Throughout my junior high and high school days, my crazy mama was “engaged” to a gentleman named “Rogers” (this is not a typo–he went by his last name because his first name was something unfortunately feminine like “Lyndsay” or “Meredith” or “Mary Kate”). Now, Rogers was a nice enough fella. But saccharine sweet and had gotten all of his romantic overtures from browsing the sort of trashy novels that might have Fabio on the cover.
He would hold mom’s hand while they ate.
“Rogers, I need that hand to cut the steak.”
“Let me cut it for you my queen!”
You get the picture. He was nice, but he was just too much. I think the most attractive quality he had, in mother’s eyes, was his house in Florida. In fact, I’m absolutely certain that if he had owned real estate in our little town in West Virginia instead, he wouldn’t have made it past the first date. Mama loves the beach. And she loves to “get away” from her terribly, exhaustingly, mine numbingly stressful life. (Sarcasm intentional.) Now this house was nothing special, small, tract-built, and not even waterfront. But it was in Florida, it was near the beach, and snow had never fallen on it. An added bonus was that Roger’s company had a small private plane. While mother was not afraid to jump into her Subaru and drive the 14 hours it took to get to the house in Cocoa, Florida, it was much easier to hop on the single-prop six passenger and be there in a few hours. (There is almost no such thing as a commercial flight in the little town I grew up in.) Flying to Cocoa was fun. The little plane was hardly bigger than a car, and we were never higher than the clouds, so we could watch the ground as it passed beneath us. We almost always made a stop at the Podunkabilly Airport in Georgia to refuel. (I think that’s what it was called.) It was a mom-and-pop airport–little more than one hangar and a mobile home with a small control tower built onto one end.
But I digress, because we went to Cocoa by car during the visit in question. My crazy mama (at that time, not quite so crazy and certainly less medicated than the Percocet Princess she is today), my sister, one of my oldest friends and myself. All piled up into the “titty pink” 1990 Subaru Legacy mama had gotten in her last divorce.
Now, let me tell you about the house in Cocoa, Florida. Rogers had built the house with his previous wife. He got the house, she apparently got all of the furniture. So he had “made do” with some cast offs and bargain finds which gave the house an “Early College” look. He also had pet birds. A big ass maccaw and some sort of other talking tweety thing. So, picture if you will, sitting on a hand me down sofa as this giant bird swoops through the house shreiking “Sunny’s a Good Girl!” The birds were NOT caged when anyone was home. Nor were they trained to do their bird business in the sunroom or on papers or anywhere else. They would just empty their little feathered rumps wherever the mood struck them.
Rogers had painstakingly landscaped the small property to within an inch of it’s life. I’d only seen pictures of what the gardens looked like when they were new, and they were gorgeous. Beautifully laid out, tropical color everywhere. But, as we all know, plants grow. And grow these did. To the point where it would not have surprised me in the least to see a damned monkey jump out of one of his prized sabal palms. So overgrown was the small lot that you couldn’t walk along the once meandering paths without scraping your arms on foliage. Like it’s keeper, the gardens were just too much. And, as anyone who has been to Florida knows, there are bugs there that can easily carry off a small dog. And, as anyone who knows me can attest, I’d rather be castrated with a pair of dull tin snips than even LOOK at a cockroach. So: jungle-like yard plus Florida plus homeowners who aren’t there often equals bugs.
Then there was the water. Now, many homes in Florida rely on groundwater for their sprinkler systems. Anyone who has been there has undoubtedly noticed the rotten egg smell that comes from the sulfur-rich well water in the area. But, Rogers house used the well for EVERYTHING. It was, of course, sent through a filtering system, but the faint aroma of rotting eggs remained. So, do you have a good picture of the house in Cocoa? An overgrown, underfurnished, bug filled managerie that smelled like someone had broken wind everytime a faucet was turned on. Pleasant, isn’t it? No, I didn’t think so either. And so, after a few weekends in Cocoa, I swore off EVER going back.
Until spring break of my tenth grade year. With the combination of pressure from mom and my friend (who mom had craftily invited along–no doubt counting on peer pressure to lure me back to the boiled egg birdcage) got to be too much, I agreed to go for the week under the proviso that I would NOT stay at the house in Cocoa. You see, Rogers had a good friend named Phil who had visited us in WV a few times. Phil, it was said, lived in the condo of his snowbird parents. I’d never seen this condo, but I knew that mom and sister girl had been there a few times because they frequently used the pool when they were in Florida. So, I’m not sure whose idea it was, but it was decided that we would all spend the week in Phil’s condo. Fresh water. No birds. And a pool! It sounded much more palatable.
