The dullest person I have ever known died recently. Call him Wally Doon. He was, beyond doubt, a classic bore. A simple hello from the man left you wishing he would leave, and three words beyond that would cause people to turn and walk away. I hear that when Wally died his wife leaned over to catch his last words and dozed off.
He was, by the simple nature of his undesireable presence, an original. I recreate him for you today to honor the spirit of the only human I ever knew who was less interesting than lint.
Wally lived in a boring little house where he somehow supported himself by publishing a mimeographed newsletter concerned with vacant lots on the Westside. The history of vacant lots was Wally's hobby as well as his source of income.
"See that lot over there?" he might say. "Cecil B. DeMille walked through it in 1948 on his way to the MGM Studio. There was a house on it once, owned by Harry Rudolph, burned down in 1927. The house, not Harry. Harry was the grandson of Jedediah Rudolph who built the cottage in 1906, the year he married Thelma Dupre. Folks say Thelma used to have this problem with her spittle, drooled all the time, but in 1897 old Doc Purser . . . "
I met Wally a few years ago while researching a story on cottage industries, which is to say people who make their living working out of their homes. Wally had remodeled his garage into an office for his newsletter, which he called "Vacant Lots."
The garage contained a long, boring table, a mimeograph machine and stacks of nondescript paper. Its only adornment was a black and white calendar picture he had put on the wall, but the print was so old it had become just a blur, which somehow seemed appropriate.
I forgot to mention the dog. Wally had a hound with no name. The dog never did anything but stand and stare all day. I never saw him sit or lie and I never heard him bark. Wally would talk to the dog a lot, which I suppose could have explained the poor animal's catatonic state.
It only took a short while to realize how boring Wally was. "Sit down, Buckaroo," he said at our first meeting. Wally called everyone Buckaroo. Roy Rogers, you see, was his hero, along with Jane Withers, his favorite actress. Sam Yorty was his favorite mayor. As I sat, he pointed out that the wooden chair in which I was sitting had once been sat in by a former deputy sheriff. His monologue went something like this:
"Wink Andrews was the deputy's name. Patrolled south of Pico. Night shift. Folks say Wink would stop off at Connie Sneed's place when old Amos Sneed was out. Don't know what went on. She had a terrible bladder problem. He'd sit in the kitchen on this very chair. The chair was bought years later by Augie Weimer. You've heard of Augie? No? Well, I'll send you an old newsletter on him. Augie had the pharmacy at 26th and Olympic . . . "
Wally fascinated me. I had never met anyone quite like him before. His wife was very similar to his boring dog. She simply stood around and stared, possibly numbed by the same energies that had dulled the dog.
I felt sorry for Wally from the start and invited him to a party once. The minute he walked in the door, the party died. I had tried to warn him beforehand that he ought to steer his conversations away from vacant lots and wooden chairs if he could. Unknown to me, that left him with few options. One of them was prayer in school. He wasn't necessarily for it and he wasn't necessarily against it.
Wally was simply a collector of stories about people who prayed in school.
"Little Wanda Archer, for instance," I heard him tell one woman in a valiant attempt at humor. "Never prayed at all, truth be known. Used to bow her head, close her eyes and say the words to "Mary Had a Little Lamb"! Funniest thing I ever heard! Poor girl had psoriasis for years in personal places. Thought it was impetigo. You know where she had it?"
The woman he was talking to, a wealthy matron unaccustomed to discussing anything personal in public, shook her head slowly.
"Philadelphia," Wally replied. "Not many people have psoriasis in Philly. But I knew a man once who . . . "
The woman headed for the ladies room. Wally followed.
" . . . gas problem in Omaha. A praying person. One morning they were gathered in prayer and right in the middle of 'Praise Be,' poor fellow had this tremendous outpouring . . . "
The woman ducked into the ladies room.
" . . . of faith . . . " Wally's voice trailed off.
It suddenly struck him. This was the seventh time in 10 minutes that someone had left him for the bathroom and had never returned.
It never occured to Wally that they might have simply climbed out the window to escape him. He simply assumed they were involved in illicit acts and left. Shortly thereafter he called to apologize and went on to say he had studied up on illicit acts. He was about to enlighten me when he died.
Too bad. It may have been the only interesting thing he ever had to say.
Requiescat in pace, Wally.