Jack Wilson, Frederick Street (HOME PAGE)

    •  Jill Stabenau
    •  Carmen Silva
    •  Jan Houbolt
    •  Mark Freeman
    •  Elizabeth Martin
    •  Suzanne Ecker
    •  Evan Kaltschmidt
    •  Andre Rorsch
    •  Jo-Anne Rosen
    •  Dennis Strong
    •  Lastri Trimiharjo
    •  Rachel Wohl
    •  Amanda Zinn
    •  December 17, 2011
    •  Miscellaneous

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In Jack's Words...

Empowering Women to
Fight Poverty (PPMK)


Remembering Jack Wilson

Jack’s First “Wake”: December 17, 2011

These notes were compiled the following morning by Jo-Anne Rosen and later filled in by Carmen Silva.  If anyone has anything to add or I’ve not reported something accurately, please let Jo-Anne know (jo [at] wordrunner.com).

Knowing Jack was close to death, several of his long-time friends planned to meet on Saturday night (December 17) at Carmen and Lee’s in Albany to honor him and his work in Indonesia, and share our memories.  Jack died on Tuesday night in Yogjakarta, while his daughter Lena was with him, and he did not go gentle into that good night, as Jan put it.  He couldn’t swallow pain killers and coughed up huge quantities of blood. Jan and Rachel were at our meeting via Skype.

We all brought photos and spread them on the table where later we had a potluck dinner and talked — one wonderful photo I’d never seen was of Jack holding a wailing baby Lena, grimacing comically at the camera [photo coming].

Finally we sat around the big table for dinner and, after a skype session with Jan and Rachel in Baltimore, Carmen suggested we introduce ourselves, as everyone didn’t know each other, or how we know Jack (or Joaquin, as he was known throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s). This became our story telling session, and after that, she described Jack's foundation in Indonesia, PPMK (Empowering Women to Fight Poverty), and we discussed how we might fund raise for it.

There was never anyone like Jack, we all agreed.  He was passionate and idealistic, a romantic.  He was brave, generous and compassionate.  And he was smart and tough enough to turn his life around in a remarkable way.  He decided to live in Indonesia, aside from really liking the people and culture, because crack cocaine usage is punishable by death there.

Carmen Silva:  Jack’s early life with two alcoholic parents was troubled. He was always getting into scrapes.  He and Jan Houbolt met when they were 13 (at school) and Jan, who was from an upper middle-class, well educated family, was enthralled by Jack.  Some escapades: They broke into a building maintenance yard together and Jack drove a bulldozer around. Once they were caught stealing something in Arlington, Virginia where Jan and Jack lived and went to school. Arlington is just across the Potomac from Washington DC, and has a lot of government institutions.  Jan’s parents bailed him out.  Jack’s parents washed their hands and he was given the choice of jail or military service, which is how he wound up in Vietnam folding parachutes. He served four years in a helicopter unit, saw bombs drop and explode.  After his discharge and return to the States, it was Jan who radicalized him.  Jan had become involved in left campus politics meanwhile.  He took Jack, dressed in his fatigues, to anti-war rallies and Jack got immersed in the movement.  That’s where Carmen met him.  She was dating Lee Waterman at the time, but they were breaking up, anyway.  Dennis Strong (aka Zackary) showed up at one of the rallies and they took him home and helped him devise his escape plan to Canada, then to Sweden. By then they were living in the House of Peace and Freedom (HOPAF), which was part of the War Resisters’ League’s underground railway.   In early 1969 Jack and Carmen moved to San Francisco.

Stealing a Christmas tree in San Francisco: Carmen and Jack were very drunk and had no money, but wanted a tree, their first Christmas tree together, so he decided they would steal one.  They slunk around the tree lot for a while, casing the situation and ducking to avoid the guard. They were in the lot for at least an hour. It was cold and raining. “I know you’re there,” the guard shouted.  “Come out where I can see you or get lost.”  At that point Carmen went back to the car and collapsed.  When she woke up, Jack was loading a tree onto the car.  How he got it finally she doesn’t remember or he never told her. [For more from Carmen about Jack's early life, click here.]

Kevin Crocker spoke briefly.  He’d been out of touch with Jack until 1998 when they hung out together at a housewarming party in Petaluma and talked, or Jack talked, for over an hour about his travels and plans.  Kevin had moved into the flat on Church Street in 1970, which is where he met Jack. 

