This was before Oola’s time so she cannot tell the tale. Mr. Rioso and I used to live in Morro Bay, in a hippy hut on the bluff above the embarcadero. I had built two walls-with-doors on a lean-to garage on the side of the tiny house so I could have a studio, where I could gaze on Morro Rock and watch the pelicans dive for dinner.
During this road trip Mr. Rioso and I decided on an evening walk in our old neighborhood where we happened to meet the current occupant of the “fancy” house on the lot where we used to live. She knew of the previous occupant as the “Sea Captain”. So we began to regale her with tenant’s tales.
Mr. Kennon was the landlord. And actually he had been a pharmacist in the Navy during WW2. He died in the late 1980’s but until then he had been a distinctive segment of the local color in Morro Bay. We were still youngish then, so Mr. Kennon seemed ancient. It seems in retrospect that he always had a soggy half-burnt cigar hanging out of his mouth. And he had no qualms as to where he left his brownish spits.
Mr. Kennon had a small boat which he kept in the yard of the “fancy” house. This vessel was inhabited by an oversized, carnival-prize, stuffed bear. Mr. Kennon could no longer cruise in his boat, because he had had a stroke when out in the bay, and crashed. He also had a pickup truck. We found that Mr. Kennon knew two speeds: stop and full-on-fast-forward.
He would drive this truck to the Old Peoples’ Home where he would entertain the “old folk” with his piano playing. He had been good at it somewhere in his history, but when we knew him, he was rhythmically challenged. This did not bother us when we heard him practicing in the basement of the “fancy” house, because the spirit was good. Mr. Rioso says that he hopes people will think he is charming when his sense of rhythm slips.
I keep using the term “fancy” house for the building in which he dwelled. Mr. Kennon built this house out of a recycled gas station. On the lot he also built a small garage with a residence above and our hut. The “fancy” house still has a second floor balcony where Mr. Kennon used to feed chocolate cake to Knuckles, a stump footed seagull.
When Mr. Rioso and I first looked at the house, on the wall of the front room was a huge grease stain slightly above floor level. I had recently seen an artist book which had greatly impressed me, about the death of the book artist’s father. The poor man had died alone in his apartment and was discovered more that a week later. A picture in the book showed the great stain the father’s decomposing body had left on that wall.
Needless to say the stain on our wall made a great impression on me. I painted that wall many times, but the stain kept making its statement. There was no way to cover it up. A physical ghost, it kept coming back. We made our peace with it.
As the rent was minimal, we could make no complaints as to the condition of our house. In the kitchen the linoleum was so worn that we could see through to the ground. The lot was clotted with menacing, overcrowded pine trees. Mr. Kennon festooned them with with plastic grapes and flowers, and a statue of the Virgin Mary, which glowed in the cul-de-sac at night.
When we moved in, the leakage in the shower was so bad that a wall of brown slugs had taken up residence inside the sheet rock next to the bath tub. They were so thick and so many that in aggregation they made the sound of congestion in a sick baby’s lungs.
Mr. Rioso used a large palette knife to scoop them into a shopping bag. I ran out the front door and threw up. Do you know that slug slime never washes off human hands? Mr. Rioso thinks his Super Poly Grip is made of slug snot. Among those in the know, Mr. Rioso retains the nickname Sluggo.
The water heater failed. Mr. Kennon, attentive landlord that he was, installed a new one. As for the old one, he dug a pit in the sandy dirt and lowered the metal carcass into it. To our quizzical looks, he explained that “it will go away”. I have no doubt that it rusts there to this day.
Mr. Kennon carried on a stately courtship with Nadine. She was a lovely lady who fascinated me because she had been a photography student in the San Francisco Art Institute in the fourties — at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement on the West Coast. She had met and studied with some of the luminaries of that time.
So every evening Mr. Kennon would dress up in one of the many plaid polyester suits that he purchased from the second hand store, a subsidiary of the old person’s home. He would walk the mile or so to Nadine’s house, which is still there and looks like something out of a woodsy fairytale. He escorted Nadine to the “fancy” house where they remained for an hour or so. And he then escorted her back home, a happy man.
He was sometimes a gruff man, who could never remember Mr. Rioso’s name and always spoke of my partner as “the boy”. But he was also a wise man who easily earned our affection. When he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, he explained to Mr. Rioso that he could not complain, that he had had a long and satisfying life. Nadine nursed him until he died in the “fancy” house looking out over his beloved Morro Bay.