First Words — 08 March 2019
Hard to keep a house beautiful here

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

No names here but one.


If you live in South Florida, especially if you own a home, you may never forget it.

We first heard Irma outside our home in Southwest Broward, gently shaking our hurricane shutters. The shaking soon turned to rattling, which turned to shrieking which turned us to thinking we should have followed everybody else up the road approximately to Canada.

“Is there still time to leave this place?” I asked.

“That’s an interesting question, Mark,’’ Siri said. “Here’s who can rake leaves at your place.’’

Then the lights went out, and we listened in the dark to the shaking, rattling and Siri confirming we’d waited too long to leave.

“Sorry you’re having trouble,’’ she said. “Goodbye.’’

After the storm, miracle! Our shutters stayed shut! The roof stayed on! The house stuck a landing neatly atop the Wicked Witch of the East!

The birds were even singing, out there on branches stripped bare by the storm.
So loudly we almost didn’t hear the drip.

“Do I hear a drip?” I said.

“You need a trip?’’ Siri said. “Here are places you might want to consider …’’

“Drip,” I said.

“Sorry you’re still having trouble,’’ she said.

Somehow – we may never understand the hydrodynamics – Irma’s wind-driven rain had pushed through a wall on the second floor, pooled above a first-floor room and then started dripping.

What looked like the udder of a stucco cow hanging from the ceiling was now leaking coffee-colored water all over the floor.

“What the luck…?” I said.

Which is not exactly what I said. Fortunately, Siri was off.

We called the insurance company – no names here – who said they’d send an inspector as soon as they could, but, with all the other calls they’d been getting, they weren’t sure when. And, oh, by the way, don’t get any third-parties involved in the claim, they said, because that could slow repairs.

So we didn’t. But, between the time we called and the time the inspector arrived, something more interesting than coffee-dripping udders began hanging from our ceiling.


“What do I do with mushrooms on a ceiling?”

“Here are some recipes for mushrooms you’ll find appealing,’’ Siri said.

I turned Siri off again.

The inspector dutifully took note of our fungi almost three weeks later, before taking his report away for the home office to review.

To make an unbearably long story short, that inspector quit working for our insurance company – no names here – but our insurance company neglected to tell us and, worse, decided since the inspector hadn’t filed a report that we must have dropped our claim, so they were going to have to send another inspector out to survey the damage again.

And, when he arrived, almost six months after Irma, we started to wonder how much longer it would have taken if we’d gotten a third, fourth or possibly 50th party involved.

The insurance company – no names here – finally conceded the obvious, that our home had been damaged by Irma, and wrote us a check. But, as we opened the walls and started repairs, we started to find one new nasty surprise after another.

The rain-driven wind had soaked the plywood, the drywall, the insulation – any and everything between the outside and the ceiling udder.

“OMG, never look behind your walls and ceiling!’’ a friend helpfully suggested, after we’d looked behind our walls and ceiling.

So I leave you to consider, as you page through the beautiful houses in this HOME Issue, just how hard it is to keep a house beautiful in South Florida. At some point in our ordeal, sensing our frustration, one of our contractors said, “South Florida is one of the most caustic environments in the world for a home.’’

It does seem true, that everything here is trying to wear us down. The heat, the humidity, the salty air, the wood-eating bugs, the mold and mildew, the pitiless sun, the sinkholes, the Saharan sand, the tremors from quarry-pit blasting, the hurricanes, the hurricane insurance companies who’d rather delay and fight than fix hurricane damage, the mushrooms  …

No names here for all of that but one. And it’s not Irma.

Fortunately, Siri’s not on.

- Mark Gauert,

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