Coming of Age Fiction Friendship

The realtor hadn’t yet removed the white post from the front lawn when she hooked on a new ‘for sale sign’ to the arm. Another commission on this house was on her mind, two in as many years and the price had risen 10% since she’d last sold it. She didn’t question the seller’s motivation; it wasn’t her business. She was, however, curious as to why Marvin Kaminsky would want to sell it.

           “So soon?” she commented when he called her. She’d expected some insight.

           “Yeah,” was all he said. “I hear values are up.”

           Marvin didn’t need the money. Nor was a job change for the septuagenarian likely. Illness, she wondered. Grandchildren? Her interest was solely about explaining to potential buyers why after just eighteen months he’d want to sell. She’d make up a story or simply say she thinks he met someone wink wink and leave it at that. The market was hot anyway, a seller’s market.

It would be the sixth home Marvin had bought in the last ten years. And sixth he sold. His few friends teased him at first, then furrowed brows to ask why. After the third purchase, those still in touch suggested that therapy might be in order. By the sixth, he’d moved away from most of them, or they’d moved on. Neighbors never did get much of a chance to do more than wave across lawns. If the churches or synagogues he’d test out in a given community – Marvin was very non-denominational – had any hold it would have been a surprise to him as much as them.

           He told those who asked that his wanderlust, was just that; a desire to travel. When confronted with the notion that he could stay in one home and still travel, he’d respond with a grumpy “eh argh”, shake his head, look away, and change the subject. He’d tell himself it was indeed wanderlust hoping that the mystery and adventure attached to the word might be true. People he told seemed to believe it, at least accept it. He almost believed it.

           The first home he sold was one he’d been in for most of his then adult life. He and

Emma bought it soon after their wedding. He’d raised his kids there. He’d raised three dogs there. He’d renovated one bathroom by himself, a source of great pride, until the leak forced them to hire a plumber then a bathroom designer, and the guy who redid the ceiling in the office on the floor below.

           As with all things, the kids moved on, Emma got sick and never did get the chance to die at home, and he found himself talking too much to the walls.

           Home number two was eminently practical and beige in every sense of the word. It made sensible sense; a 50-plus community, one level, bars in the shower, a walk-in tub, and a gate at the front to keep out the riffraff. The average age of residents behind the gate was a good ten years older than Marvin though he felt that gap narrow faster than it should. “You’ll be my age soon enough,” joked when fellow Marvin helped when his walker got stuck in the gate to the pool. He would have put the unit on the market that very day, but it was a Sunday.

           He almost felt at home in the next spot. It was an 1890s Victorian with a lovely porch and a massive maple shading the front on a conveniently named street, Maple Avenue. Marvin went as far as hiring a teenager whose parents had bought her a refurbished Good Humor truck for a summer job. Marvin dressed up all in white with an authentic Good Humor he bought on eBay for a small fortune. But, heck, he could afford it and wanted to make a welcome impression on his new neighbors. And he did.

           Alas, the neighbors most impressed were largely under the age of twelve and by grabbing two or three of the novelties at a time, emptied the Good Humor truck in short order while their parents stood in small groups on the corner complaining about the speed bumps the town refused to put on Maple Avenue, the proposed merger of the elementary school with the middle school, and, in whispers, the odd single man who would sit on his porch and now was dressed as an ancient Good Humor man giving out ice cream treats. They kept a wary on their children and wondered if he was gay or a psychopath. 

“I looked him up,” said one woman who lived next door to Marvin. “He’s not on any, you know, criminal list. But I couldn’t find much else.”

“Nothing?” asked another. “That’s strange.

           “And that outfit,” came from yet another. “Rather theatrical.”

When Marvin looked up to the small gathering of mothers he gave a broad smile and waved then returned to passing out ice cream. There were a few nods, tepid smiles, and a wave from one woman who had just joined the throng from her ESL class. 

The cool reception to his ice cream effort melted his enthusiasm for the neighborhood from the get-go. Adding to the reception, were the same children who’d gobbled ice-cream treats walking quickly past his yard when he waved, neighbors crossing the street when he was out for a stroll, and the mounds of candy lying fallow in a massive bowl. And that despite the jack o’lanterns he learned to carve at the local community college program smiling on each porch step. He took the candy to a homeless shelter.

He was surprised one afternoon to see an older fellow open the gate to his yard, waving mail in the air. “Hi,” he said. “I think these are yours. They came to my house by mistake. I assume you’re the correct Marvin Kaminsky.” Marvin noted that he was the only one he knew and invited the fellow onto the porch.

           “I don’t get many people stopping by,” he said. “You’re the first Mister…?”

“Call me Hal. No, no, you wouldn’t get the Welcome Wagon treatment,” said the Hal.

