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March 1999

Runaway Summer

In a world that continues to amaze me with its constantly evolving bizarreness, I find it remarkable that there are still The Three Great Constants: everyone has the cutest baby; everyone has the smartest dog; and everyone has the best cottage. A friend of mine says he has the Best Cottage In The World. It's up around Peterborough. My aunt also lays claim to owning The Best Cottage In The World. Hers is in Haliburton. But need I mention that they're both out of their minds? I have the best cottage in the world. It's in Gravenhurst.

The best thing about my cottage is that I don't own it. It belongs to Tom, a friend of mine who got a really good deal on it by buying it in a flurry of mid-January phone haggling. It was one of those places that real estate agents always gush over using words like "quaint", "charming", "rustic" and my personal favorite - "a great little fixer-upper". The problem here is that Tom is an accountant. If you want a financial vivisection of your company, Tom's your man. But Tom is only too aware of the fact that what he knows about cottage maintenance could be comfortably written on a postage stamp with room left over for The Lord's Prayer, The British North America Act and the first three chapters of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. So I went up to the cottage with him last May to walk him through what needed to be done to the place.

As it turned out, the place was a little more rustic than he'd remembered it being when he was cottage hunting the previous fall. In fact, he wasn't even sure that he'd even looked through this place before - he'd been under the impression that he'd purchased the immaculate little place next door which still sported a Royal LePage sign on the dock. Tom's place was its mutant older sister with a sign at the road that read, "Runaway". I couldn't decide if that was the name someone had given the cottage or a message to prospective buyers that had been posted by a concerned neighbour. Regardless, "Rundown" would have been more like it - the paint was peeling, the roof was covered in moss, and the eavestrough was hanging off from the weight of the pine needles clogging it. When we got inside, we realized that the previous owners must have been either pimps or gypsies because the bedrooms were painted colours only found in nature on a baboon's butt. Tom was frantic and begged me to give him a hand sprucing the place up. His wife Suzanne would freak if she saw the place looking like this. So he gave me the key and a cheque to cover the initial expenses and I moved into Runaway on the May 24th weekend.

I spent the first few weeks painting the place inside and out. It didn't actually take all that time to paint it, but I'd read that it isn't healthy to be breathing paint fumes all day. So I'd paint for a few hours in the morning and then go out and catch some sun on the dock, do a little fishing or go for a ski with two gals from Western who were staying at the end of the bay and working for the summer as waitresses at the Muskoka Sands. There was no big rush to get all this done. It was only early June...

Tom and Suzanne were scheduled to come up the third weekend in June for their first Muskoka weekend but that was before I discovered that the attic had been sublet to a collective of mice. I called Tom and he confirmed my suspicions that Suzanne was rodent-intolerant. So Tom sent me a cheque and I told him that I'd Warfarin the place top to bottom - a week or two and Tom , Jerry and the rest of the horde would be deader than Elvis. We penciled in the Canada Day weekend as the kick-off of their Runaway Summer and everyone was happy.

Unfortunately, that didn't work out either. A monster storm came through in late June and it turned out that the roof leaked like a sieve. The rugs were soaked, the beds were soaked, the ceiling in the kitchen collapsed and the whole cottage smelled like the shower room at the YMCA. So Tom sent me a cheque for new ceiling tiles and I went to work trying to line up a roofing contractor. In the meantime, I spent my days putting the kitchen back together, dragging the furniture outside every morning to dry in the sun and learning to wake-board with Debbie and Sharon, my Western waitron gals.

Trying to find a roofing contractor who'd actually show up and give me a quote turned out to be no easy feat. I introduced myself to the neighbours to find out who they'd used but they agreed that good roofers in Muskoka are harder to find than Cosmo readers with self-esteem. But they were very supportive of the renovations that were taking place and my next-door-neighbour Chris invited me for steaks on the BBQ and an evening cruise on Lake Muskoka in his Grevette launch. I graciously accepted. Let it not be said that I'm not involved with my community.

I talked to Tom about the shortage of roofers and we agreed that it would be quicker and easier if I did the roof myself. So Tom sent me a cheque for supplies and I set to work reroofing the place, which as anyone will tell you is a noisy, messy job that is best done when no one's home. Tom and Suzanne decided to put off coming up until I was finished but with July being as rainy as it was, it was early August before the roof was a wrap. That's when the power went off...

Apparently someone dropped the ball when the place was sold and Tom had yet to receive a Hydro bill. We later found out that the ex-owner was getting big laughs out of the letters Ontario Hydro was sending him threatening to pull the plug on Runaway for non-payment of outstanding bills. So blackout rules went into effect, the fridge and pump were being run from an extension cord to Chris' place and Sharon lent me her Weber until the stove was back on line. But it was mid-August before Tom got the juice back on and then while crawling under the cottage rewiring the pump, I discovered that the place was alive with carpenter ants. So Tom sent a cheque and Sharon lived up to her name by inviting me to stay at her place for a couple of days until the fumigators were through.

It's now Labour Day and it has definitely been a Runaway Summer. I've got the best tan I've had in years and I'm on a first name basis with every ski wahini on Lake Muskoka courtesy of Sharon and Debbie and the fact that my dock has become the lakeside BBQ of choice for the summer student food & beverage crowd, all of whom insist on calling me Kato. Meanwhile Tom is back in Toronto pouring over the receipts I sent him labeled "Runaway Expenses" and babbling incoherently while watching Tom Hanks in The Money Pit on a continuous loop. His wife Suzanne has just issued me her final ultimatum: either the place is ready for occupancy Thanksgiving weekend or she's coming up and burning me out. Suzanne's not a harsh woman by any means but her tone during our last conversation was decidedly snarky and I got the feeling that her patience was running thin. I kept telling her that all this work would have cost them a mint to have done by professionals but I never got a response from her. I think she hung up.

So much for gratitude...

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