Only, no one told Rogers of our plans. He naturally thought we would all stay at the house. So, we arrived in Florida late that night, I had already implored mother not to reveal that I was the reason we weren’t staying at the house.
“Oh, I won’t honey! I’ll think of something to tell him.”
Well he arrived at the condo, and what she thought to tell him was . “We’re not staying at the house, because he can’t bathe in that water .” Gee thanks, Mom. Rogers was crushed. He left the condo with some comment about “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow if I haven’t gone home and hung myself.”
We kids had a good chuckle, and, nasty little things we were, dreamed up scenarios of poor Rogers hanging from the ceiling-mounted television projector while Sonny the toucan (or whatever she was) pecked out his eyeballs while announcing to the world that she was a “Good Girl.”
Now, as I said, I’d never actually visited Phil’s condo. I assumed, based on mama’s description and the fact that it belonged to someone well-off enough to afford a second home, that it was the sort of condo I was used to vacationing in. But, I was wrong.
Now, to it’s credit, the condo was clean–no bugs, no birds, and the water was free of odor. So, if I had it to do over again, I still would have chosen it. But to say it was a nice place to spend a week is a stretch. The furniture was old. I’m certain that Phil’s parents had furnished the place with leftovers from their Jersey split level. But it was what Phil himself had done to inject some “style” to the place that makes it really memorable. You see, Phil, and a Sam’s Club crate of feather dusters, had faux-painted every single wall in the place. Floor to ceiling splotches of color feather dusted onto white walls. One room was black. One was yellow. One was blue. And the living room was done in rust (a perfect compliment to the plaid rust and orange living room ensemble!). It was dizzying. It was obnoxious. It might have been cute in a bathroom, but a walk through that condo could induce epilepsy.
The first few days of the vacation were fine. We enjoyed being by the pool (which, given that the condo complex was Heaven’s waiting room, we generally had to ourselves), seeing the sites, and being away from the usual routine. But then, a storm front moved down the east coast.
Our home in West Virginia was blanketed with over two feet of snow just a day or two before we were to leave. The governor closed the interstates and declared a state of emergency. Florida was hit with near-hurricane force winds, blowing rain, and frigid temperatures. The storm sent a palm tree into the pool. Gas station canopies toppled over. And we were stuck inside the condo good taste had forgotten.
Our trip to Disney went on as planned, but it was so cold we ended up spending almost all day inside Space Mountain. There was little to do after that but sit inside and watch The Price is Right. We all started to get on each other’s nerves. My friend and I taunted my sister, telling her that her beloved crossed eyed cat had no doubt frozen to death back home, as it was a foregone conclusion that the old neighbors who were caring for him wouldn’t be able to cross a lawn so deeply blanketed with snow. We prepared her that we would return home to find his frozen, lifeless body–little paws stretched toward the door–stuck to the front steps. She cried. We laughed, and poor mama took solace as only she could–we awoke one morning to find her and Phil entangled on the sofa.
To add to my misery, I spent the better part of my young life completely unable to have a bowel movement away from home. I’ve no idea why, I just couldn’t. After six or seven days trapped in Florida, every bite of food I ate was like packing a musket. I was miserable. I implored mom to take my friend and my sister SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE, so I could just relax for an hour.
In her typically subtle fashion, she did just that, saying “Come on kids, lets go to the outlet mall so he can take a shit.”
Finally, the road home was reopened. I had my bag packed and ready to go, but several people from back home suggested we wait another day or two, because once the sun went down, the melting snow turned to black ice on the roads. Mama took any excuse to stay longer, so wait we did. Finally, my uncle back home said we should be fine to get there, but should take caution after the sun went down. Mom asked us if we were ready to make the trek north. She didn’t have to ask me twice. My sister was anxious to see if her cat had lived. Mom, of course, had no desire to get back home. So the friend who’d come with us basically had the deciding vote. And the little Judas voted to STAY another day because he didn’t want to miss that night’s episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” I was ready to KILL him. And the urge to find a leftover feather duster to use as a murder weapon only became stronger when he announced, just after “90210’s” credits rolled that it had been a rerun!
But, the next morning, finally, we loaded up the Subaru and made the 13 hour trek home, where a bank of snow blocked the driveway, and sister girl’s cat was very much alive and meowing at the front door.