Fred R. Buonanno – November 16th, 2012

I met Fred at his Philo Ridge Vineyards tasting room in downtown Boonville. With manager Jill Derwinski holding the fort we sat down and, with a bottle of delicious pinot gris at hand, began our conversation.
Fred was born in Trenton, New Jersey on July 26th, 1956 to parents Fred Sr. and Molly McKnight. Both of his paternal grandparents were born in Naples, Italy but they did not meet until each had emigrated to the States around 1910 and settled in Rhode Island. Once married they moved to Trenton where among a number of different jobs, grandfather Buonanno was primarily a fishmonger. “My grandfather maintained his strong Italian accent and I vividly remember loving the old popcorn machine they had and him calling me his ‘papacorn boy.’ My father was one of six and he had been born in 1923 at the same hospital as I was, across the street from Trenton High School.”
On his mother’s side, Fred’s grandparents were from Ireland. His grandfather was from Belfast and his grandmother from Arranmore Island, off the west coast of County Donegal in the north. “On the island they say there are 527 people and 2 Protestants! My grandfather died from the after effects of a mustard gas attack in the First World War and my grandmother died not long afterwards – from a broken heart it was said. They had moved to Scotland and my mother was born in 1925 in Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and raised by her mother’s mother.”
Immediately after high school, Fred’s father joined the air force in 1941 but a plane he was in was shot down. He was fine but wanted to move to the submarine service after that. However, they turned him down because of his color blindness and he ended up in the army infantry. He became a platoon sergeant and when on leave in Edinburgh in late 1944 he met Fred’s mother at a dance. They kept in touch and were married in Scotland on Memorial Day 1945. “My father returned to the war’s final months before going back to the States where he was discharged. My mother went over and was met by his entire Italian family at Ellis Island on a very hot day when she had on her wool suit and $100 in her pocket.”
They lived in New Jersey for a time before moving to Connecticut where Fred’s two sisters were born – Terry in 1948 (who tragically died aged 33 from breast cancer) and Geraldine in 1949. Fred’s father had been a manual laborer but was now getting involved in plastics manufacturing and followed this new career when the family moved back to New Jersey in 1950 and then buying a house, across the Delaware River from Trenton, in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, where they lived when Fred came along in 1956. “Morrisville was a middle class town that had a huge mill belonging to U.S. Steel as its primary employer. There were perhaps 10,000 people in town and it was a typical idyllic town of the 50’s – I had a great childhood. I went to Holy Trinity Catholic school from 1st thru’ 8th grade and my father progressed in the plastics industry where he was a designer of the components for various projects – I was the ‘crash test dummy’ for the slip ‘n’ slide! My childhood, and beyond, was all about sports – baseball, football, and basketball. I was very social and remain in touch with a number of friends from my kindergarten days and visit the area a couple of times each year.”
Everything changed dramatically for Fred and his family on December 4th, 1965… “My father had been offered a great job in Boston and my parents and I flew up there for my father to work out some final details and to look at houses. On the flight home from Boston to Newark I was in a window seat on an Eastern Airlines plane with perhaps 60 passengers when I suddenly saw another plane, a TWA 707, that was coming right at us. There was a mid-air collision. The other plane managed to get to JFK airport in New York and our pilot, the only reason I am alive today, managed to get us down in a field without any rudder control at dusk between two silos. When we crash landed the plane broke up and burst into flames. My father released my seat belt, passed me a St Joseph’s payer card, and told me to get out the back of the plane. My mother’s seatbelt was jammed and it took a few moments for my father to get it undone. The plane was becoming engulfed in flames. I went to the side of the plane where the wing had broken off and people were escaping. I helped my mother roll my father out through the flames, he could not move, and we got away from the burning aircraft.”
For a day or so Fred was separated from his parents in a different hospital. “I had some minor burns but my parents had both broken their backs and had third-degree burns on over 50%of their bodies, remaining in hospital for six weeks. I still have the prayer card.”
Fred’s father, aged 42 at the time of the crash, was not able to work again. “After receiving virtually no formal education he had worked his way to the pinnacle of his industry and it was all taken away. He sat around for a couple of years or so, dealing with lawyers and feeling bad about not being able to work and support his family. He died on July 25th 1967, the day before Fred Jr’s 11th birthday, at 44, following a massive heart attack in a magistrate’s office. He was sitting next to Fred Jr. at the time. My mother was fine and is still as tough as nails to this day at 87 years old – she’s gonna outlive me! She had two years at a business college and got a job as a secretary and then as an administrator for the State of New Jersey before becoming the assistant to the Superintendent of the Trenton School Board, finally retiring in 1992.”
