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June 24, 2024

Paradise of Sorts

By Dan Mulhollen

My college roommate Dean surprised nobody by becoming a billionaire. He skipped the parties, the football games, and all the other events that marked the careers of most college students. Instead, he stayed at his computer, hour after hour, putting together arcane combinations of letters and numbers causing the device to do as he commanded.

After a deliberate march from software engineer to CEO he sold his company for an undisclosed sum, allowing him to buy a property on the coast selling for over two million dollars.

"Most people in my situation live behind a gate," he boasted as his car started on the causeway between the mainland and the island. "I have over seventy yards of water instead."

Actually, there was a gate, the long, tapered sort with red and white stripes and a security guard standing in a glass booth. "Your friend got ID?" he asked as Dean showed him his card.

"Ah, yeah," Dean said, pulling a "Visitor's Identification" card (that's what it said in red, upper-case letters) from his pocket.

"Carry this with you at all times," the guard warned, handing me the card. I had wondered why Dean asked for my picture a few weeks beforehand.

The island was broad enough for just a two-lane road and the parcels of land, uniformly forty feet across, but uneven in length due to the coastline.

Dean's house, like most of the others, appeared to be recently-built single-story structures; boxlike, with maybe a porch or patio. Each yard had a small area with a wooden fence, which I took as being for gardens.

Dean's wife, Molly, met us at the door. She was a tall woman who struck me as someone familiar with the plastic surgeon's knife. I was led into the den (a place I would have called a living room) and shown their big-screen TV.

"How many stations do you get?" I asked.

"All of them," Dean replied. "The networks, PBS, and a local independent station."

"What about cable?"

"We don't need cable," Molly said, dismissively.

"The truth is the company won't install the line," Dean said. "Something about maintenance being too expensive."

"Don't go attacking Daddy," Molly said, trying not to heard by anyone but Dean. It seemed her father, the town's mayor, was rumored to have asked for kickbacks from the cable provider.

"Have you tried satellite?" I asked.

"Always trouble finding a signal," Dean admitted. "Truth is, this place is cloudier than it looks."

"An overcast paradise," Molly commented, sounding like some half-hearted advertisement.

It had been a very long trip and I felt the need to relieve myself.

"This way," Dean said, cheerfully, leading me out the back door.

He showed me a basket-weave fence halfway between the house and shore. "In there."

Inside the fence was the last thing I might have expected outside a two-million dollar house. It may have been a very lavish outhouse, but it was still an outhouse.

"You're serious?" I asked.

"Takes a while to get used to," he said, sounding proud of the fact that he was used to it. "Rainy days are best, very good for regularity."

There was a gravity-fed wash basin inside the entrance and a seat emitting one of the worst odors I've ever experienced.

The ordeal was over soon enough. "You don't have indoor plumbing?" I asked.

"The original houses were built in the 1880's. When the new ones were built, it was decided it would be too expensive."

"Besides," Molly said, joining us, "that would have meant weeks of noisy machines digging trenches and city people being allowed in here to do the work."

The words "city people" had a special resonance with the locals who viewed them with dread -- and also were not careful in hiding the euphemism.

"Daddy always warned us about them breaking in people's homes while supposedly laying pipe. Why we'd be leaving our mothers and our sisters at their mercy! We're better off without all that worry."

As night approached, I began to see the routine to life here. The most important part of that routine were the nightly parties. Everyone living on the island was expected to host one party at least once every month. The most socially conspicuous families -- Molly's family, for instance -- hosting a party every week.

Everyone lived well within walking distance of everyone else, a good thing as five of the meal's seven courses consisted of a round or two of some sort of mixed drink.

There were the sophisticates; the latter day Frank Sinatras and Angie Dickinsons with martinis and expensive clothes. There were the more casual beach combers with their tropical drinks, Bermuda shorts, and colorful shirts. And there were the constantly changing trend-followers drinking and wearing whatever was fashionable at the moment.

Any acknowledgement of inebriation would have been beneath these folks. But around 11pm, we all started to depart, staggering back home, eventually passing out.

Dean wanted me to stay the weekend, although I felt his wife was less impressed by my company. I don't know, maybe it was my fault, being too addicted to immediate internet access (which I still don't understand how he learned to live without) or spoiled by being able to take a shower inside the house, but I decided to leave the next morning.

"I don't know how you can live like this," I admitted, throwing my suitcase in Dean's trunk.

"Understandable," he said, nodding his head. "You've bought into the whole notion of equality and egalitarianism. What you're missing is that class matters. The people who built this community did so do get away from riffraff. That has been the heart of civic policy for over 130 years."

"So it's all about appearances?"

"It's important," Dean said, truly believing that statement. I shook my head in disbelief.

"Frankly," he said, his voice as businesslike as usual, "and I hate to say it, but even if you could afford to buy a house here, I doubt if the Town Council would allow you to. They'd see you as being too much one of them."

We didn't say a word after, except for some chilly "goodbyes" when he dropped me off at the airport.

Anyway, I guess Dean's happy with his wife, his the view of the ocean, and being one of the exclusive few permitted the privilege of living in an odd, haughty, sort of paradise.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-05-09
2 Reader Comments
clearly rvoza
10:27:44 PM
i don't get it.
08:30:41 PM
Reminds me of the area of town where the multi-million dollar homes are, close to the river ... all of them under siege every night by raccoons, gophers, coyotes, and the drunken illegal campers who go down by the river to party. Yeah, being rich must be great!
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