As a journalist, you get to poke your nose into all sorts of different worlds, including, in this annual Platinum issue, the rarefied atmosphere of Sarasota’s ultra-wealthy, whose over-the-top lifestyle we chronicle in a story about gasp-worthy extravagances. (I should state for the record that our region is known more for quiet wealth and philanthropy than the outrageous indulgences we tracked down.) Part of the fun of this job is the access to influence and glamour it allows, but that doesn’t mean we reporters have much influence or glamour ourselves. And just in case we might imagine otherwise, life has a way of reminding us that we’re on the outside looking in.
One thing I do have in common with Sarasota’s wealthy is a second home—only in our case, it’s a rustic cottage in the Michigan woods rather than a beachfront Martha’s Vineyard mansion. And that’s where the problem started. Last summer, George and I were there enjoying a glass of wine before the fireplace. Suddenly, we realized we had intruders—two pink-and-gray mice, who were crouched on the hearth and glaring at us with their little red eyes as if we were the intruders. And as it turned out, we were. We soon realized a family of mice had been enjoying our home long before we arrived. We saw them dashing behind the stove and scampering across a floor, once staring up at me out of a kitchen drawer. Let me make this clear: I am an animal lover, a closet PETA sympathizer, a person who never returned to Sea World after seeing that documentary about the killer whales and who rejoiced when Ringling retired its elephants. But I felt nothing but repulsion for those nasty little mice.
Our neighbor advised us not to put out traps or poison, since we were leaving soon and the dead mice would rot in the house all winter. Take care of them next summer, he said. So we went home and forgot all about them.
Until earlier this week, when I was finalizing that story on the ultra-wealthy, deep in calls to yacht brokers, jewelers and couture designers. My son Matt and his wife Mara had just arrived at the cottage, after a two-day drive with their three little boys, their arms laden with groceries and suitcases. When he called me, Matt was hysterical. “You should see this place!” he yelled. “There’s mice poop everywhere—on every bed, all the counters, everywhere! There must be a hundred mice living here!” Just to make sure I got the picture, he started texting me images that looked like crime scenes, with dark splotches all over the carpets. By 10 p.m., they had scrubbed the kitchen, washed the sheets and vacuumed everywhere. Matt drove to an all-night store to buy traps, and at midnight, they fell into bed. Then Mara started googling.
All too soon, she came across the hantavirus, a lethal disease spread by mouse droppings in desert climates—or, as she read aloud in horror to Matt, “in dusty, closed-up places.” The more she read, the more alarmed they grew. Mara, the most cheerful, relaxed human being I know, now says, “I don’t know what came over us. But we were convinced we were going to die.” They woke up the boys, repacked, and drove to a nearby Motel 8.
Talk about alternate realities. The next day, in between researching a $300,000-a-year Sarasota luxury rental home and a $600,000 pink diamond ring, I was calling exterminators, carpet cleaners and even a Michigan doctor. (“She says the CDC has never reported a case in the state!” I texted the kids, in a vain attempt to talk them back into the house.) By the end of the day, two Amish teenagers were scouring the cottage—and dispatching the mice in the traps with stoic indifference.
By then, I’d learned a lot about how our city’s other half—make that the other 1 percent—live. With that insufferable journalistic assumption of instant expertise, I, the woman with a house full of filthy rodents, now felt so knowledgeable about the spending of the super-rich that I was red-penciling items like a $30,000 brooch—“not good enough!”—and cross-examining a charter-jet salesman to make sure that jaunt to the Caribbean really did cost $800,000.
Despite my reassurances, Matt and Mara were crossing the Mackinac Bridge for a few days on the Upper Peninsula, refusing to enter the cottage until the invading armies had been slain and their bodies removed. But George and I, trusting in the certified mouse exterminator we found on the internet, will get there in a few weeks, probably just as you’re reading this Platinum issue.
Welcome to the luxury lifestyle!