January 8, 2006
A "Serial Reminiscence" by Michael F. Nyiri
Part 2. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
The Frat House Falls Apart/Limbo Life
"You've got to get away from here", pleaded my girlfriend Pat repeatedly, whenever she made one of her trips to my place in the "Frat House" with my friends Bob and Joel. "It's not healthy. The plumbing doesn't work. These cats are almost feral. You've got to give this up and move in with me right away." I knew I did have to make a decision. I had been hesitant; Pat lived in a two bedroom apartment, but I'd already talked endlessly about moving in with Pat to my friends, and as soon as I had announced that I was thinking of moving in with Pat to Joel and Bob, Joel immediately took dibs on my room. "Move out", he finally said after a month of so of trying to persuade me to stay. "I've got your room. If you ever want to come back, you have to sleep in the living room."
The house I called "home" had fallen apart long ago. I had attempted, with varying degrees of success, to clean Bob's rather large house, but he never lifted a finger to do so, and as the years passed, he became more lethargic. As the place fell into deep disrepair, I knew my eventual fate was to be with Pat. After all, since I had started going with her in late 1991. I spent more time at her apartment than I did at the Frat House anyway. I eventually gave up my "Gumby Green" suite of rooms and packed my car with clothes and Bob's pickup with my stuff and moved in with Pat in Long Beach. Joel and Bob lived together after that, and my life with Pat rarely found me returning to visit my friends all that often. Pat was a good sport before I moved in with her, and she would "hang out" with the "Backyard Buddies" but after we got to Long Beach, she wasn't interested in them, and I found less time for visits, and slowly my acquaintance with the Frat House faded, except for a few memorable reunions.
Once Pat's son Charlie and a friend brought home two little kittens. They had taken them from their mother before they were even weaned. Pat became rather ballistic when she heard the mewling one evening, tore little Charlie a new a-hole, and the next morning, she made the decision to take the kittens to Bob's, since he had so many cats wandering around. When we arrived, out of the blue, at Bobs, bearing kittens, Joel got really mad. Bob accepted the kittens, but didn't take care of them. Joel eventually "adopted" them. They were so young when we presented them to the guys that neither Bob nor Joel could identify the sex, so they named the kittens "Spike" and "Malcolm", even though they are female cats. Joel now lives with me and we still have those two cats. Joel never stopped complaining about the fact that Pat unloaded them on him and Bob, but he loves the little gals more than he does most people.
During the L.A. riots in 92. Pat and I left Long Beach, as our apartment was only a couple of blocks away from Anaheim Street, on which Korean businesses were being burned. It was a Saturday morning, and we went to Torrance to use the bank, and visited Bob and Joel before driving to San Clemente where we were renting a motel room near the beach. I also infrequently went "straight to Bob's" when Pat and I fought, and once I actually phoned Bob to come over with his pickup, and I filled it and my Caddy with my clothes and some other stuff and I "moved back" for a weekend before Pat showed up at the Frat House, apologized, we made up, and I went back to Long Beach with her.
Whenever I and Pat would fight, I would tell her that I could easily leave, as I did have a place to go. Frankly, I didn't ever want to move back in with Bob. He and Joel led a very strange life. Joel worked, but Bob never did. Joel isn't the best housekeeper in the world, but he had to take over as "caretaker" in my absence. At one time, he even arranged for a new water heater to be delivered. The plumbing was fixed, but not too well. The back yard was overgrown. Bob had about 10 or 12 cats, and nobody mowed the front lawn either. The house resembled Boo Radley's in "To Kill a Mockingbird". It looked like one of those places where crazy folks live. When Bob's truck broke down, he left the rusting hulk in the driveway. The neighbors brought suit against Bob to clean up the yard and get rid of the cats. Every time I would visit the guys, they seemed to bicker more often, and as things needed to get done, Joel would get upset that he would have to do them, and he and Bob began to stay away from each other. They weren't really talking to each other after the water heater episode. There weren't any "buddies" left except for a couple, who rarely visited, and Bob seemed to be sickly. He was always coughing, didn't eat right, and seemed to spend longer in the bathroom than before, but he used to read in there, so I accepted these strange changes, as there was nothing else to do.
