that one particular harbor...."
"The Not Here Dear Motor Court?!" I flinched as Desdemona, laughing, sprayed my dashboard with Diet Coke. I could imagine what her computer keyboard looked like.
"Grandmommie Parrothead said it's the place," I shot back defensively. "She says that the local who owned it kept it looking seedy and rundown so snowbird women would say 'no, not here, dear,' to their husbands and keep on driving. That kept the bungalows free for all his friends to visit and fish and drink and ... " I dropped my voice to a slow, ominous pitch, "consort."
"It's perfect!" exclaimed Des, baptising my dash again in her mirth. "The 'mens' will love it."
"Not when the 'mens' see how much work has to be done," I worried, as I wheeled my old '74 Ford van cautiously across a small plank bridge over a mud flat that was probably two feet deep in saltwater at high tide.
Crunching under the tires ... a noise that took me back to my childhood. The narrow, one-way "road" was paved in shell dredge which other wheels had pushed up into frozen waves of dirt crusted with a foam of bleached white seashells. The road wove through a cluster of small stucco bungalows which, according to the advertisement that Grandmommie Parrothead had faxed, contained "one to three bedrooms, with a/c units and gas heat plus fireplace, kitchen, bath, patio." They were painted in the pale Easter egg colors so prevalent in Southern Florida, only barely visible beneath overgrown bougainvillea and lantana bushes. The lane took a sharp turn and we were suddenly faced with a large expanse of dredge parking lot which tucked like a white apron up to the steps of The Boathouse, the main structure on the property. Desdemona and I had grown up in Florida ... we eyed the coconut palms which lined the parking area and I placed the van squarely in the middle of the open expanse. Stiffly, we got out and viewed our new home, our mouths hanging open.
Grandmommie Parrothead had done her job well.
The Boathouse. That wonderful building that we all know so well now, was then a little down-at-heel but still inviting. Utterly unconcerned with matching the stucco bungalows, it predated them by at least thirty years. It had been built as a fishermen's camp, although according to GMPH it had done time since then as a rumrunner's hangout and a roadhouse and a stop on the Cuban underground railroad and, finally, a fishing camp once more, before it closed back in 1988.
The Boathouse was a large and rambling two story building, plank wood with big windows and a corrugated tin roof, built next to and out over the small lagoon that lay between the Key on which we stood and the smaller isle that protected it from the Gulf of Mexico. The ground floor consisted solely of a huge, many-windowed room with a fireplace and floor made of slices of the local coral, popularly used instead of tile in the environmentally innocent '20s. French doors at the back opened directly into the part of the structure which was actually a boathouse. A seam of sunlight streaming through cracks in the water-side doors revealed two large canvas boat slings and a hook and cable lift that held a small bateau, fire-engine red paint peeling and a spider-web covered 25 hp Evinrude bolted to the transom. I smiled at Des. "The Bateau Rouge," I named it, after my dad's old boat and the town I'd graduated high school in.
A broad plain staircase led Des and me up to the second floor where, as the floor plan that GMPH faxed us had promised, we found a sprawling kitchen and a cavernous common room. Old furniture covered with dusty sheets loomed ghostly in the dim light and Des and I walked quietly, as if we might disturb someone, although we'd been told that no one had lived here since '92. Down a few steps, in the space that sat over the big ground-floor "lobby," were seven small bedrooms and two huge bathrooms. On the doors, someone had taken chalk and, crossing out "Men" and "Women", had written instead "Fins" and "Tails." Des and I rolled our eyes and chuckled. "There have been Parrottheads here before," she said in her best Gypsy Seer voice, and I laughed.
Outside, we heard a splash. Hurrying to the other side of the common room, we tugged at the door, forced the rusty hinges of the screen open, and spilled out onto the second-floor gallery which faced what would come to be known as Gilligan's Lagoon. Looking down, we saw a large gray shape lounging in the greenish water, framed by cypress piering.
"Omigawd, we've even got a mascot!" I exclaimed.
"You mean, besides O.C.?" mocked Des, as the manatee rolled on its side to eye the noisy bipeds who had invaded its peaceable kingdom. "You know what this means ... we've got to get MayDay to join us. Just to keep an eye on our livestock."
I laughed. "The SeaCowBoys. We'll have to get the 'mens' to bring their Significant Others along, so as to keep 'em from tearing up the Boathouse with their untamed manliness."
"And the smart-alecky wimmins what has 'em will have to bring their One True Loves to keep them in a good mood, doncha know," smiled Desdemona wisely.
"It's pretty run-down," I said, eyeing the cant of the porch on which we stood.
"The Dread Pirate Roberts' money will put the tools in our hands. If we fix it, they will come," pronounced the Wise Woman.
"You sound like Mickey Rooney and Kwai Chang Caine and Kevin Costner rolled into one, Des," I said, trying to sound cynical.
"Let's go pet the manatee," she said practically. I admired her ability to focus on what was important, and followed her down the outside stairs to the water level.
"Why is it that no matter where I go, there's a homeless animal waiting for me?" I complained hopelessly as I scratched the sandpaper jowl of our new neighbor.
"He's not homeless now," asserted Desdemona.
"Doncha know," I nodded. "Doncha know...."
The next day, the message appeared on alt.fan.jimmy-buffett:
The Key West Foreign Legion, Pirate Parrotts Boathouse Bar and Beach chapter, has openings for Parrottheads young and old and their 'keets. Run away TO home! Sign up as a permanent or vacation-time member. Members' Fees based on sliding scale, taking into account work done on the property, as well as amount of time and general nature of posts logged on the newsgroup. The Management reserves the right to extend preferential treatment to certain guests of otherwise irreputable character. Please list talents, interests, size of phlock and planned length of stay in your e-mail. Welcome to that one particular harbour...."
And the mailbox for KWFL~PPBBB started to fill....