Dan French (1971-2006)

22Feb06

Dan French

Received the sad news from California the other day that Dan French, an old Petaluma compatriot, died in China where he was teaching English.

Dan was an outsider in the true sense of the term — a genuine bruiser of an outsider in his refusal to compromise self in the interest of authority, or even in the interest of rationality. He was deeply troubled and would often go on weeks long alcohol binges, but he had a large heart and a deeply abiding loyalty to friendship. He was one of Petaluma’s true outlaw bikers, raising dust, smoke and noise while tearing around on his Suzuki Trident with his sidekick “Piglet” riding on the back. We never could tell to what extent Piglet was a good-natured running joke on Dan’s part, and to what extent Dan might really think that Piglet was actually riding on the back of his bike, but that’s simply how dealing with Dan was. He’d often tell stories that on first telling might sound utterly fantastic, but that in fact were absolutely true. On the other hand, he’d often tell stories that were patently false, though he would elaborate upon them in intricately precise detail (these stories included an incredibly entertaining and equally disturbing set of violently sexualized alien abduction stories in which he was sometimes the abductee and sometimes the abductor). While we were busy attempting what at most amounted to an ersatz Bohemianism, Dan was living the life of Neil Cassidy.

My two favorite stories about Dan French are as follows:

1) In high school Dan had a party at his house during which he got drunk, took out the family shotgun, and blew apart the toilet in the spare bathroom to illustrate a point about the shithole that the U.S. was becoming (this was during the Reagan/Bush years).

2) Also during high school, Dan, his brother Mike, and at least one of the Jostmeyer boys, decided to film an 8mm war epic using pipe bombs to generate explosions while firing semi-automatic rifles loaded with blanks. They dressed up like soldiers and spent about half an hour in the gullies and woods around the northern part of the Petaluma River filming, firing weapons, and setting off pipe bombs. While they may have thought that they were filming in a relatively isolated location, the fact that they were shooting between Petaluma Boulevard and Highway 101 should have tipped them off that this wasn’t the most brilliant spot to stage a war epic. Soon several police helicopters and a SWAT team were dispatched to get to the bottom of the gunshot battle that had been called in by the neighbors. When the boys heard the sirens, they scattered. While the others were rounded up fairly quickly, and equally quickly realized that they needed to give themselves up calmly and quietly, Dan hid in a dumpster until three in the morning when somehow the SWAT team found him out and arrested him. The boys got to watch all of their 8mm footage in court, where it was screened as evidence during their trial. They were let off on probation.

Dan also once walked from Sausalito to San Francisco on a winter night, in a t-shirt, to attend a party being put on by our friends Jess and James. This is a story that reveals both Dan’s manic side, and his commitment to friendship, a commitment that was often overshadowed by the force of his personality and his mania. The distance between Sausalito and the apartment on California Street is probably close to a good ten miles. My suspicion is that Dan walked these ten miles to prove a point — to impress, yes, but also because what I think went unspoken at the time was that Dan probably didn’t have enough money to take the bus and walked the long, cold, ten miles because he wanted to see his friends.

I last saw Dan in Petaluma for my farewell reading and we talked about teaching English abroad. Dan had returned from one stint in China and was preparing to go back. In fact, he seemed to really be finding a home in China, something that was hard to say about his life in the States where he always seemed displaced and uncomfortable. In the last few emails that we wrote back and forth he talked about how much he was enjoying his time in China, as well as his complete and utter disinterest in returning to the United States, which he felt has become a nest of rats and vipers under the Bush administration. He was also disgusted with the current state of American culture and he certainly seemed to feel more at home with his Chinese hosts.

Dan had a lot of demons to conquer, and I’m really sad that he passed away at precisely the moment in his life when it seemed he was coming to some sort of peace with himself. Requiescat in pace, Dan.

(Photo courtesy of Brian Jostmeyer.)

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3 Responses to “Dan French (1971-2006)”

  1. 1 Scott

    I haven’t heard about Dan in years and now I’m torn between two emotions, happy that he was finding a place for himself in the world, and sad that he’s gone. He was unlike anyone I’ve ever met.

  2. 2 laurel

    i am saddened
    the stories made me smile in remembering, though

  3. 3 Sabrina Kenrick

    It is unfortunate that I had only found out about Dan a few days ago as I have been out of touch for years. I have been very sad and to have found out four years later..he is truly missed as he had a good heart. May he rest in peace,my thoughts are with Michael knowing how close he was to his brother..it must have been hard.


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