My aunt took me to Plum Island in the off season once when I was a teenager, and I thought, “this is where I will go when I feign my own death.”
It was like an abandoned army barracks, with rows of houses on short, straight spikes of roads off a central spine, like fish bones.
You could hide there. You could have all the amenities – architecture, structure, the ghost of company – but never have to interact. Never be seen. This is where I will go into hiding, I thought. This is where I will spend months 4 through 9 of my unwed pregnancy. Where I will hide while the evidence proving my innocence floats to the surface and I’m absolved of whatever crime I’ve been charged with. Where I will write my novel.
I wasn’t pregnant. I had committed no crime. But it’s good to be prepared.
Ever since then I’ve had an eye for abandoned, solitary, outposts. There’s a mining town I passed regularly in Colorado that I wanted to live in called Silver Plume. It had just the right amount of nothing happening, mixed with a good number of houses that weren’t falling apart. It’s best to avoid actual abandoned places because they are likely laced with asbestos, or mask a collapsed mine. There’s a line between isolated and insane.
Speaking of which, I loved off-season hotels until The Shining came along. Perhaps a lot of us did, and that’s why Stephen King ruined them – to keep the rest of us away. I wish I had thought of that tactic first. There are so many hotels near us. It would be easy to check in on the last day of the season and then stand on the toilet seat in the lobby restroom until everyone went away, locking the doors behind them.
Yes, I have thought this through. I’ve thought about where I will park, how I’ll come and go unnoticed, where I’ll do laundry, and the black out curtains I’ll need to buy. When I pass hotels that are closed for the season I can’t help but look for a telltale sliver of light in one of the windows. I’m sure there are others who have thought of this, did they beat me to it?
Once I heard a news story about a homeless woman in Japan who lived in a man’s cupboard undetected for a year. Had she not taken food out of his fridge, she might have gone on living there indefinitely. But the man who lived there noticed missing food and thought he was being robbed, repeatedly, and admittedly a little weirdly. So he put in a security camera and saw her moseying around his house during the day. Even when they knew she was there, it took police ages to find her.
This obviously makes me think of some of the larger houses on the Cape. I don’t think squatting is legal here, but what if you occupied a cupboard, or an unused bedroom? Heck, some of these houses probably have entire wings that don’t get used. I wonder how long I could make it before I lost control and ate something out of their fridge?
I work at a place where artists and writers disappear for several consecutive months to write their novels – and have their babies I suppose if the timing is right – in a town where very little happens, in an unforgiving season. I wonder at the wisdom of this – placing artist-types at the edge of civilization, with intentionally little interaction, surrounded by darkness, sleet, silence, and alcohol. Because the bars are always open in these places.
If I had my druthers (whatever those are), and a book deal with a bottomless budget, I would pitch a book called Off Season and drag my family all over the globe to live in various resort areas when no one wants to be there. We’ll get off-season rentals and mingle with the locals, finding out what it’s really like to live there. Or maybe we’ll stand on the toilet seats.
The possibilities are endless.