The place we chanced on when we moved to Florida has its own unique charms. When I found it on Craigslist, we were hunkered down in a roach-riddled hotel called the Suburban Suites, where ne’er-do-wells hung out at night in the covered outdoor hallways and a particularly unsavory couple greeted us at the bottom of the stairs every day, neither of them wearing much clothing and both looking like they needed a bath.
The ad said “possibility of boat slip” – which was what I needed to convince Greg that we should hold off on buying Snowbird – and the picture showed a nice, clean, empty apartment. We were so desperate to get out of that hotel that I left two voicemails (one on each number that was listed) and wrote a response to the ad, pleading our case, saying we could move in the next day – and that we were very nice people.
We went to see the place the next day. We were greeted by the manager, a Frenchman I’ll call Pepé, a sophisticated-looking older man with a mane of wavy white hair and bright, dancing eyes. As we filled out the paperwork, Pepé watched over the shoulder of a scrawny man named Rack as Rack attempted to mount a cage on the air conditioner control. I say attempted because he drilled the holes in the wrong place, having placed the cage upside-down when he made his drill marks. This gave Greg a chance to jump in. “Are you putting a lock on the air conditioner control?”
“Yes,” said Pepé, seemingly embarrassed, “Dee last tenaunts kept it so fff-reeeezing cold that it froze the compresseaur. After that, DeFarge said to me, ‘No maur!’” He went on to explain that the landlord, his friend and a fellow Frenchman named DeFarge, was veree strict.
But since mounting the cage had suddenly become quite the debacle (the incorrect screw holes were so close to where the correct screw holes should be that the entire control unit would have to be relocated or the holes patched), Greg was able to talk him out of it. “I don’t think that’s really necessary,” he told Pepé, “we don’t even like air conditioning, so you don’t have to worry about us abusing it.”
Now that spring is in full swing and temperatures are in the 80s and the humidity often around 50%, our air conditioner has been running pretty much nonstop for weeks – though it’s usually set at a sensible (and sensitive) 79°.
The second thing we noticed as soon as we’d signed the rent papers was the loud blow of a train horn that sounded like it was about to plow through our living room. Somehow we missed the fact that we crossed over a railroad track a few hundred feet before turning onto our street. We left that day, unable to move in until we’d been background-checked, but wondering what we were getting ourselves into, what with a landlord so strict that he was going to prevent us from controlling the air temperature… and a train?
We had no idea what else was in store. Since the day we moved in Pepé has been renovating the space that shares a wall with ours and turning it into an apartment. There has hardly been a day when either Pepé or Rack haven’t been hard at work hammering, sawing, banging, drilling, grinding or otherwise making noise – and for some reason Pepé has a habit of starting work at around 4 or 5 p.m.
While we have a great location on the water, since we moved in the deck has been covered with drywall footprints, and during the day there is constant traffic – if it’s not Rack skulking in around the back fence, or Pepé trimming the palm trees, or DeFarge checking on how the boats are tied to the dock, then it’s Burt the fix-it man, or the guy who I found replacing my screen one morning while I was in my robe, or a friend of the guy who was repairing the screen, or a friend of Pepé’s.
It doesn’t help that Pepé lives in a small motorhome that’s parked along the opposite side of the building, or that DeFarge himself lives on his 56-foot sailboat out back – or that the bathroom they both share is just outside our back door, forcing them both to make the trip past our place multiple times a day.
Perhaps I’m making it sound bad. It isn’t that bad. We’ve gotten to know both the old geezers and we have a certain fondness for them – in spite of some of the annoying things they do – or don’t do. (For instance, DeFarge refuses to let the tenants set up a kayak rack out back even though every tenant has a kayak.)
The other tenants – as of today (the place next door to us is finally finished and on the market) – include a man named Sid who I’ve only seen twice, while getting into his truck, and who apparently is in charge of the internet for a large golf association nearby; and Portia, a vet who moved from the west coast not long before we did and who has quickly become my best friend here.
There’s one more player in this cast, a guy who graduated last week from the boating school across the way. He was living on the hook out in the larger part of the pocket when he decided he’d sleep better in a slip. Ironically, his slip is so shallow that his boat grounds at low tide and tips onto a heel of about 30°. He was only supposed to stay here until graduation, but he’s still here now – so only time will tell whether he’ll play more than a bit part in our lives. For now I’ll call him Skippie – I’d call him Skipper but he doesn’t have his captain’s license yet.
In some ways, it feels not unlike the kind of micro-communities I’m used to on a boat – in a short time we’ve grown into something of a family with all the dysfunctionality, comic and awkward moments, and growing pains.