The following is the conclusion of Part Two in a multi-part series about real life in Hawaii.
—Part One, “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying”
—Part Two, “Renting in Hawaii With Dogs”
—Part Two: “Renting in Hawaii With Dogs” (Continued)
Waimea, also known as Kamuela, has two separate and distinct climates. South and west of town is bone dry — almost arid and desolate, with high winds permanently bending the few trees that survive the climate. North and east of town is, basically, the Pacific Northwest. In fact, if you were to be blindfolded, loaded onto an airplane and dropped into the “wet side” of Waimea, the last place you’d guess as your location would be Hawaii. Somewhere in the outskirts of Seattle would’ve been my guess.
Due to Waimea’s elevation, the storm clouds that roll in from, literally, the wettest town in the United States, Hilo, are stopped in their tracks in Waimea, offering up chilly, damp conditions most of the year. In fact, during the winter, Waimea is one of several places where actual snow is visible atop the Mauna Kea volcano at 13,700 feet. When the sun is shining, however, it’s spectacular, especially the nearby Waipio Valley. But when it’s cloudy and rainy, it’s easy to forget you’re in Hawaii.
When we lived there for five short months after moving to the Big Island in early 2012, it was an exercise in enduring perpetual dampness. Our bathroom towels remained wet, 24 hours after showering. Our bed, which was included as part of our furnished studio apartment, was consistently cold and damp. The cables that connected my computer-peripherals to my PC began to corrode. I ended up getting some sort of weird bursitis in my shoulders from being perpetually ensconced in chilly mung. Needless to say, we were situated well into the wet-side of Waimea in a ground-floor apartment of a house, with another younger couple living on the upper floor, with whom we carried on a Cold War for dibs on the minuscule volume of hot water from a 20-gallon hot-water heater. The worst aspect for me, other than the dampness, was the ceiling. I’m 6’4″ and I think the ceiling was 6’4″ and an eighth — except in the tiny kitchen nook where the ceiling inexplicably dropped six inches. Early on, I bashed my head so many times, my wife posted a “BOB! DUCK!” sign where the ceiling dipped lower.
The goal was to get back to the typical Hawaii experience, this time in Kailua-Kona, best known as the home of the annual Ironman Triathlon World Championships, and where my wife had lived as a child.
Instead of simply rapid-refreshing Craigslist this time, my wife posted a Housing Wanted ad, and we eventually received a call from an outgoing tenant who was renting a house in Kona, just a block from La’aloa Beach, also known as Magic Sands (named for the “magically” appearing and disappearing lava rocks). The tenant told me she was moving out, but was assigned by the owner of the house to track down new tenants. When she described the house to me, I initially thought it was a scam: it was around 2,500 square feet; three bedrooms; two bathrooms; Italian marble floor tiles; a chef’s kitchen; stone walls surrounding the entire property; and our dogs wouldn’t be a problem. And the rent was within our budget, and included utilities.
We jumped in the car and raced south to Kona to see the house and to meet with the owner, a middle-aged haole who we’ll call “Pete.” Not only did Pete decide to rent to us on the spot, but the house was even better in person. Solar hot water, a huge wrap-around patio and accompanying deck. It was pretty damn close to being a dream house. Again: first impressions. There was one catch, though. There was an adjoining bachelor suite with a separate entrance where the owner, we were assured, would temporarily bunk for a day or two every month, since his job forced him to do a lot of traveling. The rest of the time, we had the run of the house, and besides, we were assured again, that Pete was in the process of moving to Honolulu. So, in the space of a month or two, we would be the sole occupants of the place.
Having been through a cavalcade of nightmares, this seemed (at the time) like a minor risk — and besides, Pete assured us he was never there, and on his way out permanently. As renters, we always had to deal with landlords or owners occasionally popping in, so what’s the big deal? In hindsight, we should’ve run away. Far away. Screaming.
Two weeks later, we moved in. After the move-in day, we didn’t see Pete for at least a month, and, indeed, we had the house to ourselves as promised. But as time rolled on, Pete would show up for longer and longer stretches of time. And when he was there, we had no choice but to share the kitchen and the living room, even though his bachelor suite was stocked with both amenities. He continuously reminded us that he’d be moving to Honolulu any time now, mainly to be closer to his son. I’ll throw myself under a bus and admit that I believed him, while my wife was more skeptical — seeing the flimflam from a mile away. But her cautiousness didn’t prevent us from getting our stuff out of storage in Honolulu and finally shipping it over. I also flew back to Pennsylvania to retrieve the last of my belongings from the storage space I had rented there back in 2010.
