Vanished. The Fishfarm was in Micco Fla, right across US 1 from the Indian River. Looks like it's gone now, developed over; I strolled up and down that stretch of highway several times via Google Maps and couldn't find anything like it. It wasn't a big house but it was a place where we all could live. Elton was our soundtrack. I wore out one copy of this record, maybe two.
Wading into the rising sun. The Indian River has dredge islands here and there, and one of them was right across from the Fishfarm, just a little ways out into the river; you could wade out to it at low tide. A few of us did that at dawn once, as the closing ceremony at the end of a pretty decent all-nighter acid trip.
Surinam cherry's not worth eating. It had an elongated semicircular drive planted on the outside with bananas, loquats and melaleuca, all invaded by Surinam cherry. We ate the loquats, but I don't recall any bananas getting ripe. There was a concrete lined goldfish pond on the outside of the drive as well, and a multistem banyan grew in the middle of the front yard, which the drive encircled.
A mixed metaphor. In the middle of the banyan we put up a giant rope mesh hammock; it could hold 3 or 4 people, and it became the site of many family photos. We stocked the goldfish pond with koi; the herons approved. A decaying wooden effigy of a windmill also decorated the pond, driven by an overshot water wheel. Flowing water to drive the wheel was free, just like in the old days. Only this time it was artesian sulfur water.
It wasn't really a joke. Several abandoned artesian wells on or near the property ran continuously; never knew them to vary. The wells grew thriving colonies of sulfur loving algae in disturbingly bright colors. Man did that water ever stink. A standing joke was that the Fishfarm was the only place where it smelled worse after you flushed the toilet.
Talk resumed mid-sentence as the semi faded away. The house sat no more that 10 feet from US 1. It faced north. When you walked out either front door, the drive was in front of you, with US 1 to your right and the rest of the farm to your left. When a semi roared by going 70, the noise made conversation impossible. After a while you scarcely noticed; there was a momentary pause in the chatter.
Micco's no city. There was no city water or sewage, just a drainfield that made the grass particularly luxuriant in part of the front yard, and more artesian sulfur water. Only a very thirsty person would drink that stinkin' water. It wasn't safe anyway, too much surface contamination in the shallow aquifer, coliforms and such.
A full carboy was one heavy mother. We got drinking water delivered in carboys. The working carboy sat in a tilt-a-frame on the kitchen counter, and there were supporting carboys up and down the hallway, empties on one side, fulls on the other. Replacing the working carboy was a job for a strong back.
WTF? The layout of the house was weird. It was an L-shaped house, with the bottom of the L sitting on US 1 and facing S, away from the semicircular drive. But both front doors opened onto the drive, and there were no back or side doors. When you went in either front door, you were in a hallway paralleling the drive; that's where we kept the carboys. When you went in, you had to go left or right in the hall to get anywhere.
It gets weirder. Walk in either front door and turn right, and the hallway takes you into the master bedroom, with a ¾ sulfur-scented bath. Head east down the hall from the master bedroom, and on your right you find the following:
Then a little stub of the hall past that, butting into US 1.
Wave to the people out in the hallway. You get to the rest of the house through the kitchen. Turn right into the kitchen. There's water in the tilt-a-frame to your left if you're thirsty. Then head back west through a wide archway into the dining room. Look to your right through the wrought iron. The dining room had mural artwork. The most fetching of these was a very nicely done trompe l'oeil painting that made the drywall look like ancient Roman ruins, plaster crumbling off to reveal ancient bricks. Another awarded the Fishfarm the Tim Leary Good Cribkeeping Award.
Home of Padrugpadrug. Then turn left in the dining room and go through an even wider archway into the living room. Go on through the living room and there's yet another archway into a short east-west hall with a bedroom at each end and a full sulfur-scented bath right in front of you.
Florida's so good at exotic invasives. The inside of the L, which should've been a cool garden nook, with a fountain and orchids, wind chimes and lovely tropical plants, had no doors that opened to it. It was a creepy place, with clayey soil that nothing would grow in but some weird vines, probably some kind of exotic invasive.
