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The cast of characters at Villa Nova apartments

One man's ceiling is another man's floor

The apartments were located on Stanley Avenue, one street removed from and parallel to El Cajon Boulevard, between the Campus Drive-In and the Sixty-third Street shopping center, well within walking distance of San Diego State.
  • The apartments were located on Stanley Avenue, one street removed from and parallel to El Cajon Boulevard, between the Campus Drive-In and the Sixty-third Street shopping center, well within walking distance of San Diego State.
  • Image by Mark Zingarelli

Although any time is a bad time for bad news, if it comes when you least expect it, the severity of the blow can be magnified. About a month ago I was the recipient of bad news that was both untimely and unexpected when I answered a knock at the door of apartment J of the Villa Nova apartment complex, my place of residence for the past six years.

Standing before me was our complex manager, Steve, a very tall, thin, solemn individual who was relatively new to the job, having taken it over approximately eight months before. Without a word, he simply and solemnly handed me a piece of paper. Intuitively, I was aware of a ball being placed in my court. Probably, I thought, this was a rent increase notification, something which, however unpleasant, is hardly a shocking or crisis-inspiring event. To my uncomprehending dismay, however, written across the top of the small page in utilitarian black letters were the words, “30 Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy.” We were being evicted. Now I was shocked.

In retrospect, my response to this rude usurpation was justifiable, since neither I nor my roommate, Geoffrey Fedak, could honestly think of a reason for it. We were good tenants, having always paid our rent on time, kept pretty much to ourselves, and, excepting an occasional blast of rock music (I wore headphones most of the time), weren’t a nuisance to anyone. When I asked Steve why we were getting evicted, he solemnly replied that the owners wanted to renovate the apartment. Indeed, it seemed a flimsy pretext to oust Jennings and Fedak, by far Villa Nova’s longest tenants, having inherited that dubious distinction with the death of the venerable Mr. Morris a year ago, who was a ten-year-plus veteran. But despite the prodding of friends and co-tenants who insisted that we had a viable “case” and should fight, we both accepted the grim reality of the situation, rationalizing that we wouldn’t want to stay in a place where we weren’t wanted. Nonetheless, aside from the anger and humiliation incumbent in being told to leave, I felt the pangs of wistfulness and nostalgia generated from leaving not just an apartment but a home. Like the long-time caretakers of some ancient, dusty hotel, my roommate and I have seen ’em come and seen ’em go, and there are some stories to be told.

Some six years ago, when transferring to San Diego State University necessitated my finding a place close to the school, a former co-worker friend of mine living at Villa Nova happened to be looking for a roommate and I moved in. The apartments were located on Stanley Avenue, one street removed from and parallel to El Cajon Boulevard, between the Campus Drive-In and the Sixty-third Street shopping center. It was an ideal location, well within walking distance of State, a feature crucial to me, as I’ve never owned a car.

Villa Nova was a small complex, consisting of twenty-four apartments distributed over four buildings which grouped around a central quad with a small pool, faced inward at each other. At first I resented this arrangement as a severe intrusion upon one’s privacy. Staring aimlessly out of one’s window, I nervously speculated, could be construed by a neighbor as staring in at them. Two years later, however, feeling the security afforded by seniority, I would stand on the balcony-walkway outside of our apartment, casually feigning a breath of fresh air, and peer in at the three girls in J, who would pad around the living room in football jerseys and underwear, apparently unaware or unconcerned with the attraction they were creating. Perhaps this arrangement was not so bad after all, once you got used to it.

This is not to imply that Villa Nova was one of those swinging singles sex havens that, like Bigfoot, one hears a lot about but never sees. The complex was unique, though, void of the endless halls and barracks-style disbursement of many buildings that were characteristic of many others in the area. But what made Villa Nova special to me was its clientele. You got to know people a little more intimately at Villa Nova, and there were certainly those worth knowing.

