Gatsby arrives on the wrong side of paradise

LANTANA, FL— Call it sour grapes, call it schadenfreude, but for some time I have found honest reason to celebrate what once was a regret: that I was never in the right place at the right time with enough money to buy a home on the beach.

When I first moved down here 12 years ago I lived in a pleasant apartment with jalousie windows down a disreputable street from a beach in northern Broward. People who gathered around the ping-pong table sized pool in front of the apartment complex across the street drank beer through the day, occassionally shouted at each other, sometimes fought seriously enough to bring the police, and once, one of them brandished a gun prompting someone outside to tell everyone to stay in their houses, and prompting me to flatten myself on the floor. Still I could sink my toes in the sand within 60 seconds of leaving my front door, and I felt pretty clever for attaining that for only $525 a month.

Like Gatsby looking at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, though, I knew I should do better, and that I would never feel I had reached my potential for either accomplishment or happiness until I could watch the waves from my own window.

I had a dull job in a cold office where the boss smelled of dirty laundry and was rude to her underlings and every day I drove home along a strip of ocean front mansions and yachts parked at Intracoastal docks. The  distance between the people who enjoyed — or at least owned — these things and the indentured drudgery of my life was too vast for me to even wish to bridge. In fact righteousness, rather than sour grapes seemed my cause — the homes were hideous — at least what I could see of them behind the gates and hedges, the yachts guzzled fuel, and homes with broken windows, people with no homes at all were close enough to stand as reproach to such excess.

But a little cottage by the sea, an apartment with a view of the sun sliding out from under the ocean each morning, these seemed just reward for a little work and well-placed values. Three hurricane warnings that summer with only a sketchy notion of where I would take myself, my ancient cat or my worldly possessions were not enough to tarnish this dream.

I got better jobs, one after another, only to see the price of property go up in exponential proportion to my raises. That was no matter, like Gatsby, I thought tomorrow I would run faster, stretch out my arms further, and one fine day . . .

Over time though, my morning walks on the beach became uncertain endeavors — some days the sand was there, some days only the ocean, crashing against the cement seawalls developers had put up to prove they were more worthy of the spot than nature itself. Every season evidence washed into the living rooms of tenants on the lower floors that the developers were wrong. And I heard that they, as well as those on the upper floors payed steep assessments (the price of a vacation, a car) to patch the damage.

In the other direction the seawalls protected mansions, but there too, in chipped concrete and rust that dripped down the pastel-painted giant step-shaped facades were signs these homeowners too would lose in this show down.

Lately, the people in Palm Beach have said they have no choice but to spend millions on what even supporters admit is an environmentally unfriendly means of protecting their property by dumping non-beach-worthy sand in front of it.

The people in South Palm Beach are even more strident, because there is less they can do — but they insist something be done to protect their condominiums from the ocean. In a few years — and their only objection is that is too far away — their wish will come true when the county builds a big pile of rocks nearshore, that will then become part of their view.

In the course of gathering that knowledge over the last eight years, I lost interest in living on a barrier island. The people staring the ocean down in increasing trepidation though, have not. They have begun to say, with the indignation and disdain that people who have not totally thought out their positions often show, that their property is more important than the habitat of turtles and marine life that would feed off the silt smothered reefs. I don’t know enough about the relative values of people, marine life or turtles to know if they are right. But I do know that the beach can never be ours to own, no matter how long we beat on, boats against the current.


There are no comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: