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Postmark: Boonville (April 2, 1997)

Boonville is the largest of four tiny settlements in the twenty-mile-long Anderson Valley. It has two things going for it; it’s very beautiful and it’s only a couple of hours north of San Francisco. The Frisco escape hatch has turned out to be something of a curse because the valley’s hills are filling up with NPR listeners. Twenty-five years ago nobody lived in the hills and the population on the valley floor tended to lawlessness because the nearest cops were twenty miles away over a winding mountain road.

People Magazine came through a decade or so ago to do a piece on Anderson Valley remarking on how much national attention the place seemed to get. For a population of less than 3,000 people (“if you chased everyone out of the bushes,” as the local wags say) Boonville has an uncanny way of attracting the scattered national attentions, usually for the wrong reason. The Manson Family lived here. Jim Jones of Jonestown fame taught fith grade in Boonville for a couple of years before he moved on to bigger things. Leonard Lake and Charles Ng functioned as volunteer firemen here in the valley just before they were caught cutting up women in an underground bunker in the Sierra foothills. A character named Tree Frog Johnson was another national-class perv. The valley also is often represented on national talk shows by a couple of old timers who speak an in-house lingo called Boontling developed by locals when Anderson Valley was much more off the path than it is now. Boontling, tarted up for the tourist trollers, consists largely of ethnic slurs and sexual innuendo, greatly reflecting the attitudes of the early 20th century American outback. Hell, you couldn’t go on the Letterman show and talk about “boar kikes” and the vaginas of black women feeling like “cut cabbage.” How a bunch of isolated farmers got the kind of extra-worldly experience that often found its way into their little code lingo beats me.

More wholesomely, a Boonville family by the name of Colfax educated their four sons at home and sent three of them straight out of the hills to Harvard. The fourth one got married, perhaps the most difficult course of study of all.

Lately, the area is being marketed as “the next Napa Valley” as if that’s somehow desirable. Wineries are everywhere now, even high in the hills. Fortunately for the wine industry, people are starving in Mexico so a peasant labor force has found its way here to do all the work. Also in the hills are resorts for people who visualize world peace reinforced by a public radio station which serves up a sort of audio High Tea.

The place has gone all to hell in a hurry.

I knew things had changed for the worse when I got up at a school board meeting to complain that the school was lazy and dumb and that the superintendent was a fat fool. A woman sitting as a trustee said, calmly, “Sit down, Bruce, you’re becoming irrational.” Not that her assessment of my presentation was inaccurate but I remember her rolling around nude with her goat-like mate in the dust of a hippie fair down the road back in 1971. Here was the merry slut in charge of my kid’s schooling! The humiliation, my friends, still stings.

The secure parts of the middleclass was still playing naked woods grabass in those days; since, they’ve re-entered with a vengeance, occupying all the power slots in Mendocino County’s justice, educational, social service, and health apparatuses. The flower child fad had gotten tiresome by ‘75 so they all quit and got jobs keeping the rednecks down.

Back a ways there were lots of wild people around — interesting wild people whose humor ran a little heavy but there was nothing like it. Down at the Boonville Lodge, a squat, brick bunker perhaps unconsciously designed to confine the mayhem common within, the Bloyd Brothers convened Saturday night headbutting contests. No brain, no pain, as the saying goes but a truly memorable spectator sport. One Bloyd would position himself at the post office just across the road from the Lodge. Another one would paw the floor in the bar. At the shout “Go!” the Lodge Bloyd would sprint out the door and into the street, ramming skulls with the post office Bloyd who’d also revved up for the big crash. They’d sometimes go five rounds before one of them conked out.

Strangers entered the Lodge at their own risk, especially long-haired strangers. One night a hippie stopped by for a six-pack to go. The boys at the bar were sitting around naked that night except for their cowboy and baseball hats, just for the heck of it and with not so much as a hint of homoerotic content. While the hippie waited for Amy to bring him his beer, a naked man deftly hooked up the hippies’ VW bus to his pick-up and, the hippie back at the wheel, commenced to drag it around Boonville for an hour, the terrified hippie screaming to get out. The Lodge gang laughed so hard they were leaning on each other.

When the NPR listeners took over, Boonville’s wild people were basically priced out of here. The last I heard the Bloyds had re-grouped somewhere out in Eastern Oregon.

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