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Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Doug Read

I met with Doug Read a couple of weeks ago at his home on the Valley’s unofficial ‘Mason-Dixon Line’ that separates Boonville and Philo, just north of Breggo Cellars Winery. The house, built by carpenter Doug, is in a beautiful spot with 360 degree views of the Valley as it sits up on the hill on the east side of Highway 128 overlooking Bill Hill’s Hole (aka the huge pond known as The Big Dig).

Doug was born in 1952 in Stalin’s Soviet Russia. Within a year, Frank and Joyce Read originally of Salt Lake City, both practicing Mormons who already had their own biological child, Susan, and would soon have another, Kent, had adopted him. “It was a very unusual thing to do at that time,” Doug says. “I’m not sure of the details but I know it was not done through some sort of agency.” His new parents’ descendents had all been Mormons and at one point in the 1860’s, Doug’s Great, Great Grandfather on his mother’s side, and a practicing polygamist, had to flee to escape prosecution when that was made illegal. The Read’s lived in Ogden, Utah with their extended family nearby and where Frank Read ran his own water conditioning/softener business.

They lived in suburbia and Doug attended the local schools. “It all seemed OK to me — there were lots of kids around where we lived, I was happy. I was a good student but didn’t really like school. I preferred to be out hunting and fishing with my Dad and knew as a young boy that I wanted to live in the countryside when I grew up. My Dad was an alcoholic and a chain-smoker and for a few years he was quite mean but in his later life he was a sweetheart. I was at his bedside when he died at 74. He was on a morphine drip as he slipped away. It was beautiful, not sad at that point.”

In 1968, the family moved to Ventura, a “surf town” south of Santa Barbara and Doug went to the high school there for two years until graduating in 1970 and going to a junior college for a couple of years — “for no apparent reason.” In 1970 with the war ongoing in Vietnam he registered for the draft to please his parents but then turned around and burned his draft card. “This was terribly illegal and I did it as a symbolic gesture, to make a statement about the War. While at the JC, I basically majored in draft evasion — I loved to read the Fabulous Furry Freak Brother’s magazine that was regarded as subversive, and I would drop off copies at the Draft Board. I’m not sure what they made of me but they had to file everything I gave them, not just medical records, which in my case were full of reports on my asthma and a burst lung. I was prepared to go underground if they came after me but my number was 235 and they were only taking up to 96 by this time as the war was beginning to wind down. Moving from Salt Lake to Southern California had meant that I had become much more aware of the political situation and had gained a very different perspective on virtually everything I had known.”

In 1972, Doug’s parents moved back to Utah with his brother (his sister had stayed there). “It was not working for them. They were from a small town upbringing and my Dad was having issues with alcohol.” Meanwhile, while at the junior college, Doug had continued to date his high school sweetheart and when they left and he had started an apprenticeship in carpentry, they were married and had a baby girl, Tisa. Soon afterwards they moved back to Utah and he attended trade school there and began to find work. “We tried to make it there but it was tough after living in Ventura. I had been ‘California-ized’. Meanwhile me and ‘the kids’ mother’, as she is fondly referred to, had a second child, our son Winter.”

“We remained in Salt Lake for three years and then returned to Ventura in 1976 where I found work in home building and renovation. We lived a pretty normal life I imagine — raising the kids, hanging out with other parents. We had our third child, daughter Aura, in 1979 — I delivered her — that’s a pretty good high I would say. Now I was 28 and had three kids. Thank God for ignorance or we’d never breed,” he added with a smile. “Along with other parents we started an alternative school with open classrooms run partially by parents. It was quite ground-breaking at the time, giving some logic to the standard way of thinking — a regular structured school is not for everyone.”

In the summer of 1979, Doug visited a friend of his here in Anderson Valley and they went wine-tasting at Husch Vineyards and Edmeades Winery, and generally had a great few days. “‘I gotta live here’ I thought and when in March 1980 my buddy asked me to build him a house on some land he’d bought I accepted the job and we moved up. We lived in a tent, the two of us and the three kids, all under seven years old — once again thank God for ignorance, I would never have done that if we’d known what we were letting ourselves in for. We had just a spring on the property in Rancho Navarro, there was no well, but we had the VW bus, of course, and would drive over to Ukiah once a week and stay at the Motel 6 and spend most of the time in the hot shower. I found some part-time work with old-timer Bobby ‘Chipmunk’ Glover, installing pumps but most of the time I’d just listen to him talk and not much would get done.”

“It was very rough and neither my wife nor I had much idea about country life. Despite that, I was always OK about being here. I knew I could build but making it happen was another thing altogether. Then my friend ran out of money and the project stopped. We had a little money and in 1981 my father-in-law gave us quite a bit more so we were finally able to buy our own place nearby. For a time things were tight and many of the buildings in the Valley were old and shabby but I felt that the Valley was going to grow - the Hotel was undergoing renovation and the Navarro Winery buildings were going up. I thought I’d always get work. I was right.”

