The Perils of Living in Paradise


A Dubious Honor

It was the worst news. The story on the front page of our island newspaper reported that our community was No. 1 on a list of the top 10 richest towns in Florida.

Bad, you say? How can that be bad news? Try living in a community where everyone – including your county government — thinks you have all the money in the world. Imagine the expectations.

The website that gave us this suspect distinction said “this idyllic town has all the charms of Old Florida – a thriving fishing industry, mom-and-pop eateries, and, of course, beaches built for casual strolling. However, it has some seriously luxurious mansions and impressively large estates.”

It also rightly pointed out that some of these mansions sit empty most of the year, with the ultra-wealthy visiting only when the weather gets bad up north or the Tarpon are running during fishing season.

There are some well-heeled folks who spend four or five months here. Every community has those. Then there are the rest of us who have worked hard all our lives and are happy to have a little piece of paradise.

Living on an island – where everyone thinks money grows on palm trees – isn’t easy.

Try eating out. Every year the few restaurants we have on the island print new menus. It’s the same old food but with higher prices. A friend complained the other day that the Ahi Tuna appetizer she once enjoyed for $15.95 is now $25. Same tuna. Bigger bill.

The owners of a new eatery on the island reportedly charge twice as much for the same dish as they do at another restaurant they own in Florida. The food is delicious, but the prices. Ouch!

Even the carryout dinners from the local grocery store average $14, with prime rib going for $23.

Restaurants and other businesses can get away with charging bigger prices because we are a captive population. But they also need to make more because of the seasonal nature of their business and the rent they pay. They also suffer as a result of the “richest” syndrome.

A popular florist was forced to leave the island a couple of years ago because her annual bill for a tiny space exceeded $40,000. Try selling enough flowers in six months to cover that rent.

Home prices and construction costs go up every year. A friend of mine bought a house that would have cost $80,000 off island five years ago. Now it’s valued at three times what she paid for it. But if she sells it to capture her profit, she says she will have to move off island. All “bargains” are gone – swept away by booming real estate prices. She calls it the blessing and the curse of living here.

The biggest drawback is a county government that believes the press releases and, thus, delights in increasing property taxes to exorbitant levels each year. When we sold a house in the village and moved north to the “suburbs,” our property tax went up $8,000 for a lesser property. We are still trying to figure out that one.

“Rich people’s problems,” an old friend said to me when I complained about island prices and outrageous property taxes.

He was wrong. It’s problems caused by rich people – and the expectations that go along with living in the “richest town in Florida.” I think we’d all be happy for someone else to have that dubious honor.

Movin’ On Down

Dear Mr. President. I hear you’re changing your residency to Florida. Welcome to the hood.

I know you already have a little place down here, but I thought I’d pass along some tips and comments for someone who is “new” in town.

I think you’ll fit in. You like to play golf. You have a perpetual tan. And, well, not to get too personal, but like most down here you have a bit of a paunch. Yours isn’t as noticeable as many our age. But in Florida there’s only one place for new weight to go – and it isn’t to your chest.

You’ll need to make sure your toenails are trimmed because people – when they aren’t golfing or playing tennis – run around in sandals or flipflops. Don’t worry about your hair. Only a few men in Florida have good hair. The rest do the best they can with what they have. Kind of like you.

I’m sure you’re aware of the weather. I know it’s hot in Washington on all sorts of levels. But you haven’t begun to sweat until you’ve gone through a Florida summer. Temperature 90 degrees. Humidity 90 degrees. 15 minutes of blinding rain in the late afternoon and then steaming again.

Heat brings with it the bugs. There are cockroaches on steroids called Palmetto bugs. There are worms that come out of the ground, crawl into your garage, form a circle and die there by the hundreds – overnight. There are spiders and snakes. And they’re all out to get you. Not unlike Washington.

Almost as bad are the mosquitoes. On our little southwest Florida island, the mosquito population reminds me of an Off commercial. You know the one. Someone sticks his arm into a plastic box and hundreds of mosquitoes are on it instantly. I’m sure it’s the same on your coast.

The worst are the no-see-ums. Some folks call them sand fleas. They’re a damn nuisance. Their bite and its unsightly welts last for weeks. I promise you won’t like them at all.

Here’s a story to illustrate what I mean: A friend of ours was visiting a couple of years ago. We were on the beach at sunset and I began to notice those little nips that signal the arrival of no-see-ums.