At Morrisville High School, Fred captained both the football and baseball teams and played basketball “and dated cheerleaders in-between! I was a linebacker and offensive guard on the football team and first baseman at baseball, and, despite my height, the center on the basketball team. Let’s just say we didn’t win many basketball games but we didn’t lose many fights. Football is ‘king’ in Pennsylvania and on Friday nights half the town would turn out for the football games. If you played on the team everyone in town would know you and it was a huge part of the social fabric of the community.”
Fred did well academically, maintaining a B+ as he focused on going to college to play football or baseball, or both, but not necessarily on any particular career outside sports. He was heavily recruited for football by such schools as Ohio State, Virginia, and Maryland and for baseball he was drafted in a lower round to go to the minor leagues. He decided to go to James Madison in Harrisonburg, Virginia where he would be able to do both football and baseball and after graduating in 1975 he headed there. However, in his first football season he blew out his knee and was still rehabilitating when the baseball season came round. His sports career at a high level was over.
Following his sophomore year he left James Madison and went to Millersville State University in Pennsylvania. He played a little varsity baseball but during his senior year he left, not sure what he wanted to do with his life. He returned home and went to work with his sister Terry, who was heavily involved with the Democratic Party and was working on the 1978 campaign to get Brendan Byrne re-elected as Governor of New Jersey. Their candidate won and Fred found himself with a job in the governor’s office working with Bob Torricelli, assistant to the governor. “Torricelli went on to work on the staff of Vice President Walter Mondale and was with him for six months working on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide between the White House and Capitol Hill– a very interesting and educational time.”
Following that experience, Fred returned to New Jersey and found work with the Environmental Protection Agency as a field investigator. “I saw things that would turn your hair white.” He stayed there in Trenton for two years, living in Morrisville across the river, before his long-time interest in vintage cars led to a new job. Fred and a friend opened an antique car showroom in the tourist town of New Hope, PA, also on the Delaware River, close to where Washington crossed and about thirty minutes from his hometown. “We had a great location on the main street in town and would take vehicles on consignment. My specialty was 1953-67 Corvettes and the older Rolls Royce’s and the business did well for a couple of years. Then in 1981 my sister became ill and passed a year later. I found myself at a crossroads and decided to sell my portion of the business to my partner. I started to sell ads for a newspaper in a nearby town for about a year and at some point took a vacation to visit my other sister in Mill Valley, California, just north of San Francisco. I had never really thought much about California but I kind of liked it and decided to move out here. My Mom was okay with that – she has never remarried and would be alone but was going to be okay, and so I drove out in the spring of 1983 and saw a bit of the country over a two-month trip. I then spent the first six months here lying on Stinson Beach in Marin with a sheepdog called Rachel, skydiving, and eating at San Francisco restaurants – it was all a very different culture to anything I had known back east.”
Fred thought he should get a job and he saw an ad in the S.F. Chronicle for an ad salesperson. “I applied and got the job. I lived in Mill Valley and caught the ferry and cable car to work in the City. I started on the classifieds for real estate and cars and then moved to political ads, which I really enjoyed. At work I met Bill Vierra who basically became my surrogate father, and his wife Alice. He had been in advertising for over thirty years and he and I became very close friends. He meant the world to me; he died five years ago and I am still in contact with Alice, in fact I spent Thanksgiving with her last week.”
Fred was at the Chronicle for five years from 1983-88 and during that time he attended night classes at the University of San Francisco, “somehow convincing the newspaper to pay for my course in Information Systems Management – not related to my job at all, and I finally got my degree in 1986”
On April 4th, 1987, Fred was at a club on Market Street where “I spotted a tall beautiful blonde. Her name was Heather and I asked her to dance – she claims that I was about twelve feet away when I did but that can’t be right! I then asked her out to dinner and, although she was kind of shy, she agreed and asked when. I said ‘Tomorrow – Sunday’ and she gave me her phone number. I called her the next day and she was unsure, saying how did she know I wasn’t an axe murderer. I told her she would be fine, as I never took my axe on the first date! We went to Little City on Washington Square in North Beach and it all went very well. We married on April 4th, 1988, exactly a year after our first meeting. She was and still is a software engineer, now a Vice president of the company she works for.”