When Pat finally confessed that she was cheating on me, in late 1994, we had our last long heart to heart talk. I told her that she had made a mistake I might forgive, and I still loved her, but I would never live with her again. I had actually earlier proposed marriage three times, and after strike three, I knew we would not be together much longer. We had a six month lease on our third house together, and I announced that I would move out at the end of the lease, and when in "our" house, I would "live" in the garage, where most of my record and book collections were anyway, including a pretty good stereo system and a daybed and TV. I had put a carpet in there and used it as my "rec room" when we moved in. I just couldn't sleep in our bed anymore, and on weekends I left the house completely, packed my "kit bag" with two changes of clothes, and did the reverse of what I did when I first met Pat. In those days I was staying for two or three days at Pat's, and now I would be spending each weekend away from her, her kids, and any "boyfriends" that might be hanging about.
Since I had sold both my bike and my Cadillac when with Pat, I didn't have transportation. I wouldn't ride in to work with Pat anymore, and I used to take the bus to work from Bellflower to Long Beach. On Fridays after work, kit bag in hand, Jack, our CEO, would drive me from work to the old "Frat House", and drop me off till Monday. He'd drive by early Monday morning and take me to work, and then I would live the rest of the week in the garage in Pat's house. While back at the Bob's, I stayed in the living room, which had turned more into a "storage" room than it was when I lived there after Bob had finally let us rearrange his old lady's furniture. I slept on Joel's creaky sofa bed, on which one had to sleep diagonally or get his back poked with broken springs. There was a sliding door between the hall and the living room, so I could be alone if I wanted. I usually took along books to read, and I started going out the movies again on weekends, a habit that I had stopped doing when with Pat. I would "party" with Bob in his room, and with Joel in his, since they both didn't get along. I was beginning to think that life had taken a very strange turn for me. The memories of the old "Frat House" were rapidly fading, and I felt equally less comfortable both at Bob's and at my own home in Bellflower. I spent a lot of "travelling time" waiting at bustops, and I did a lot of thinking. I knew I didn't really want to deal with how far downhill Bob's house had fallen. Plus, both Joel and Bob acted almost like they were at war. Life wasn't very pretty during this period at all. I was in Living Limbo Life.
"Something's Wrong with Bob."
A few weeks before Christmas in 1994, I had only been "living" in the Frat House on weekends since Pat and I had "broken up" in September. Joel usually visited his friends in Long Beach on Friday nights, and sometimes wasn't there when I would arrive, like this time. I had a key, so I could let myself in, but Bob rarely if ever left his bedroom chair anyway, so he was always usually home. Bob had deplorable eating habits, but we did go to restaurants on occasion. I've always eaten in restaurants since I was on my own, and Bob's "meals" at home were somewhat nonexistant. Bob had some Christmas shopping to do, and we left soon after I arrived this Friday evening to buy some CDs for Bob's friend Brad's family, and go out to eat. We went to Alfredos' Mexican Restaurant, a local hangout and one of our "regular places". Bob didn't eat much, but then he rarely did, and his posture slumped and he shuffled about slowly, more like a man of 70 than 47. I asked him if anything was wrong. He told me he couldn't shake this cold he had had for a few months. I asked if he was seeing a doctor, knowing beforehand the answer was going to be negative. He got the CDs at Best Buy, and we returned home. We talked a bit about Joel. Bob honestly didn't know why Joel was constantly upset at him. He felt that Joel was being unreasonable. Bob slit the cellophane on a Lou Reed CD he had bought for Brad's son, and we listened to the music. At about 9pm, an hour earlier than usual, Bob announced he was tired and told me he was going to bed. The enchiladas he'd had at Alfredo's were acting up, and he felt badly. I wished him a good night, went into the living room, listened to a few of my records while reading some of my book, and then I retired. Joel returned from Long Beach at about 11pm. He needed to go to the bathroom but the light was on, meaning Bob was taking a sh*t. Joel went to his room, and watched some TV. I was sound asleep in the living room.
