Outta My Yard


By Elizabeth Peavey
By Elizabeth Peavey

Dawn of the Dread

You know how in horror movies there’s that moment of pastoral calm near the end – replete with soothing Muzak – when, for some reason, you think everything’s going to be OK; that the stupid girl who went waltzing into the cellar all by herself without a braid of garlic around her neck, let alone a flashlight, was somehow going to get off scot-free, like she deserved it or something? And how there’s always that scene when the drowned person in the bathtub surges back to life, or the monster’s severed head gets reattached, or Joe Soley returns to Portland with orange hair, and resumes the havoc-wrecking with refreshed resolve?

Well, I felt that kind of pastoral calm when we finally found our house and made our offer. “It’s over,” I (may have) sobbed in John’s arms. “It’s over.” Of course, that moment lasted just about as long as it took me to wipe my nose and yank mySoft Hits of the ‘70s tape out of the eight-track player. What followed – the period between finding and moving into our house – was nothing short of a creature double feature.

John and I were transformed – not into the undead, but into the unmortgaged – straddling the netherworld between renting and owning. Life became a limbo-esque blur. There was the offer. There was the inspection. There was the vertiginous learning curve: Mold is the new asbestos; 60-amp, knob-and-tube wiring is a very bad thing; a furnace is not a furnace, it’s a burner and boiler, and if either or both is about to croak, that is also a very bad thing. Assist 2 Sell is not a program for low-income, first-time buyers (which I thought it was when we first started looking), but rather a business that (sort of) represents your house for a flat fee, saving you the realtor’s commission when you sell. It is only one step up from a FSBO – pronounced “fizz-beau” – a For Sale By Owner, which means you don’t see the need to pay no one nuthin’, because house buying and selling is so easy. (Right. And that may explain why our broker, Rita, had not been able to pry my hand out of hers since we said we wanted the house.)

During all this, I passed the time by flaunting my new knowledge. “This house we’re buying? It has knob-and-tube wiring,” I’d say, rolling my eyes, to anyone who would listen. “Can you imagine?” I would boast about our hemlock beams and the house’s “good bones.” I would educate people on the many types of asbestos and how it really has gotten a bum rap, since only three types are carcinogenic. (Not that I was going to start licking any old furnace – er, boiler – casings to prove the point, mind you.)

Being obnoxious gave me something to do while Rita went to work on our behalf, and I waited for things to happen. We had adjusted our offer after the inspection, which meant batting thousands of dollars back and forth. We wanted a break in price to help replace the furnace and the wiring. The seller refused to pay Rita’s commission but pressed his crappy snowblower on us. He wouldn’t include the washer-dryer in the purchase price, but he would kick in the haunted kitchen appliances (more on that to come), including the cootie-cage-on-casters dishwasher. The negotiations were numbing. (I actually recall saying to Rita during one phone call, “We don’t want to let a couple grand throw the deal,” while I fingered a coupon for 50 cents off a four-pack of Duracell batteries.) But, at long last, on January 7, 2004, we officially agreed on a contract with the seller. 

Grab the hanky and cue the Dusty Springfield, right? Ho ho ho, think again, real estate weenie. While you wait for the interminable month to pass before the closing, why not dip your toe in your next ring of hell: Finding an Electrician.

See, in order to close on the house, we needed to have insurance, and in order to have insurance, we had to have a contract with an electrician promising to have that nasty knob-and-tube replaced by the first week of occupancy. And in order to accomplish that, we had to actually locate, pin down and talk to an electrician, a creature – it turns out – that is as elusive and sought-after as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. (This is ornithological humor; call Audubon if you don’t get it.) 

Find an electrician. Sounds easy, right? Well, I don’t know if I offended Ben Franklin in a past life, but I must’ve done something to tick off the wiring gods, because out of the 10 (count ‘em, 10) electricians we called, only two phoned back. And one of the two just called to laugh at the thousands of dollars we were waving at him and say, “No thanks.” Mind you, these were not names we pulled from the Yellow Pages. We had contacts. These were electricians that friends and business associated had used. We had credibility. An A-plus credit rating. And you know what? They didn’t care. 

I turned to my eldest brother for solace, a brother who owns a nationally respected (we’re talking This Old House kind of respect) kitchen-design and cabinet-making company, a grown-up brother who has a long history with home renovation and who, I thought, would have the secret of the electricians’ universe – the code, the handshake – that he could, in older brotherly fashion, bestow upon his kid sister, who had finally settled down, found a house, and could host a holiday meal for a change. Instead, he patiently listened to my gripes, thoughtfully crossed his arms, looked at me, laughed out loud and said: “Wait ’til you try to find a plumber.”

We eventually did find an electrician and got our contract signed. Rita cleared up all the wrinkles and sorted out the money stuff with the seller (we’d buy the washer, he’d take the snowblower, we’d pay Rita, he’d cover some of the electric). When our closing day came, everything seemed to be in order, except one thing….

The moment I crossed the threshold to do the walkthrough before the signing, I expected that rush of houselove I had felt on the initial visit to overtake me. Instead, I looked around at the house that was about to become John’s and my first real home together, and my mind screamed, “What the hell were you thinking? You’re not really going to buy this dump, are you?”

Just like in the movies, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and not a clove of garlic in sight.

Elizabeth Peavey is not entirely sure where all these horror movie themes are coming from, but she’s swearing off anchovy pizza before bed just for good measure.