During his first years in Mill Valley and San Francisco Fred became addicted to golf and also played racquetball and went running. “In 1984 I had moved into the city to an apartment on Twin Peaks and would run up to Sutro Tower at the top. My athletic interests have always been a part of my life – restaurants too! I often explored Napa and Sonoma counties as well as the City and when I first met Heather I was a beer and Scotch guy, only getting into wine much later. We had a great circle of friends who we’d see often. We moved to an apartment just above the Castro District for a year before buying a condo on Potrero Hill in 1989, a month before the earthquake.”
Fred had left the newspaper in 1988 and worked for a number of different computer companies over the next year or so as he “immersed myself in that tech world. By 1989, I was with Motorola and had an ‘office’ of sorts on the Peninsular south of the City but any sort of promotion would mean going to the head office in Boston. ‘No, thank you,’ I thought initially. However they made me such a good offer, and as part of that I insisted that I would be able to come home every weekend, a deal I had committed to with Heather, who was doing well at her job in San Francisco. I therefore started on my many years of the long commute.”
Fred would come home to the City every weekend but could be traveling anywhere in the world as part of his job during the week. “Fortunately Motorola was very into golf as part of their hospitality for clients. I flew around 250,000 miles that year before taking a position in the Bay Area that involved less air travel. It was all very ironic – I had almost lost my life in a plane and now I was making my living in one.”
In 1995 Fred left Motorola and went to Fujitsu setting up global distribution channels, working more in Asia and the south Pacific – Australia, Korea, Singapore, Japan, still maintaining that commitment to be back at home with Heather for the weekend. I was helped by the fact that I crossed the international dateline when I left Tokyo on Saturday, therefore arriving in San Francisco on Friday.”
Some years before, around 1987, Fred had visited the coastal town of Mendocino a couple of times, passing through Anderson Valley, and occasionally doing a little wine-tasting, on the way. On one of those visits he and Heather were here for the County Fair. “I fell in love with that event – I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. It reminded me of fairs back east in some ways and, being a city/suburb boy, I was intrigued by the agriculture and livestock. We joined a couple of wine clubs – Handley and Navarro. My friend Bill Vierra had always advised me to buy property, quoting the Mark Twain line that property is good because they are not making anymore, and we began to look for property but thought that the Valley, although very pretty was too remote so we had been concentrating in Sonoma County and the foothills of the Sierras. Heather was working in Mountain View and when I flew in I was also south of the City so a trip up this way was over 130 miles – too far.”
They ended up looking from 1994 to 1999 and entered escrow on two properties in Sonoma that both fell through. They continued to visit the coast and pass through the Valley when “suddenly the light bulb went off – we decided we’d like to live here and started to look for property here in 1999. I was still with Fujitsu and getting more and more frequent flyer miles – all fine except it just means you are going to be on another plane! Sometimes my mother would come with me to Europe and we would stop off in London and go up to Scotland to see her relatives and I’d play some golf.”
“By this time I was learning to enjoy wine – Heather had made it in her garage in the City and certainly has the gift. As a result we began thinking about getting a small vineyard property, sell the grapes, and enjoy the wine. I knew nothing at all about winemaking – some might say I still don’t! I had never driven a tractor and now my business card has me referred to as ‘Tractor Butt / Owner.’ I spotted a property for sale in the Chronicle that was ‘off-grid’ – I didn’t know what that meant. We went up for a look and met the owner – he had long hair and a ponytail with a beard and was wearing slippers! It was Urs Schaub, who also owned the Pick and Pay / Boonville Lodge building in Boonville. He showed us the property and an hour or so later we had bought it!”
Fred and Heather took possession on August 1st, 1999 and soon got to know Hans and Norman Kobler at Lazy Creek Vineyards, who were to be a great help, as was Urs. I said to Norman ‘you show me how to grow grapes and when you want to sell $1/2 billion of communication equipment to China you come to me’ – as I said I knew nothing at first.”
Fred left Motorola and moved to Nortel and was still traveling as much, although now he and Heather would come to the Valley every weekend. “I really and truly enjoyed everything about this new venture but still had my city ways and was quickly learning the ways of the country. I would ask why something hadn’t been done and would be told simply ‘Because it hasn’t.’ Norman Kobler did so much for us – we wouldn’t be where we are today without him as a co-worker and friend.