Shortly after I moved in, George took over the managership of Villa Nova. George was about sixty-two years old, a stem-looking, spirited man whose physical trademark was a hat that was somewhere between a golf and fishing cap, giving him a vaguely sporty look. He had migrated to California from somewhere back East and was managing Villa Nova for his son, who at the time owned the apartments. I thought this to be a strange circumstance and it made me feel kind of sorry for him, as if his son had surpassed him in life and was offering a token of his success. He always impressed me as being sullen and despondent, wavering irritably in the years prior to old, old age. A wife was dead or divorced or both, I can’t re^ member which, and the bitterness seeping through his dialogue from time to time verged on crankiness, although he was by no means doddering, and he performed his duties as manager as well as if not better than anyone I had known before or after him.

The one rule he laid down that put him at odds with the predominately young people living at Villa Nova concerned his acute aversion to rock music, particularly when played loudly, which George defined at a volume considerably less than those who listened to it. This policy created friction between him and “the Bros,” four young, athletic, fun-loving guys for whom periodic rowdiness and rock music were a way of life. Compounding matters was the Bros’ close proximity to George’s apartment. Clashes ensued, hostilities were harbored, and life went on.

Early one summer a small, curly haired newcomer named Steve appeared on the scene, renting the bachelor’s “penthouse,’’ apartment Y, the smallest and cheapest one in Villa Nova and the only one whose utilities were paid. Steve was the kind of person who operated at full boil at all times, frothing with nervous energy. Hardly a day went by without him doing a fair amount of bustling, whether it be the most pedestrian tasks such as taking out the garbage or buying groceries. When I first met him, he and George were painting an apartment to ready it for occupancy. George introduced us. “Jennings, huh?” said Steve. “Jenos. All right, Jenos!”

Immediately he began pumping me for information about where I worked, and if I could get him a job he would really appreciate it. His rather abrupt manner made me cautious of him and I resented being dubbed “Jenos,” a popular brand of cheap, frozen pizzas. Reluctantly, I agreed to check out job opportunities at the good of Commons, my place of employment at SDSU. “Hey, thanks, Jenos. I appreciate it.” He slapped me on the back with a grin that looked forced and verged on being hysterical.

In the following months, George and Steve formed an unlikely work partnership, with George ambling around the complex and Steve in tow, patching roofs, cleaning and painting apartments, and tending to various odd jobs. As much as they appeared the classic odd couple, I felt that they were somehow alike. Both were anxious and unsettled and acted as if they were conspiring to uphold some secret pact. It was strange; Steve had just sort of materialized into view as a tenant and coworker all at once. It was as if George had taken him under his wing. Too, I suspected that the two liked each other out of a kind of desperate necessity brought about by two essentially lonely people whom time and circumstance had brought together here at Villa Nova.

There was something familiar about Steve. He seemed to resemble in looks and actions a young caricature of someone famous, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. One afternoon I checked his mailbox out of impulse. Reading the last name on it, my suspicions were at least fueled if not confirmed, and I tore up to his apartment. It was hot and the door was open. Steve was sitting in his small living room strumming a guitar. “That’s it!” I exclaimed with kiddie enthusiasm unbecoming of a man my age. “Whitmore — Steve Whitmore! You look just like James Whitmore, James Whitmore the actor! He’s your dad, isn’t he?”

With a wry, I’ve-been-through-this-before smirk, Steve Whitmore continued playing his guitar. “All right, Jenos, all right. Control yourself. Yeah, he’s my dad.”

I continued bubbling. “Wow! Far out! James Whitmore’s son right here at Villa Nova!”

With that cat out of the bag, I approached George a few days later and asked him if he was aware of the celebrity status of the irrepressible Steve Whitmore. George told me he had known all along and in fact had had several meetings with James Whitmore before Steve moved in. “Nice man, too,” said George. “Doesn’t act like a big shot at all.”

