Love for sale
While I knew signing on with Rita signaled a new chapter in John’s and my house hunting, I had no idea that chapter would be contained in a volume entitled, “The Biggest, Fattest, Longest, Smelliest, Most Grueling Book You’ll Ever Have To Read.” Although we had watched our friends buy houses and had even peeked in at a couple ourselves, we weren’t prepared for what it was going to take to find our own. House hunting – like child rearing, post-graduate education, crafting and nuclear physics — was fine for other, duller people, but held no interest for me.
That is, until we began our search in earnest.
Rita had a system: She would e-mail me a listing, and I would decide whether or not it merited a drive-by. (Expressions such as “drive-by” — like so much real estate jargon — were delicious to me. I always hoped to run into someone whilst en route, so I could say: “Can’t chat. Have to go do a couple drive-bys.”) Because John has a real job and couldn’t drop what he was doing and pop up to Gray in the middle of the day like I could, I did this initial check on my own. I then had to determine whether or not it merited a Rita viewing. If so, I would then call her, she would make an appointment and we would either rendezvous or she would pick me up in her brand-new silver BMW and squire me there. At that point, I would have to decide if the house merited a John viewing. If it did, we would then have to schedule yet another appointment in the evening or over the weekend, and the three of us would trundle there together. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds – especially since it gave me license to goof off when I should’ve been working – except for the emotional roller coaster part.
I do not think I am being overly dramatic. Each time a new listing showed up in my in-box, my heart leapt. “Is this The One? Could this be The One?” If the photo was even mildly promising, the optimistic voice in the back of my head shrieked, “Yes! Yes, this is The One!” So I’d jump into my car and, with my ragged DelormeGazetteer folded in half on my lap, race to a neighborhood and street I heretofore did not know existed in the Greater Portland area, trying to keep the balloon of hope aloft. “Oh, this isn’t too bad,” I’d incant, “Not too bad. It’s OK” — until I arrived at the address, and the reason that great Colonial or cute cottage was in our price range would grow more apparent. Railroad tracks. Oil tanks. Busy intersection. No parking. Above-ground pool. In-ground pool. Highway overpass. Day care center. Christmas decorations in August. Rabid dog kennel. Land fill. Crack house. The arsonist/rapist/pedophile next door.
OK, so perhaps I exaggerate. But not much. I grew to know which neighborhoods and side streets in which areas were not for us. Many were perfectly fine, fine for people with kids. I looked at a house on one street with a portable basketball hoop at the end of every driveway. Every driveway. All I could imagine was thatthunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, boinnnggggg, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk all day long and how it would drive me into the street screaming for these kids to get inside and watch TV and play video games and eat junk food like the rest of their peers. And then, of course, I would get the neighborhood rap as Old Lady Peavey in the Old Peavey Place, and no one would come trick-or-treating to our house on Halloween or caroling at Christmas, but it wouldn’t matter because by then I would’ve turned into one of those people who shuts out her lights on holidays anyway. No, a kid-friendly neighborhood was not for us.
But very early on in the process — before I got into the rhythm of Rita’s system, way before she stopped referring to John as “your husband” and started calling me “Hon,” and way way before we started having some near misses — it occurred to me that finding a house is a lot like finding love. (OK, so I don’t know any more about finding love than I do about Lamaze or transformations among subatomic particles, but when has that stifled my opining?)
After all, wasn’t viewing the listings Rita sent, with their promise of possibility, no different than online dating? Isn’t scanning the real estate section no different than combing the personal ads? The lies are the same — the conveniently angled photos that crop out the fire station or beer gut. And the encoded language? How “cozy” means cramped and “cuddly” means corpulent? And how about prowling the streets and back roads for “for sale” signs? Is that not unlike the bar scene, searching the crowd for that cute or handsome face that says, “Yes, maybe me”? And don’t the same questions come up as when you’re doing this cruising: “Is it solid? Is it stable? Is it worth the cost? Will it last? Is there mold in the dark places or bats in the belfry?” And isn’t the initial viewing like a blind date? How all trembly and expectant you feel as that door swings open for the first time? And if you’re of sound mind, how you will instantly home in on the gold chains and missing teeth or sagging roof and flooded basement, but how – if you’re desperate – how readily willing you are to overlook the obvious flaws? “Nothing a little bridge work or sump pump can’t spruce up. Nosiree.”
And it’s at this point you are so very fortunate that you are actually looking at houses and not dating, because you can bring your spouse along and cast him as the heavy, the one who is not willing to overlook and who does not want to continue this relationship. So you get to shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, I loved it, but I guess he wants to be able to stand up upstairs.” And then you can roll your eyes and whisper to the owner or agent who is watching her sale go down the drain, “I guess I should marry shorter next time.” And the minute you’re out the door, you can insist that your unwilling yet belovedly tall husband who is of sound mind rush you back home, so you can shower the gack off from that cootie shack and grab your head in your hands and cry “What was I thinking?”
OK, I may be pushing the point, but you have to understand, even though this was still relatively early in the process, I was already starting to lose my bearings, my wits, my sense, my nerves.
Just like falling in love.
Elizabeth Peavey will be the featured speaker at the Portland Public Library’s Brown Bag Lecture series on Wed., Jan. 11. No downpayment required.