While visiting with my Mom and brothers, my wife sent me an urgent text message. She bumped into Pete who informed her that not only was he not moving to Honolulu, but that he was planning to move his girlfriend from the Philippines into the house with him as a permanent resident. There I was, thousands of miles away, shipping boxes to Hawaii because I thought we were stabilized in our housing situation, and this bombshell exploded in our laps. When I finally returned to Kona, we sat down with Pete and informed him that his news was unacceptable and that we’d have to move out — an almost empty threat because we knew it could be months and months before we found another rental.
Then it got really, really bad.
Our lease stated that we were renting the entire house, but because Pete was in staying in the house for longer stretches of time, we ended up in a roommate situation, with little or no privacy. Sure, we probably could’ve taken legal action against Pete, but Kona is a very, very small town featuring what’s known as “coconut wireless.” Bad news gets around, and the last thing we needed was to get a reputation for suing our landlords while in the process of trying to rent another place.
So, not only was Pete there nearly all the time, but then his hippy friend, who we’ll call “Thing 1,” would show up and stay at the house for weeks at a time. Thing 1 was a really nice guy, it turns out, and a wizard with computers. But he was missing a crucial part of his brain — the part that signals to most people to stop talking after, oh, 20 or 30 minutes. Put it this way: if we bumped into Thing 1 in the kitchen, we knew we’d be stuck there for an hour as he talked and talked and talked and talked. And then Pete’s other friend, who we’ll call “Thing 2,” showed up. Thing 2 wasn’t so friendly. Located somewhere on the autism spectrum, Thing 2 was a Ron Paul acolyte who lived off the grid, and claimed to be everything shy of bionic. Yes, he insisted the government was conducting surveillance on him using drones. At one point, he claimed to have reverse-engineered Pete’s cellphone to add minutes to his plan instead of using them. Thing 2 also once told me that after the IRS had been harassing him for back taxes, he sent the agent a bag of raw, bloody meat… “and never heard from the IRS again.” Okeedokee.
Thing 1 and Thing 2 were there all the time, increasing the occupancy of the house to five. And we were still paying full rent.
Then Pete’s new girlfriend, who replaced the mysterious Filipino girlfriend, moved in, too. That makes six people. Clearly, Pete was deliberately fucking with us. But we had nowhere else to go since the rental market was deader than usual. I began to drink a little too much, and Joy and I were fighting more often, utterly consumed by the stress of this no-escape situation and generally not knowing what sort of Adams Family array of weirdos and freaks would greet us every time we pulled into the driveway.
I reached my first tipping point sometime after Christmas 2012 when I noticed that Pete’s entourage had gathered in the living room and were watching movies while sitting on the rather expensive couch we bought in Honolulu and had recently shipped to Kona. Pete’s girlfriend was hammered and her cranberry and vodka was precariously balanced on the arm of the couch. The next morning, I discovered a fountain pen jammed between the cushions. The following night, I noticed that Thing 2 was setting up a pillow and sheets on our couch with the obvious intention to crash on it. It’s important here to emphasize that Thing 1 and Thing 2 had obvious hygiene issues, and all I could think of was that episode of Seinfeld in which the valet leaves indelible body-odor in Jerry’s car. Hell, Joy and I had never slept on that couch, there’s no way stinky Thing 2 was going to be the first — drooling, shvitzing and farting all over it.
So, I totally lost my shit.
“PETE!” I stood in the middle of the room yelling for Pete, who popped in from around the corner looking stunned.
“We paid $5,000 for that couch,” I lied, “And no one’s going to sleep on it! Thing 2 can sleep on your other mattress!” Yes, there was an unused guest mattress in Pete’s suite, but off-the-grid Thing 2 didn’t like it because it was too soft. Pete nodded and dashed back into his suite. I continued ranting, “There was a fountain pen jammed between the cushions this morning! This is a new couch! $5,000!”
The next day, Thing 1 used one of our cooking pots to boil, yes, a cow’s tongue for his special taco recipe. I’m not making any of this up. At that point, I simply stopped engaging any of them in even cursory greetings as we passed in the kitchen. It’s difficult to imagine a living situation more hellish than that, save for maybe that meth house from Breaking Bad where the ATM machine crushes the tweaker’s head.
