Over the next several weeks he spent a lot of time hanging around us, particularly Marilou, and hanging with the neighbors on his other side, Cris and Valerie. Cris was still active-duty navy assigned to a ship home ported in Pascagoula, and Valerie was a stay-at-home-mom caring for their little boy. Around Marilou and Valerie, Robert routinely relayed long mournful monologues about his late wife. Around me, and when Cris was with us, Robert would offer a brief monologue about his wife then move on to stories about Vietnam, the MIA/POW movement, and his time in Hollywood.
He also had continuous complaints about the former owners of his house. He claimed they had cheated him by taking more plants and yard fixtures than they were supposed to under terms of their sale. Robert claimed he and Cathi had gone out of their way to be nice to them by letting them stay in the house several months after the sale, and the former owners returned kindness by stealing from him. Robert also claimed he had purchased the house well below market value by going directly through the Casino which held the gambling debts, and there had been some mysterious legal issues while dealing with the Casino.
In befitting his status as recent widower, Marilou and Valerie alternated bringing him home-cooked meals. Robert started making frequent requests for assistance around his house, particularly to Marilou. I didn’t immediately object as I considered that helping him was part of being a good neighbor.
In late April, about the same time Robert moved in, Marilou’s mom Lourdes had moved in with us from San Diego. Lourdes was not in good health and we quickly became her mom’s near-full time care giver. Helping out Robert added to Marilou’s already considerable stress of providing for her mom’s care, working full time at a retail department store, and managing our house.
Robert’s house had an especially nice pier into the bayou behind our homes. The previous owners kept to themselves and never allowed anyone onto their property. Robert, as soon as he moved in, gave us an open invite to use the pier for fishing and hanging out. This quickly became the place for Marilou and me to hang out and visit with Robert.
Robert had also met my other next-door neighbor, Beth, shortly after moving in. Beth was an older woman (older than me) who had become a widow just over a year earlier. Initially, she would hang with Marilou and Valerie out in the street talking with Robert. Then, after an afternoon chat out on Robert’s pier, she abruptly refused to have anything more to do with him. Robert later made frequent claims Beth had made a pass at him, and he turned her down.
It was nearly a year before Beth told me that Robert had made a crude and straight-up pass at her that she flat rejected while they were out on his pier that afternoon.
Robert left Gautier in mid-June, heading back to his former house in Seattle, Washington in his RV. He had explained that he would be spending several months in Seattle and in Hollywood, California on business. Before he left he initiated a massive remodeling project.
He claimed that as a bachelor he needed to make the house comfortable for himself, not a “monument” to his deceased wife. His remodeling included replacing a large wood deck in the back of his house with poured concrete and brick, building a very large brick two car garage and workshop with an enlarged concrete driveway and RV parking pad, all new kitchen cabinetry, replacing all the carpeting with ceramic tile and repainting the house’s interior.
Before he left he asked Marilou and I to watch over the contractors, and he made arrangements to call us as needed to handle some of the details. He explained he would be talking with the contractors frequently to be sure they were doing the work correctly and on schedule. He also asked Cris and Valerie to closely monitor his contractors. Cris once told me Robert actually had Cris routinely handle payment transactions with the contractors. I thought this was a lot to be asking from people he had just met.
Robert returned sometime around late August. His remodeling project was far from complete and in total chaos.
Immediately upon return, Robert made charges of being cheated by his contractors over materials he paid for but never received, and complained of paying for work that never was completed. Garwood claimed he had given his bank account number and direct withdrawal authorization to the head contractor, who subsequently drained his account way in excess of the work contracted for. This made no sense to me as he had authorized our neighbor Cris to handle his contractor finances.
In Robert’s defense, it was apparent to me that most of the work that was done was substandard. But my sympathy was limited as I lived with the guiding principle; “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.” Having just survived a major remodeling project of our own the year prior, I felt Robert had been extremely foolish running a project of his magnitude from half-way across the U.S.
Robert also claimed to be missing workshop equipment and accused various contractors of being the thieves. Robert claimed that after he filed police reports, the subsequent police investigations revealed that the contractor had no contractor’s license, numerous complaints with the Better Business Bureau, and prior legal actions pending from arrest warrants issued in Alabama.
Over the next several months Marilou and I heard a constant stream of complaints and charges against the various contractors he had hired. It seemed as if everyone he hired went out of their way to rip him off with outrageous prices on shoddy workmanship, and when Robert refused to pay them, they spitefully filed workman’s liens against him. Meanwhile, Robert hired some general handymen and had them working under his direct supervision finishing his many home improvement projects.
Robert didn’t have a job and I frequently wondered where his money came from. He had told us he and Cathi paid cash for his house but still owned a house back in Seattle. He had dumped a lot of money into remodeling his house over the summer. He now had anywhere from three to four people working for him daily, for several months. He also explained that his Class “A” RV was fully paid for.