Thursday, January 28, 2010

I made a mistake. I knew better, and I went ahead and did it anyway. Now I’m suffering the consequences.

The story starts long ago, and if you want the whole real story, go read Eli Evans’ magnificent book, “The Lonely Days were Sundays”, because that was indeed the origin of the underlying problem.

Evans writes about the problem of Sundays where he grew up in North Carolina, but the issues he identified – boredom, loneliness, feeling of isolation -- were oddly similar to those I experience in North Dakota. Sunday as a day by itself was deadly – and worse yet, it was coupled with the threat of school the next day. I developed a system for distracting myself from Sundays. In North Dakota, it involved stacks of books I’d purposely save for that day. I'd spend the day holed up in my room, reading.

When I got to San Francisco, Sundays had become quite tolerable. I’d walk out by the Bay, talk to some of the Italian fishermen angling off the coastline. Or I’d go shopping at Cost Plus, the original store, where stuff from all over the world was simply offered, still in the packing boxes and shipping crates, at ridiculously low prices even a starving student could afford. Or I’d go walking in one of the City’s neighborhoods I wasn’t familiar with. I found a lot of delights – especially in the Mission District. I love that part of the City.

Then came Sacramento. When the kids were little, the days -- all of them -- were too busy to have time to fret about Sundays. But once they had become more or less independent, with friends and activities of their own, I was back to my original problem: what to do on long and frequently dismal Sundays.

Because San Francisco offered so many diversions, I took to driving the two hours back to Baghdad by the Bay and enjoying the day there, just as I had when I lived there. Sometimes the kids came along, sometimes they didn’t. The dogs always did, but with the kids or without, the dogs and I had a fine old time in San Francisco again, Sunday or not. We’d do pretty much the same things I used to do when I lived there – Cost Plus had turned into a regular store with regular prices, so that wasn’t much fun anymore. But sometimes we’d go to the beaches, watch the kite flyers in the Marina, go shopping downtown looking for bargains, or head out to the Friends of the San Francisco Library book sale places. There were always lots of interesting places to go in San Francisco.

No matter what we chose to do with the day, driving-home time came right at about 5:00 pm. And because Sunday was Sunday, there wasn’t much of interest on the radio, either, to fill up the two hour trip home. This was well before the advent of books on tape, although it was right about then that I started to lie, telling the ‘books for the blind’ people that I was blind so I could get books on tape – read (sometimes massacred) by amateurs. That’s where my addiction to audio books started, actually. Those long drives home from San Francisco on Sundays.

Before that, though, I was limited to whatever was on the radio for diversion. Then, as now, I suspect, the radio programs on Sundays exemplified Newton Minnow’s “vast wasteland” every bit as perfectly as TV. There were no political talk radio shows, the kind of thing I loved. All that existed were a handful of ‘self-help’ programming thick enough to make you gag.

The one tolerable show that came on late on Sunday afternoon was a real estate program hosted by Bruce Williams. People would call in with their housing and real estate questions, and he’d give advice – most of it relatively interesting.

Insofar as housing was concerned, Bruce Williams had a mantra that he drilled into the heads of his listeners: “Never fall in love with something that can’t love you back.” In other words, keep in mind that a house is just a house. It’s a place to live. Don’t invest too much emotional energy in it – it can’t love you back.

Good advice. I should have been paying attention and remembering that during the last 18 months, because I did the dirty: I committed the cardinal violation of the Bruce Williams Law. I fell in love with the house I was renting, hoping to buy.

So last Friday morning, one week ago, I was stunned to get a call from someone I didn’t know: “Hi”, the man began. “We’re the new owners of your house. We’re wondering if we could come over and take some measurements – and by the way, when do you think you’ll be able to move?”

Good grief.

My problem was two-fold: first was the obvious problem of finding a new place to live, in a city where the real estate market is so hot an awful lot of other renters are also out pounding the pavement, trying to find a new place – any place – to live, their homes having been sold out from under them, too.

But second -- and far worse -- was that I’d fallen in love with this house.

It’s stupid, I know that. The house is small, old, and nothing at all to look at. It’s just that for me, as a single person with dogs and birds, it’s perfect. It’s the right size, in the perfect location, with neighbors I both enjoy and appreciate. Right after moving in, I started to realize how much I loved this place. I know now I should have acted sooner to do what I could to buy it myself – but who knew?

Anyway. I’ve spent the last week going through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief – which applies just as well to emotional devastation as it does to physical death, by the way.

At first, I denied it: Surely there was a mistake. They didn’t really sell the place, did they?

Second, I was angry – unreasonably so, with no actual grounds. The truth is, I have a valid lease until June. The owner – or owners, because they are five adults, in their 40’s and 50’s who inherited the place -- understandably want to sell now while the market is so hot. Rationally, I don’t blame them at all, and they’re being very generous about my actual moving time – but, I was angry. No question about it.

Third, I tried bargaining: Surely we could work this out. Could I outbid the new owners? It didn’t take long for that stage to pass – the new owners loved the place as much as I did, and had considerably more money. That wasn’t going to work.

Then depression set in. Woe is me. How can I ever leave this wonderful place? Depression, by the way, includes panic attacks, especially those that bloom best sometime after midnight. What will become of me?

Now, a week later, I’ve moved into acceptance – or almost, anyway. I’ve turned the corner from ‘what a disaster’ to thinking of this as an adventure. The possibility exists that I will find something I like even better – why not? That’s perfectly possible. (And this time – trust me! I will buy something if I like it. This moving business is no longer fun.)

So here I am: I violated a rule I knew to be true: I fell in love with a house that couldn’t love me back. Dumb, dumb, dumb, but I did it anyway. Now I’m looking for some other place to live – and this time, I will be far more philosophical.

A house is, after all, just a place to live. Whatever I find will be just fine – it’s just going to take some time.

Shabbat shalom, everyone! (And on Sunday? I’m going to Jerusalem! Now there’s a sure cure for the blues!)

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