The gypsy life

Memories of living spaces left behind

click to enlarge ON THE MOVE: The author packs his stuff -- again. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
ON THE MOVE: The author packs his stuff -- again.

Joey N. laughs as he tells me that at least the Seaside Shack looks bigger without any furniture in it. He's right, of course — that's the way perspective works. But to me, the tiny studio apartment where Milo the White Trash Terrordog and I spent the last year oversleeping and not watching any TV at all seems even smaller.

The bed, stand-alone bar and large bookcases to which my mother seems inordinately attached (they're just particleboard, Mom) have been removed, leaving the crazily striped indoor-outdoor carpet barren where it isn't obscured by stacks of books, a box or two of clothes and piles of Simpsons collectibles. Still, rather than seeming more expansive, the room feels shriveled, like its vitality is bleeding out with every piece of my crap that passes out through the little closed-in porch and into the back of the Jeep.

I'm certainly no stranger to moving, and I'm generally not all that sentimental about it. My propensity for restlessness is high, even for someone who grew up in the itinerant Air Force lifestyle. I've lived in the Bay area for 16 years, and have officially resided in at least 16 apartments and houses — not counting the innumerable guest beds, futons, couches, love seats and floors upon which I've taken refuge for hours or months at a time.

Let's pause for a look at the highlight reel, shall we?

University Townhouse Apartments. My first home in Tampa quickly became the partying-est unit in what was then the most notoriously party-friendly complex in the USF area. The open-door policy set by myself and Jeff B. — and the ensuing succession of drunks, squatters, thieves, cops and drugheads — drove away our roommates. They were still named in the inevitable eviction process, though, because they were still on the lease. (I wasn't — sorry, guys.) After we were tossed, another friend thought about renting the same two-story, four-bedroom apartment; during a tour, she fell through the stairs.

The bowels of Carrollwood. Two musicians, one musician's stripper girlfriend, and a crazy drunken cynic lived in a one-bedroom apartment tacked onto the back of some house — I never saw the folks that actually owned the property. All we drank was Ron Rico rum from the giant plastic bottle. The two of us who weren't sleeping with the stripper made fun of her botched hair extensions, and came home from Guavaween to find all our shit out in the yard. Stripper girlfriend beats drinking buddies like a royal flush beats a pair of sevens.

The corner of South Boulevard and Cleveland Street in Hyde Park. We had a landlord whose only response to any verbal communication was, "No shit?" When it was quiet, I could hear the wires crackling and shorting inside the walls — until my roommate transferred the power account, along with MY deposit, to his new apartment while I was at work. Karma's a bitch.

Davis Islands. I had the best situation ever — a platonic relationship with a cute, smart, funny female roommate who never made me clean as long as I cooked. It went to hell when she started dating the white supremacist.

Melville Avenue in Hyde Park. Once again, I was living with Jeff B. For some reason, we didn't think the pervasive smell of the catbox would ever tip our landlord off to the fact that we had two forbidden pets — possibly, we assumed the stench of cigarettes and smoldering pot resin would cover it. It didn't.

I was sitting on the toilet one day when our upstairs neighbor Emily knocked on the front door, and suggested I move my car, because her car — a vintage VW bug — was right next to it, and on fire. I went outside. The bug wasn't on fire. The bug was an inferno. It burned to its blackened frame. Somehow, I moved my car without, uh, dying.

Edison Avenue in Hyde Park. Several years and residences later, I found myself living in a two-story house just across the Crosstown from the "No shit" apartment. Whenever there was a parade on Bayshore, we'd charge people to park in our yard, and buy beer with the proceeds. My most insistent memory of the Treehouse involves staying up late, watching soft-core porn on Cinemax and using a BB gun to take potshots at the rats that came out to eat the dog food in the kitchen.

15th Avenue N. in St. Petersburg. This downstairs garage-apartment studio was the first place I ever lived alone, and the place I lived longest, despite going two summers without air conditioning, and the bathtub occasionally filling and overflowing with waste water from the unit upstairs. Once, I came home from a trip out of town to find the place completely cleaned and rearranged; years went by before a couple of friends — one of who'd lived there previously, and still had a key — confessed to the prank.

I've lived a lot of places in the Tampa Bay area, and I've got a lot of memories of each, from fun to crazy to shameful. Still, I've never really had any qualms about packing up and moving on, whether the lease was up or I was shoving clothes into the trunk of a car while being pelted from behind with shoes and epithets by a disgruntled cohabitant.

For some reason, the Shack is different.

Maybe it's because this is where I healed from a life-changing breakup, or dealt with the worst period of depression I've ever endured, or wrote my first screenplay. Maybe it's because this is where Milo the White Trash Terrordog really became the only family I could talk to without using a phone, or where I found out that first my dad's mother, and then his father, had passed away.

Maybe it's just because I could walk out the door and be fishing in three minutes, and often chose to do so rather than sulk or drink or worry.

It's probably all of these things. It's probably that I became more of an adult here than anywhere else.

The couple who own the house to which the Shack is attached are considering digging a pool, and turning my former home into a pool house. They won't do it right away, however; they're wonderful people, and I could've stayed another six months, maybe another year. But I think the Shack has served its purpose in my life. It was a perfect asylum for me, but I'm ready for the next thing.

Also, there's this girl.