Knowing who he was changed my attitude toward Steve Whitmore. I still thought he was abrasive and condescending at times, but rationalized that he had a right to be. To dispel any outward notion that I was awed by knowing his identity, I began calling him “the Whitos” and acted as if we were on equal terms, acknowledging deep down that we weren’t, really. From his penthouse pad across the quad, he could be heard on the phone to his father, laughing abruptly and talking too loud. Once I went over to his apartment and found him watching Hollywood’s Greatest Moments. A clip from The Battle of the Bulge was being shown, with James Whitmore marching a rag-tattered battalion through the snow, counting, “Hut, two, three, four; hut, two, three, four ...”

“One of his best roles,” said Steve. “He’s a damn good actor, Jenos, damn good.”

I was intrigued by seeing the father on the screen and the son watching him. I felt like asking him about his father’s role in Them, a classic sci-fi about giant ants invading Los Angeles, but I refrained, knowing it would probably elicit another I’ve-been-through-this-before smirk from Steve Whitmore.

Near the end of the summer, Villa Nova decided it would sponsor a great party, complete with live band and a half dozen or so kegs of beer. George gave his consent for it and everyone assumed that he would move out for the night, thinking a live rock band just might drive him over the edge. To everyone’s disbelief, however, he not only stayed the night of the party but was seen circulating through the large, inebriated crowd around the pool with a cup of beer in hand, stopping every now and then to shake his booty with one of the young lovelies present. The coup de grace was yet to come. A while later I was nudged by someone who pointed up at the Whitos’ tiny bachelor balcony. George was up there, grinning amiably and looking a bit anesthetized. He was lowering a rope down to the crowd below. Tied to the end of the rope was a cup, which would be filled and then hoisted back. It was a trick that made even the party veterans take note. By George, it was a great party.

A couple of months later a rumor began circulating that George was about to have a serious operation. I went over to his place and asked him about it. “That’s right,” he said. “It’s a heart bypass. I got some pains playing golf last week and had it checked out. They ran a tracer and said I needed an operation. I’m flying back East to have it done.”

I was at a loss for an appropriate response, trying to suppress a grim realization inside that wishing him good luck would come out awkwardly, tinged with a false veneer that really would be saying, I’m glad it’s not me. “Well, when you come back, are you going to manage Villa Nova again?” I asked, trying to convey optimism and downplay the idea that he might not come back at ail.

“Well, I don’t know,” he said. “I just can’t think about that right now.”

“Good luck, George.” We shook hands.

It was several months before George returned. He appeared, ghostlike one day, in front of his apartment, golf-fishing hat intact. Even from a distance he gave the appearance of a man who had spent time in hell and lived to tell about it. He had lost a considerable amount of weight and the California-sun vitality that had colored his skin before he left had faded into a mocking, pale whiteness. His eyes were vacant and lifeless. His walk had been reduced to a kind of a directionless shuffle.

For the first time in my life I was graphically aware of and horrified by the malevolent forces that can break a man to rubble. I was, of course, glad that he was alive; yet I felt repulsed by this wicked vision and, ashamed of this revulsion, I timidly avoided talking to him under the fabrication that I was too busy at the time but would get around to it later. Finally I confronted him as he was puttering around in front of his apartment, boxing things up and wandering to and from the storeroom. “George. How are you? Glad to have you back.” He looked at me as if in a trance. I realized then that he didn’t remember me. “It’s me, Jennings. Apartment N.”

“Oh, Jennings.” He spoke feebly and gave the impression of concentrating a fair amount of energy into the act of recollection.

“So, how did the operation go?” I was afraid to have asked that question.

“There were complications,” he replied. He was staring past me as he talked, as if either to suppress or conjure up images of what must have been the most harrowing days of his life. “I was in the hospital afterwards,” he continued, gazing absently into space. “I had a nervous breakdown. I just broke down. I’ll tell you, you don’t know what it’s like to have a breakdown, Jennings. It’s like you’re a clock, all wound up but can’t let go.”

I felt like a nonentity, standing in the sun in my shorts, listening to this account from a man who had just had a close brush with death and possibly something worse. I could only shake my head; no, I don’t know what it’s like.

“What are you going to do now, George?” I asked.

“Take it real easy for a while,” he said. “I’ve got another apartment, over past Mission Valley. I’m not going to do anything for a while.”

George’s decimated condition affected everyone in the complex to some extent, including the Bros, who never really hated the old man. But no one was more shaken than Steve Whitmore, son of the actor. “Too bad about George,” I said to him. “Man, he looks terrible.” It was the understatement of the year.

The Whitos, who had affectionately come to call George “the Cosmic Quaalude,” shook his head. “It’s a terrible thing, Jenos,” he said, fingering his guitar. “A terrible thing.”

Soon after George’s departure, Alan was recruited as the new manager at Villa Nova. Alan was from the north, around Pasadena. He was a congenial fellow of about twenty-three years, bespectacled and balding but good looking and healthy. Not much was known about him except that he was casually pursuing a degree in photography at State, was kind of a loner, and was possessed of an easygoing demeanor indicative of someone who had been nurtured all his life on sunshine and tropical fruits and had been born with a glass of iced tea in his hand. From a personal standpoint, I thought his worst trait to be the delight he took in my being four years older than he, and exposing this fact at every conceivable opportunity. I think this had something to do with the ill-defined directions of our respective collegiate endeavors; Alan saw me as the prototype professional student he was in danger of becoming if he wasn’t careful. I felt his strongest point to be his never-ending quest to stock the apartments, as fish in a pond, with good-looking females, of which he did a brilliant job.

Alan’s arrival signaled a new epoch at Villa Nova, one of frivolity, idleness, and easy living. A sign erected in front of the apartments epitomized the fun-in-the-sun mood that had infectiously swept through the place. It read: No Vacancies But Women Always Welcome For Parties. Rock music was not only allowed to be played at unigriorable volumes but was encouraged to be played so, with Alan leading the assault. Soon an assortment of sounds were competitively merged in a cacophonous wail that started early in the afternoon and continued past midnight; Foghat and Deep Purple from the Bros, Abba and the Brothers Johnson from Alan, and Blue Oyster Cult and the Rolling Stones from me. Alan erected a battered but functional ping-pong table poolside, and heated competitions took place, with the click-clocking of white plastic balls tolling out the hours of the day. (It was hard to see them at night.) Throwing people in the pool, preferably in street clothes, became a favorite pastime. Like Rome in its heyday. Villa Nova was swinging with bacchanalian fervor.

One night a trio of young ladies from the Midwest arrived. Val Hubei and the two Markbreidt sisters, Kathy and Betsy, had come from Chicago to San Diego, trading off Combelt Conservatism for Southern California Liberalism and a chance to indulge in the renowned pleasures of decadent living and endless summer days. All three of them chain-smoked, rarely went to bed before midnight, and started their days at approximately 12:00 p.m.

At first they all shared one apartment but split up over a disagreement which resulted in Kathy and Val rooming together and Alan relocating Betsy in another apartment. This lasted about ten days before Kathy and Val had a falling out and separated. Fortunately, there were sufficient vacancies to accommodate this torrid game of musical apartments. They never did seem to settle themselves during the year they stayed.

During this period, everyone seemed to be drifting through time in a carefree stupor, relishing a familial camaraderie with each other and doing the best they could to enjoy themselves before the fall, when things would get down to more serious business. It was a good time at Villa Nova, and perhaps for the first time since moving in, I began considering the place a true home, secure and comfortable as a home should be.