“No? Why is that? House haunted or something?” said Marvin.

Hal smirked. “Single fellow, single older fellow. Always smiling and, well, that ice cream party and now this.” He pointed to the pumpkins. “You’re too friendly. The biddies here don’t get it. Where’s the wife, they ask. What’s he doing here, they ask. You’ve moved to one boring town. People need gossip to spark things up.”

“What about you?” asked Marvin.

“Well, first I’ve lived here for a hundred and ten years and have squatter status. Second, I spend half the year at my lake house, and that shuts them up until folks want an invite, which they don’t get. And third, no one in their right mind would want to move here least of all a bachelor with a Mercedes.”

           “Widower. Two kids, too, but no one’s asked me.”

“Welcome to the neighborhood. It used to be a neighborhood anyway. Now it’s like an enclave for rich housewives to drive their kids to the school they could walk to, attend yoga classes, and make up malicious suspicions to occupy their meaningless lives.”

“Not you?” said Marvin

“Grandfather clause. Anyway, I’m moving to the lake full-time. Small town America where they say hello even if they don’t know you, and it doesn’t take long for most people to know you. And a decent hospital’s near enough. You have any health issues?” he asked.

Marvin and Hal then went over the typical old men’s organ recital, discussing details of all the pains and aches they had, the various stents, Hal’s double knee replacement, and treatment comparisons for their common prostrate issues. Hal had a list of recommended doctors, in five categories, but couldn’t offer much advice on a social life once. “Not a lot, frankly. You could drive that ice-cream truck around I suppose. You got the outfit already.”

Hal planned to move to his version of Lake Woebegon the following spring. He and Marvin got together fairly frequently to bitch about that fact until Hal had a heart attack lifting boxes of books he was donating to the library. Marvin sat in the back of the church at the funeral generating whispers from the neighbors that maybe the two were lovers. Hal’s estate sold his house, a grand Victorian with a wrap-around porch and carriage barn, to a developer who tore it down and put up an eight-thousand square foot monstrosity whose walls reached to the maximum edge allowable on the property. The builder put in a pool. The new owners added a sound system, and between the screams of children and the blasting music the neighborhood lost more than just one old resident. They lost two.

After the moving van was loaded, Marvin was taking his own boxes of books to the car, also for the local library, when two women waved at him from the end of the driveway. “Are you moving so soon?” one said, though between the Sold addition to the For Sale sign and the departing moving van his intent should have been obvious. “Yes,” he said. “Oh, we’ll miss you,” said the other woman. “You’re so nice.” Marvin was going to ask their names, but instead talked about the new owner. “That’s very kind of you,” he offered. “And I’m sure the fellow coming in will be a fine neighbor. He’s a plumber,” said Marvin. “Everyone needs a good plumber.” The women readily agreed. “Yeah, and as soon as the ankle bracelet’s removed he can move around the neighborhood. He got out early, you know, for good behavior.”

Marvin bought Hal’s lake house even before he made an offer. He asked directions in the town and was greeted with a hearty welcome by a local who said, “just follow me.” The Greene from the cabin next door came over with coffee and home-made muffins to meet the possible new neighbor. “We’ve been here for thirty years,” Sydney Greene said. “Thirty happy years,” added his wife Sylvia.

The local realtor, a trusting young woman, gave Marvin the code to the key box and told him to look around. It was on one level, had knotty pine paneling, a porch overlooking a lake so clear you could see to the bottom. A loon laughed when he walked to the sandy beach and from his spit of land, the cabin had absolute privacy. With a massive stone fireplace, cedar canoe in the shed, and bear-crossing signs along the quiet roads, the cabin was nearly perfect; it was the antlered moose standing at the end of the dirt driveway that cinched the deal.

But the Greenes, who’d been there for those thirty happy years, sold. “Upkeep. Got a place in Boca West,” was the single explanation the mister part of the equation gave to Hal. “Stop over. You can take the grill if you want. It should work. The Boston Whaler’s for sale, no reasonable offer refused.”

The couple that filled the Greene’s Topsiders was a 40-something set of DINKS from Boston who owned an online designer shoe business. They had a lot of friends, too, in the fashion industry who were always welcome at their cabin and into the new hot tub, which was large enough to be called a small pool. Marvin brought over a box of muffins to welcome the couple in – bought from the wonderful local bakery. “Oh, how nice. But we’re gluten-free,” said Tristan. But he took the box anyway and, without invited Marvin in, and brought it to the half dozen guests singing show tunes in the hot tub. His partner, Francis, apologized on his behalf. “We don’t have celiac or anything. He’s just with the trend.” Francis than asked if Marvin would like to have a soak in the hot tub.

“We have some friends over. There’s plenty of room,” he said.

