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The Coconut Chronicles

Hey guys–Tropic of Sunshine was recently picked up by a European publisher and has been re-titled and re-branded as The Coconut Chronicles. Originally available only in e-book format, The Coconut Chronicles is now available as an e-book and paperback. The paperback would make a great holiday gift!

Buy it here: The Coconut Chronicles

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Very happy!

Hey guys,

Michael and I woke up yesterday morning, drank lots of coffee, jumped on the Metro to Judiciary Square, walked a couple of blocks in 32 degree weather, and…got married.

What bliss!

Patrick

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Our kitchen was finished, and it looked superb.  Steve was every bit the master woodworker Jane had said he was.

It was hard to believe that Luong’s deft flicks of the wrist three months earlier in our local Home Depot had wrought such handsome results fifteen hundred miles away.

And yet here it was.

We got the opportunity to thank Steve personally the day we returned to the house.  Jane called that morning to ask if she could bring him by to discuss finalizing the upstairs work and to go over our plans for the lower levels.

Steve looked almost exactly the way I had pictured him—tall and thin, with a scraggly ponytail.  His gaunt face was enlivened by large, earnest eyes behind which lurked, we were soon to discover, a wry sense of humor.

Better still, he was passionate about his craft.  The minute he walked in the door he headed for the kitchen area and began inspecting his work.

When we joined him he explained how he had repaired the damaged cabinet (we wouldn’t have known which one it was if he hadn’t told us) and how he’d found a place to stow the gas cylinder for the stove in a dead space between the stove and dishwasher.

Clearly, he was a gem.

Ten points for Jane.

Over the next few days, we settled easily into our old routine.  We’d get up early and work like banshees for four or five hours, at which point we’d look at each other and say, “This is insane.  We’re in paradise.  Let’s go to the beach.”

So we’d head to the beach, where we’d have a fine old time cavorting in the waves (Michael)…

and reading our paperbacks in the shade of our multi-colored umbrella (yours truly).

It was bliss.

And yet, after a couple of hours of beach time we’d find ourselves almost embarrassingly anxious to get back to our chores.

Go figure.

So we’d go hurry home and put in another two or three hours of work, followed by quick showers, cocktails, dinner, and—finally—blessed sleep.

Next day: same thing.

It was an odd mixture of intense activity and equally intense leisure, with lots of mental cross-pollination: as we spackled, painted and swept our way through another grueling morning of labor we would often find ourselves dreaming about the glorious, sun-drenched beach; but just as often we could be found sitting under our beach umbrella going over yet another list of things that needed to be done at the house.

Normally Michael, the more motivated member of our crew of two, was still working long after I had clocked out for the day, but there was one day when I simply couldn’t put down my paint brush.

Gloss white paint was the culprit.

I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

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It was overcast and spitting rain when we landed in San Juan.

We always felt a little cheated when we arrived in Puerto Rico in less than blazingly sunny weather, particularly in winter.

But at least it was hot.

After an interminable wait at the Hertz office, we set off for the port town of Fajardo.  We planned to spend the night there before taking the ferry the next morning to Vieques, where we would take a second look at our house with Armando and then meet with our new property manager.

That evening, we’d take the ferry back to Fajardo, where our closing was scheduled for eleven the following morning.

It was a lot to cram in to three days but we were nearly out of vacation time for the year.

We got lost more than once—I don’t think we’ll ever again mistake the Spanish word east (“este”) for west (“oeste”), and at dusk we were standing at a pay phone in the rain in Fajardo, having circled the town for more than an hour in a futile effort to locate the Fajardo Inn.

Forty-five minutes later we were sitting in the inn’s cozy bar sipping a cocktail, struggling gamely (and somewhat excitedly) against the sheer foreign strangeness of the act we were about to commit.

“Are we out of our minds?” Michael asked more than once.

“Yes,” I answered the first time; “maybe,” the second; “absolutely not,” the third.

The more I drank, the more certain I became that we had made a good decision.

“Alcohol-induced certainty isn’t always the most reliable indicator of truth,” Michael commented sagely.  I hate it when he’s sage.

“Stop your carping,” I laughed.  “The worst is behind us.”

“Now I know you’re drunk.”

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Taking the Plunge

Armando’s news was good indeed.