By 2001 the corporate bubble was bursting and with Nortel offering early retirement plans, Fred took the opportunity to move on. “Later that year we lost our minds and opened a winery! We had planted a further few acres of vines for ten in total and our first vintage was 167 cases, 57 of which were from our cabernet vines planted in 1967. Hans Kobler helped us a lot in those early days, and Milla Handley and the Klindt’s at Claudia Springs were fabulous at sharing information with us.”
In 2003, Heather took retirement. They rented out their condo in the City and for a year she and Fred were up here full-time before she returned to work in the Bay Area. In that time she worked at Taylor Roberts in the Valley. “That gave her time to decompress from the corporate world and I took a job with Brutacao Cellars – I can sell and do marketing and was there from 2003 to 2010, working for a great family and with many great folks.”
By 2010, with ‘by-appointment only’ bringing in maybe 30-40 visitors a year to the winery, situated way back over five miles up Nash Mill Road, Fred realized that he needed to focus on the future of Philo Ridge Vineyards and he left Brutocao. He also opened his own brokerage for grapes and juices, mainly to wineries outside California. Sales at the winery greatly improved and then it was decided that they needed a tasting room in town and with Jill Derwinski as manager they opened in February 2011. “Jill has done a fabulous job for us, greatly helping the business to grow. It has been a lot of fun and I try to spend time here from Friday to Monday when we are open. Schmoozing is in my nature and I really enjoy it.”
“We initially stayed sort of low-key overall, following the backlash against out-of-towners buying property here, but I am here virtually all of the time now and am involved in the community and attend many events. I have quietly got to know people and make donations and support numerous charities. I don’t have time to do much hands-on but try to help in ways that I can. Our social life is generally around winery events and with Heather back in the City during the week our time together is short and has to count. Owning a winery is not all sitting on the verandah sipping wine and watching the grapes grow. It is hard work but I enjoy it and there is no doubt it is a good life and I love the general atmosphere of the Valley.”
Besides work at his winery and brokerage, Fred has been the past President of the A.V. Winegrowers Association and Chair of the Mendocino Wine and Grape Commission. “I have always got involved in things that interest me. When I decide to do something, I immerse myself in it. I love to cook although Heather thinks I am always at Lauren’s or Libby’s. We have two rescue Golden Retrievers and two feral cats who have become three-meals-a-day inside cats.”
I asked Fred for a snapshot image of his father – “Very dapper and fit – he worked out with Jack LeLanne, the fitness guru”… And his mother? – “Resilient, with a huge heart”… The Valley? – “I love the sense of community; the willingness to help out and be open. I also enjoy the solitude I can get here sometimes.”
I asked Fred for his thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation…The Wineries? – “Of course I am biased but I believe they have been good for the Valley. Other industries were fading, the wineries have come in and kept things going in many ways. They are the valley’s major employer although I must say that I think we have hit critical mass at this point”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like it. Heather reads it every week. I like to read some of it – the Valley People section and the interviews and anything about the Valley’s history. It seems to have changed its tone for the better”… KZYX&Z public radio? – “I love it. We are members and where else can I get much of the information they put out? I love the Celtic music on Sunday mornings, the solar living and ecology shows, and any local stuff.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Fred and asked him to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “Heather’s smile; playing with the dogs; getting a good order!”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Intolerant people.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “A cat purring two inches from my nose.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Politicians talking”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – ‘A cheeseburger and fries with a cold mug of Heineken at Rossi’s Tavern in Trenton, New Jersey. I have one very year.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “Abe Lincoln.”
7. If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “The Prayer Card my Dad gave me when the plane went down; family photos; that’s it…”
8. Does anything scare you? – “Vampires scared me a lot when I was younger and I always slept with the sheets covering my neck. These days it would be not being the person I can be, underperforming… And still vampires!”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “I have traveled all over the world but in recent times I have developed a desire to see more of this country and Mount Rushmore in particular.”
10. Do you have a favorite book and song, or one that has influenced you? – “I like biographies – Gore Vidal’s ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Benjamin Franklin’ by Walter Isaacson come to mind. I also like Clive Cussler’s adventure novels featuring Dirk Pitt… As for music I like jazz and classical but have no favorites.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – Sports – I excelled back then at all sports. Now, it would be wine-making, but I guess that is more of a passion and is our business, and I am determined to get back to playing some golf.”
12. Do you have a favorite word or phrase that you use? – “Crap”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “First baseman for the Yankees.”
14. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “President.”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I was fourteen and we went to the boardwalk at Seaside Heights in New Jersey.”
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I believe that things happen for a reason. I have made good and bad decisions and accept them.”