“Let’s go back,” I said. “I’m getting bit.”

“No worries,” the visitor said. “Use mind control, don’t scratch and they won’t bother you.”

“Sure. Good luck to you,” I said as I departed in my golf cart.

The next morning, he came to me sheepishly.

“Geez, I woke up at 3 a.m. and my legs were on fire. I couldn’t stop scratching.”

“Welcome to Florida,” I responded. No need to gloat. He was already in agony and would be for some time.

I’m sure you won’t miss the cold, the snow, ice and slush. After seven years in Florida, I hardly give it a thought. Our tornadoes have been described as wimpy compared to the ones that roar through Oklahoma on a regular basis. Hurricanes can be another matter, but only if you start fixating on the Weather Channel. My advice, Mr. President, is to become a Facebook follower of Wayne Sallade. He’s a Florida guy that knows hurricanes. Only listen to him, not Jim Cantore.

I can see why you might want to leave the big city. New York and Washington, D. C. – your current home – may be great places to live and absorb culture. But I’m convinced there are more crazies there than in Key West during Fantasy Fest. And in Key West at least you can strip down to your underwear or less and have fun.

Florida doesn’t have Bill de Blasio, Alec Baldwin or Robert De Niro. Putting some distance between yourself and those boneheads should take a load off your shoulders and your Twitter account.

We do have Stephen King. And he dislikes you as much as Robert De Niro does – or at least I get that impression from his latest book in which he calls you an idiot. (Don’t worry about that, Sir. The book was too long and not that enjoyable. I’m sorry I paid $30 for it.)

One final request before you make the Sunshine State your full-time home. Could you get Congress off impeachment and have them focus on getting rid of red tide — or any issue of substance. Believe me, you’ll thank them – and so will I and hundreds of thousands of other Floridians.

Signed: Your new neighbor, Susan





A Judgment Error

There it was at the top of page 326. The sixth word over.  Judgement. I stopped reading and looked once more at the sentence in Stephen King’s latest novel, The Institute.

“…wasn’t Evans’s job to pass judgement on the girl’s claim…” Not the judgment I have always known. I couldn’t believe the error by Mr. King and his copy reader.

Coincidentally, it was only three days earlier that my granddaughter had sent me a copy of her amazing college paper on stateless people. Grandparents are supposed to be proud of their progeny’s offspring. But this was easy. This paper was insightful and well written.

As I read it – marveling – my eyes stopped at the one word that seemed out of place. My granddaughter had made the same error as Stephen King. She had spelled judgment with an extra “e.”

We all make mistakes. Do I tell her or let it go? And if I let it go and she spells the word incorrectly in a future paper will the teacher dock her for it? Or do liberal arts East Coast college professors not care about things like spelling anymore? You never know if that still matters in the grand scheme of academia.

In a later conversation with my daughter, I enthused about the paper and then added the small afterthought about the misspelled word.

“Should I mention it or let it …”

She answered before I could get the rest of the sentence out of my mouth.

“No. Don’t say anything.”

“OK,” I responded, wondering why her voice had an edge to it.

Did she think my saying anything “negative” would outweigh the praise I’d heaped on my granddaughter? Did she think I was being too picky? I was confident that my tough, clever granddaughter could take it.

I was also sure that my daughter didn’t know that at one time, when I was about my granddaughter’s age, I was called out for adding the extra “e” to judgment.

It was during the summer between my junior and senior years in college. I was working on my hometown newspaper for 50 cents an hour – and glad to have that. A lanky reporter who was perhaps ten years my senior approached with a copy of the latest edition.

“Hey. You misspelled judgment in this story. There’s the dictionary. Go look it up,” he commanded.

Gulp. “I did?” But why didn’t the copy reader catch it, I thought.

He was right, of course. “Judgment. The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. A misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment.”

The correct spelling was forever stamped in my brain. Or was it?

When I sat down to blog about this chance meeting of judgements, I reached for the Oxford English Dictionary revised 10th edition left in my office by the previous owner.

There it was in black and white. Judgement (also judgment). The ability to make considered decisions or form sensible opinions. I emitted a small scream.

I have been hounded by this word for 50 years; used it carefully and spelled it with the upmost sense of grammatical superiority. And now I am wrong, and my granddaughter and Stephen King (and his copyreader) are correct. At least their version of judgment is considered acceptable.

Is nothing sacred in the English language? It may take me a while to get over this.