The guy with a rat on his shoulder

LAKE WORTH, FL β€” About 15 years ago, when I first moved to this part of South Florida, I used to drive down the two lane stretch of Federal Highway between Lantana’s north end and downtown Lake Worth and have the modest aspiration of one day owning a little cottage there. At the time it would have been a small investment that seemed clever to me, because, surely with its quaint combination of old motels and little winter houses, of working class and bohemian dwelling, it would be discovered, and would be a comfortable and, yes, even enviable spot to make a cozy home.

Other people had the same idea, perhaps; in any case it was quickly gathered up in the real estate boom that swept the area, and little houses were torn down to make room for little faux meditarranean, faux Key West “town home” developments with names like “The Cloisters,” and “The Villas.” In no time — a few years, at most, it became a place I couldn’t imagine being able to afford, or wanting to. Then a few years more, came the crash, and the old remaining places were boarded up, the new ones became “luxury rental communities” that were largely unoccupied, people who looked like they had nothing to do roamed aimlessly along the street, and it became a desolate landscape. It remains that way now, a sad, desolate strip that bore the brunt of unrealized, unrealistic hopes.

I drove down it the other day, and passed two men striding along, laughing. They looked like they were having a good time, except one of them had, riding on his shoulder a big — exceptionally big, about the size of a small rabbit — rat with a long oily bare tail. The rat moved restlessly, and laughing the guy stroked it affectionately.

“How would you feel,” I asked the main squeeze later, “if you were the owner of a “villa,” and you looked out your window, to see that?”

“I would probably be gleeful,” the main squeeze replied, “because it would be the pleasantest sight I had seen all day.”

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