Friday, August 03, 2007


The Near Miss

Hidden Bay Condominiums, where I lived for the bulk of 2002.

I'm about to live in a condominium again...albeit a very different one: 1) in another city; and 2) in a series of old apartment buildings that went through a "condo conversion." The tale that follows--"The Near Miss"--came out of me during the 2003 Christmas season. Just, because...


I spent the better part of January of 2002 involved in “construction.” Quite proud of myself, I found myself supervising the installation of the tile floors, the granite backsplash, the painting, and the wood floors in my new condo at Hidden Bay, in Aventura. The granite guy got double what his work was worth, the tiling guy was a prima donna, and the painters were a ragtag crew of hard-on-their-luck Argentineans.

Only the wood floor guy was totally professional – and efficient. But then, again, he was the most boring.

The tiling and painting were turning into one prolonged, intertwined adventure.

Dario – a charmer with a winning smile – had recommended some “painters” to me. They turned out to be his wacky roommates, and their artistic friend. As I perceived them to be gauchos, one and all, they’d had to listen to my tales about my father and his Carlos Gardel worship.

These muchachos were charging me about half of what “professionals” would have. However, they were taking forever. Day after day, they had to wait for the tiling crew to get the key from the concierge, Jack. Jack: Mr. Hidden Bay, in the flesh. This courtly, (not always) unflappable, former hotel owner greeted one and all as if he were welcoming them to his own home. Although he knew we were bending the “rules,” a bit, he looked the other way.

Alas, late one afternoon, I heard a knock on the condo’s door. It was Robert, one of the security guards. “No work after five p.m.,” he sternly informed me. I pouted. He said, “OK, just a little bit longer – but not past six p.m.” I could have hugged him. My motley crew continued to work until they could barely see their hands in front of their faces. After hours, they congregated by their car, and – I believe – drank. Crazy Argentineans, I told myself.

At long last, the work was all finished. Several days before I was scheduled to move in, I entered my condo to admire my handiwork. I tried to close a door. To my horror, I discovered that the doors were too long! The tiles hadn’t interfered with them, but it appeared as if the wood did. I rushed down to the lobby, distraught. “Jack, Jack, what can I do?” Jack merely pointed at Artur, who was working on some lights in the grand foyer, and said, “Ask Artur to help you. He’s a good man.”

Artur – who’s from Uzbekistan – came up to the condo, peered through his glasses with this quizzical half-frown, half-worried look I got to know over the next nine months or so, told me he could do the work on his lunch hour… and gave me a price. He wanted cash. His fee appeared to be reasonable.

He returned later on, used first his own saw (which burned out), then that of a friend (or was it Hidden Bay’s?), and got the job done. I could have hugged him. Instead, I gave him his money. In true European fashion – I amusedly thought to myself – he counted it before he left. He never felt a need to, after that.

Over the ensuing months, Artur returned to my condo – time and time again – to help me take care of this or that. I always gave him cash. There was some terrible politicking going on among the unit owners… and, especially, between some of them and the very beleaguered property manager. The meetings of the Condo Association were horror shows. I stayed out of the fray as best I could.

Hidden Bay was getting to me. By April, I realized I couldn’t live with the “pall of the Holocaust” hanging over me. More and more, I was beginning to realize why my mother had shielded me as best she could from her past. Meeting Havi’s grandparents – both Auschwitz survivors, both Hungarians – turned out to be a turning point for me (although I didn’t realize it at the time). Upon hearing my mother’s story, Laszlo informed me, “He (my father) probably hid her.”

Several weeks later, I went to Washington to attend the Scriabin Centennial Dinner and to do research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Creature of tradition that I am, I was carrying an old Cross pen that had belonged to my mother. I was determined to use it to take down notes. Twisting it open, I found it didn’t work. “You don’t want me to do this, do you?” I informed my mother, silently.

Undeterred, I kept searching. Finally, I unearthed a Yizkor (Memorial) Book on Arad, my mother’s hometown, in whose pages I found references to Agi (my aunt) and Zoltan (my grandfather). There were also several pictures of my aunt. I was excited beyond words! In a mad rush to try to photocopy the entire book, I soon realized I should just select the most pertinent material, instead. Flipping back through the beginning chapters, my eyes alit on the last page of one of them. And then they zoomed in on two words: Zoltan Raab. Chills went through me as I told myself, “But YOU do.”