Fifteen minutes later, Joel knocked on the bathroom door. "Bob, I've really got to go. Do your business, and get out of there." There was another bathroom in the garage, which was even dirtier than the one in the house. I always used it as a backup, but Joel was tired and cold, and his irritation at Bob grew after a half hour of waiting for him to get out of the bathroom. He pounded on the door. "Bob", Get the hell out of there." No sounds came from behing the door. He pushed on it, but it was blocked by something. Joel managed to push the door far enough open to see Bob splayed out naked on the bathroom floor, his feet had been blocking the door from opening. Mucous was dripping from his mouth. Joel screamed, "Bob", and kneeled down beside him. He wiped the spittle away, and noticed that Bob wasn't breathing. He attempted mouth to mouth, to no avail. He rushed over to the sliding door to the living room and started pounding. "Mike, Something's wrong with Bob". I awoke immediately, and slid the door opened. "What's happened", I groggliy asked. "Bob's in the bathroom and he's not moving! I can't wake him." I moved cautiously but quickly the 10 or 12 steps down the hall to the bathroom door and looked in. It was easy to see why Bob wasn't moving. He looked like he had been dead for at least two hours.
"Joel," I stated matter of factly in a distant voice. "He's dead."
"We've go to get him in the living room, so I can give him CPR."
"He's dead, Joel. It won't help."
"No he's not, he's still alive, I think I got a pulse. Grab his feet." As soon as I felt his clammy ankles, I knew nothing we could do would reverse his condition. "Did you call 911?" my disembodied voice found itself asking. We carried Bob's body into the living room, and Joel attempted CPR. I called 911. I didn't think to hide any of Bob's marijuana stash from it's regular place on the hassock in his bedroom. Both Joel and I had only rented from Bob. I didn't know of any immediate family. Calling 911 seemed like the best thing to do in the situation. Joel was still thinking that perhaps CPR or something might revive Bob. He was sadly mistaken.
Lomita is a small town. We like to say it's one of the last "small towns" in Southern California, with waitresses at restaurants who have served at the same place for decades, neighbors who have lived in the same houses, like Bob, since childhood, "hometown" businesses, and bars where everyone knows your name. It's a "hot rod town" with a lot of custom car enthusiasts, and auto shops, plus many antique stores for the ladies. It's a family town, with little trouble and no excitement. A 911 call at Bob's brought the fire trucks from the fire station three blocks from his house, and the sheriff's from right up the street. About six minutes after I called, a lot of flashing lights showed up on 250th Street, and this wasn't "normal" even for late on a Friday night. When the Sheriff's and paramedics came in, they didn't quite know what to think. Bob's house had been "trouble" before, with neighbors complaining about the cats population and lack of gardening, so the Sheriffs already knew of the house. I had reported a death. There was a naked body in the middle of the living room. The house looked like a tornado had hit it. There were messes of papers on the tables and piles of junk everywhere. Neither Joel nor I were related to the deceased. The lead investigator treated the area like a crime scene. Drugs and paraphanelia were found immeditately in Bob's bedroom. Joel was incredibley nervous. I stated the facts, told how we'd pulled Bob from the bathroom floor to the living room. I kept repeating that I didn't live there, but was only visiting. I was very ashamed at how the house looked, and felt as if the officials scurrying about might think about foul play. The investigator told Joel and I we had to stay on the porch.
