From the curb, 1204A appeared less like a house to me, and more like a 3D representation of the inverse of love rendered in wood and shingle. It felt like it to me, too, even from the first night I pulled up in front in the 22′ Penske. I tried to detect this same thing in other similar houses throughout the neighborhood whenever I walked past them, but none exuded the unhappiness of my hunched and peeling hovel. Maybe it’s the way that watery, dull green paint job looked by the half-light of the moon; like zombie phlegm, or the color of the filing cabinets left behind in your dead uncle’s garage apartment.
Dreams of Splitsville had sustained us both there for a while. Just getting out of the Southeast was a feat. Then it was retail therapy. My wife and I’d kept little lists of appliances and paint chips and such. (That German-made clothes iron was really going to change things.) Sometimes I’d buy something nice, but then keep it in its box, deciding it was much too fine a thing to be installed amid the leaky ceilings & cracked soffits, and serially clogged drains, and the doorknobs and switch plates hazed in hand grunge, and the fritzy wiring and the broken, fetid grout. I’d unboxed some nice bone china mugs at one point, only to cringe as I watched the neighbor from 1204B (nothing more than an aggrandized potting shed behind our place) literally slobber all over their rims during one of his ritual and protracted self-invites. He was a double PhD, and Japanese, and also a dwarf, and also weirdly passive aggressive, and snoopy, and would do irritating things like press his oily nose up against one of my old guitar amps and smell it before letting out an approving sumo grunt. And yet, for five summers we copied ‘n’ pasted our virtual signatures on the dotted line of the renewal notice, our plans remaining tightly furled on a high-up shelf, our belongings gradually morphing from treasure to encroachments. (There would be several Pompeii moments upon opening long-stowed boxes years later, rediscovering something that had been hastily packed away mid-doing with the clear intent of getting right back to it.)
We’d known that 1204A would be a downgrade from the get go, but had decided to live beneath our means for a while in order to save for a place of our own. Of course, 2008 was not the greatest time to start being a saver. To do so during a global recession felt like something on the order of sedition. After all, every bit of economic policy being drafted was designed to facilitate consumer spending and discourage saving. I’d never before lingered on the subject of economics, let alone the dynamics of the national residential real estate market. Just not my cup; but then the well was poisoned, and for a good long while, finance found its way into almost everything we drank or ate. The thesis of nearly every conversation turned to matters of housing, or speculators-vs-savers, consumerism, inflation/deflation, commodities, rentiers, (not renters misspelled — look it up ((or don’t))), lemon socialism, bailout scandals, Georgism, pump ‘n’ dump schemes, debt-to-income ratios, slumlords, down payments, taxes and how much was too much.
Today, I run from any such discussions. The decimal stuff depresses me, and I honestly, finally, do not care. Instead, I think about which of those early Pasolini films I should see, and which Billy Bean albums I still haven’t heard, and what is the best dry brush ink on the shelf, and whether the lilac bush on that one corner is in bloom yet, and absent friends, and my favorite architects, and mastering a new orchestral chord or two on the guitar, and good sculpture, and Jeffers’ Carmel, and where to find chrome-plated slotted equipment rack screws, and whatever else the hell trips my fancy.
On some of those nights toward the end, 1204A got to me so bad that I’d migrate out to the porch, no matter the weather, just so as not to be physically confined within its walls. Careful to avoid the grease spot where 1204B made his nightly kibble deposits for the strays, I’d park my tired trunk on the top step and proceed to over-think the matter of my own existence, or just play with my beloved feline, Charlotte, for an hour or so (she hated 1204A, too).
There was one night in particular; it stands out as being one of the last of the season perfectly suited to extended porch lamentations. It was late April I think, a moon so bright you could repair a watch by it, and more fireflies than you knew what to do with. A warm breeze hushed through the budding pear tree out front, sending it’s leaves shimmying and glimmering in the moonlight. I guess if a tree could be happy, this one was as giddy as a boy with a new puppy. In the distance, a halyard dinged against a flagpole, keeping time for a chorus of crickets. I probably shouldn’t mention the waves of honeysuckle or the shooting stars (two of them). A truly splendiferous night. Indeed, I suspect there must be only a handful of nights across an entire lifetime as truly Eden-like.
Meanwhile, my wife was inside asleep. She wanted to leave me. She’d told me so earlier that evening. She felt nothing for me anymore. Her words had set up franchises throughout my brain, doing some pretty ugly business with my heart along with the first few floors below before finally stopping at my guts and dwelling there like a 60 cycle hum. Every square inch of my nervous tissue had been tenderized and subsequently suffused in one after another of cheap, double fight-or-flight cocktails. Eighteen years together — since we were kids. Not to do the propagandists at the NAR any favors, but I swear that if we’d been installed in an actual home rather than slumming it in some grubby cubby down in scrubhole Texas, things very much most highly probably would not have gone to hell the way they did.
I remember that night wandering out past that happy pear tree and ripping out weeds by the fistfuls, like some green-thumbed fiend from a Robert E. Howard pulp. Fuck all these fucking thistles, man… It was probably a little after 1AM. I guess I must’ve given hell to about a good dozen or more when I heard the jingle of a dog collar from somewhere in the street behind me; there, being dragged past my curb by their spazzy whippet was a thoroughly modern couple of the shampoo/sugar/gluten-free persuasion. The kind of kids who have a ping-pong table outside the cube farm at their startup company and think it means they’re working for a really progressive outfit. Thankfully, they were too engrossed in discussing something to do with their new chicken coop to notice the sad weirdo lurking just off-screen, wielding a giant thistle still dripping milk from its taproot. They may have been the vile sort, but I did truly envy their unawares; 1204A meant nothing to them. They’d probably never even noticed it.
Composing myself, I flung the thistles up onto the roof and then crept back inside, silently making plans to drive back over to the old neighborhood once I was finally gone and go for a nice late night walk, just so I could walk right past 1204A.