“They are willing to accept your offer because they like you.  And your tall friend.”

“Michael.”

“Of course.  Michael.”

“So they knocked $75,000 off the price just like that?”  When would I learn to keep my mouth shut.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because they like you.”

This seemed like a spectacularly unlikely reason to forfeit seventy-five grand.

“I see.”

He couldn’t have missed the skepticism in my voice.

“They’re old,” he said.  “They’ve tried to sell the house for a while.  And frankly,” he concluded in his most confidential tone, “they don’t want to live with my brother anymore.”

This, finally, was something I could relate to.  I had seen his brother’s apartment.

“Let me talk to Michael.”

“Better hurry.”

We didn’t exactly hurry, but we didn’t dally either.  We made a counter offer.  They counter-countered

In exhaustion, we agreed.

A virtual blizzard of phone calls, faxes and emails followed.  In rapid succession we learned a number of fascinating and puzzling facts about the house we had just decided to buy. These included:

  • It had no official street address.
  • The current owners, both retired seniors, were exempt from property tax and therefore the property had never been assessed by the local tax office.
  • It was extremely challenging to find a good property manager, good general contractor, good you-name-it, on Vieques.

But we pushed on.

At the recommendation of someone from Michael’s gym who had recently bought a property on Vieques (more about that later), we applied for a loan through Scotia Bank.

It went through.

Also through Michael’s gym acquaintance, we located a property manager.

We set a closing date for the first Monday in December, and booked a flight to San Juan for the Saturday before.

There was no turning back.

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Seven months later we were sitting in Michael’s apartment in D.C. sipping cocktails.

“Let’s take another shot at Vieques,” he said, completely out of the blue.

Vieques had barely been mentioned since we’d come home in late February with our tails tucked firmly between our legs.

“Oh, come on,” I said.  “Let’s not put ourselves through that again.”

He took a sip of his drink.  “It wasn’t that bad.”

I went into the kitchen to make us a second round.  “Are you kidding?  The realtors of Vieques practically got a restraining order against us.”

He laughed.  “Well they better dust it off, ‘cause here we come.”

“Huh?”

He wandered into the kitchen waving a sheet of paper.  “I bought the tickets yesterday.”

Oh god.

I spent the week before our return calling every realtor in Vieques.  After all, this was it.  Either we scored this time or we walked away forever.

The response was mixed.

Most seemed puzzled by my determination to make an appointment.  “Sure, give me a call when you get down, I’ll check my schedule.”

“No, I want to book something now.”  Dead silence.  “Is that possible?”

Not really, it seemed.

After some thought and a couple of stiff drinks I called Suzanne, the realtor who seemed to have no interest in selling houses whatsoever.

“Sure, I remember you,” she said.  “Short guys from Boston.”

I swallowed hard.  “Not exactly.  We’re kind of tall—actually Michael’s very tall—and we’re from D.C.”

“Right,” she said.  I could hear her tapping away on her computer in the background.

“Can we make an appointment for Friday morning at ten?”

“Sure,” she said.  “But I still don’t have anything to sell you.”

“Nothing?”

“Look, Carl, there’s nothing out there.”

“That’s kind of hard to believe,” I protested lamely.  “And by the way, my name is Patrick.”

“Right,” she said, tapping furiously.  “I’d love to sell you a house, Paul, I really would, but I just don’t have anything on my books right now.  Try me again next year.”

Uh, I don’t think so.

Next, I tried a realtor named Clara we’d heard about from a friend of a friend.

She answered the phone herself.  “I’d be happy to show you around,” she said politely.  “I’ll see you Thursday afternoon.”

This sounded promising though vaguely reminiscent of Melinda, the woman who had stood us up in February.  On a lark, I decided to try Melinda again.  Yes, I know, this was somewhat pathetic, but we needed at least one more option, and frankly I was out of ideas.

“Si, I remember,” said her assistant.  “The men who wasn’t here when Melinda come.”

I pondered this interesting interpretation of events.

“Right, that’s us.  Can we make an appointment for Friday morning at ten?”

“Okay,” she said.  “I tell her.”

“Ten sharp?”

A long silence, punctuated by chewing sounds.  Finally: “Que?”

Oh, what the hell.

Game on.

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