Thursday, November 5, 2009

Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

It was our first apartment together.  We toured all the available apartments in the tiny Midwestern college town where we met and fell in love.  We decided on this one for the following reasons:
  • It was the cheapest, or close to it.
  • The airy, open space between the living and bed room (there was nary a door to be found anywhere in the place) suggested a possible history of french doors, old, wavy glass, and a hint of glamour.
  • The sun filtered in through the living room windows like a daily promise of happiness, delivered right to your home.
  • It was on the upper floor of a brick building overlooking the main street of the tiny town (which was kind of an apartment archetype I had always dreamed of), and we had access to the roof, which was unsophisticated but great for parties. 
Our landlord failed to mention that the building was in some early stage of condemnation.  We were aware that no one else lived in the building, besides a friend, her cat, and an artist who used an empty apartment as a studio.  And some teenagers had been breaking into one the of the empty neighboring units to party and start small fires.  For whatever reason, this failed to faze us.  As did the filthiness of the four room apartment.  Until move-in day, when we brought it up to our landlord.  He promised to take care of it and then sent his seven month pregnant wife toting a bucket full of cleaning supplies, a toddler, and a preschooler.  We sent her home.  Then we filled buckets with bleach water and began to scrub, undaunted, and buoyed by talk of the apartment's potential.  When we moved out a year later and the landlord gave us our check for the security deposit (which, frankly, we had earned back in sheer hours spent performing manual labor) he said:  Hey, you might not want to cash this until next week.  At least until Friday.


It was the month before our wedding.  We had been living with my parents for the summer, having just moved from the west coast back to the east for our wedding, and then choosing to remain in my hometown because we were broke, and apartments there are cheaper than anywhere else in the First World.  We toured a series of apartments, beautiful places with freshly painted walls, and relatively new appliances.  The place we finally chose?  Had a chair nailed into the floor by two legs.  Two legs stood suspended in air, the seat at an angle.  The previous occupant had some issues.  He had also nailed random nails into the wall and woodwork, especially into the old, oak, beautiful woodwork.  Just here and there and everywhere, no apparent form or function in mind.  Like I said, they told us he had some issues.  When we walked out the door I said to my husband-to-be:  That one had a lot of potential, don't you think?  Oh yeah, he replied.  It did have a lot of potential.


When we moved into the gritty, northeastern city we were pretty sure we would make our permanent home, we looked at apartments in all corners of the city, in so many neighborhoods we could scarcely remember where we'd been and what we'd seen by the end.  Well, I could scarcely remember.  SuperSpouse, to this day, will toss out a casual:  Hey, 'member when we looked at that place?  As we pass completely unfamiliar buildings, homes and complexes while driving through the city running errands.  No!  I always answer.  We looked at that place?

But the place where we finally moved was a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification.  It was full of old Victorians, some abandoned, some abused, some restored, and some grasping at the vestiges of their dignity by a thin coat of paint.  Can you guess which kind we inhabited?  The detail on the woodwork was exquisite, buried though it was in a coat of khaki.  We tried not to think too hard about the seemingly homeless dude who offered to sell us a whip for our ride out in front of the house, or the Rottweiler across the fence from our front door, on a chain in a small yard, with no grass.  The apartment had huge windows, a nice big bathroom, and loads of potential.


At various points in our relationship I would say to my husband:  The next place we live will be NEW!  The walls and the corners will be straight.  It will be clean when we get there.  Things won't roll away when you place them on the floor.  He would always vigorously murmur his assent, or maybe even mutter: Seriously!  Or: Oh, I know!  For real, this time!  If he was seriously, for real, frustrated with whatever mishap was costing us extensive extra effort, time or annoyance most recently.


The first time we toured the house we ended up buying I kept repeating: this is fascinating, this is fascinating, as I walked from room to room.  The vast majority of the house was covered in a thick gray layer of dust, and dominated by model trains, parts, paraphernalia, and information.

At one point the guy from the real estate agency murmured aloud, as if in a trance, "I used to think my dad was too into model trains.  Now I see that he didn't really care about them.  At all.  Sorry, Dad."

I think he said it as we walked into the basement, which housed, among a wide variety of scenes, a model train set piece re-enactment of a Chicago fire from the early 20th century, and another of an earthquake in San Fransisco.

Now, people are getting serious about their model trains when they are re-enacting real, historical events with small plastic pieces.  It seems like we might have some shit to process here, as a culture, or something, does it not?

But I'm getting off track.

The model trains were so distracting that it wasn't until after we left that we started to say to each other:  Hey, did that place seem like maybe it had potential?

I was three weeks pregnant when we put in an offer on the house, the only house (out of many) we looked at that specified that it was being sold AS IS on the listing, and was described as "a diamond in the rough".  We finally closed and moved in with an eight week old.  It was filthiest place we've ever moved into, in part because it sat unoccupied for eight months, a symbol of the start of the housing bubble burst, an impending foreclosure that no one knew how to shepherd through to a short sale, while I sat gestating, and waiting.

We had no kitchen sink and only a thin trickle of hot water from a bathtub sprouting mold for weeks after arriving, and I packed up the baby daily, and drove across town to our old apartment so we could bathe and do laundry.  We scrubbed our home on our hands and knees while our eight-week-old son sat in his bouncy chair and babbled happily at the light from the big bay windows in the living room.  We are still scrubbing on our hands and knees, and we have a long way to go.

But this place has so much potential.

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