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  • You don’t want to know what I think, so I won’t tell you.

    The message screamed from a post it note, slapped up on the wall of my newly rented, dilapidated beach cottage. I hadn’t locked the door before leaving to get paint. There was nothing in the place anyway.

    I had driven the four hours down there to paint the bathroom before moving.

    Mo, the author of the note, had driven separately with the idea that she was going to help me paint. Basically, she just wanted to see what corner I had painted myself into by giving notice on my lovely tony apartment and renting some little place in some god forsaken little town that was hours away from culture and life as we knew it.

    Knowing I was out for paint, she stopped by to poke around on her own.

    It wasn’t exactly the kind of place she expected. I told her it was tiny. It was. I told her it was…old. It was.

    She saw the old dirty blinds on the windows, the poorly pruned cypress tree that shadowed the shallow front yard, dripped pitch and harbored spiders. The shabby porch. The cracked driveway. The separate kitchen with a back door (a good thing) offered no counter space unless you counted the built in drain board by the sink, one old old refrigerator, a free standing old not cute gas stove that was frankly filthy, a bare bulb in the ceiling, one small wall cupboard over the old sink and one small cupboard under the sink.

    The bathroom sink hung crooked and pitched off the wall, open plumbing and one spare ceiling fixture. The shower… never mind. The room, sure, needed paint, but why bother?

    The main room, the only carpeted space, was smaller than either of our bathrooms ‘back home’. And the carpet… was that dark teal color in vogue for five minutes a hundred years ago and never seen again. For obvious reasons.

    The only heat, a small gas wall heater in the main room, was just well, ugly.

    But still! She was always so negative.

    It was a beautiful neighborhood. Surrounded by million dollar properties. Our one block long street dead ended into the ocean. I could hear the surf from inside the house. Proving that the walls were paper thin, but none the less… the surf sound was cool.

    The rent was cheap – of course it was. Cheap by our standards anyway. The neighbors seemed nice. There was off street parking in the driveway. And the small one car garage, with a dirt floor and nearly full of treasures hoarded by my landlord, while not useable for a car, was available to store something.

    The yard was going to be great. Slowly. It had potential. Not that I had any money to do anything with it right away.

    Besides, I was there to write. That was the whole point. If I’d gotten something similar to my old place, I’d stay in my same old bad habits. And I would have had to work a lot more.

    Here, I would be poor for sure but also forced to write for a year. Because if I did that, my plan was, then I would move to a better place. With at least one writing project completed. And start looking for business clients in my new town.

    All this was lost on Mo. She saw squalor. It simply didn’t fit with her vision of me or of herself. I was completely off course as far as she could tell. She was not on board.

    And I was happy. With the adventure of it all. The serendipity. How things had just come together to find this little place and at the perfect time. How I was able and forced to way downsize and rid myself of stuff. OK, so I kept some too and would put it in storage. Still. I would live with whatever would fit into this little space. It would be enough. Freedom. Ocean. New friends. New explorations.

    Meanwhile Mo, who had shown up drunk to help me pack earlier in the week and who I then fed and told to just tape boxes for me, had the gall to sniff at my fun adventure.

    Our long friendship was already on shaky ground.

    She explored the area from her 500 dollar a night hotel room base camp while I discovered that I had no talent for painting in tight quarters. Who knew it would be so difficult? It was just paint for goodness sake.

    After a day of taping off the sagging sink, the mirror, the light fixture, the window, the toilet… the floor… hell, I was ready to hire the guy painting the house across the street.

    But no. No. I would do this myself. I had – in a way long ago former life – painted an entire room or two. Besides, I was on a tight budget.

    Painting white over blue even with infamous one coat paint was interminable. Three gallons of paint in that space the size of a thimble. More on me than the walls. Probably. Three days.

    Mo came and went. My landlord, for whom I would be a constant source of amusement, stopped by to see how well I was doing. And to laugh just a little. He didn’t offer to help though.

    That was about a year and a half ago. Several things happened to take me away from writing – large contracts that came up out of the blue and took me out of town for months at a time, family crisis, new clients back in Marin, business challenges. But I did finish the first draft of a screenplay.

    I also had the cypress tree removed, laid a flagstone patio with two young local boys in the pouring rain, planted a beautiful garden along the street, hired a handyman to replace the bathroom sink, put in a vanity, several new light fixtures and remove all the interior doors. Installed new blinds on all the windows. Hung curtains.

    Alone in the place I put together small scaled furniture that took me months to source and that warned two people were required to complete the job. I didn’t have two people. I completed the job.

    The main room is now a cozy office/bedroom. The kitchen was able to hold two of my favorite pieces of furniture from my other life. One a long counter height table that had been in an entry way now doubles as counter space. The other a large beautiful Mexican cupboard became the pantry. The stove was scrubbed clean and white. I found a used working nice refrigerator and replaced the old falling apart one, put wire shelves in the small closet in the kitchen. Put in a new light fixture.

    Could I have spent more money on rent and less time fixing up a place? Probably.

    Somewhere along the way, Mo faded from my life. For good. And I rediscovered all the things I am capable of doing for myself.

    My landlord owns two buildings that sit on two lots. Each building is an old 1940-ish side by side duplex. We four little studios are the last untarnished vestiges of the old beach side cottages that had been on our street.

    The other three studios are occupied by self described grumpy old men. Two of them are barely my age, so not sure where the old part comes from.

    The other one is a retired vet who lost his leg to diabetes. He and I have bonded over gardening. He used to be an avid landscaper and gardener. He grows things from seed. We share plant stories and a love of the unusual plant.

    He was in the hospital recuperating from his leg removal when I moved in. I was warned that he was a grumpy old grouch. An alcoholic who would be nice one minute and a mean old ass the next.

    He and another neighbor water my garden during my long absences. In return they get to pick my blueberries and lemons, sit on the Adirondack chairs on the flagstone patio. My neighbor across the street in one of those million dollar houses brings me oranges from her tree and tells me how nice it is to see me back home. She loves looking at my beautiful front garden. Improving my life has improved her life (and view) as well. I know everyone on my street. Less than two years in Pismo - not even full time - and I know more neighbors than I did after 15 years in Marin.

    Sure, I had planned to be gone by now and to have written a whole lot more and to be living in a larger space. But who knew I would plant a garden?
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