If ever near Carthage, Missouri, with time to stop awhile, I invite you to a historic strip of Route 66 that runs through town. Don't think you're lost just because almost everyone in the neighborhood appears Hispanic. I'll greet you at the door...and welcome you inside to my own private island.
My home is El Barrio-goes-beach shack, but don't let that fool you. It's straight-up nouveau ghetto! Favorite possessions include photos and obscure must-haves from around the world. Otherwise, if it's not from a yard sale or flea market, it's authentically Wal-Mart, including more than 100 various-sized trees and plants that help ice (or, in this case, melt) the balmy tranquility.
During the months while the jungle is pumping sun in the backyard, the interior all but doubles in size, with exposed walls and ceilings splashed in Caribbean colors. Stages of daylight transform hue-schemes, thanks to 11 windows bordering the four main rooms that open into an el-shape. It's like an inside greenhouse that's unfortunately impossible to heat in the coldest of winter. That's a clue for not expecting to find air-conditioning either, for now, but windows open, with nice, fan-enhanced breezes.
The house is probably around a century old and isn't in bad shape, for a rental property. There are two bedrooms, but don't assume sleeping options are limited. If you're like most, making it past the living room might prove difficult. A double-wide beach hammock from Venezuela has became my potato for veggin' out. It's got a couple of cruise levels based on tautness; a sagging chill mode great for conscious activities, and low-rider, more suitable for sleeping.
Across the room is a plush, extra-long couch, great for taller people. The highlight has been tagged the human burrito blanket, a native masterpiece of handwoven wool found in the mountain village of Sintra, Portugal. It's seasonably common to see two people, stretched out with heads at opposite ends, watching television and/or napping while double-wrapped under the palm trees. Come evenings, appropriate black lighting can provide a village streetlamp affect or a Dark Side of the Tropical Moon.
Otherwise, I'm willing to offer up El Cuarto del Mar -- the Sea Room -- that might leave more than just your mind swimming. Walls and ceiling fuse the marine-colored palette with a Caribbean comforter, accentuated by beach shots. When needed, additional warmth comes from an electric blanket. Stimulation and motivation are further invigorated from a basic weight bench and wicked curl bar off to the side. I can stir up an alarm clock, should you need one, but my inner-ticker has me up naturally by 6am to put coffee on.
Since the last one flew the nest again, The Dominican Room is the official guestroom, inspired by 15'x12' flags covering the two longest walls. Should you feel totally lost, there's a couple of appropriate maps to help you get your bearings. There's a large collection of memorabilia from the country's baseball greats, including an extensive baseball card collection shelved with 20 years' worth of photo albums. A double-wide futon can sleep two smaller people comfortably. I think the mattress is too hard, but I've never heard any complaints.
Don't let the dinosaur in the corner scare you. It's great for homework and writing journals, but my computer is so old, it runs on Microsoft 2.0! That's right -- no Internet -- and while listing things, there's also no cable, DVD, cell phone, or much of anything beyond simple life. High maintenance has never been part of my nature. The computer and/or stereo are usually on far more than the television. Antonio moving back home forced agreeing to my first-ever answering machine, but I'm more pleased with his second demand.
A new stero system that included a CD player was really a must for any household deemed Latino. Sharp Stereo vibrates a smooth groove that conjurs my biggest one-way ticket back to the islands with constant music; loudly, when need be. It must work. English-speaking friends regularly request copies. Even neighbors raised on oom-pah and mariachi solicit backyard concerts.
Merengue and bachata from DR and salsa from PR have long been my favorites, but the stack of 50-cent CDs from Venezuela are still tearing down the house with fusion remix versions of the three styles above, as well as regional country music. When the timing is right, if you don't mind cassettes, an older, eclectic deluge is especially heavy on classic rock, jazz genres, and throw-down black gospel for all the churchin' you'll ever need.
I've been told the house actualizes stepping into my journals. The smallest of keepsakes and mementos are shrouded by entanglements of garden, including quite the European collection. Perhaps it's a bit much, but what else could be expected from my personal travel Hall of Fame?
The main entry contains a large shrine from my concepts of the Caribbean religion Santeria. In addition to photos and candles, it's a memorial to persons and things of special significance: a small bowl of dry rice and pigeon peas, hoping my family will never go hungry, a pile of Dominican pesos in bills, and coinage. There's my half of the heart-shaped brain coral that was split with a machete, the boarding pass from rushing to a farewell, and other simple things that all have a keep-forever purpose.
For now, it's been unanimous that all that's missing is sand -- something often given serious thought and discussion, especially after sitting around and indulging the atmosphere for awhile. My property manager sometimes takes hours just to collect rent. When appropriate timing no longer mattered, Donna was easily convinced of how simple it would be to extend the baseboards paritioning off bedrooms/kitchen and filling the rest with sand. Obviously, when later coming to her senses and remembering first-hand my spontaneity, she called the next morning, saying she'd absolutely kill me if I did!
Aside from lounging around places, my dining room is anchored with a large glass-top table accommodating six padded chairs, straight out of the Garden and Patio section of a magazine. It's the perfect fit for meals, talking over drinks, or candlelight card games in the middle of Midwest electrical storms. For calmer evenings, a built-in hutch begs inspecting international compilations of shells, Coca-Cola products, scenic jigsaw puzzles, and decorative magnets. But don't be shy if chairs and table are moved for opening up the dance floor.
Hosing down after working up a sweat is my least appealing option. Currently, I've got a claw-foot bathtub that's unfortunately the junior model and useless for actual baths. For now, it's a shower hose. Seriously, I've done little to the bathroom, which doubles as a utility room. There's a washer and dryer and an ironing board, should you need it beyond casual wear.
The kitchen is basic, with what there is to work with, but foods coming out of it are even more commanding than the three shades of lime green trimmed in sea blue. My only house rule is that no one lights up inside, regardless! But even for non-smokers, the back porch is a magnet for gathering over diverse conversations, providing some of my most memorable times. An unexpected perk is that the house came with no gutters, so rain showers cascade off the roof, just like in the islands, and it's also peaceful watching snow fall from favored interior snuggle spots.
Whether sitting around outside using steps, milk crates, or pulling out dining room chairs and my papason throne, the backyard stretches a good 30 yards to the alley. A privacy fence next door and garage help to enclose the densely shaded area. Limbs and other natural debris keep a woodpile stocked for campfires and bonfires.
There's room to park a camping trailer out back, but we've enjoyed the convenience of tent camping -- roughing it steps away from home base. Understand that backyard presence is open-invitation on my block of Hispanic neighbors. As a guest, they'll respect your privacy or welcome you in with a bottomless beer. Taking life easy is just in their blood...usually along with a high BAC!
In the mad scheme of things, I've decided to buy this house, add on some space, transform the outside to be Caribbean, and develop the backyard. That's right, a bed-and-breakfast: Jose Kevo's Caribbean Cabaña and Cocina. A day at the beach out in the middle of nowhere. I can promote the hell out of it through all the Route 66 hype. Meantime, everyone just randomly shows up and eventually contributes something. Until the day comes, consider the rate based on worth of experience.
* Additional back-yard photos.