Boontown Players, who were the mainstays of the Valley’s variety shows, and also as a fine accordion player in various bands, despite the fact that he had been a saxophone player in school. He still loves to get together with his sons and other musicians and they play the night away in the old converted cabin on the Rossi property now called the ‘Band Room’.
Emil has never been much of a traveler although he and deceased wife Jeannie did travel back to the old country and visit with relatives on his mother’s side of the family who still live in the small rural town in which his mother grew up, a few miles outside Genoa. He thinks he probably has some family property but the family has never settled on who is entitled to what and probably never will. He also retraced his route around Europe as a soldier but other than that he has always stayed pretty close to home. He has never really been interested in vacations. When he goes to San Francisco it is for a brief visit only. “I like it but I’m always glad to come back after one day”
When asked what he most likes about life in the Valley he hesitates before saying, “I love it here – never wanted to be anywhere else. I love my work and chores and to see this land every day. My wife planted the flowers in this garden. She was a real flower girl – I see them and think of her.”
One of the things Emil is most proud of is that he was recalled as a member of the C.S.D. because he caused them too many problems and always spoke his mind, much to the consternation of some other members. A vote was taken and as he puts it, “I was he unelected –just like former California Governor, Gray Davis…I can’t help but think that there was some phony baloney in the vote counting process”, he says with a chuckle and knowing grin.
He says he is no committeeman and prefers to get his point across in letters to the Anderson Valley Advertiser. He did run for public office on three occasions in the nineties on the Libertarian ticket for the first District of the California Congress. He never won but did receive quite a lot of votes, on one occasion getting more than any other Libertarian in the nation! “I was just making a point,” he laughs. “No way would I like to sit in Congress”. He laughed out loud, “ I don’t like meetings and I don’t like government!”…
When asked about modern life he mentioned the current state of affairs in our schools where he believes sometimes kids need to hear the word ‘No!’…”It can only help them in later life when they enter the real world. It was such strict schooling in my day. The head teacher, Mrs. Murphy, made sure everyone did as they were told. Even the teachers were scared of her but we all seemed to do quite well with our studies”…
Finally, I asked Emil what he would change around these parts if he were ‘Mayor’ for a day and could change/introduce anything he wanted. Being the Libertarian that he is, he had was in no doubt that the Parcel Tax added to the property taxes in our Valley should be removed and that any new taxes should be outlawed from now on – “they just create big government and that’s not good”…
To end the interview, I posed a few questions from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
– What is your favorite word? – “Accountability – I use it a lot”
– What is your least favorite word? – “Taxes”
– What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Work – I love to work. I feel good when I’m working”
– What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Religion. I don’t think much of any of them”
– What sound or noise do you love? – “Music – all sorts”
– What sound or noise do you hate? – “ My alarm clock”
– What is your favorite curse word? – “’Bullshit’ – I use that a lot too”
– What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I always thought I might have enjoyed being a stock broker but that would be just a hobby. In reality I wouldn’t want to do anything else other than what I do and what I’ve done already”
– What profession would you not like to do? – “ Politician – I would hate to be a politician”
– Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “ ‘Welcome, Emil’ – that would do. It would be so much better than ‘what the hell are you doing here?’!!

Published in: on November 17, 2008 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment