Tom Muzzio
Tom Muzzio
T.E. Publisher
Roommates
Three is way cheaper...
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Howling at the Moon

I have known Rick (also known as Dick) for many years. We met at the home of some mutual friends in Lake Tahoe where I lived during the years when I owned a wonderful art gallery and picture-framing shop in the ski resort town of Incline Village, Nevada. Dick lived over on the California side of the lake at a very rustic lodge run by the Sierra Club. We hit if off right away and made a date for lunch a few days later at the Cal‑Neva casino at the state line.

The Cal-Neva is a rather famous hotel and casino that is quite unique as it sits directly on the border between California and Nevada. Thus the name, Cal-Neva. The State line runs right through the lobby, out into the courtyard, and directly through the middle of the outdoor swimming pool. I always thought it nice that, unlike with most state-to-state boundaries, here one could swim from one state to the next.

But that isn't the most essential uniqueness of the Cal‑Neva. No two states could be more different when it comes to hotel accommodations. The California side had a few very nice restaurants with a quiet atmosphere and cloth napkins. The Nevada side was wild and raucous with the ubiquitous casino sounds of bells and whistles, the clanging of coins falling loudly into stainless steel trays at the slot machines, and the occasional cheers and shouts of winners at the craps tables or the roulette wheels.

Though by no means dry, the California side of the Cal‑Neva is rather sedate and quiet. There are no bars there, as all the drinking and partying takes place on the Nevada side, which rocks twenty-four hours a day. In fact, after about midnight the entire California side of the hotel goes dark, and taking alcoholic beverages across the state line is purported to be illegal – although it is not enforced. In fact, it is a fun joke to take a free cocktail from the Nevada side across the border into the Golden State after midnight. Of course, the more law-abiding citizens often cheat by putting only one foot over the demarcation line woven into the tan carpet, while keeping the other safely and legally in the Silver State!

I really hadn't noticed much about Dick when we had met a few nights earlier at the cocktail party, as the locale was poolside at night, lit by those faux Tiki torches which would have been more appropriate in Hawaii. In the harsh light of day I became aware of his face as we sat next to the windows with a fine lake view. I assumed that he had been in an automobile accident, as I once had a friend in the army who had a similar-looking face, marked by long scars and lesions as a result of a serious collision on a Tennessee freeway in 1968. I pretended not to notice, but Dick was used to it, and before our sandwiches and cokes arrived, he let me know that it was melanoma – skin cancer.

“It won't really kill you," he said lightly, "but it will make you miserable for the rest of your life.”

Having similar fair skin, light hair, and very blue eyes, I was intrigued. Having spent endless hours lying outside at various beaches and swimming pools and around the world in the vain attempt to get tan, I wanted to know more. He explained that he had grown up as a very white little boy in a very brown (Hispanic) El Paso, Texas.

“I got more sun and sunburns by the time I was ten years old than most people get in a lifetime,” he remarked as our lunch arrived. I had noticed his unusual cap – a sort of French Foreign Legion‑like thing with a flap in the rear to cover the back of the neck. I was glad to understand the situation and we talked for hours. We were fast friends by the time I drove away back to work at my art gallery a few miles away in Incline Village, Nevada. He hopped on his bike to begin the long climb uphill about fifteen miles to the Sierra Club lodge and campground over in California.

That afternoon was unusually quiet for a late summer Tahoe day, and I had some time to think about my near-futile quest for the illusive tan to which I had for years aspired. I admitted to myself that I had never enjoyed lying out and cooking in the noonday sun. It seemed a high price to pay to look good. The only time in my life that I ever acquired the killer tan of my desire was in the Philippines where my wife and I bought a membership to a health club of sorts where we had unlimited use of the outdoor pool and other facilities. We could order lunch at the poolside, and paid our tab monthly.

We were in Tagalog language school at the time. Class began daily at 9 a.m. and ended at noon. Believe me, three full hours of language study is about all the human brain can endure before exploding. Of course, as in all language study, there is homework ... which we did by the pool every afternoon. Normally we did our independent study while enjoying our Filipino lunches of adobo, pancit, and lumpia along with endless nouns, verbs, adjectives and those odd Pilipino grammatical constructions.

One day a sweet, charming, little Pilipino waiter asked us curiously: Why do you Americans lie out in the hot sun like that? Isn't it very uncomfortable?”

To which we readily replied, Kasi gusto kaming maging kaiumangy! (Because we want to get brown like you!) He just shook his head. As he walked back to the kitchen we heard him mutter to himself: "They want to be dark and we want to be light. Go figure."

After spending that sunny Tahoe afternoon with Dick, I resolved to just accept myself as I was, and never get too much sun ever again. It just wasn't worth the possible consequences. A few weeks later, Dick walked through the door of Art Attack, my gallery, just to say hi. Happy to see him, I invited him down to Mud Pie – the ice cream/frozen yogurt shop that I owned at the mall – for a treat. Earlier in the week I had learned that my father, living back on the family farm in rural Oregon, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. I knew that I had to sell my half of the gallery, the ice cream parlor, and our gift shop to my then-partner, Dale Mark; and move back to my birthplace, the beautiful-though-rainy Pacific Northwest. Dick's come-back surprised me not a little bit.

“Take me with you!” Dick said seriously as he went on to explain that due to his melanoma, his life had become an increasing attempt to escape the sun. Although he was an avid skier, even Tahoe had proven to be too sunny. Portland, with it's mild marine climate, had always been his midterm goal en route to his ultimate destination, Alaska!

A month later we were on our way to the city of roses with its, rain, moss, ferns, and tall timber. After years of trekking the globe, I was finally home again in the Pacific Northwest. It was nice to have a companion and reliable room-mate.

We met Harry shortly after our arrival in Portland. He was a horticulturalist and knew the names of all the plants, bushes, and weeds in the forest and city parks, along with their genus names and concomitant information – enough to choke a horse. The local plant company that he had worked for in town for years had suddenly and unexpectedly been bought out by a huge national chain, and he was not a happy camper. No longer willing to put up with life in the burbs, he wanted to move into downtown where his new job was taking him.

There are few of these harmonic convergences in life when all the stars and planets seem to align. But this was one of them. Within a week we three had decided to move in together and share all expenses. It was destiny. It penciled out to be actually significantly cheaper for us to share the rent and utilities for a three-bedroom penthouse on the top floor of a condo with a spacious view, than to live separately.

We all worked different hours and in different locations. We never stumbled over each other or had any conflicts whatsoever. There was ample room for all of our furniture and collections. Harry brought exotic plants and huge urns with coy, water hyacinths and papyrus, bromiliads and elephant ears. I supplied the dining room set. Though we rarely ate together, we all became good friends. Rarely have I heard of three so diverse roomies living together in such logistical harmony. I ate at the dining room table, Harry ate out all the time, and Dick cooked his Tex-Mex cuisine in his one-and-only cast iron frying pan and ate directly out of the pan while reading the newspaper at the kitchen counter. Everyone was happy. It all worked out serendipitously. Cell phones were coming into vogue at the time, so we decided to share the cost of a single landline and answering machine.

Our message? How could it be anything but...

“Hello! You have reached the residence of Tom, Dick, and Harry! Please leave a message after the beep, and we will get back to you as soon as we can.”