BUSHNELL — In an economic recession such as the one Florida is experiencing, it helps to be good at a lot of things, just in case. Vince Denimarck's job skills include drafting, design, carpentry, wiring, plumbing, laying tile, hanging paper and roofing. He knows how to build stone fences and is proud of his Italian cooking.
"My hobby is making a living,'' he says. "I can survive any crisis. I'm not afraid of anything.''
He once operated a beauty parlor and a limousine service. He is comfortable on horseback and can drive a forklift. He writes love songs and has an exceptional singing voice. He acted in high school and wonders if there might be a place for him in the movies. He writes romantic poetry to his girlfriend, Linda Elliott.
He knows how to catch the wild hogs that tear up his pasture and gladly shares his recipe for sausage. He has a license to carry a concealed weapon and allows that he might possess a talent for marksmanship. He has a license to fly small airplanes and helicopters.
He is 55 but still hasn't figured out his destiny.
"I'm going to do something big,'' he says, in his dramatic way. "Come along with me.''
So we do. In a Sumter County barn, watched by patient horses and suspicious geese, Florida's Renaissance man is building outhouses.
A while back, when Denimarck and his girlfriend attended a horse show in Ocala, he noticed an outhouse next to a barn. It was a nice outhouse, but not a great one. It looked historic, which was good, but smelled historic, which wasn't.
Seeing this gave him an idea. And when he gets an idea he is going to pursue it, even if it involves toilets.
He started building outhouses. Now he offers a basic, single-hole model, with super ventilation, for $1,195 — and he throws in the crescent moon for free.
His deluxe outhouses feature running water, a sink, a flush toilet, an electrical outlet, a place to hang your hat. He designs, he builds, he sells, he delivers, he installs, he connects the whole kit and caboodle to your septic tank or pipes.
His most expensive model, the Imperial Potty Shed, which comes with a shower, carries a $3,295 price tag.
"It may sound expensive,'' he says, "but it's cheaper than adding a bathroom to your house. My motto is put a potty shed where you need it.''
• • •
Vince Denimarck is a throwback to an earlier time in Florida, to a time when folks had to be self-reliant, or they'd perish or go broke. Now most of us are specialists, good at one thing, but lost if we have to do something else, like unclog a toilet.
He grew up in Long Island with a hammer in hand. His dad and uncle, who built homes, were his mentors. His tongue, however, was even faster than his hammer, and he was the guy his gruff bosses sent to talk to customers.
"Well, you know me, right?'' he says in his New Yawk accent. ''I liked the construction trade, but I'm also a little eccentric, out of left field, and I get tired of the old and I want to try something new. I ended up at hairdressing school because I wanted to go from sawdust to hair spray. Well, the owner, he asks if there's anyone in class who is handy enough to build him a barbershop next door. Of course I raise my hand. While I was building the barbershop next door they gave me credit for the classes I missed.''
His customers didn't seem to notice.
"I liked hair and I liked to talk to clients. I liked to listen even more. Hey! I was a psychiatrist for my lady customers, you know what I mean. I think I have an understanding of women. I understand that you can never tell them no.''
He was married. He apparently used the word "no,'' because they later divorced. In 1997 he moved from New York to Tarpon Springs and started a business called Handy Man Plus. He built lots of stuff, installed many a ceiling fan. One customer needed him to empty her big trash bin. He did that, too. She was bewitched. Now she is his companion.
He wrote Linda a poem recently, Princess of Splendor.
She has awakened from afar
I drift along a rainbow
to caress the morning warmth of her lips.
They have 17 acres near the Withlacoochee River. They have four horses, three dogs, one cat and a duck named Matilda. They have two watch-geese, Jeffrey and Hillary, which recently ran off a coyote that showed up looking for dinner. Just to make her displeasure crystal clear, Linda grabbed her gun and fired a volley above the retreating coyote's head.
She and Vince often see deer, turkeys and hogs. Owls hoot and frogs croak. Linda always checks the outhouse toilet for frogs before sitting, a practice that isn't mentioned in their outhouse promotional materials. When Linda arrives back in the living room after a hair-raising frog experience, she often discovers that Vince has a new brainstorm to share. She says, "What? Again?''
He does not enjoy reading; his mind races ahead. He does not attend movies because he has his own story to tell. He has auditioned for movie parts as a screen double in Orlando. No jobs yet, but he hasn't given up. He is working on a new look.
He is wiry and dark complected with a Kirk Douglas dimple in his chin. He often wears black — black jeans, black shirt and a black cowboy hat to cover his freshly dyed black hair. He's got a Johnny Cash thing going until he opens his mouth and that King of Queens accent spills out.
• • •
When the economy was good, and he was the toast of the home-show circuit, he was cranking out the outhouses, maybe one a week, for rural folks, ranchers or business people who bought them for daily use, for novelty, to function as billboards on roadsides. Now, during the recession, with Florida citizens counting their pennies, outhouses merely trickle out of his workshop.
The down time has given him leisure to explore what he calls "my passion for living.''
About a year ago, he and Linda headed for the Moose Lodge at Lake Panasoffkee for an evening's entertainment. There was a karaoke contest. The man who can do anything was suddenly self-conscious about his voice, but the nice people at the Moose Lodge coaxed him into trying.
He performed Oh, Pretty Woman, a song by the late glass-shattering Roy Orbison. He won $100.
Now he is preparing to take his act on the road, in hopes of winning a few bucks at other karaoke contests. He has honed his Tom Jones, his Engelbert Humperdinck, his Kenny Chesney. Friends tell him they prefer his Keeper of the Stars over the original version by Tracy Byrd.
"You know, you can't sit around waiting for life to happen. Am I right or wrong? I mean, I have to do something in the evening, right? Why not karaoke?''
He sings in the shower. He sings behind the wheel of his pickup. When he's in the barn, hammering outhouses together, he tests his pipes. The geese, who usually express their irritation by hissing, shut up and listen.
Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8727.