Sunday, July 24, 2005

A New Home, Part III: Sanding, scraping, and sealing the deal

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[In our last two episodes, we followed Dan and his wife as they found and bought a new house. In this final episode, the two new mortgage slaves dig themselves a money pit -- but one of those nice ones.]

To make a long story a little longer, one day my wife and I got together with the fantastic lady who sold us her house. And in the presence of the Almighty and the registrar of deeds, we closed on our new home.

The lawyer pushed at us a stack of papers the size of a Brooklyn phone book.

"Sign every page," he said.

"Just a sec," I said, carving my signature into a potato stamp.

After a brief tug of war over the down payment check, my wife and I, giddy with excitement, headed to the house. My wife put me down on the other side of the threshold, and we took our first look at the new place.

"I hope this place is haunted," I said.

"Me too," my wife said.

The handyman can

My whole life, I'd lived in apartments under someone else's liability. When I became a homeowner, I had to adjust to being in co-charge of everything -- and co-fixing stuff.

"Are you handy?" the nice lady who sold us her house had asked me at the closing.

After the laughter subsided, I wiped my eyes. "Oh, God. Don't do that again -- my stomach hurts."

But, overnight, it was imperative that I become at least handy enough.

This was difficult. Somehow, every little piece of the house became broken. The doors began to stick. All the window screens had holes in them, and some also had dead beetles fused to the metal. If I looked at the kitchen drawers cockeyed, they wouldn't open. I'd force them open, and then they couldn't close again. Worse, I found stuff in the walls that needed a professional touch, like electrical wires and gas pipes -- expensive stuff.

After a day or so, I developed the habit of involuntarily groaning whenever I bent over or picked anything up or sat down.

I also tapped reserves of chronic profanity I never knew I had.

"#$%*!" I yelled one day, watching toast crumbs fall on the floor. I pulled a paper towel off the roll and felt that the spindle was loose: "Blankety-blank!" Then I bent over to wipe the floor: "Unnngh."

"You OK, honey?" my wife asked. She was covered in sweat and flecks of wallpaper were tangled in her hair from remodeling our new offices.

I pointed at the floor. "It's [expletives deleted] and [expletives deleted] I can't [expletives deleted] a [expletives deleted]." I leaned over to toss the paper towel in the garbage. "Unnngh."

"There's more crumbs over there," she said.

Mow better blues

And then the dreams started.

They were all identical, and I had them every night. They left me with a strange feeling I couldn't shake, no matter how hard I tried.

One evening, my wife caught me picking listlessly at my dinner, then flinging gobs of it on the floor and mashing it into the wood with my bare fists.

"There's something wrong," my wife said, her arms streaked with blue, green and white paint. "Don't try hide it from me."

"I keep having these recurring dreams," I said. "In them, I'm mowing the grass."

A very long, very quiet time passed. We both felt a slight quivering motion that could only be the turning of the earth on its axis.

"And?" my wife said.

"That's it."

My wife cracked her knuckles. She lives for dream analysis. "I'd say you're experiencing acute anxiety over taking on the new burdens of being a homeowner. Your subconscious is literally mowing your overgrown post-adolescence into the neatly trimmed plateau of adulthood."

I was staring out the window, my lower lip quivering. "I never had grass before. I'm Portuguese -- we pave that over, except for the kale garden." I had a spate of chronic profanity for a few minutes, then said, "I see dead grass."

Then, I had other dreams. In them, I was pulling crabgrass. I was spackling holes. Most bafflingly, I was not replacing light switches -- in my dream, I was on the Internet, looking up how to replace light switches.

For a two-week stretch, I literally went to Home Depot or Lowe's or Job Lot every single day. One day, I went to all three, just to catch up with the guys.

My wife and I were resting one day, on the floor, slick with sweat and stoned on latex paint fumes.

"Unnngh," I said as my legs twitched reflexively.

"Good -- you're getting up," she said. "I need something from Job Lot."

I scream, you scream

At the end of our third week, my wife and I realized we hadn't seen each other in days. I'd been working seven days a week, and she'd been painting and stripping wallpaper nonstop. And what was the point of having a house if I couldn't see my wife?

"Let's get [expletives deleted] ice cream," I said.

We drove to Somerset Creamery and sat under a tree.

"You like the house?" I asked.

"I do, but it's nice to leave it once in a while," she said. "Do you?"

"[Expletives deleted]," I said.

My wife held up her poor hands, twisted into claws. "I can't move my fingers -- it's from holding the wallpaper scraper and the paint roller. It feels like I have arthritis."

"My hip hurts," I said. "I nicked it with the weed-whacker."

Suddenly, the streetlights came on overhead.

"I think our house is haunted," my wife said. "By old people."

"And they're taking possession of our young bodies," I said, picking up a fallen napkin. "Unnngh."

We let that sink in slowly for a while, then went to the car and sat there in silence.

My wife let out a roaring six-second belch. She glanced quickly over at the next car, where a couple not much younger than us was eating cones on what looked obviously like an early date.

"Uh-oh," she said. "You think they heard me?"

"I think Connecticut heard you," I said. "Who cares? It's a story they can tell their grandchildren."

And then we went home again.

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