The coroner was late in arriving, having had another call. He later told us having two deaths in one night in Lomita was a bit different in the sleepy town. When he got to the house, he probably thought somebody had been murdered. Joel and I were freezing on the front porch as it neared 2 am. Quincy and Kojack canvassed the house. Nobody much even talked to Joel and I. I got quite upset, and did ask one of the sheriffs if I could get coats for us. I was allowed to get the coats, but not to "touch anything." I seriously began to wonder when Joel and I would have to take a "trip to the stationhouse." As the hours dragged, nobody had covered poor Bob, who still lay naked in the middle of the room, people stepping over him. In time, the few people who had gathered in front of the house went back to their homes. The coroner zipped Bob up in what looked to me like a big black plastic garbage bag. I hoped that when I passed away I was fully clothed. Seeing Bob's naked body treated like so much dead meat, which in fact it was, just didn't seem mannered enough. Bob had passed away of a heart attack, but nobody would know this for a few days. Finally, after the Sheriffs had removed the contraband, and dusted for prints, Joel and I were allowed back into the living room, where I would try unsuccessfully to sleep for the next couple of hours. I believe we were told not to leave town.
If the evening's events were surreal, the next few day's events were even more surreal. Bob never talked about family. I had phone numbers for his cousins, who used to live with him and take care of his Mom when she was still alive, and I called them. Joel found the number for another cousin Bob had sometimes talked about who lived in the Mountains. I called Pat and told her what had happened. Bob was a good friend, and his passing was quite embarrassing and almost a comedy of errors. The coroner took a long time to determine cause of death. Heart stoppage. A massive heart attack. He told us Bob's arteries were almost solid. Undoubtedly Bob's lack of attention to his health caused his death. He had probably been a dead man walking for almost a year. His plumbing, like that the pipes in his house, finally stopped working altogether.
An Uncle Hugh showed up about a week later. Bob had never mentioned the guy. He was the executor of the estate, and within minutes of meeting him, he bad mouthed Bob's lifestyle and housekeeping. He also tagged all the good furniture for himself, and even took Bob's bigscreen TV and speedboat. He told Joel that he would have to move, as he was selling the house. Joel fell completely apart in the weeks following Bob's death. It was a good thing I was there the weekend he died, or else Joel would have gone into an even deeper depression. The funeral came and went, and Bob's "family" who could be seen driving moving vans up to the house to remove furniture and belongings, didn't have much to say about him. At least our friend Pete, who was one of our "Backyard Buddies", gave a moving eulogy. If not for Pete, nobody except Bob's neighborhood friends seemed to act like a human being had just passed from the face of the Earth. Joel hates the memory of "Hugh" to this day. He had to drive from somewhere in the San Bernadino mountains to do estate business, so he wanted Joel to move quckly, and kept goading him. Joel had to gather up Bob's cats and call the pound. I remember that day was very depressing to him. I would still drop by on weekends for another four months, untl escrow closed on the house, and the new owners prepared to settle in. Then Joel and I looked for a place together, and found the house in which we now live, "temporary" living arrangements that have lasted 12 years.
We can't watch a football game on the bigscreen, or listen to certain music without thinking of Bob. He was alone in the world, never married, never had a girlfriend that I knew about, never left home, which was next door the place in which he was born. He had "set down roots" like a tree. He was quite a character, and I will always harbor fond memories of "The Frat House" and the great times we had there. I remember Bob's 40th birthday party. There were quite a lot of folks attending. I didn't even have a 40th or a 50th birthday party. Bob was well liked by the people who dropped by his place, or whom he visited on "Boy's Night Out." I can remember sitting in Bob's bedroom with a dozen or so guys, and we would all tell stories about when we all met, and we all had Bob in common as a friend.
A good friend, who, despite his faults, always had a winning smile and would lend a helping hand if asked. (although he never volunteered) And he certainly didn't deserve to die so young. Soon the Frat House faded from Lomita history; the new owners of Bob's previous house renovated it and it doesn't resemble Bob's house at all.
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