In the summer of ’95, on my first morning living in Camp Meeker, I came upon a spindly little creature with a Rip Van Winkle beard and a thousand-mile stare. I quietly mouthed a hello, whereupon the man stopped, put up his dukes and cried, “Do you want a piece of me, fat man?!”
This was my first human interaction as a resident of western Sonoma County.
I continued to the Bohemian Cafe, made my way up the stairs, and who should I see again? “I’m not done with you!” he yelled, fists again at the ready. Quickly slamming the door behind me, I asked around if anyone knew a demented fairy-wood sprite who randomly accosted the citizenry. I was met with smiles and chuckles in equal measure, and was told that I had met the mayor of Occidental.
Last Saturday, Ranger Rick departed this realm for parts unknown, and the true center of the Republic of Western Sonoma County, Occidental, was diminished. To those who knew him, the Range, born Rick Kaufman, was the embodiment of the Occidental secret handshake, proof of belonging to a community that best resembles Tolkien’s Rivendel crossed with a liberal dose (pun intended) of Easy Rider.
To many, he was little more than an unbalanced vagrant with a greatly overestimated sense of self. In my estimation, his face belongs on Occidental’s Mount Rushmore, along with Larry Bustelo and Joe Negri.
Ranger cleaned the town, completed the New York Times crossword puzzle daily and was to be approached with caution after 5pm. He seemed to live everywhere and nowhere, as likely to materialize out of a tree as from the back of a station wagon. He laughed like a Viking, and his stride carried him farther and quicker than his diminutive stature would seem to indicate.
Ranger Rick was a trickmaster monkey, a mystical coyote and the crazy river all in one. If he was human, I’ll eat my fedora. The Range was some other category of creature altogether. I rarely understood him, I often seemed to anger him—and I can’t imagine Occidental without him.
Frank Dice is a bartender at Underwood in Graton.
To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].