Back in Aventura, I discovered that things at Hidden Bay were not getting any better. Due to the Board’s – and/or some irate unit owner’s – shenanigans, the maintenance staff couldn’t help us any longer. Even on their lunch hour. Dario – and, especially, Artur – kept making exceptions for me. “No one is going to tell me what to do with my own time,” he used to inform me, in his thickly accented English. All the while, he was puffing away on a cigarette.

I wasn’t getting any better, either. I was trying, though. Construction gave way to decoration: I purchased a cherry console and some beautiful wallpaper at Ethan Allen. I had no idea wallpaper was so expensive – it cost more than the actual labor! I was writing, again: a poem about the Centenary of Cuban Independence (in Spanish), and an outfit-by-outfit description of my entire Barbie doll collection. A veritable “fashion show.” I also assisted Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida by interviewing and then writing companion pieces – in Spanish and in English – on one of Miami City Ballet’s prima ballerinas. I needed to get my writing practice wherever I could find it. And – little did I realize it – Carrie Bradshaw was slowly but surely planting a little seed in my mind.

And then I visited my cousin. That was another turning point for me. This one hit hard: I saw my father’s bitterness and my mother’s negativity staring back at me. Deep down, I realized they lay within me, too.

“Love at a Distance” I had equated for a long time with my relationship with my mother. My visit to Toronto made me realize that this phrase stands for my parents’ relationship. This began to turn me around: it wasn’t my fault, after all.

Sylvia Maria's and Bryan’s wedding all but completed the circle. In rapid succession, Roberta and Milan Avenue entered my life. By early September, I was caught up in all the preparations for yet another closing. And yet, what I had been observing at Hidden Bay for seven months was continuing to impact me.

A year and four months later, I realize I was expounding on both sides of who I was. Fortunately, they’re giving way to who I am.

A near miss? Indeed. I needed to transport my “delicates” from Aventura to Coral Gables, myself, as I had done in all my other moves. Good balconies do not make for good neighbors, I had found out. However, I had befriended most of Hidden Bay’s staff… including Joan, the much-detested property manager. Yes, I HAD gotten away with stuff… because I had been nice. Not too many of the other owners had exercised this trait. So I knew if I asked around, someone would help me. Marcelo, a Uruguayan with exquisite manners, who was earning his keep as a parking valet, could not. Robert – who had produced that pout in me nine months earlier – however, could.

In that wonderful Bahamian lilt of his, Robert had been kind, patient, and understanding with me during nine months. He had never made me pout again. Horace adored him, which I knew – by then – to be the best possible sign of a person’s worth. He took me to the U-Haul rental place at the corner of Biscayne and 163rd Street in his immaculate SUV. We exchanged it – for the day – for a U-Haul van, and headed back to Hidden Bay. I was all packed and ready to go.

“Vans fit in the parking garage,” Robert informed me. So he proceeded to drive the van into the underground lot. We began to hear the grating of metal on metal, but we continued. Finally we came to a halt. We couldn’t move. We were stuck.

Artur appeared as if from nowhere. He was horrified. “What are you trying to do?” The van was wedged right under the system of pipes containing the water that fed the building’s sprinkler valves! One more inch – nay, millimeter – and we could have had five hundred gallons of water, per minute – rushing at us!

He helped us back up, slowly. Very slowly. The enormity of what had almost happened didn’t hit us immediately. Instead, we broke into giggles. Nervous giggles, in retrospect. Outside, on the loading deck, we finally allowed ourselves to breathe.

My “delicates” made it to Milan Avenue safely that afternoon. Robert enjoyed his Versailles lunch. He reluctantly accepted the cash I offered him (although he willingly carted off the teal leather chair I’d been lugging around with me since my Ithaca days). Artur and his little boy showed up to help me with some things around the house the weekend before I moved. As always, I paid him in cash. I treated his son and him to lunch at La Carreta. Never in a million years could I have imagined I’d be introducing Uzbeks – former Russians – to Cuban food!

I saw Laszlo one last time, during a return visit this past summer. I had spoken with his stepson before I had left Hidden Bay. He had understood why it had not been “me.” And so did Laszlo.

Four months ago, I invited Robert, his lovely young girlfriend, Gerta, and Cristina, another of Hidden Bay’s security guards, to dinner. When I had first met Cristina, she had come across as so severe, so efficient. A tough cookie on the outside, she had briefly found love… and now appeared in front of me as a soft young mother, lovingly cradling her newborn son in her arms.

I made them veal porkolt. I’m not sure if it was fully to their taste, but I AM sure it was the first time they ever ate Hungarian food four blocks away from Calle Ocho!

I think I’m finally beginning to hit the bull’s eye on a regular basis, Grandpa.

Georgina Marrero

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?