Everyone Knew Him as Cheech
Raymond Marisette left Jersey City for Montauk 20 years ago to clean a friend’s boat at the West Lake Fishing Lodge for a week. “He was allowed breakfast, lunch, dinner, and $20 worth of draft beer,” recalled Rob Devlin, who had just taken over the Clam and Chowder House there. “That was Cheech’s original contract that he designed.”
Mr. Devlin gave him a few things to do around the restaurant, and “I ended up giving him a place to stay above the restaurant, a room. That was it. He never left.”
“He fell in love with the people and everything about Montauk,” his son, Raymond Patrick Marisette, said. The Montauk community embraced him. He was well known at the Dock, Salivar’s, and Shagwong restaurants, where he played QuickDraw and had a seat reserved for him, his son said.
Word spread quickly Saturday morning that Cheech, as he was known, the cheerful man who always wore a smile, suspenders, and a bucket hat, had died. Friends had gone to check on him in the storage container he was living in at Gosman’s Dock parking lot at around 9:45 a.m., police said.
It was not as if Mr. Marisette, 69, had no other place to stay, people who loved him said this week. “He had more friends than most people do anywhere,” Mr. Devlin said.
While he did not have a conventional home, his friends and his son insist he was not homeless. “He chose to live there,” his son said. “He always said, ‘I’m just me. I’m just going to be me.’ Those were the words he lived by.”
London Rosiere, who said she considered Cheech her best friend since meeting him in 2014, said he had been staying in an apartment by the Montauk Market in recent winters, and in the summers he would live in the pack-out office at Gosman’s. She said it was only this summer that he had to make other arrangements.
She said he had hopes to receive low-income housing by the Montauk train station, and that he looked forward to getting a kitten. “He always had a smile on his face, even when he had things going on in his life that weren’t so wonderful,” she said.
His health had been on the decline in recent years, though his son thought he seemed better the last time he visited him, a few weeks ago. A longtime smoker, he was diagnosed with diabetes and a lung disease, with coughing fits that sometimes caused him to pass out, friends said. He was under a doctor’s care. An autopsy will determine the exact cause of death, but police said there was nothing suspicious about it.
“He was offered so much help from people, but he refused it,” his son said, adding he told his father many times over the years he could come to live with him in East Rutherford, N.J. “He refused to leave Montauk. He was the type that said ‘I just want to live and die here.’ He didn’t want to leave. Technically, he never did.”
“He never looked to impress anybody. He never cared what they thought of him,” his son said. “He didn’t consider himself homeless, so he didn’t care if people thought he was homeless. There was nothing this man could be embarrassed about.”
Mr. Marisette said his father had the nickname Cheech for over 40 years. He got it at a bar in New Jersey, where he would go with his best friend. “They were like two peas in a pod,” people would say, “best friends like Cheech and Chong,” and the name stuck.
“I’d say about 80 percent of the locals in Montauk didn’t know his real name,” his son said.
After Cheech made Montauk his home two decades ago, the Devlin family basically adopted him. He lived with them for many winters. “He was the older son that I never had,” Mr. Devlin said, smiling. “He went on all my family vacations with us. He went everywhere with us. He was part of the family.”
No matter where he went, everyone agreed, he made fast friends. He was easy to get along with and never hesitated to strike up a conversation. “He was just a nice, friendly, harmless guy,” said George Watson, who owns the Dock. “He was a Dock character down here.”
Mr. Marisette was born on Fishers Island on Nov. 11, 1948. Mr. Watson said he was an Army brat; the island is home to a former military airfield. The pair would take a boat over to the island occasionally, he said, and go have a drink at the American Legion, where Cheech would proudly whip out his birth certificate to prove his birthplace.
He grew up mainly in Jersey City, though, where both his son and daughter, Cynthia Martinez of Union City, N.J., were born. In addition to his children, four granddaughters survive. He had two sisters and two brothers, all of whom died before him.
He held innumerable odd jobs in his lifetime — his son joked that he probably was in the Guinness Book of World Records for man-of-all-work. He worked on truck tires the longest, but usually didn’t hold the same job for more than a year or two. In Montauk, in addition to the Clam and Chowder House, he had worked for J.P. Pools and Gosman’s.
“He was just a character. There was always laughing. Always a joke,” Mr. Devlin said. He recalled one time when Cheech was shark fishing with friends and dropped his hat in a giant bucket of chum. Then he whipped it out and put it on his head.
Friends also remembered him as giving. Ms. Rosiere said he liked to buy people gifts at the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society’s Bargain Box, which they frequented together. He would help out anyone who needed a hand — in exchange for a beer, Mr. Devlin said. “Bartering with beer was the easiest thing to do with him.”
“He never asked for anything much,” he added; money and possessions were not important to him. “A can of Spam, saltine crackers, and a beer.” He was one of a kind, Mr. Devlin said. “They broke the mold after that one.”
“The guy just lived the life. The life of Cheech. I would say, ‘Who the hell is this Riley guy? He ain’t got shit on you, Cheech.’ ”
An informal memorial service will be held at the Clam and Chowder House at Salivar’s, now owned by Mr. Devlin, on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. The Rev. Tom Murray of Montauk’s St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church will say a prayer. Mr. Marisette plans to scatter his father’s ashes at sea.