A STATE OF MIND: On the Road: Signs of the Times in Margaritaville

AStateofMind-LarryFloerschby Larry Floresch

Several months ago, my spouse decided that a few months away from Vermont this winter would be just the ticket, so, along with the entire population of the five boroughs of New York and half of New Jersey, we rented a house for the season on the shore in Florida.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “So, you’re relaxing on the beach in Margaritaville while we’re freezing our patooties off back here in Vermont!” Let me tell you about relaxing in Margaritaville.

We found the rental house online. The location was great and the photos showed a modern and spacious house with large decks overlooking the ocean. But, because hurricanes seem attracted to Florida, the house is perched fifteen feet in the air on stilts. You have to climb two flights of stairs just to get to the first floor. And because it is a two-story house, you have to climb another two flights of stairs to get to the master bedroom on the second floor. I learned years ago in geography class that most beaches are flat and pretty close to sea level, so my idea of being at the beach did not include having to climb anything after I had consumed numerous alcoholic beverages and could no longer easily pronounce the word “margarita.”

We should have known something was a little quirky about this particular house when we got the rental agreement from the realtor. The owners provided an extensive list of dos and don’ts in which they emphasized things by using capital letters. For example, the agreement read, and I quote, “This home is NON-SMOKING and NO PETS are allowed!” I wasn’t sure what pets had to do with smoking. The image of a cat with a cigarette dangling from its mouth hasn’t crossed my mind since I read Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” in college. But we were in the clear, because our nonexistent pets do not smoke.

The agreement also noted: “Attracting bears can be a problem … all table scraps and food waste should be kept in the freezer until check-out.” Given the owners’ penchant for emphatic capitalization I was surprised by the nonchalance of that statement. I more readily associate BEARS with YELLOWSTONE PARK, not the BEACH. But, I reasoned, we were going to be anywhere from 15 to 30 feet above the ground if sober, so I felt a certain amount of security. Of more concern was that we were planning on staying in the house for FOUR MONTHS before check-out, so I became intensely anxious about the capacity of the freezer.

Like every other beach house in Florida, this one is decorated with beachy objects, such as a five-foot fake palm tree in the corner of the living room, conch shell ashtrays on the decks (where smoking is permitted unless you’re a pet), glass jars full of assorted seashells, and ceramic fish on the walls. The house also has the obligatory cutesy beach signs, such as “Life is Better at the Beach,” “Mermaid Crossing” (which includes a carved and painted wooden mermaid swimming across a piece of fishing net with dead starfish tangled in it), and “Relax! You’re on Beach Time.” Judging from the fonts and colors, it is easy to see they all came from the Hallmark Cutesy Beach Sign Factory, which is located near Pahokee, Florida, in the Everglades.

It was a pleasantly warm day when we arrived, and after the 6,000 trips up the stairs needed to move our belongings from the car to the first floor, I headed for the AC controls. It was there I discovered the first of many not-so-cutesy small signs: “Set Cooling = 75 degrees. Set Heating = 72 degrees. Max cooling = 73 degrees Max heating = 75 degrees” This made the words of Jimmy Buffett’s song “Math Sucks!” jump to mind. Plus I had sweat running into my eyes, so it took me a minute or two to comprehend the sign. To me 75 or even 73 is not “cool.” Maybe it’s all those years I spent freezing my patootie off in Vermont. But I soon discovered the thermostat was programmed to reject any setting outside the parameters noted in the sign.

I then noticed a small sign on the garbage can in the kitchen. It was a reinforcement of the bear information in the rental agreement: “BAD BEAR WARNING Keep food waste in freezer.” At least here they had properly capitalized “BEAR.” But it made me begin to realize that the owners were, in the parlance of the 1960s, “uptight” (the modern term is more anatomically specific).

The mini-signage did not stop at the trash can. Some signs were unnecessary, such as one indicating the direction to move the lever of the kitchen faucet for “ON” and “OFF,” which is kind of like getting in an elevator on the ground floor of a two-story building and having the guy in front of the buttons ask you, “Which floor?”

We found a sign in the bathroom that said “exhaust fan = 30 min max.” I was not sure about the logic behind that one, unless the owners are against reading. There was also a sign on the bathroom mirror that said, “Do not allow water or wet clothing to lay on wood sinktop.” Both of the bathrooms have those fancy vessel sinks that sit on vanities with varnished hardwood tops. I could have relaxed more if it was good old waterproof Formica.

Inside each kitchen cabinet we found a wordless sign- — a photo showing how the dishes should be arranged and stacked, and the lower cabinets, in addition to photos, have outlines drawn on the shelf liners to show you where the pots and pans should be placed.

In numerous places, such as on the edge of the coffee table, there are small signs that read “Sunscreen and repellents will stain furnishings. Please rinse them off before use.” Did I mention we are at THE BEACH! The necessity of having to wash off that SPF50 before you can once again inhabit the house sort of takes the “free” out of carefree beachfront living.

But the most perplexing of all the small signs was the one on the entry door: “ABSOLUTELY NO PARTIES! maximum occupancy 6. Violation = termination without refund.” NO PARTIES?! This is supposed to be MARGARITAVILLE! What about IT’S FIVE O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE?! But then the thought crossed my mind, what if by “termination” they mean you will be thrown from the deck to those hungry BEARS milling about beneath the house?! It’s really hard to enjoy “wasting away in Margaritaville” with that in the back of your mind.