I lived on Nantucket for three years in the early nineties.
When I first moved to the island I couldn’t believe how much I loved the place. It was crisp and fresh and beautiful. I met great people. I had a decent job—in a drop-out sort of way—as a concierge at a wildly expensive hotel.
And yet every summer, after I’d been in residence no more than six weeks, I was suddenly seized with what was locally known as “rock fever,” meaning that all of a sudden I felt absolutely desperate to get off the island, if only for a day or two.
And then you did what everyone else did unless you were rich enough to fire up the family jet and fly to Paris for a long weekend.
You got on the ferry and took a day-trip to Hyannis. You did a little shopping, you saw a movie, you had dinner at a chain restaurant—in other words, you spent the day doing what most Americans do at least a few times every week.
It was fun for eight or ten hours and then you couldn’t wait to get back on the boat and return to the glorious, rarefied atmosphere you were completely fed up with the day before.
I never used to get sea sick on the ferry to Hyannis. I must have taken that boat ride twenty times during my Nantucket years and not once I did I ever feel nauseated.
The same can’t be said of the morning we took the ferry from Fajardo to Vieques. I’m not sure if it was something I ate or simply a case of the jitters, but I felt distinctly green the whole seventy-five minute voyage. Of course the screaming children and hideously uncomfortable benches didn’t help.
When we finally arrived in Vieques Armando wasn’t there to meet us at the dock. This was strangely unsettling. We were already in the grip of a minor meltdown about the whole enterprise; the last thing we needed was for our agent to go AWOL.
But when I called his cell phone, trembling with indignation, he assured me he was on the way, and five minutes later he arrived wreathed in smiles.
He continued to exude breezy cheerfulness as we rolled along the narrow, verdant lanes to our house, and by the time we pulled into the driveway he had convinced us that we’d made the best deal in the history of real estate, not excluding the purchase of Manhattan for a handful of trinkets in the seventeenth century.
Just as people you’ve met only once look both better and worse than you remembered when you meet them for a second time, the house seemed superficially more run-down than we recalled, and structurally more sound. While this was slightly disappointing, the other way around would have been a disaster. We were lucky.
Even so, the upstairs was stripped bare.
The appliances were history. There was a dead mouse on the kitchen floor. With the elaborate window treatments gone we saw that the window casings were in bad shape and several of the louvered glass panels were cracked.
Unluckily for us, the plastic chandeliers were still in place.
We had barely absorbed these mini-shocks when it was time to venture downstairs to the part of the house we’d never actually set foot in. “To be honest, the tenant hasn’t finished moving out yet,” Armando warned us.
“But we take possession of the house tomorrow,” I protested. “When is he going to clear out his stuff?”
“He’ll be out,” Armando assured us rather dubiously.
Clearly, he was cutting the guy some slack because he was his brother.
And in truth, although the house would technically be ours within twenty-four hours (last minute glitches notwithstanding), Armando’s brother could probably camp out downstairs for at least a couple of more weeks without any serious repercussions.
Who knew, maybe he’d still be there when we came back in February.