Saturday, April 5, 2008

Property and Stuff

So: we were going to "go condo," but we decided not to. The building was distinctive if not unique, but the price almost left the earth's atmosphere, and owning a building (but not really) with nearly 30 other people as well as having a pseudo-landlord proved too complicated for us. So we bought a house, a real solid beast that's close to where I work and energy-efficient. We're trying to reduce our carbon-footprint, as if I knew what that meant.

Owning a home is such an American ideal--for working- as well as middle-class folk. My father--a hard-rock, underground gold-miner turned carpenter and stone-mason--got his houses the old-fashioned way. He bought land with cash and built a house himself. --Sold it when I was six, bought other land further out in the sticks and built another house himself. He thereby cut out the realty middle-person and never had a mortgage. He "designed" the homes himself. Oh, my goodness. "Eccentric" and "idiosyncratic" don't quite cover it. In what he called "the rumpus room," there was a piece of exposed steel and vaguely rusted I-beam running down the middle of the ceiling. It was holding up the second floor, but it could have held up Trump towers. Why he made this architectural choice remains anybody's guess. He used to make his sons do "pull-ups" on the thing, and until I was about 10, I thought all families did this sort of thing.

No doubt my inclination to own a home was influenced by my father's attitudes as well as the over-arching, steel I-beam American ideal. I suspect I like to own a house (or own a mortgage) for three main reasons: I don't like landlords. I like peace and quiet (harder to find in a rented place, usually). And I've almost always grown a garden. I probably won't get into gardening again much, but even growing some herbs and the odd vegetable is satisfying. (And the produce I produce is indeed often odd. I grew a red potato once that was almost as big as a football. I wanted to bronze it.) Maybe an apple-tree, too. If I could get these three things (no landlord, quiet, garden) by renting, I might have never bought a house. Who knows? Also, American apartment-buildings tend to be badly constructed, whereas ones in Germany and Sweden (two countries in which I've lived) are built to last, so one is more likely to find a rented "apartmental" place there that doesn't surround you with noise and cracked walls and a kind of stucco-hell.

Having found the house, we're on the lookout for "stuff," of course. For example, we want to modify the kitchen slightly, so we went in search of granite today. We ended up at a place called "Warehouse Liquidators." When I saw the sign, I was immediately suspicious because I wondered how they managed to turn wood and metal warehouses into liquid, and I wondered why we would be interested in buying such liquid. I was going to raise my concerns to the other person in the car, but I knew she would develop a powerful counter-argument, such as "Shut up."

Once inside, I discovered the kind of "market-place" I love: no frills, no "salesmanship." They just leased a big old place, got some stuff cheap, threw it on the floor, plugged in a cash-register, and called it good. The staff there was exuberant and irreverent, and there was even a store-cat, who was probably thinking, "I have no possessions, and I have a great life; what's up with humans?"

We didn't get much "stuff" there, but the adventure was great--exploring the raggedy edge between wholesale and retail, looking at "stuff," most of it made, I suspect, by grossly underpaid workers half a globe away. I've seen a lot of bookstore-cats, but that was the first Warehouse Liquidator cat I've ever seen, so I may have to write a poem about her. We were looking at some tile, and she came over and sat on the box, as if to say, "Let me know if I can help you with your color-selection." Knowing cats, I imagine she's both on salary and commission and probably owns a piece of the operation, too.
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