Luckily, Joy had been in touch with a property manager for a house we had toured several months earlier, but ruled out because they were sketchy about our dogs. Joy kept telling me she had a good feeling about the new place, while I remained jaded and skeptical. By the end of January 2013, Joy had cajoled the property manager enough to let us re-visit the house, and, with a hefty pet deposit, sign a lease effective mid-February.
Finally, light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. The new house, where we live now, is set at the end of a street at the top of a steep hill overlooking Kona, with 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean from most of the windows. Three bedrooms, 1,700 square feet, and entirely refurbished, with new carpets and bathroom fixtures. And a gigantic yard for our dogs. Plus, the property manager is based in Waimea, 40 minutes away, and the owner lives on a totally different island. Thank goodness.
But Pete and the Things still had one final humiliation in store for us. On moving day, when Pete owed us our security deposit and had agreed to cut us a check, he disappeared. After we were moved into our new house, I was driving Joy to the airport for a business trip, when Pete called me on my cell to accuse me of stealing “the TiVO” out of the master bedroom. The TiVO in that bedroom, I explained, belongs to me and I had a receipt and bills to prove it. He snapped back that it was the Time Warner TiVO. Huh? Was he talking about the cable box? There wasn’t any cable box in our bedroom, just my TiVO, which I had purchased at a Best Buy in Honolulu. Mine.
This is when I finally let him have it.
“You’re accusing us of stealing?! I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! There’s no cable box!” It’s difficult to illustrate in words how loudly I was yelling, but it was one of those situations where I was on speaker with the phone right up to my face, screaming into it. Pete continued, accusing me of stealing Thing 2’s World War II cigarette lighter. “If I don’t get my money from you Pete, you’ll be hearing from a lawyer next! But first I’m calling your previous tenants to confirm that this fucking cable box doesn’t exist!”
And so I did. I called the tenant before us, and the tenant before her, both of whom confirmed there wasn’t any cable box up there. The older tenant, prior to the tenant before us, gave me my first big laugh of the day, in addition to confirming no cable box.
“Was that hippy guy there?” the old tenant asked.
“You mean [Thing 1]?” I replied.
“That guy would never shut… the fuck… up!” I laughed myself to tears. It was just the catharsis I needed. After conducting a brief, two-man group therapy session for the newly formed Survivors of Pete’s House of Horrors, I texted Pete and informed him that neither of his old tenants were aware of any cable box in the master bedroom. That’s when he finally agreed to give us our security deposit back. That evening, I stopped by the house to pick it up, but was greeted by Pete’s new tenant who proceeded to give me half the money. Half. This poor sucker informed me that Pete will give me the rest when he gets back from Honolulu. Now it all began to make sense. The cable box fiasco was a ploy to stall for time. Pete didn’t have the money.
Two days later, Thing 1 called. Pete gave him the rest of the money, and all we needed to do was to meet Thing 1 at a neutral location to pick it up. On her way to work, Joy stopped at the agreed-upon location and waited for Thing 1. And waited. And waited. Finally, after an hour, I texted Thing 1 who informed me that he lost the money. An obvious lie. Either there wasn’t any money in the first place, or Thing 1 had kept it for himself. I texted Pete one brief sentence: “I’m calling a lawyer today, unless you PayPal the money to me from wherever you’re hiding.”
By the end of the day, the money arrived, and I will never speak to any of those bastards for as long as I live.
It’s been a hell of a road to where we are today. We’re coming up on two years in our current house, which is nothing short of a dream. Other than some yard maintenance and your typical assortment of Hawaii creepy-crawlies like cane spiders and the occasional cockroach, we couldn’t be happier here. It’s damn near the ideal rental for a couple with two large dogs in Hawaii. Every day, we walk “the boys” up the hill where a herd of goats grazing in an empty pasture greets us. Every year, a new family of turkeys gathers in our driveway. And as we look out of the large, plate-glass windows in our living room and across at the Pacific and the village of Kona below, we feel a true sense of satisfaction. Hawaii made us work for it, but we finally made it. On February 15, 2013, my part in the Great Recession ended, and our three-year housing ordeal was over.
The view from our living room. Kailua-Kona and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
My Hawaii series for The Daily Banter will continue next week with more stories and observations…