“Tree House” John Bonuski Wins Favorite Street Person of All Time Contest!
(From bolinas2miles.com – July 2005)
John Bonuski was awarded the prize for being the “Favorite Bolinas Street Person of all time” following the results of an online contest on bolinas2miles.com.
In a close competition, John edged out departed favorites San Jose Bob, Boaz, Janice Thompson, and Ikon. The match was even closer between John and his living compatriots, Rick Klaes and Chris Burney, but John pulled it out handily largely due to his longevity on the streets, with extra merits added for his service to the fire department many years ago. I drove around the Bolinas Lagoon anticipating my meeting with the winner.
The calm tranquility of the seals sunning themselves and a sight of a flock of pelicans that had landed was enough to put me in the mood for a conversation with John. In Bolinas, there was the winner – resplendent in his summer garb. “Tree House” John, as he had been titled decades ago, was standing on the sidewalk across from the library decked out in khaki jeans and a blue denim jacket that was all set off by an oversized – slightly stained – white T-shirt. He waved a bottle of Rainer Ale in the air and motioned me over.
As it turned out, it was the day after John’s 55th birthday. This year, he confided sadly, there was no envelope with $10 from his mother as in previous years. He speculated that it could be she doubled up last year when she had sent him $25.
John, who has lived in Bolinas since the early 1970’s, without warning launched into a tale about why he had grown his beard. “It all started long ago when a former friend punched me in the jaw,” he said. Twenty-minutes into the story, John was venturing away on his third stray thought of the afternoon, this one being a tangent about a pretty lady who had just walked by that he would like to meet on the beach. Reasons for the beard were still not clear – so I asked him to cut to the chase. “$14,000 in plastic surgery,” he said.
If you wanted some trivia about John, it would be that he has had four girlfriends named Debbie. He also worked as an aide to the departed fire chief, Jose Silva, before deciding on a career as a street person. John also has an excellent sense of humor and his popular among his peers with many arriving to congratulate him during our interview.
After John and I parted and I was making my way back around the lagoon, I recalled that when I was a child, John was friend of my mother, and that at one point during hard times that he had even let us stay on the floor his Mesa house. I remembered that, back then, John had been kind of a neatnik, with everything in its place. His 1972-era house was fashionable with beads hanging from doorways inside the house, and incense burning.
For a moment, it seemed sad that his life had changed so much. But then the realization that just like the ancient stoic, Epictetus, who was destitute and forced to live inside of a wine barrel on the side of the road and whose sunny outlook on life became inspiration to passerby, that John had actually found his calling.
At 55, he does not complain about his station in life as many would. Instead, John tells you a joke, imparts a little wisdom, and as you leave him, wishes you a good day.