17. Tell me about a moment or period of time you will never forget. – “Meeting Heather for the first time.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “That I have a great wife, a good job, and wonderful family and friends.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “That I am open and honest.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well when that happens it would be great to hear him or her say, ‘Welcome – your family and friends are all waiting to see you’ – yes, that would be wonderful.”

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Published in: on November 29, 2012 at 9:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

David Jackness – October 26th, 2012

I met with David on Anderson Valley Way where he lives with life-partner Regine Schwenter. We enjoyed a refreshing cup of tea and sat down to chat.
David was born in 1941 in New York City to parents William Jackness and Rosalind Schiff who were both first generation Americans. His paternal grandfather was from a small rural town in southwest Russia and he met David’s grandmother in a shtetl, a small Jewish town, in Romania. Both had been previously married and they eloped to the States in 1903, arriving at Ellis Island where his grandfather’s papers could not be read clearly and Jochnis became Jackness. They probably only spoke Yiddish and settled in Brooklyn where the grandfather practiced his trade as a glazier. They came with three of their children and had five more in this country, including David’s father.
Maternal Grandfather Henry Schiff was from Austro-Hungary and his parents spoke high German. David’s grandmother was from Lithuania before moving to Poland and then on to the U.S. when her family decided her tuberculosis was not going to lead to her finding a husband in their town. She met her husband in the States, living in Queens, N.Y., and they had two children – David’s mother and her brother. “My father saw my mother ice skating one day and fell immediately in love. It was not necessarily reciprocated as my mother had high ideals of marrying high. They were married in 1937 but she was seven years younger than he and not super-enthusiastic about it. They were of non-religious Jewish descent and had both gone through the Depression and had to find work to support their families so chances of college had passed, their aspirations curtailed. They were together for 21 years – probably 21 more than they should have been.”
David’s father had a series of non-descript jobs from door-to-door salesman to accountant, while his mother did some bookkeeping. Her uncle owned one of the big cab companies in New York which meant he had an ‘understanding’ with Al Capone’s mafia. He taught my mother how to juggle the books and sometimes she had to meet strangers in a luncheonette with a bag of money. Later on, when Capone was on trial, her uncle had to leave town as he didn’t want to have to be a witness.”
David came along in 1941 and his sister two-and-a-half years later. They now lived in row house in Queens, in a predominantly Irish/Italian neighborhood. “I was regularly beaten up for being Jewish – these people were pissed off at the Jews for killing Jesus – it had nothing to do with me! When I was about four I was basically adopted by a local German couple who showed me a whole new world, They were very kind and generous and I remember thinking I wish they were my parents. The Jewish culture was certainly a part of my upbringing but I was not forced into the religion or its practices. On high holy days we would sometimes go to Temple but Christmas was my favorite holiday. I did have a bar mitzvah but that was it and apart from the occasional wedding or funeral I never set foot in a synagogue again. We were not a close family and had few gatherings even though the Schiffs were close by. My maternal grandmother died in 1947 and my paternal grandfather had died in 1925 way before I was born – not a very nice man apparently.”
By the age of two I was showing musical ability and by four was considered a child prodigy on the piano. My mother thought she had a little Mozart on her hands. The Julliard School tested me but despite doing well they did not accept children under seven. My mother would not let it go at that and she managed to get me a scholarship to attend the Mannes Music School, one of the other two Conservatories in New York City. I was four and twice a week I went there with her on a bus, a train, and then a walk in Manhattan. I enjoyed it at first as they groomed me to be a concert pianist or composer. She really pushed me while my father was more laissez-faire. He supported all of my endeavors but was emotionally cold and when my sister got polio, that had a huge impact on her life and us around her, he had no ‘use’ for her. My involvement in music meant that I had a far from normal childhood, often inside practicing while other kids played sports etc outside. I was always afraid of making mistakes with my music and that affected other areas of my young life. It also resulted in me being very timid and always having sweaty hands.”
As far as his regular schooling went, David did well, but socially he was always a year behind the other children. “I was neurotic and shy. I enjoyed the sciences and excelled at French. My father was very honest and honorable and was doing well as a sales representative and we moved to suburban Queens when I was twelve by which time I was losing interest in the piano so my mother made me take up the flute and I studied with one of the top flutists in the country. I was the President of the school band and the Vice-President of the Orchestra – this was a big deal. I also had a little jazz band although I was never very good as at the back on my mind were my classical influences and the metronome rhythm that does not go well with jazz of course. My interests had moved to electronics and I became very involved in amateur radio.”
