Personal Property

(Continued from Pulp Fiction below).......In short, she smiled. Her name is Kathleen Cressler and we know her from the days when she was office manager for Jerry and Shar Michaels at Coldwell Banker; now she's an agent with Keller Williams, this morning subbing for Sharon MaHarry who is off finding someone's pink moment for them (an Ojai-only reference). A couple of other agents were milling around, one the wife of the owner of the local pool store, and with whom I had discussed acid levels, chlorine generators and the like only last summer, and the other the mother of Otis Bradley, a contractor who built a purportedly 'green' house on Signal Street several years ago. Jonas was a potential buyer as was another gentleman in a green sweatshirt. Lorrie and I were Jonas' posse. I was also looking for a story, and I found one.

Kathleen sketched the outline. The house (coyly absent from the KW listing, since it is an egregiously illegal residence) was moved from Camarillo at the time of that town's being split asunder in the 1950's (Camarillo Brio) by the 101. It is a 1920's wood frame, single story shingle cottage typical of the thirty or so that found their way to Ojai. The house sits on eighteen inch high stacks of one foot square concrete block caps (or pavers).

Despite the presence of several faults, no significant earthquakes have struck Ojai in the historic period. However long this 1200 square foot 2-bedroom 1-bath cottage has been sitting up at around 2500 feet, some 3500 feet below the eastern end of the Topatopa bluffs, it does not seem to have been significantly seismically shaken. It sits calmly amidst the accumulated agricultural, mechanical, earth-moving, electrical generating and hydrological junk of an owner, who it seems, has a passion to muddle, mend and tinker with, but never discard the past and present equipment that he has contrived to support his off-the-grid lifestyle.

His ten acres are just to the west of La Broche Canyon. Somewhere, in a steep canyon to the north of the house, is a spring towards which Jonas and I climbed, following the white 2" pvc pipe that fed his newish-looking 5,000 gallon corrugated water tank. We climbed high enough to appreciate a view, across the city of Santa Paula and Oxnard Plain, that revealed a glimpse of ocean beyond the wetlands and dunes at Point Mugu, but turned back before finding the water source.

Below us was the house, the aforementioned water tank, the windmill that once pumped the water (work now undertaken by an electric motor and a small photo-voltaic array), a holding pond stocked with fish, a large equipment shed housing a Case excavator and a backhoe, a few acres of avocados and several firs and eucalypts. These were the owner's 'Green Acres', haphazardly irrigated by the hidden spring and the traceries of pipe that lay over and under the land.

Not much changed with Chevy trucks after the so-called 'Second Series' came out in 1947 until the mid-fifties. The bloopy fenders, rounded cab roof and split screen windshield all became iconic signifiers of America's favorite half-ton truck with Chevrolet's yearly up dates focused on only minor cosmetic changes (in 1952, for instance, the window-winder knobs were changed from black to maroon plastic!), but in 1953 the standard body color of the vehicle was changed from Forrester green to a slightly lighter shade, Juniper green.

Hidden beneath a tarpaulin in a make-shift lean-to garage just down wind of the property's septic tank and leech line was a 1953 Chevy truck in its original, first model year Juniper green livery. Here was the old man's labor of love, last registered in 2009 but looking 'ready to work', as they say. This truck is a sweetener thrown into the deal - for the land sale includes all personal property (including the 'ghost' house whose existence, remember, is not acknowledged on the listing) with the exception of a rolled late-model Nissan. This latter, I suspect, is part of a pending insurance settlement.

Jonas had a mind to turn the whole mess into an up-scale health resort. It seemed to me that the cottage represented a perfect educational opportunity to study the realities of living off-the-grid. The beautiful hand wrought steel barrel-shaped wood burning stove serves as the building's only heating. The fridge, cooking-stove and lights run on propane. Water service at night is dependent on battery storage of the solar array's power production. The old man made it all work and when it didn't work he fixed it. A salutary lesson available, perhaps, for 'green' pretenders.

The owner had, Kathleen told us, lived up here to get away from his family. Now in his 80's the family had successfully persuaded him to put his retreat on the market. More likely, thinks I, this is a carefully weighed calculus that has granddad selling the property and neatly self-financing his final decade of adult-care under the sensitive ministrations of minimum-wage minders: payback for his daring to hide-out in his suburban-cottage-turned-hunting-cabin to live amidst the scenic splendor of the Topatopa foothills for the past thirty odd years.

Better, I muse, for him to die with his boots on, his stiffened body pawed over by the bears that he now scares away with single shots from his Smith and Wesson Model 10, .38 caliber revolver (Kathleen tells us), only the holster of which was available for the showing, casually placed on a work table amidst old maps, books and magazines. The old man then, away for the open house, was presumably packing heat as he waited out the remains of the day. Disgruntled, resentful, already missing the twittering of chapparal birds, deer tip-toeing down the canyon and the marauding bears, his un-holstered revolver was, no doubt, a comforting presence: its dead weight pulling down one side of his Patagonia fleece jacket.

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