75 times more lethal that ricin. Florida was never one to turn away a nice exotic plant or animal looking for a new place to invade, and the Fishfarm had its share. Most invasives simply outcompete the local yokels, inflicting mere environmental or economic harm. Fishfarm hosted a celebrity: the deadly rosary pea. Rosary peas were rampant in dry scrubby areas. Google if you like poison porn.
No garden party's complete without one. The walking catfish is also an invasive celebrity of sorts; fish are not supposed to walk across the road at night, much less your front yard. Sam had the gall to try his hand at raising them. But these were different; they were albino. That's a bird of an entirely different color. Who wouldn't want an albino walking catfish strolling around the yard?
…and just to die for delicious. If you bashed your way through the palmetto heading SW from the house, you'd soon be in an abandoned orange grove, home to one of the abandoned artesian wells. It was so overgrown that the trees were scarcely recognizable, but they still bore fruit. The oranges were ugly, covered with brown scale.
Such a classic human moment: a brilliant solution to a nonexistent problem. In those days I thought citrus fruit needed to be cut open; I hadn't learned that citrus tastes better if you peel it and eat it section by section. Out there without a knife, I came up with a brilliant solution. Palmetto stems are notoriously sharp-edged, with nasty invisible sawteeth. I pulled off a dead palmetto stem and easily sliced my ugly orange right open.
It never happened. The Fishfarm was in lousy condition when Sam bought it. It hadn't been a producing fish farm in ages. The outdoor tanks were abandoned, leaking. They probably hadn't been cleaned in decades. Getting the outdoor tanks into fighting trim would be a monumental undertaking.
That's a sight you don't forget. Hurricanes are inconvenient but fascinating. I have a memory from our prep for Hurricane Donna in September 1960 in Marianna. It's just a snapshot, a single image: my father is tying our wheelbarrow to the trunk of a sturdy young live oak tree. Sometime in the late 60s/early 70s a hurricane was offshore in the Atlantic and the Fishfarm was on the fringes. I went out to lean into the wind and enjoy the intensity; I've always loved storms. It was raining hard and I couldn't see much, but I was looking at a waterspout. Then they all appeared. The waterspout I'd seen was just the closest one of a line of seven spinning majestically across the Indian River.
Sheer heaven. Every now and again we'd all pile in the station wagon and go to the beach. I didn't like going to the beach back then either, but there was an extenuating circumstance just as there was at that secret beach near Destin. The beach was Wabasso Beach Park, about an 18-mile drive. The beach was the normal beach for that part of Florida: steep sunny and breezy, middling surf; better if a storm was kicking up. The extenuating circumstance wasn't there, it was on the way home, on US 1: one of the last roadside citrus stands to offer free all you can drink fresh-squeezed OJ. All you got was a tiny paper cup, but they would keep filling it up for you. I never saw anyone turned away, certainly none of us. Few things taste better than fresh-squeezed OJ anyway. After a hot sticky day at the beach?
Blue balls. The Fishfarm retail shop was the scene of one of those found out too late moments. June was one of the six or seven of us at Mel High. She was a studious and voluptuous redhead who seemed awfully smart even by our standards. I suspect she was the smartest of the bunch, the far end of the far right tail. It was late in the summer of '69. I was surprised to see her walk in the shop. I never knew she was interested in tropical fish. No, she'd driven all the way down to Micco just to tell me what a fucking idiot I'd been. This was her revenge for being scorned. She'd had the hots for me all year, and I never once got a clue. Her heavy flirtation went right past me. We made out for a while there in the shop, which was very sweet, and I begged for an extension. But time had been called: she was headed out the next day for school in Georgetown, and I would never see her again. As much fun as that would have been, I'm still glad I stuck with Hutch, blue balls and all.
I owe a lot of who I am to that vanished place. The Fishfarm was a strange place, but it was my home for four critical years of my life: college. I got to visit my folks in Kenya, but that lasted a month, and only happened twice during my college days. For the summers, holidays, midterm breaks etcetera, Fishfarm was home.