In 1958, when David was 17, his parents went through an ugly divorce. His sister went with her mother and soon after, when David graduated, he went to engineering school. “It was always on the agenda that I would go to college although my flute teacher was devastated when I stopped my lessons with him. I was not really suited to math and physics at the engineering school as it turned out and I wound up at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Lutheran Church. I did see some anti-Semitism there and I remember a bunch of the students getting drunk – the drinking age was 18 then, and defacing the Jewish cemetery in Staten Island. I never felt at home there, but I really wanted to leave home and had thought I was ready for college and the lifestyle it offered, but I wasn’t as it turned out.”
David still played the flute in the college orchestra and also organized a local recorder group that played Elizabethan music, for which he wrote some of the arrangements. His degree was now in psychology but he also studied minors in music and math and graduated in 1962. “I had also fallen in with a ‘rough’ crowd, discovered drugs for the first time, and had done a lot of growing up but I stayed in school and that had helped me avoid the draft to that point, although the war in Vietnam was heating up. By this time I had discovered the work of Wilhelm Reich, Freud’s prize pupil, which has been a major part of my life ever since. His work grabbed me like no other form of psychology but many think him of as a ‘nut’ and his work is not widely accepted even today. I did a short spell of graduate study at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan but dropped out of the program in early 1963 believing that there was not much work in the psychology field unless you had a Ph D. Then on April Fool’s Day that year – I should have realized that something was not right – I took a job as a social caseworker for the N.Y.C. Department of Welfare working in the worst areas of the city from Brooklyn to the Spanish Harlem.”
David was passionate about his work despite the dangers and depressing work conditions but he earned decent money with good benefits and by 1965 he became the youngest supervisor in the department’s history. “I felt I was doing a real service in the community and became involved with the radical union that represented about 5,000 caseworkers throughout the whole city. I discovered various degrees of corruption with some caseworkers and management accepting money from landlords to place people in their terrible buildings. It really offended me and I turned in an inspector at one point. As a supervisor, my work with the union was frowned on by management and they began to move me around the department and after four years I realized that I would always have problems there and so I quit.”
It was the late sixties and David had moved from the West Village and was living on the Lower East Side. “It was more to my taste and budget. There was a lot of stuff happening there at the time and I was spending most of my money on drugs and listening to the jazz greats who played in the city. I was really enjoying the city lifestyle and while I did not have any long-term relationships during that time I definitely had a good time. I dabbled in all aspects of the counter culture – politics, music, drugs, and had developed a new passion by this time – photography. I worked for some photographers both as a shop and darkroom assistant and on some of their shoots. By 1967, I believed that I could run my own place and, with a partner, I opened a small photo business on Avenue A and 5th Street, selling equipment, doing darkroom work, and processing film for professionals and the many tourists who visited the area.”
The business went well for a time but his partner fell in love and left town so David was left alone to run the operation. “I had to do seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, in the shop and then do the books after we closed. By that time I had met Ellen and we lived above the shop, getting married later and I adopted her son, Daniel. Then came some the street riots and the tourists stayed away.” David ended up selling the business at a loss to a group that helped under-privileged kids. “I was only ever a mediocre photographer – doing weddings and bar mitzvahs, and there were 50, 000 out of work good photographers in New York so that alternative was not going to work.”
“New York was getting worse and worse and I left to pursue a dream of going to Taos, New Mexico. We left town in 1968 but the car broke down in Sante Fe, and with my mother, her second husband, and my sister in nearby Tucson, we went there and stayed with them for a month before renting an apartment. At first I thought it was beautiful there, so exotic – little did I know.”
David found work as an apprentice carpenter, a passion of his since his younger years, in the copper mines in the mountains outside Tucson. “I worked with some roughneck guys and we’d start at 5am – I’d never had ‘5am’ on my watch before in my life! It was freezing at that time but later in the day boiling hot – sometimes 124 degrees! A miserable shift, and most of the people were as prickly as the cactus around them. I quit and found a non-union job in a cabinet shop. I learned a great deal but by the late summer of 1969 I was done with Tucson. It’s not hell but you can certainly see hell from there!”
David thought about returning to New York “with my tail between my legs, but my wife and I thought how could we forgive ourselves if we did not get to San Francisco, considering we were over half-way there and we knew people in S.F. so we ‘escaped’ from Tucson.”
