My old man indoctrinated strangers in a civil, albeit it odd, fashion back in the early eighties when a few of his thirteen children were still in school. You could say he was a man ahead of his time, as he seemed to encourage people to socially distance from him on a routine basis. He was a suit wearing, neatly combed executive at a radiology clinic in Spokane by day, and well…..a bum in the neighborhood on weekends. Some of my siblings hated it, but I actually enjoyed it. One of my brothers didn’t care for it at all. Our old man would attend baseball games, wearing a mangy sweater with cigarette burns, talking to my brother about his last at bat in between innings. It was usually encouraging and his analysis was often times spot on. Dad had the credentials after being drafted to play professional baseball before fighting in the Korean War. When my brother would return to the dugout, one of his teammates would ask him what that hobo was saying to him. My brother was ashamed to admit that it was his father.
Taking his six foot rule a bit further with strangers was a bit embarrassing for the rest of us and our mother. On a short weekend vacation to Seattle, he would find a hotel with an indoor swimming pool and hot tub. While four of the thirteen children were horsing around in the pool, he wished to use the hot tub. Once, their was a group of young couples probably in their mid twenties monopolizing the tub when dad was trying to find a place to sit. There just wasn’t enough room, so he stuck his foot in the water and tried to make small talk with one of the couples. “I’ve heard one of the easiest ways contract this H.I.V. Virus is sharing a hot tub with others who may have the virus. Isn’t that the damndest thing you ever heard?” Three seconds later, he had the tub to himself. My sister, Maggie, who became a registered nurse and is on the front lines to this day was thoroughly embarrassed by his behavior even at the age of thirteen. “Dad, that’s a bunch B.S.” Good old Rodney Gannon would just chuckle.
During the aerobics era, we’d often have people in our neighborhood walking the streets to get exercise. If they lived more than one house away, our old man didn’t know any of them. He’d be outside smoking a cigarette, and stop them in mid stride just to offer them a cigarette. I’ve never seen such sinister looks from people. I thought it was hilarious. “Well I NEVER!” would be the usual response from some old bag trying to exercise on our street. You’d never see them twice. Our dad’s shit eating grin was delightful. Out of his office on the North Side of Spokane, he made the Valley his own little world by, in very civil ways, pestering those who didn’t know him all for his own amusement. He took his job so seriously, I think it was his way of winding down, and lightening the world up a bit. My friends, who knew him well loved it. While tossing a baseball or football around in the front yard with my friends, they would stop the action and nudge one another and say, “Hey watch. Mr. Gannon is going to say something funny to this person walking down the street.” It never failed. It brought belly laughs for them. I’d just smile and shake my head. I guess he was amusing those who knew him as well.
Rodney wouldn’t go to movies much because of the crowds. We’d sometimes convince him to go to one we knew he’d enjoy. Raiders of the Lost Ark was playing at a local theater and it was packed, thus difficult to find many open seats together. You could have referred to it as social distancing from our father at the theater. I was sitting next to Maggie when she nudged me and had me look up to where the old man was seated. He’d always buy two supersized barrels of popcorn, one for him and one for others to share, even if they didn’t know him. Normally, if it wasn’t a packed theater, the people sitting next to him would whisper, “Let’s get the Hell away from this weirdo.” With no other seats available, they couldn’t move six seats down, so they’d humor him and take the popcorn and pass it on down the line. That didn’t bother us. Watching him eat the popcorn was borderline embarrassing. Anyone who didn’t know him would be convinced it was his last meal. One handful or front loader at a time, he would shove three quarters of it in his mouth leaving the other quarter in his or someone else’s lap. That was during the previews. When the previews were over, the popcorn was gone, and not wanting to leave his seat, he’d offer a complete stranger twenty bucks to go get two more buckets, one for him and his girlfriend and one for himself. He’d also tell them to keep the change hoping they’d just leave with his twenty spot and walk to the nearest Chinese restaurant for a decent meal. They’d return with the popcorn and, by the end of the movie, they even seemed to enjoy his rascally behavior. With butter soaked hands, they’d even bid our old man adieu by shaking hands with him. “That was one Hell of a movie.” And he, was a helluva man.