Standing on a sidewalk in Lake Worth, we wait for the realtor. Everything looks different in the harsh light of a hot summer day in South Florida. We found this house on the internet last night. It has four bedrooms and a pool in the back yard. We poked around in the dark. No one is living here, so we peeked in the windows, let ourselves into the yard, checked out the pool. It looked nice. I texted the realtor before going to bed, she got back to me at 7 a.m. to set up a noontime showing.
I arrive early so I can take a walk. You see much more on foot. Anytime I travel to a new city, I can’t wait to get out and walk the streets. Even in the suburbs or the country, I love looking at people’s gardens, their front porches. Dusk is my favorite time, when the lights are on but the curtains aren’t yet drawn. I love spying on scenes of domesticity, imagining the people who live there and the lives they lead.
Behind the house we are interested in, there is a narrow alley. They are all over the place here in South Florida. I suppose they’re handy if you live on a busy road, which is the case with this house. The garages are out back and there’s additional space for parking. I peer through the neighbors’ fences. They look nice. Several have pools.
I get back to the house to find my husband’s car in the driveway. He is poking around the yard again, looking for a crawl space. There is no basement. He is concerned about this. Two houses across the street appear to be abandoned. I see a piece of paper taped to the door of the smaller place. Rich crosses the street to check it out. It is a notice stating the house has been condemned, no reason given. The larger pink house next door has four meters out back. It must have been divided into apartments at one time. The porches are nice.
The realtor sends a text. She’s running fifteen minutes late. We move to the shade of a mango tree in front of the house next door. It’s not really a house. It looks like an old motel, running perpendicular to the street. There are three mailboxes along the side of the house, two Beware of Dog signs. An oriental rug covers one of the parking spaces. A young couple left in a Cube a few minutes earlier. They looked friendly.
While we fan ourselves with the paperwork we have regarding the prospective house, a large black man comes out of the front unit. He is wearing a heavy gold necklace with links that look like a bicycle chain and two square diamond stud earrings. His T-shirt has holes in it and his jeans are grease stained. I wonder if he is an auto mechanic and does his repairs on the oil stained oriental rug. He’s about six foot two and has spaces between all his teeth. We strike up a conversation. He is a wealth of information.
He has lived here for four years. Until a year ago, an old woman lived in the house we are interested in. Then a developer who owns ten other houses in town bought the place. “He’s got big money backing him up,” the neighbor tells us. “He jus’ finish workin’ on your place four days ago. Cut down a lot of the overgrowth. Me, I’s gotta move in two weeks. This place is going into foreclosure.”
My husband mentions the two empty houses across the street. “Them has been empty ever since I lived here. The pink one was owned by the lady in that house.” He points to the empty lot next to the condemned house, where we can see the back of a house on the next street. It looks run down. “She owns lots of places ‘round here too.”
“Do you like living here?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah, the beach nearby, the town’s nice too.”
“Do you feel safe here?” My husband gives me a are you nuts look? I know what he’s thinking, ‘You’re asking a muscular, six foot two black man if he feels safe and you think that translates to you feeling safe here?’ But the guy was friendly, I knew he would know what I was asking. Or maybe not.
“I only had trouble once, two years ago. Someone tried to break in and rob me.The person definitely knew when I wasn’t home, when my dog wasn’t here either. He tried to break in through the window. I’ve nailed them shut now. He tried to kick the door down. Broad daylight, two in the afternoon it was.” He laughed incredulously. “Didn’t succeed doing that neither. We think it was an inside job, the cable guy.”
“Oh, you think he saw your TV or computer and came back later?” my husband asked.
“Nah, I was cleaning my jewelry when he was setting up my cable. Had it all spread out on the kitchen table.”
He was cleaning his jewelry? I look at the diamond studs again. I’m now thinking they must be real. They look to be almost two carats. How much more jewelry does he have? The only thing of value I own is my wedding ring, a diamond with two sapphires. This guy’s living in a run-down former motel with a stash of jewelry.
The realtor arrives. There is something about viewing houses on-line that is very deceiving. It must be the wide angle cameras realtors use. The rooms in the house are all boxy and small. We start discussing knocking down walls. The guy who bought this house from the old lady and owns ten other houses in town did a quick and dirty renovation here. The appliances are cheap, the kitchen has an awkward layout, the refrigerator is by itself along one wall. The cabinets are cheap, the bathtubs are low and small. We surmise this must have been a rooming house at one time, three or four tiny units.
My husband’s biggest concern is the floor. The tile is wavy and uneven. He really wants to get under the house. He goes back outside to search for a crawl space again. No luck. The realtor senses we are not won over with this place. Neither is she. “I wouldn’t want to see you buy a place that’s sitting on a sink hole,” she says.
Back to Square One.