San Francisco was “a breath of fresh air” to David and he found a job in the Mission district, in a cabinet shop doing cabinets, remodeling and furniture-making. “A whole new world opened up for me. I worked in the shop and also did restoration in Victorian homes. It was like a dream; a really wonderful experience for a few years.” By 1972, as a result of a friendship with another couple that had come out of David’s involvement with the development of an alternative school, the two couples and their children were invited by a wealthy rancher to move to the town of Covelo in Mendocino County to ‘help save the town.’ The rancher owned 27,000 acres there and was hoping to encourage the healthy growth of the town – senior housing, medical center, support services, nature trails, etc. One of the things he felt was necessary was a restaurant and he asked David and the group to move up there and build it.
“I was always a country kid who didn’t know it. Ellen and I now had a second child together; son Damon, born in 1971, and we sublet our house in the City and moved the family up to Mendocino County, camping on the land for the first three months. The group included me, the other husband Mike, who was the architect of the whole venture, one or two others, and local laborers, each of us getting the same pay – $5 an hour. I was barely up to the task and it took one-and-a-half years but it was done and proved to be a wonderful project; a life-changing experience. After it was done, I realized that I had really taken to country living and stayed, taking on various building projects and establishing Covelo’s first building trades apprentice program, primarily with Native Americans in mind.”
Following his divorce from Ellen in 1975, David returned to San Francisco and opened his own cabinet/remodeling business. “I don’t remember exactly why. It probably sounded like a good idea at the time. Covelo is very remote and pretty dangerous at times with all of the guns and knife-fights – a place where nine Indian tribes had been forced to live side-by-side.”
The two children stayed with their mother and moved to Comptche, so David would drive up and take them back to the City for a day before returning them back home. Meanwhile, David had met his future wife and his business was going quite well. He also taught a home repair course for elderly Asians in the city and the first graduating class from that course began ‘The Chinaman Handyman Service.’ In addition, he had a short-lived home repair program on KQED public television.
“In 1978, I was popped for remodeling without a general contractor’s license so I decided to leave town and moved to Willits in Mendocino where we bought a home and where there was a construction boom, and I would be much closer to my kids. I also took care of my license situation – I got five of them, in general contracting, painting and decorating, plumbing, flooring, and ceramic tile. I was never great at any of them but I was a good businessman and organizer – it’s in my blood! I also taught an evening class at Mendocino College on how to build your own home, wrote a do-it-yourself column for the Willits News, and worked as a loan processor for the Farmer’s Home Administration helping lower income people to become homeowners. I have never done anything I am not passionate about but have just done it for too long sometimes.”
By 1981 David had re-married, to Barbara, and another son, Leland, had arrived. “We moved to Ukiah where I got a ‘real’ job working for the local housing authority, setting up and running housing rehabilitation programs for lower income homeowners. There were some tough years in community housing and I was involved with getting funds through grants from the State Department of Housing and Community Development to help these people whose homes needed repairs that they could not afford. I wrote the contracts and specifications, processed the loans, and put the jobs out to bid with contractors all over the county, spreading the jobs among different contractors. It was the longest straight job I ever had and although there was lots of paperwork I still managed to often get out in the field too. Throughout much of the 90’s I served as a Board of Directors member and President of the Board of The Ford Street Project. Based in Ukiah, the Ford St. Project deals with drug and alcohol problems, counseling, chronic mental illness, and homeless issues among others. It operates an emergency shelter as well as offering long-term transitional housing for those people reestablishing themselves in the community during or after going through rehab programs.”
In 1996, David and Barbara were divorced and two years later the job ended when funding ran out. “I had no job, a family house in Ukiah, and my kids had all moved on to college and beyond – they all went to U.C. Santa Cruz. In 1998, when Leland, my youngest, left for college, I rented out the house and moved to the coast. I lived in East Caspar and then in Cleone, just north of Fort Bragg and found work as the construction coordinator for a manufactured home dealer. Once a week I found myself driving through Anderson Valley. I would often stop for a savory turnover at Glad’s and often went into the Boont Berry store in Boonville. One day I spotted a woman there. She returned my smile and the whole world seemed to stand still. A few months later I saw her again and the earth moved. A couple of years went by before I saw her again, working behind the counter at Boont Berry, She was very busy and I left, but went back a few weeks later and we talked. For me it had been instantaneous. I asked her out on a date and we met in Mendocino Village, had coffee, talked, and we really hit it off. That was 2002 and we have been going strong ever since.”