“I don’t have a bathing suit,” said Marvin.

A beaming Francis replied, “Nor do we!”

           “Some other time,” said Marvin. Later that night he had to use earplugs to hold the sounds of YMCA and Bette Midler. Things settled down when Francis and Tristan closed their place for the winter. The bakery, too, closed down what with the tourists pretty much gone forcing Marvin to drive the twenty miles to the next nearest place for muffins which was a Dunkin Donuts just off the interstate. That’s when he could get out. The billboard at the town’s edge advertised everything from summer sailing on the lake, spring fishing in local rivers, and a colorful fall worthy of the farthest-flung leaf-peepers. The words “Winter Wonderland” were unaccompanied by any leisure activity. That first winter Marvin understood why.  Shoveling slush, getting towed out of snowbanks, trapping heat-seeking vermin in kitchen cabinets, and freezing in uninsulated lake-side cabins didn’t count as leisure to a winter population that had dropped to 20% of its other-seasons’ norm. He gave it two seasons: winter and the Fourth of July.

At least, he didn’t lose money in that sale.

Maybe the Greenes had it right. And so south he went. Marvin skirted the summer heat for the better fall weather on the east coast, near Boca, and initially thought he’d found his Eden. The living was cheap, the produce fresh, the older crowd made him feel young, and his friends from up north expressed envy and threatened visits. Then Florida set in. It was an active hurricane season, and he was forced to shelters, twice, at the local elementary school with several hundred others on cots that left his back in spasm. The condo he’d rented had survived more or less, but it took weeks to replace the broken picture window, eliminate the palmetto bug infestation and get the insurance back on his car after a palm tree landed on it.

The snowbirds in the gated community laughed it off after they arrived. They’d survived this before but then they were stowed away in their homes up and north and could bide their time until the condo’s management informed them that the repairs were done. Marvin gritted his teeth and damned his timing. Still, he took it as a learning experience and pondered where he might migrate when the weather changed. 

And didn’t Seizure World as he called it have it all? There was the theater, the pools, the golf courses (if only he played golf), tennis courts, and the clubhouse. Alas, the theater featured entertainers who were already stale by the time Johnny Carson went off the air. He couldn’t understand why anyone thought the Russian comedian’s jokes about like in the USSR were funny anymore or though relevant the mimic’s version of Ronald Reagan. He did think Charo had aged quite well, however.

The straw that broke this camel’s back came in the form of a visit to The Butterfly Place, an atrium filled with butterflies landing on people very much to their delight and the delight of their grandchildren. Outside was a park filled with families cooking on grills and an abundance of bikers with tattoos, leathers, and attitude. One extremely large man was sitting on Marvin’s hood, kicking the hubcaps with his heels, and throwing beer cans to a similarly dressed woman who threw them back with force. The man swiped them away, onto the car, undoubtedly scratching the recently painted hood. “Hey, that’s my car,” said Marvin. “Would you mind getting off?” He felt as pathetic as he sounded.

The man got off the car and Marvin pointed to the scratches left by his bike-chain belt. He had to say something. “You going to pay for that?”

The woman’s beer can hit Marvin right on the nose, causing a bleed, to which Marvin screamed “You bitch” and threatened to call the police. The man punched Marvin in his stomach, Marvin crumbled, and the man stepped on his fingers, before getting on his Harley with his woman and driving off.

He made his decision then and there, influenced by the fire ants that stung his now busted hand. It was only a seasonal rental anyway.

“Your home’s for sale.” It was a call from an old neighbor, Bill Webster. They hadn’t been friends, barely acquaintances, but their kids had grown up together, moved on at the same time, and the fellow had made the effort to stay in touch. He sent Marvin books he’d read, added Marvin to his Netflix account, and forwarded emails with all sorts of information from how to wade through Medicare and complaints about current culture that resonated with the dying breed of moderate Baby Boomers.

“For sale? So soon?” said Marvin.

“Divorce. And you’ve gone for five years I think, maybe six. Can’t keep track, eh? Sign of aging. Anyway, yeah, it’s up for sale. Same price as you paid, by the way. They haven’t done a thing to it,” Bill said. “Claimed it’s a tear down.”

           Marvin had to laugh. The couple that bought it planned on a family, a renovation, and the buyers made a strong point about needing to change the bathrooms, renovate the kitchen, and didn’t that driveway need paving.

Out of curiosity, Marvin looked it up on Realtor.com. Same price alright. Same pictures from when he sold it. The cautionary tagline was “could do with some sprucing up.” Marvin had to smile at that.

He sat on his porch, nursing a very chilled martini with his friend Bill Webster. “They say you can never go home again,” said Marvin. “They’re wrong.”

November 05, 2022 13:15

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