House Proud

La R. and I got in under the just-slammed-shut credit window, buying a bank-owned house for far less than its assessed value. For the past two and a half months, we’ve poured every penny and then some into making said house habitable.

While the note is minimal in dollars, it still represents more than 1/3 of my monthly graduate-assistant income. If either of us becomes incapacitated/unemployed, the other can always work at McDonald’s and pay the note. Now THAT’S freedom.

La R. and I are spending every waking hour (when I’m not teaching/going to class/ doing research/writing and she’s not at one of her two jobs) investing serious sweat equity. What we can’t do ourselves, we hire out to guys who work cheap but who don’t know jack because that’s what we can afford. That, I know, is throwing good money after bad, but we’re trying to get the place livable. Now we’re down to needing ductwork and a/c (we supposedly have heat). We don’t have cable TV, but we do have DSL. We don’t have a level yard, but we do have many holes sporting impudent crabgrass. Our new crooked fence has put an end to the neighborhood short-cut, diverting teenage trespassers to the yard (and over the back fence) of the vacant house next door. I suppose that’s somewhat of a security improvement.

This weekend, it finally dawned on us that we are creating our own beautiful cave, our own place to find peace together after our insane separate days. La R. bent her arthritic, crooked back backwards and sealed the drywall on the living room ceiling. After 10 coat of Kilz, we’ve finally covered up the airbrushed daycare characters spouting Marks-a-Lot behaviorist guilt-trips (e.g., “Bugs Bunny Says, ‘Be Nice.’ ” Bugs never said any such thing!). Earth tones and slatted daylight abound where once 1970s vegetable decals in red and green played around the kitchen cornice. Compact fluorescents that put out real warm white light shine like beacons where incandescents used to glow like decrepit fireflies, if at all. I moved half of our furniture while La R. was working and cooked our first real breakfast on Sunday. Our plants are growing, the neighbors are warming up to us, and our Obama sign graces the crabgrass just around the corner from three McCain-Palin signs. My Spanish-speaking neighbors call me La Gringa Que Habla Espanol. And sometimes, the rainbow windsock flutters from one corner of the porch. Be of good cheer, friends: Where queers buy property, values go up.

But our house comes with a past.The guy who lost the house had grown up in it, gotten it from his parents, then reportedly became too ill to work. After 30-plus years, in a neighborhood where most people had lived on the same street all their lives for two generations, some faceless financial machine took away his world. In his grief, he cut almost every electrical wire in the attic and stripped all the electrical from the shed, ripped out all the ductwork, and added a little suicidal/homicidal graffiti in the dining room before the bank took it.

Our good fortune, however long awaited, still came at someone else’s expense–even if at one remove. I wonder what happened to the guy whose house this was, the guy who airbrushed moral guidance from cartoon characters in his son’s room, the guy who installed more electrical fixtures than any fire code could support, then ripped them all out again. And I wonder whether, one day, we might find ourselves in his place in another sense, in a frenzy of wire-cutting and breast-beating.

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