by Noam Livnat
As a long-time fixture of Old Mountain View, you probably saw Don riding his bicycle around town: a single hand on the handlebar, his cap hiding a balding head, and a half-smoked cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. He would often carry something on the bike – a used hose, some discarded pieces of wood, or something he thought could be useful at some point.
Don showed up on my neighbor’s Ralph doorstep in ’95, when Don’s beloved mother died and his father left the state, cutting off his support line. They had met on a dark and rainy night in ’71 when he hitched a ride with Ralph from Mountain View to San Mateo, and they had stayed in loose touch ever since, with Don even renting a room at Ralphs house for a while in the late ‘70s. So when Don resurfaced, lonely and unable to sustain himself (he attributed his inability to focus and his forgetfulness on a particularly nasty car accident), Ralph took him in and gave him a place to stay.
Ever the survivalist and a skilled craftsman, Don managed to scrape by. He wasn’t able to hold a steady position, so he did odd jobs around our block and neighborhood. He painted houses, tended gardens, and landscaped. He took care of our dog when we were out of town. And even though he would drive all of us to distraction with his obsessive attention to detail, his inability to complete a day’s job in under two weeks, and his unrelenting arguments about the proper way to do the project (you’d have to convince him that the color you chose for your house was the proper one), we kept coming back.
Because Don, for all his faults, had a heart of gold. And he needed the money. He wasn’t socially adept, but he was honest and he loved animals and kids, treating them with unusual attention and kindness. He would perform headstands to the delight my son, and felt rewarded, I’m sure, to be treated by him just like any other adult. In quiet moments he would share with me stories about growing up in the area, about his childhood dog, and about the other projects he was working on.
Like all human beings, Don was a complicated person. He couldn’t let go of anything: his childhood, past injustices, knickknacks that he found, his distaste with everything related to president Reagan, or the projects that he would drag on forever. Nevertheless, when a cockatiel that he had rescued from a hawk escaped after Don nursed it back to health, instead of mourning the loss Don reacted to the news by saying “ah, off to his next adventure.”
Last August Ralph found Don dead in his room, felled by a heart attack. He hadn’t been feeling well for the previous six months but, true to his stubborn self, he had refused to see a doctor.
With Don’s passing Old Mountain View lost a bit of its color, and we lost a connection with a kind of humanity with which we don’t often engage, ensconced as we are in our comfortable mainstream lives and jobs. But Don left his mark in many small ways in our lives –the planters he built for our garden, the metal wire decorations he created, and in memories that vividly recall this special person.