Of course there was still rent to be paid and everyone managed, one way or another. I was still working at the Commons; the Whitos had gotten a job at a yogurt stand (of all places), although I suspected his rich and famous dad might shell out a few clams in a tight spot; Val, Kathy, and Betsy, the Chicago three, were living off their savings, becoming only a bit more motivated in job hunting as time wore on and the savings wore down. I was never sure what Alan did for money. As manager, his rent was paid, and about the only time he went off anywhere was when he packed his athletic bag and drove down to Jack LaLanne’s Health Spa for a weekly workout.

Fall came, at last, and the apartments filled up. Everyone began to acclimate themselves for the school regimen looming ahead. Kathy Markbreidt and I had become friends, sharing a mutual interest in drawing. We would talk long and excitedly about our aspirations to go into business someday as partners in an illustration agency. She told me one night that her father would be in San Diego for a few days to escort her and her sister to the upcoming Chargers football game, a crucial battle against the infamous Oakland Raiders. I thought her father must either be a fairly wealthy, jock-minded individual; or a not-so-rich, jock-minded individual who was using his vacation time, ostensibly, to visit his daughters, but for whom the game was of paramount interest.

As it turned out, the game was the great “holy roller” affair which saw the Chargers lose in the final seconds on a fumbled ball that many felt should have been whistled dead. To Charger fans this was pure outrage, tantamount to robbery. It was bad enough that the Chargers were beaten this way, but to be beaten by Oakland this way! Later that night I went over to Kathy’s apartment. “Well, you were at the game,” I said as I paced animatedly. “Don’t you think it was a rotten deal? It should have been ruled intentional kicking of the ball and blown dead.”

“Maybe,” she replied. “But it’s done and over and there’s nothing anyone can do about it now.”

“These officials are jerks, especially the guy who called the play. An asshole Oakland-lover. He should be shot.”

“Careful. You’re talking about my dad.”

I disregarded this statement at first, thinking it to be a poor, stupid joke, but then realized she was serious. My mind raced. Jerry Markbreidt, I recalled. That was the name of the head official. “Wow! I don’t believe it. He’s your dad! That’s what he was doing out here for the game. Another celebrity at Villa Nova! First the Whitos and now the Markbreidts!”

Life at Villa Nova could be interesting if anyone lived there long enough to discover its secrets.

One day my roommate informed me, in his usual cryptic manner, that we would soon be entertaining a “visitor from the East.” In time I found out this visitor to be Phillip Dugas, cousin to my roommate, hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Apparently, Phil, in his early twenties, was a black sheep of sorts, journeying to California in pursuit of or in escape from something, or perhaps a little bit of both. Alas, over the years, this proved to be the case for most of Villa Nova’s out-of-state guests.

Upon his arrival I was instantly cognizant of the fact that Phil was a maker and a shaker, sort of an Eastern, semipunked-out version of the Whitos. His father, the one and only Cy Dugas, was a legend to my roommate, and Phil, I was told, was a somewhat tainted chip off the old block.

Phil’s interests were theatrical in nature. He had worked in some technical capacity — a lighting technician or a prop man — in assisting George Romero in filming a sequel to the cult thriller Night of the Living Dead. In addition, he had been given an anonymous bit role as a flesh-eating zombie in the flick, but months later, when the movie came out, I couldn’t find him.

David Bowie was to Phil the essence of everything a great human being should be and he emulated him as much as he could in word, thought, and deed. According to Phil, my obsession with the Rolling Stones was antiquated and unintellectual compared to Bowie, who was the demi-god of the avant-garde and represented the vanguard of the future of music, poetry, and theater. Our “conversations” about the subject would digress into pitched battles, and in one particularly heated instance, I snatched up one of the few Bowie albums I owned and hurled it from the balcony toward the pool. It smashed on the cement' fringe. “There!” I shouted like a lunatic. “That’s what I think of Bowie!”