John Carter: Joaquin lived on Frederick Street for a number of years and was his “spiritual brother.” His favorite story about Jack is when he fried the placenta the night of Kate’s birth, having read about this ritual and thought about it for a few weeks in advance.  No one else would have thought to do this or been able to convince so many of us to partake. The doctor (who arrived after the birth) was aghast. [Note from J. Rosen: It tasted like fried liver.] Rhona had a bite, too. John also remembered the songs they sang to baby Kate together. John had tears in his eyes before he was through.  He’d lost touch with Jack over the last two decades but often wondered where he was, or what had happened to all of us. 

Katie Carter McLean grew up with Uncle Wok in the flat on Frederick Street, and she adored him. One Christmas, he gave her a Brooke Shields doll her parents would never have considered.  (“We were not consulted,” Rhona said.).  At Easter he bought her a large chocolate bunny.  Kate ate it a little bit at a time, so it wound up in the freezer.  One day she looked in the freezer and it was almost totally gone, all but one leg.  She knew who had eaten the chocolate bunny and she confronted Uncle Wok.  He was blasé.  I’ll get you some Snickers bars, he said.  She still hasn’t forgiven him, she laughed.

Claire Schoen spoke about Fineline Films and how she and Mark Freeman and “the Wok” lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in Humboldt for nine months while working on their documentary Mad River. The apartment had thin walls and they had no secrets.  She got her own bedroom; the two men shared the other.  They fixed her up with her future husband Stuart and regaled her with commentary the morning after S. slept over.  The Wok was totally committed to the project and to his camera work.  He would take great risks to get a good shot, say, of a falling tree.  They were “funky” films, she said, and she would never again make a “collective” film.  Finally they gave all the authority over to Joaquin, as it proved too difficult to get anything substantial done otherwise.  (How the Wok would have enjoyed the Occupy movement with their general assemblies.) Photos from this era may be seen here.

Jo-Anne Rosen met Jack and Carmen in fall of ’69, and then she, Jack/Joaquin and Zack/Dennis formed an even funkier film company, Iron Fireman Films and later, Bay Area Rapid Films or BARF (more details here). Jack lived life to the hilt. He did everything with unquenchable enthusiasm, including some things he shouldn’t have been doing.  He loved many women, he loved all his friends, and he loved children especially. He loved his work, and he loved the planet. He was always wanting to save the world, whether as a Marxist, a film maker or an environmental worker. And he was lovable. You couldn’t help but love the man, even when his enthusiasms veered over the edge.

Either Stuart or Jim mentioned the special tool they used to control the Wok, who could on occasion fly off on some wild tangent that was of interest to him during filming, but did not fit the budget or the project.  A hammer. 

He was also Uncle Wok to Marc Silva.  When Marc was 9, Wok took him to a shooting range and promised him his own rifle.  This of course never happened. “Thank you very much, Jack,” was all Carmen had to say in steely tones.  Apparently he also took Lena to a shooting range when she was 8.  And he was a pacifist!

Rhona McLean: Not long after coming to SF she wound up living with Zack and Jo-Anne on Stanyan Street, which is where she met Jack and found herself in the midst of the “funky” film making.  Also when she lived on Schrader Street, where we filmed Deep Tango and they had to cover up the number on the telephone.  Important: Jack was always there for the kids.

Boz Verbrugghe: Jack was something of a father figure for her (she had a charming, alcoholic father). He was wonderful to be with, impetuous and adventurous, and wanting to save the world [as did Boz, she’s a social worker].  Once they drove up to the Willamette Valley to pick apples, singing Woodie Guthrie songs.

Lee Waterman told some funny stories: About his on-and-off involvement with Carmen after he’d moved to San Francisco (and Carmen and Jack were on and off, as well).  He was in bed with Carmen when the front door opened and Carmen said, “Oh no, it’s Jack.”  She grabbed Lee and pushed him out the window onto the fire escape, then handed him his clothes.

But Jack and Lee became friends.  Years later, after Carmen and Lee were living together — it was in ’98, in fact, at that housewarming party on 4th Street in Petaluma — Jack looked at Lee and said (imagine the grin), “I want her back.”  And Lee said, “You want her back?  I’m sure you do.”


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