Doug found most of his work came from neighbors on Rancho Navarro. He continued to build his own home at the property they called ‘Poison Oaks’ while living in a 27-foot trailer his parents had bought them that ran on a generator, as there was no electricity. His marriage had been under strain; his preferred lifestyle was not the same as his wife’s, “She liked her City ‘fix’ and the nicer things. We split up around 1982/83 and she took the kids back to southern California. I would go down there and pick them up for the summers and every other holiday. It was strange. I was a single-parent for part of the year then a single guy for the rest. I found it tough to switch on and off. I feel I did not do very well at it. I thought I was going to lose my mind for a time but we all survived.” In 1986, Doug started work at the Philo Saw Works for Jim Boudoures and has been there ever since. “Yes, Jim has kept me very busy, he still does. I have to almost beg for a day off. We’re practically married!” he chuckled, adding, “I run one of his two crews — the finishing crew. I am the detail guy.”

After his wife and kids had left, Doug began to mix with like-minded individuals in the Valley. “I joined the gang who were playing Jungle Ball up at the Cheesecake Estates on Greenwood Road. It was like volleyball but with very flexible rules. If it looked good then it was good. Being part of that scene was very healthy for me. It gave me a kind of salvation for the hard times I had, emotionally and financially. I had been growing old really quickly. Then we formed The Magic Company. It was born in a hot tub at Cheesecake and started by Henry Hill, Captain Rainbow, Terry Scott, and myself. They all knew each other and I really wanted to be a part of their scene. I had good banter with these guys so I pushed myself into the group and we began to write and produce shows. I had enjoyed, and always taken part in, theatre at school, I was too wimpy for sports, but initially I was just the lighting guy but after I blew them away with my stuff I was soon allowed to be on stage too.”

“Our first two shows, or rather ‘musical plays,’ were both on Halloween — we claimed we ‘owned Halloween’ in those days — and they were held at the Old Grange building before it burnt down. Then Rainbow started The Variety show at the Philo Café before it moved to the new Grange. Those involved included people like Alan Kendall, A.J. Soares, Jack Tysselling, Dave Dart, Lynn Archambault, Lady Rainbow, Christy Hodgkiss, etc. Henry would build the props and the ‘play’ would be written around these, constantly evolving. It was all original stuff, and as Terry Scott would remind us, ‘you can only see something like this in Belgium and Peking.’ We had lots of fun and drank a lot.”

In those days Doug had long hair — “so going to The Lodge was out of the question” — and not much money so as a result he and his friends would gather for a film at The Grange and later, when The Grange burned down, at Brad Wiley’s barn, to which people would bring popcorn and firewood for the stove. “There was not much to do around here. Change was slow in the Valley although places were being fixed up and high-end homes were gradually coming in, but it was still sort of a place on the way to Mendocino and the coast. It still is in some ways, I guess. In winter it would get really dead, like a ghost town. The apples and sheep were disappearing and grapes were arriving. I continued to get steady work fortunately.”

By the 1990’s Doug was working a lot and had dated a few people before entering into a seven-year relationship with Jonesy DeWolf. “We are still good friends. I have always tried to stay on good terms with any ex-girlfriend and have been successful in most cases.” In 1993 he sold his property in Rancho Navarro and bought the acreage he has lived on to this day. “It’s half-way between Philo and Boonville, on what is the Valley’s ‘Mason-Dixon’ line, to use some Boontling vernacular. It’s a very defensible place in case I have to fend off the mutant hordes from the City. When I bought the property there was a well but nothing else except thick Scotch Broom trees. I cleared a few out and immediately began to build once again. I am still working on this place. I am great at starting projects but not good at finishing them.”

Meanwhile, he had known Wendy Blankenheim as a “good pal” beginning in 1996 “but there was never a time when neither of us was with somebody else. I guess we finally became official in February 2005 and we got married on June 9th, 2007.” With a little money coming his way during the 90s Doug began to travel, visiting Brazil at that time, and then later with Wendy to Thailand three times and also Mexico. “Wendy is a true traveler. I have learned from her. I have not done much in the US but I did go to see The South once. I wanted to experience that part of the country. I had a prejudice against it, and still did at the end of my trip. A lot of the history down there has been built on the back of slavery. I liked the difference in cultures but should the things that happened down there be glorified in its heritage?”

For a few years now Doug has been a member of the ‘Ukeholics’ music group, along with Henry Hill, Denver Tuttle, and Dennis Hudson. “I had a guitar when I was 12 and saw the Beatles. We are not too serious but we do practice regularly and currently I think we are feeling very comfortable as a band and playing in the band is a spiritual place for me. ‘I coulda been a real fancy singer if it hadn’t been for ma voice!’ ” he adds with a laugh.