David had found the love of his life. He sold his sailboat and moved to Boonville. He retired from full-time work in 2003, at the age of 62, although he continued to do some consulting for the Contractors’ State License Board. He and Regine moved into the newly built house on Anderson Valley Way where they continue to live. Following years of back problems he finally had an operation that was a great success. “That was as a result of many years in construction and me being young, stupid, and believing I was immortal. Since that surgery in 2011 I have been much better.”
Since moving to the Valley, David has served for two terms on the board of KZYX & Z local public radio as well as doing voluntary work there too. His interest in amateur (ham) radio continues to take up lots of his leisure time and he and Regine love to travel, visiting Costa Rica and much of Europe in recent years. “I also still like to play with wood and do various small projects around here. As for music, I’m slowly moving back into that – there is a lot of baggage. I do take out my flute once a week, polish it, and put it back. That’s a start. I am definitely going to start electric bass lessons soon too – I have committed to that.”
Other activities that David enjoys are dancing with Regine – “she make me look good”, watching good films, and doing T’ai chi. Two of his sons live in Santa Cruz, one a musician and writer, the other holds a position in a large vitamin company, while the youngest, Leland, is in Santa Monica where “he is a singer/songwriter, who makes a living repairing guitars for the rich and famous. I told him not to quit this day job.”
I asked David for a verbal image/memory of his father. “He was not physically abusive but I was afraid of him with his short fuse. I feel closer to him since he died and in retrospect I appreciate much of what he did”… And his mother? “She pictured herself as the ‘power behind the throne.’ She could be very warm and loving but just as often was the opposite. Many of my parents’ shortcomings I have come to understand, were as a result of their upbringing and then living through the Depression.”
What do you like about life in the Valley? “Regine… The sense of community. I have never felt as at home and with as much community support as I do here. It is a very special place.” And any negatives? “Not really, although I would like to get out to more diverse cultural events but it is a long trip to San Francisco. I miss the coast sometimes, too.”
I asked David for his thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation…The Wineries? – “They do a good job in providing jobs but some are questionable on providing housing for workers and they are not good on what they are taking out of the Valley’s earth with most of their product leaving the Valley. The water they take is not just in the summer either – many use it for frost protection”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “Well, I‘ll buy this issue! The paper is definitely well written – I do admire that. There seems to be some confusion between editorials and news reporting”… KZYX & Z radio? – “The best and most important center of communication that we have in the county.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to David and asked him to reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? – “Regine.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down? – “Laziness and messiness.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Music.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Continually barking dogs.”
5. What would be your ‘last supper’? – “Thanksgiving Dinner.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “Wilhelm Reich – one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry.”
7. If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “Family photographs; a selection of my rare books; my flute.”
8. Does anything scare you? –“It frightens me to be incapacitated, paralyzed, unable to fend for myself.”
9. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Asia.”
10. Do you have a favorite film or one that has influenced you? – “When I was about twelve, I saw ‘The Bicycle Thief’ at a movie theater in Queens. It was the first time I saw a really fine film and have been a film addict ever since.”
11. What was your favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? – “It has always been amateur radio.”
12. Do you have a favorite word or phrase that you use? – “Oh, shit!”
13. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A healer – healing by conscious intent.”
14. What profession or job would you not like to do? – “A lawyer.”
15. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I took a girl called Bonnie to the movies when I was sixteen. It was ‘Pillow Talk’ I think – where both Doris Day and Rock Hudson were pretending to be straight.”
16. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “In 2002 I had the opportunity to become a healer but decided not to. There is a definite thread of healing/teaching in my life.”
17. Tell me about a moment or period of time you will never forget. – “My trip to Cuba in 1996.”
18. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “I like how I’ve lived my life. My sons have turned out very well and that please me greatly, but I cannot take any credit for that.”
19. What is your favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? – “That I am an attentive and able listener.”
20. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, if I believed in that kind of God, I’d like to hear him or her say, ‘What took you so long?’.”

The next interview will appear on the final (5th) Thursday of the month – November 29th.
The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be
Fred Buonanno – Owner, Philo Ridge Winery

Published in: on November 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Coming soon…

Dear Readers,
There is no interview this week. This month, with five Thursdays, the interviews will be published on the 3rd and 5th Thursday of the month and therefore the next interview will appear on November 15th when my guest will be David Jackness…
Thanks for your continued positive comments and support,
Kind regards, Steve Sparks.

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment