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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

I’m Fixing A Hole Where The Intertunnel Gets In

I fear I must go back to the beginning.

It wasn’t my intention. I started writing about fixing the foundation I keep under my money pit in western Maine, because that’s what I did this summer, but one thing led to another, and people got interested in the birth of the baby, even though I was trying to talk about junior high school, as it were. The public is demanding the bathwater, too.

I’m familiar with one thing leading to another. After all, I have two children. House purchases and babies often happen under the same kinds of circumstances. Bad lighting, slightly inebriated, running up tabs you really can’t afford, being shown strange people’s bedrooms, that sort of thing. Well, if it wasn’t for bad judgment, I’d have no judgment at all, so why should a house be any different? We were supposed to live in Turner.

Turner’s over an hour closer to, well, everything. We’d gone on Zillow and Google Earth and MLS night after night, looking for the cheapest nearly habitable place we could find. We thought we found it in Turner. I talked a few times with the realtor, and they were as helpful as realtors usually are: not helpful. They couldn’t answer any important questions for me, because realtors don’t know anything important about the properties they sell. Well, that’s not entirely true. They often know very important things about the properties they sell. Those are invariably the things they’re hiding from you, hoping to entice you into standing in the decrepit shack they’re listing while they perform their Svengali perorations about its potential. Weave a tapestry of possibilities in the air that’ll have you frisking yourself in no time, looking for your checkbook before that handyman that’s interested in the property snatches it from under your nose.

Oh, I know that handyman. That guy gets around. I never learned his name, but he seemed to be interested in every property I was interested in Maine. No matter where I went — Turner, Cornish, Peru, Livermore Falls, Norway, Rumford…

Anyway, that polymath handyman with the lead foot and the nose for diamonds in the rough was always one step ahead of us, ready to stuff our defeat into the jaws of his victory. He was very interested in Turner, I hear.

I had one request for the realtor on the phone, and by email, and then by the phone again, and by email some more, unrequited. Go to the house. Stand outside. Take four photos: North, South, East, and West. Show them to me. That’s it. I’d researched the house to a fare-thee-well already, knew every owner it had ever had, what the taxes were. Hell, I even had the septic plan for it on my desk. Just take the the pictures, willya?

Well, that realtor must have been the most notable realtor since the Algonquin Century16 office did that handshake deal with the Dutch. She was always too busy to travel the 5,000 yards from her office to the house and take the pictures. My, how busy some people get.

We drove the four hours to get there on a weekend. We had an appointment with the realtor at 10:00 AM, which I gather is considered 3AM on Christmas in realtor time. We decided to go early and drive by the house alone first. It was a three-bedroom, end entry, Greek Revival farmhouse, with an attached ell and a barn attached to that. It looked like Dresden, 1945, but nearer a fire hydrant. And about fifteen feet from one side of it was another house, which appeared as if someone with the decorating chops of Ed Gein owned it, but rented it out. On the front porch, which was really just some crumbling concrete steps, was a man that looked like he had just cooked and eaten his entire family, and was still hungry. He was smoking a cigarette, standing outside in the snow — in his socks.

My wife told me to keep driving, because my wife likes to tell me to do things I’m already doing. It’s like a hobby with her.

We kept driving, following signs to one strange place after another, until we found the house we live in now, with a For Sale sign standing drunkenly on the lawn. We stopped and stood on the Queen Anne porch, and peered in the windows. The house looked like it had been picked up six inches and dropped. It had been decorated by someone that didn’t like their customer, or human beings in general, very much. There was ice — not frost; ice — on the inside of the windows. We were looking as best we could into a triptych of windows in a bay, under a sort of turret, and my wife said, “That’s where our Christmas tree will go.”

The rest was conversation. We bought the house that winter, snatching it from under the very nose of that handyman, the dastard, but the For Sale sign stayed out front until June, because it was frozen solid into the ground. Now I’m the only thing that stands drunkenly on the lawn, and that’s the way we like it.

(to be continued)


11 Responses

  1. You have talent, perseverance and a great family so I guess any four walls or even three would make for a great home in your case.

  2. I'm so glad you mentioned the part about your wife and the Christmas Tree. I don't think for a moment that she chose the house because it had a sweet spot for the Tree, but I do believe that she, like me, has never looked at a potential living space without immediately sizing up where the Tree would go.

    I've done this with every house I've ever considered. I've never rejected a house because it didn't have a perfect spot for the Tree, but it always figured largely in my consideration. It's a small happiness that can't be quantified.

  3. My wife told me to keep driving, because my wife likes to tell me to do things I'm already doing. It's like a hobby with her.

    [Spit take] Your wife and my wife trained under the same master.

  4. Oh boy… we purchased our first house (a chicken coup that had been coverted to a plumber's workshop that had been converted to a house) because my pregnant wife walked in and spotted the arched entryway from the kitchen to the… whatever they heck that space was supposed to be.

    What a dump. we were in the middle of crazy real-estate boom when houses (low end ones anyway, I have no idea what any other segment of the market was up to) were entering the market in the morning and being bid up and sold by noon.

    She loved that arch. I wanted the pain to end. Little did I know it was just beginning. Came close to falling off the roof fixing that. Nearly electrocuted myself putting in a new water heater. Got fit splitting wood to keep the "living room warm" (failed to notice the hot water heat didn't extend to that room).

    My blood pressure goes through the roof every time that f'in archway comes to mind.

    We had a devil of a time finding a buyer six years later until finally, no kidding, a pregnant woman walked through the front door (well, it wassn't really a front door but it was the closest thing to one the house had) and said, "Oh! I love that archway!"

    The poor husband had the same "Who gives a rat's ass about an archway?!?!" look I must have sported those six+ years before. "Isn't it lovely!" I replied.

    Thank goodness for pregnant women.

  5. "That's where the christmas tree will go"

    That's what I heard, and it was the cue to me that any criticism of the property would be unwelcome, as it would distract my wife from her important business of working out possibilities.

    Resigned to the fact that I would be negotiating a price on the house before us, I left my wife and the realtor to work out possibilities. I returned to the car and retrieved the camera. I was determined to do as thorough house inspection as I could get away with, and document everything along the way. I ran out of space on the memory card only moments before we were shoed away to the next appointment, which I knew to be superfluous.

    Later I overheard her saying to a friend. "It's a lovely house. Douglas2 got some pictures. Wait a moment while I get the camera and I'll show you!"

    She dashed in and I tried to raise a protest, but was hushed because she was on a mission and not to be interrupted.

    I'm not sure what the friend thought about my 237 photos of code-violations, mold, rodent-scat, outlets with signs of arcing, ceilings and walls with signs of water, doors askew in doorframes, cracked single pane and fogged double-pane glass, subsidence, 60A electrical service, and a topography that encouraged all of the neighborhood's water to pass through the basement. The photos did not please my wife.

  6. My wife picked out a house after looking at an awful lot of them over at least a six month spell. It was catercorner from the house we were living in (and could not afford to buy). Since my wife is both smarter and dumber than I, I said yes dear and started looking it over.

    Except I merely looked at the utility costs from the last three people to live there and decided that there was no way.

    Wonderful lady decided I must know what I was talking about (two chances, fat and slim) and kept on looking while the people who got the bid tried to come up with a way to finance it. When they could not get a loan my wife convinced me to go look at it in a little bit more detail.

    Holes in the walls? Poor insulation? No way to isolate water lines? Leaking roof? Odd layout? Yes it had everything and more needed to keep the price down. It was less than a third of the price of the almost next door house we were living in. Quite a bit bigger too. In the crawl space I spotted why there were flowers trying to put out buds two inches away from the foundation outside the house. January in Wyoming at that.

    We bought the house. Yes it took quite a bit of work. The bank accepted our bid and allowed me to start working on the house while waiting for the paperwork to come through. Paid for the materials as well. Did I mention that the bank had eaten the loan three times before? The bank was motivated. There were some questions about how much and how long it would take for the house to be livable. The bank offered to kick in 1500 for more materials.

    I got no vacation that year, which was fine because I had a five year darling daughter to help get me through the tough stuff. I know a five and three year old is not much help but they sure can make a mans heart smile even as my language was sometimes to colorful about the help. Following year we did take a vacation because that was about the only way to keep the grandparents involved. It was a low cost, no frills vacation but my family is neat and my in laws are wonderful.

    About the time we were most of the way out of the woods over living costs we realized we had an awful smart daughter in the fifth grade and had not been saving for college, but that's an entirely different story, and I don't want to abuse this neat blog I have found.

  7. As one of them "real estate ladies", I can assure you that we are indeed very busy. See, we like to keep busy thinking ahead. That way we don't do anything right now.

  8. The first six houses that we bought, I let my wife choose. I told her how much we could spend, and left the rest to her. I didn't care what it looked like, where it was, or anything else about it. It was just a place that I slept in a couple of nights a week and visited a couple of weekends a month. The rest of the time I was gadding about making a living, since I had no real skillset and so had to work as a manager.

    This last one, I took intense interest in. I intend to live here until I die, so it now mattered. I discovered a new, deeper respect for my wife, having spent all that time dealing with realtors. I prefer to deal with a more respectable class of salespeople, like used car salesmen and such.

  9. When my wife and I trekked around the SW Chicago Suburbs dealing with realtor after realtor we brought along our secret weapon: her father. Who was a union carpenter who had been working on houses and such for 40 years. After a while it got to where I could just introduce him to the realtor. If her face fell like a brick we didn't even need to walk into the house.

    When we walked into the house we finally bought he nosed around and said "I can work on this place." That was the seal of approval.

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