Sunday, July 10, 2005

A New Home, Part I: The smell of the house-hunt

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I clearly remember a time, not so long ago, when I promised that if Hess won the right to put a liquefied natural gas terminal here, I would not be around to hear the energy corporation fat-cats decork the champagne.

"If Fall River gets that lousy LNG terminal, I'm so leaving!" I said to my wife one day. "I mean -- we're so leaving."

"Yeah!" she said.

"I won't watch everybody's property values go in the toilet! And I'm sick of polluting industries taking a crap all over this city because it's full of poor people!" I roared. "And I'm even more sick of idiots who want to whore this city out to those industries and let them abuse our natural resources! Sure -- put a landfill near the drinking water! Oh, we'd love to put your rubber factory near the tenements!"

"So true!" my wife said, coughing a little.

"Want to heave a colossal 980-foot tanker full of explosive fluid up the river, past where moms are walking their babies by the waterfront that we finally started fixing up? And then you want to dock the LNG tanker next door to some old lady whose house is now as cheap as a six-pack? Go ahead -- I live across town!"

"Preach!" my wife said.

I began laughing hysterically, then crying hysterically, then laughing hysterically again. At some point I recovered enough to pick up my Chinese food again.

"This city's rotten luck keeps repeating itself because greedy morons will never stop exploiting this city and its people! If the LNG tank comes, we'll move!" I said. "This, I vow!"

My wife nodded. "Fall River needs nice, young professional people like us to live here," she said. "But if this city lets itself stay a dumping ground for industry nobody else wants instead of courting better industries, then we should blow this taco stand."

A strange but true coincidence: On June 30, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave Hess LNG the right to build its massive import terminal on about 60 acres of land in a residential neighborhood. FERC put thousands of people in the LNG blast radius, thousands more in the radius where you'd only get second-degree burns, and made the rest subject to snarled traffic, a blighted waterfront and lousy property values.

On that same day, my wife and I closed on our first home. We began moving an hour later.

The house is in Fall River.

Yes -- that Fall River.

These things happen, I guess.


Abe Lincoln in Bristol

We lived in a fantastic apartment. It was as big as your average starter home. The landlords were wonderful people, and still are. But my wife and I entered that stage in life where we need something to own. Also, I really, really wanted to buy a meat smoker.

So we made a list.

"Where do you want to spend the next 30 years?" my wife said.

"Rome!" I said. "Remember the ice cream?"

My wife's fingers poised over the computer keys. "The commute is kind of long. Say, this place looks nice. A three-bedroom cape with a workshop and pool. It's in Bristol."

Bristol! Historic Bristol! Upscale, fabulous Bristol!

"This place is a dump," I whispered to my wife as we strolled through that house. Every inch of it was covered in some sort of country kitsch decoration like an invasive, tacky mold.

My wife could only stand to peek through her fingers. "It looks like a Christmas Tree Shop threw up in a log cabin."

"They have an Abe Lincoln thing going," Agent No. 1 said, then lowered her voice. "The sellers are motivated. They're having marriage problems, and it's getting worse every day."

"Is it over the putrid decorating?" my wife said.

In not as many words, she said yes. It was.

We went upstairs, into a flimsy addition. Between the creaking, the swaying, the cramped quarters and the old exposed wood, I felt like I'd finally realized my dream of being on a pirate ship. I dropped a pencil and watched it tumble quickly against the outside wall, then roll back.

"Got anything else?" my wife said. "We don't want a raised ranch, nothing on the far side of Bristol, and nothing too pricey."

"I'll put you on my list!" Agent No. 1 said. Later, my wife would receive daily e-mails, all of them expensive raised ranches on the far side of Bristol. They ended up in her "spam" folder.


The agony of the feet

We went to open houses in Somerset, made appointments in Warwick. We looked near and far.

"For the price of a house in Fall River, we can get a condo -- and live in the best city on the East Coast!" I said.

"New York?" my wife said.

"No, New York's for self-important phony assholes," I said. "Boston!"

So up to Jamaica Plain we went. We had a bunch of condo viewings on the same day and drove to the first one, on Heath Street, near Roxbury.

I'm wondering how to describe it. You know crackhouses? That.

"Gaaaaah!" we said.

I gestured wildly to my wife, who was at the wheel. "Drive drive drive! Go go go!"

At the next one, Agent No. 2 stood us up. We stood outside in a mist, bouncing on the porch's soft wood, while Agent No. 3 showed up with two guys.

"Where's your Realtor?" No. 3 asked us.

"I don't know," my wife said, checking her watch, "but as of six minutes ago, she's a jerk."

"It's sort of under agreement already, anyway." Then No. 3 turned to his clients. "They're taking backup offers," he told them.

We left and tried another place, by a small park in Dorchester. Real Estate Agent No. 4 took us inside another condo. It smelled like sour feet.

I nudged my wife. "It smells like--"

"I smell it, too," she said.

The interior wasn't bad -- but it was tiny and there was no place for my wife to put her office.

"Mphfm thrf phrfmh," I said.

"Excuse me?" No. 4 said.

I took my hand off my nose. "We'll let you know."

My wife and I were strolling through the park, hand in hand.

"I like the city, but I don't think we'll ever find anything nice here," my wife said.

"Even if we do, there's something to think about," I said.

I pointed. In the distance, closer than I'd realized, was Boston's huge, striped LNG tank.

"Damn," I said.

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