I finally gave in to the national mental illness and started thinking about buying a house. I don't know why: I had been living happily in a slum apartment complex for years and I didn't have any pressing need to live like a human being. I guess I just longed to get into a thirty year debt with a mortgage company that is staffed entirely by people who don't cast a shadow.
My father was very excited about this news. In his mind, a man isn't truly heterosexual until he owns a house. He called right away to share some of his years of wisdom with me from his jail cell in Cleveland. It had been a while since Dad and I had a real conversation. The last time we spoke on the phone he asked, So, how's college going? Great!, I said in the most enthusiastic tone I could muster. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I graduated from college a decade earlier.
Dad had all kinds of useful advice for me when it came to real estate. He told me not to use a realtor in my search for life-long debt. Instead, he recommended that I find an elderly widow who is easily confused and offer her a fraction of the market value of her house.
Following Dad's instructions, I checked out the obituaries to see whether or not there were any real estate deals brewing. It seemed like a sleazy way to operate, though. I felt like I was one step away from buying an orphanage and forcing the kids out into the cold on Christmas morning. I'm not cruel enough to do that kind of thing. I am more likely to wait until the day after Christmas to force orphans out into the cold.
So, I gave up on the obituaries and began searching the real estate listings. I didn't realize what a piece of white trash I was until I saw the kind of homes that were available in my price range. For some reason, they were all decorated with cement lawn jockeys and tractor tires. I knew I was going to have to work hard to keep up with the fast-paced red neck lifestyle if I was going to survive in any of those neighborhoods.
If I bought a house there I would have had very little money left over to fill the front yard with wrecked cars and abandoned toys. Seriously, it would have taken me years to get a competitive amount of garbage strewn across my lawn. In the meantime, I would be the laughing stock of every toothless bumpkin on the block. Hell, I didn't even own a sleepy old hound dog named Mavis.
One day, I looked at a house that was located near my apartment complex. Before I saw it, the realtor told me that it was a beautifully decorated doll house. It was my first taste of real estate jargon. As it turns out, a doll house is a dilapidated shack, a fixer upper is a condemned building and a motivated seller is a guy who is trying to sell a house completely submurged in pond sludge.
I checked out the doll house. The border in the living room was a row of giant pineapples and the dining room was decorated with a tragic pig theme. Several of the walls in the house were slathered with shiny pink paint and inflicted with the kind of decorations that you can only find in the flaming bowels of Hell (or, possibly, on the Home Shopper's Club).
I could have re-painted and re-decorated the place easily enough but there were other problems. The siding was sloughing off like a layer of dead skin and the furnace looked like an artifact from the Cro-Magnon era. The only thing about the place that reminded me of a doll house was its size: The rooms were just big enough to house a small gathering of dwarves.
I was also concerned about the family photos that littered every room of the house. Many of them reminded me of the before photos from a plastic surgery demonstration. This caused me to suspect that the family was actually part of a secret government program that required them to store nuclear waste in their basement. It was no wonder they were in such a hurry to sell the house, those tricky mutants!
The realtor was an extremely rude, gruff man who I hated immediately. His business card included a photograph. In it, he was wearing a white suit and a big cowboy hat that was tilted at a jaunty angle. He kept rolling his eyes and scolding me whenever he talked about the real estate business. I was about to make the biggest investment in my life; the last person I needed at the helm was a suburban cowboy with an anger problem.
Over the next couple of months, I went from one house to another, listening to friendly lies from realtors in snazzy blazers. People say the nicest things when they are trying to take thousands and thousands of dollars from you. I wish I could afford to have people treat me like that all the time.
Over time, I learned most of the tricks of the real estate business. I found, for example, that if you drive around and look at houses shortly before Easter you will get a good sense of how annoying the neighbors are. If you find yourself surrounded by large, inflatable bunnies and trees that are decorated with colorful plastic eggs, lock your doors and speed away. I guarantee that if you linger in that kind of neighborhood for any length of time the locals will run up to your car and try to invite you to a Tupperware party or a father-and-son breakfast at the Lion's Club Lodge. Trust me, you can't live in a place like that unless you actually want to spend the rest of your life hosting Cub Scout meetings and fondue parties for the local yokels.
Here is another real estate trick: When a person sells a house he is legally required to inform all potential buyers of any murders that have occurred on the property. This drives the price down because, for some reason, people are freaked out by murder. Go figure!
If you want to turn someone else's personal tragedy into fabulous savings for yourself, call a real estate office and ask them for a list of all the murder houses in the county. It's that easy! For those of you who aren't comfortable dealing with real estate agencies, I advise you to go out and buy a police scanner. When a call comes in for a homicide, rush to the house and check it out. If you get there quickly enough you can get a good look at the place before the police put up that annoying crime scene tape.
There was only one murder house available when I was looking at real estate. A guy stabbed his girlfriend during a drug binge and she wandered around the house for several hours - coked out of her brains - until she bled to death. Her boyfriend rolled her in a rug and carried her out to his car. Once he was in the driveway, though, he realized that he was too high to fit her into the trunk. Alert neighbors saw this desperate act and called a real estate office right away.
Coke-heads are good for the real estate business. They always own a lot of flashy stuff and they are in the habit of being murdered and imprisoned. Unfortunately, this particular couple lived in an area that was inconvenient for me and I had to pass on their house. It's a shame. I bet they had a nice stereo and television that would have been included with the deal...
After a few months of touring tarpaper shacks and engaging in inept haggling sessions with real estate shysters, I found a house that I wanted. It was in a really great neighborhood where the streets were lined with big old trees and where most of the houses were nicely maintained. The previous owner could have sold the place for a lot more money if he took the time to fix it up but he was in a hurry to sell. He said something about the house being built on a sacred Indian burial site.
* Find a yahoo with a nice house in need of renovation and offer a fraction of the market value for it. * Spend the following year like a prisoner in a forced labor camp, doing a major overhaul of the house. * Buy a lot of power tools and spend a lot of time in the emergency room as a result of said power tools. * Live in luxury and exhaustion while you wait for your injuries to heal.
* Spend a lot of time yelling Hey you kids!!!! Get off my lawn!!!
* Accumulate worthless trinkets until you are too old to schlep up and down the stairs. * Sell the house at a fraction of the market value to a pompous idiot who keeps calling you a Yahoo.
* Move to a cheesy condo in Florida and wait for the sweet, sweet relief that death can bring.
I'm in step three of this process right now. As a result, the house looks like a bombed-out building. There is plaster dust everywhere and most of the rooms are in one stage of deconstruction or another. Ironically, I would have been in safer and cleaner surroundings if I had stayed in the slum apartment complex.
I am still living out of boxes because most of the house is uninhabitable at the moment. Once things are fixed up a little better I'm going to have to spray the cats down with Endust and chase them around the house to get the place clean.
I've become really boring since I bought the house. I keep finding myself giving long monologues about drywall, plumbing, and paint to perfect strangers. People cross the street to avoid me now. They don't want to hear me ramble on about the trials and tribulations of floor sanding or the joys of epoxy-based wood filling. I don't get it.
The only people who will talk to me now are other suckers who bought houses in my neighborhood and they keep giving me really bad advice like Don't worry about shutting off the electricity when you work with those wires, they have safety features that are supposed to keep your from getting shocked and No, that isn't a load-bearing wall. Go ahead and knock it down!
If things continue this way I'll probably have to write the rest of my articles by poking at my computer keyboard with a stick or by communicating them to nurses through an elaborate series of blinks and grunts.
© 2003 - Zozo