“Aw, Ron,” said Phil, staring dejectedly down at the vinyl remnants. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

He was right, I shouldn’t have done it, but I think the act was motivated as much by a festering irritability with Phil’s worn-out welcome as it was by his musical tastes. He had been with us for about six weeks, sleeping on the couch and crowding up an apartment that was only marginally spacious in the first place. In the meantime, Phil’s character, never inhibited by his guest status, emerged fully. For a Patti Smith concert he dyed his hair orange and donned black ballet slippers.

Finally he landed a job working as a bartender’s assistant at the Hotel del Coronado. Initially, he rode the bus over to the island but after a couple of paychecks he bought a motorcycle from someone at work. True to his wild ways, he broke his arm trying to ride the thing down the cement steps leading from Ocean Boulevard to the Coronado beach, and later got knocked off it by a woman behind him, while waiting for a light to change. When, at last, two and one-half months later, he emigrated to Los Angeles in quest of a movie-related career, he was a battered and bruised, orange-headed specter of the of the brash, black-haired kid I had at first met.

The big news to Phil during his stay at Villa Nova was a concert appearance of David Bowie at the Sports Arena. I grumbled morosely about the fact that the Stones were in semiretirement at the time and refrained from buying a ticket. Phil’s plan was to go to the concert directly after work, which meant he wouldn’t have time to change from his work outfit — black pants, a white shirt, and bow tie, over which he wore a red blazer, giving him the look of an usher. At about 1:30 a.m. he came back to the apartment in an obvious state of ecstasy. “How was the concert?’’ I asked. It was more an obligatory question than one of interest, and I was hoping Phil would be succinct in his reply.

“Great, of course. But check this out: I met Bowie.”

“Come on. You met Bowie?”

“Can you dig it, man? I went backstage and talked to Bowie.”

I’d never known Phil to lie but I thought he might be (to use one of his favorite phrases) “jacking me off,” i.e., putting me on. “Come on, Phil,” I said. “Don’t jack me off.”

“No, man. I mean it. I went backstage and rapped to Bowie. Check it out. I was hanging out close to the backstage entrance at the end of the show, trying to think of a way to get in, when I saw this dude walk by dressed in a suit that looked a lot like mine. He was a caterer or an usher or something but the thing was, nobody bothered him. So I just followed him in and there was Bowie, standing there rap-pin’ to this dude from Todd Rundgren’s band. I pointed at him and said, ‘That man is radioactive.’ He laughed and said, ‘Hi, I’m David Jones’ — that’s his real name. Anyway, me and him and this guy from Rundgren’s band talked for a while about using video cassettes and albums together. It was far out, man.”

“Damn, Phil. Did you get his autograph?”

“No, man. That’s crass. I met the dude and that’s enough. He’s slick, man, real slick.”

So, too, I thought, was Phillip Dugas.

Not much was known about Mr. Morris except that he was very hard of hearing, was probably about seventy years old, lived in apartment I, and had been at Villa Nova for a long, long time. Alan confided to me that he had been at Villa Nova more than ten years, all alone upstairs with everything he owned in life. When his curtains were open, one could look up and glimpse the periphery of these possessions — decorative lamps, statuettes, plants, pictures, a color television, and a whole assortment of lesser knickknacks that gave the apartment the appearance of a contained, ordered, mess of objects.

He spent a lot of time in his apartment and when he did venture out, seldom spoke to anyone, not so much out of rudeness or timidity but rather, I estimate, to save the effort of having to strain to hear what was being said. His hearing impairment must have been severe, indeed, for he seemed totally unbothered by or even aware of the “battle of the bands’’ that raged during Alan’s first summer as manager.

His past was a complete mystery until a couple of girls, Sharon and Sandi, moved in below him. My roommate and I had moved from N to J, from a one-bedroom to a two, directly across from him and so were privy to a strange but poignant drama that unfolded between the girls and Mr. Morris.

