The Life and Times of Poppa Neutrino

by Owen James Burke

“He died the way he lived: plans in the works for a boat trip to Cuba the following week…and $4.44 in his bank account.”

– Ingrid Lucia Marshall (Daughter)

William David Pearlman (A.K.A. “Poppa Neutrino”, after subatomic particles that cruise close to the speed of light) was a renowned adventurer who was most recently recognized for building a raft entirely out of trash from New York City and sailing it to Ireland in 60 days, passed away on January 23, 20011 of heart complications at the age of 77.

Neutrino was born in California on October 15, 1933 to a traveling gambler of a mother, and spent his whole life in pursuit of pure homelessness.  Even his youth with his mother was spent hopping from motel to motel and from school to school.  He never had a home you might call permanent, and estimated that he attended somewhere between 40 and 50 schools before dropping out entirely.

When he was 15, Mr. Pearlman lied about his age, joined the U.S. Army and went to Vietnam.  After two months he was discharged.  He returned to California and continued his sauntering; exploring Route 66, enrolling in a seminary in Texas and hanging out with Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco along the way.

Somehow, Mr. Neutrino managed to marry and build a family, even while moving to New York to start the First Church of Fulfillment, which he distinguished as “the only church in the history of the world that didn’t know the way.”  In the 1980’s he headed south to raise his children on the street, teaching them music and forming a family Dixieland band.

All along he was broke as one can be, living on rafts in New York Harbor in the 1990’s, rowing ashore to climb through a fence when supplies were needed.  “We live like kings,” Poppa Neutrino was known to say, and you’d have been hard pressed to argue with him.  A man who possessed the conviction to move about the planet freely in pursuit of whatever his aspirations may have been has surely claimed kinghood in some sense.  It is as if Mr. Neutrino robbed a bank and bought his key to freedom from and power over all societal constructs, when in actuality he found it in the dump, right next to that washed up old document we refer to as the Declaration of Independence, he would say.

In 1998, he completed the construction of his decade-long project Son of Town Hall—a 52-foot raft made of fallen timber, bricks and scrap metal, all bound together by 300 feet of Con Edison rope.  Along with his wife Betsy Terrell, two crewmembers, three dogs and a piano, Poppa Neutrino set sail from Castletownbere, Newfoundland towards France.  Although they first struck land in Ireland, they became the second voyage in history to complete an ocean crossing in a raft; only this one was crafted entirely of New York City dump materials.

Documentation of the trip can be found on the family blog, floatingneutrinos

In recent years, Neutrino was situated in Cape Cod’s Provincetown, where he and his family would perform music in the town square in order to raise money for the next adventure.  Despite what many may presume he did quite well, as his past success preceded him, and he had a lot of friends there.

In November of 2010, he set sail from Burlington, Vermont on Lake Champlain to attempt his next crossing, this time the raft, Christened the Sea Owl, capsized.  Neutrino and his men were forced to take refuge in a cave along the cliffs until they were rescued.

Poppa Neutrino passed away at University Hospital in New Orleans while visiting family.  Despite having only $4.44 cents to his name upon his passing, the funeral costs were covered by donors.

When asked by the Cape Cod Times if he “would change anything about his sometimes dangerous, on-the-move life” Poppa Neutrino answered, “What I would do is explain to every person I had a personal relationship with, whether it was a friendship or romance, that I’m abstract-random and they’re concrete-sequential…The two may meet for a night of romance, but they’ll never travel the road together.”

William David Pearlman’s cremated remains are being sent down the Mississippi River on a raft so that his adventures may continue as uninhibited as ever.

*via NYT, WashingtonPost and CapeCodTimes*

Facebook Comments