Doug loves the Valley, particularly its sense of community and physical beauty. “I wouldn’t change much around here except may be have fewer vineyards and a closer check on the Valley’s development. I’d also create some permanent swimming holes for public use. And if we had a position of Mayor of the Valley I’d vote for Captain Rainbow. He drives me nuts but I like much of what he does around here. He is in to connecting with all the cultures we have around here.”

For seven of the last ten years Doug and various friends have attended the ‘Burning Man’ gathering in the desert. “It is 43,000 people, mostly doing creative things, very freely. We create ‘The Boonville Cabaret’ theme camp each time we go and set up a bar and stage. We’ve had as many as 23 Valley and honorary Valley people in the group. Bruce Hering, Linda McClure, and Wendy were Burning Man ‘virgins’ back in 2004. It seems to get better every year and is far more than just a big party. It is very spiritual and great fun. Having fun is a right of every human being and enjoying it with friends is very special. To be in the midst of this incredible creativity is amazing. The whole sense of community there is wonderful. No money is exchanged — it is a gift economy. If I have it, and you need it, it’s yours. The energy is great and we try to bring home here a little bit every year.”

Doug always wanted to be in the “hippy world” but as a result of having kids at a young age he had to get work and was never a true hippy. “I wanted to do the whole VW bus thing and travel around but my wife wanted the ‘picket fence’ scene and stability. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle now. I like to ‘dance’ in all of the different groups here.” As for the future Doug informs me that he may have to leave the Valley much as he would love to stay. He has asthma and the spraying done by the vineyards is affecting him. “They spray all night sometimes and some of that shit is not good. I am shocked at just how much they do spray. It is not talked about enough, even today with all the awareness of what it could be doing to us. Trinity County is a possible place I might move to. It will have to be somewhere where there are plenty of rivers and trees. I moved here for the clean air but it seems I have to think again. My mother is still going strong at 85 in Utah and even though my grown-up kids and my six grandchildren, all between 1 and 9 years old, are not in the Valley, my ties here are strong but my health is more important. For now though, this is my home — I love it here and part of the joy of traveling is coming back here.”

I asked Doug for his responses to some of the issues confronting Valley folks, starting with the Wineries. “We need more! Naah! I do like wine but the issues of water shortages and pesticides bother me a lot. The regulations on what they can do need to be strictly enforced somehow. I’d like them all to go organic. OK, so sulfur is organic, so I’m fucked. I do know that a lot of stuff happens at night around here, nobody is checking it. Who knows what is going on.”

KZYX local public radio? “Public radio is important to a free country. Non-corporate radio is needed. I like our station. It doesn’t please everyone which is a damn good sign. I wish they could rely on more smaller donors and not corporations. I am no fan of NPR.”

The AVA newspaper? “It’s great. I read it every week. It’s nice to have such a publication here. Stuff gets written that pisses people off, me included, but that is fine. I believe you’ve got to have it.”

I posed a few questions from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert,” Bernard Pivot, featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…

Favorite word or phrase? “I like the word ‘procrustean.’ It means wanting everyone to be the same and refers to someone who is intolerant of others — not my kind of person.”

Least favorite word or phrase? “The very annoying way that the word ‘whatever’ is used. It annoys the shit out of me. Someone is basically saying ‘nothing you say is important.’ Wendy uses it sometimes. I am getting used to it I guess. Now I even use it myself sometimes!”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Beauty. Being around free spirits. Being at Burning Man is such a boost — a very creative scene in a beautiful environment.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Television.”

Sound or noise you love? “A baby’s real belly laugh. Melts me every time.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Fuckin’ sprayers in the night; poor radio reception.”

Favorite curse word? “That would be ‘Cocksuckin’, motherfuckin’ whore.’ I am a carpenter and it helps if I can get this phrase out sometimes. Suddenly everything seems to fit. I have told my grandkids that they must learn discretion when cussing. Never do it in front of the elderly or your teachers.”

Favorite hobby? “These days it’s playing the ukulele.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “Maybe a gigolo. Not really working, just trying to please the older ladies. Travel writing would be cool too.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “Cop”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? “The birth of my kids and marrying Wendy.”

The saddest? “My divorce — when my kids were taken away. Those were really bad times.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself, physically/spiritually/mentally? “Physically? My feet. According to my Mother they are perfect. Spiritually? All the great spiritual leaders say the same thing ultimately ‘There it is.’ I like to keep my mind open and try to follow this and the mantra ‘Just be cool and have as much fun as possible.’ That is important to me spiritually. Mentally? That I have the ability to avoid filling my brain with trivial things.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Maybe he’d say, ‘I put you down there to have fun. I hope you had a good time. If you didn’t, I’ll have to send you back.’ And I’d willingly go back if there was a good party to go to.” ¥¥

(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at Next week the guest interviewee will be ‘Uncle’ Donn Jaekle.)

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