Sharon and Sandi were students and best friends, who innocently endeavored to stir things up socially and bring people together. I’ll never forget, one Christmas, their bizarre “Angel Buddy” ruse. One night they came up to our apartment and presented their plan designed to spread Christmas cheer at Villa Nova. The “Angel Buddy” system worked something like this. Everybody’s name in the complex was put into a hat, boys and girls separate. We would pick a girl’s name and, starting twelve days before Christmas, would send this person anonymous notes, poems, and little gifts, one a day until Christmas Day, which would culminate in a party at Alan’s apartment, at which time we would reveal our identity to our secret “Angel Buddy” and vice-versa. I could tell my roommate thought this was one of the most preposterous, adolescent, and stupid things he had ever heard of but there was just no way of getting out of it without hurting Sharon and Sandi, whose intentions, at least, were good. With some reluctance, we drew from the hat. Of course neither one of us sent notes, poems, or little gifts to our selected “Angel Buddies,” but to my utter astonishment the next day I found a note taped to my door: “Ron, Hi! I’m your ‘Angel Buddy.’ See you later!” For the next eleven days I received notes, poems, and little gifts (I still have a candle angel) from my secret “Angel Buddy” and found out that I was about the only one who had.

Sharon and Sandi decided that Mr. Morris shouldn’t be excluded from the festivities, so in lieu of an “Angel Buddy” they baked him plates of cookies and left them outside his door. It was a delightful gesture, but the girls, for all their kindness and concern, may have made poor Mr. Morris feel as though he were the recipient of a cruel joke, for instead of signing the notes attached to the cookies “From friends” or “Your neighbors,” or even “Angel Buddy,” they addressed it from “A Secret Admirer.” Secret admirer! The only person who could even remotely qualify in the vein of “a secret admirer” was Mrs. Roth, and that possibility was so farfetched that the poor old man must have felt perplexed, to say the least.

I mentioned to the girls one day that I thought it was a nice thing they were doing for Mr. Morris, without suggesting that they might use an alias other than “Secret Admirer,” and remarked about how little was known about the man. “Well, we found out a few things about him,’ ’ Sharon said. “During the war he worked on airplanes — fixing them or testing them or designing them or something — and that’s why he can’t hear now. He’s been living at Villa Nova for about eleven years and he has a sister in Los Angeles who visits him every now and then and he goes bowling every Thursday night by himself.”

It wasn’t exactly an intimate biography but it did shed a little light upon this elderly gentleman who had found a comfortable niche to live in during the waning years of his life. Returning home from work one night, my roommate related the following story: “I was going out the door and I saw Mr. Morris out in front of his apartment and I asked him how he was doing. He said he had been sick the past couple of days and asked me if I could get Alan to drive him down to the hospital. Alan took him down and he had a heart attack in the reception room and died.”

A week or so later some relatives came down and cleaned out the apartment, leaving boxes of nonessential miscellany outside for people to rummage through and take what they wanted. I ended up with a pair of gray work pants that, eerily, fit to perfection. I saw Sharon and Sandi there next door. “Too bad about Mr. Morris just going like that,” I said. Both of them, it was obvious, were quietly saddened by the event. Neither one knew quite what to say. There was really nothing to be said that hadn’t already been said with plates of cookies.

I don’t know what has become of George. Once he came back to the apartments to visit and he and Steve Whitmore went to lunch. He seemed happier and more physically stable. I wish him a long and healthy life. Steve Whitmore went to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting, which I trust he will be successful at not because his father is James Whitmore but because he is the Whitos, the one and only. I saw his father once right before he left, out in front of the apartments helping Steve load his things into his car. Val Hubei and the Markbreidt sisters moved back to Illinois. Alan moved to Pasadena. My roommate and I have relocated across the alley from Villa Nova. Our new apartments are more confining and less homey than Villa Nova. Perhaps in time, like anything else, I will get used to them. My roommate suggested there is still hope. “We lasted six years at Villa Nova,” he explained. “All we have to do is wait until Steve moves out and the place gets new owners. We’ll move back in. We’ll just outlast 'em!”

Somehow, I don’t think it would be the same.

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