Home-Selling in a Sh#tty Market

Start by being negative. In a down market, you can’t be negative enough. Extrapolate the worst case to the furthest extreme you can’t even imagine and try to imagine it. Bring your fears up in conversation with your husband and talk about it when there’s a space in normal conversation. Send him emails about bad news in the housing market. Not too many – don’t make it predictable. Send other things, too.

Talk about things you would do if you had money. Talk about bills and how hard it is to enjoy life with a stinking huge mortgage. Ask hypothetical questions like, “If you didn’t have to give all your money to the mortgage company, what would you do with it?” Don’t proceed until your husband is thinking at least as negatively as you are.

“You think we could rent it out?” he’ll say. “We might be able to make a little money and live somewhere else cheaper.”

“Do the math,” you say. “Figure out how much we’re losing every month. That’s assuming you can even get a renter. I can swing a dead cat and hit four rentals just on this street.”

“Oh,” he’ll say, blindsided by your calculations. You’ve worked everything out in so many different ways he won’t want to look at the details. You’re buried in details and none of them are positive. If they worked at all, you wouldn’t want to sell, either. You’re just trying to live in reality.

Have him talk to the realtor. Pick the most aggressive one you know, the one you have been talking to for months, discussing the market and the numbers. The one who keeps telling you it’s pretty rotten out there, but you should do okay. The one who says, “I might have a buyer for you already.” He’s probably lying, but you need hope in these situations. Any hope, even imaginary hope, helps you face reality.

Once your husband talks to the realtor, if he’s a good realtor, your husband will say, “I think we should sell.”

“You really think so?”

If it’s your idea alone, you’ll be easy to blame. But you’re on the same team so you want the best for both of you. You can see reality a little clearer since it’s you who does the bills and the budget and the shopping. You know how hard it is to stretch the money to the end of the month. Since you’re a team, you need to act like a team player.

“Tell me why you think we should sell.”

When the realtor comes over to sign the listing agreement, make sure your husband asks all the questions he wants about whatever it is that concerns him. He might have some good questions, even if he’s already discussed these questions with you and you’ve already answered them exactly the same way as the realtor. That’s called reinforcement. Almost nobody comprehends something completely on the first go-round.

Remember that the realtor wants to get paid, so he’s also on your side. He’ll know more than both of you because this is his job. If you listen to what he says, even if you don’t like what you hear, you can make better decisions. You can understand which decisions are better.

Start to worry when you only get one showing in two weeks. Ask your husband what he thinks you both should do.

“The only thing we can do,” he says, “is lower the price. We can’t change the location and we can’t add another bedroom. Let’s lower it.”

Let him call the realtor to do so.

The realtor will say, “There are many reasons why lowering the price to under $250,000 is a good idea. Buyers search in $25,000 increments, so now you’re under a big one. I’ll bring the paperwork over tonight.”

When your husband calls the realtor again, and then again, asking to continue lowering the price, the realtor might say something like, “Now you’re just panicking.”

Don’t let the realtor sway either of you. You and you husband both bought into the idea of selling your home. If it isn’t sold, you have to do whatever it takes to get there. Even if whatever it takes is bringing a check to closing.

“Do we really have to bring a check to closing?” your husband says. “Why aren’t we renting it out? I think we should rent it out.”

Before this happens, make sure your husband has pictured you both in a new place, a place where you don’t have this elephantine mortgage hanging over your head. It’s a nice place and it’s closer to friends and family and everything he likes. It doesn’t rain as much there and he hates the rain. It’s a happy place because you both will have enough money to do something besides pay HOAs and eat oatmeal.

Don’t talk too much about the equity you’ve lost or the financial gift you’re giving the new buyer, if you ever get someone to become the new buyer. Instead, send another email or two about the housing market. Do some more calculations and write them down. Leave them out to show him when he doesn’t have time to look. It isn’t fun to sell in a down market so don’t make it more painful than necessary. The more you think about it, the worse it gets. Little reminders work much better than big depressing reality-check family meetings. Tell yourself, “Good things await you in your future” and other fortune-cookie-type platitudes.

Keep cleaning your home obsessively while you’re praying for an offer, no matter how low. There’s a point where everything you love about this place becomes everything you hate. The more you clean for showings, the faster you’ll get to that point. Besides, there’s nothing else you can do to influence the sale now.

“There’s an offer,” the realtor calls and says. “You want to know how much?”

He’d better tell you because if he tells your husband, your husband will not be happy. Your husband may not take the reality of the market as well as you will. You don’t swear at people in traffic so you’re better able to get the stab in the eye first-hand.

“$215,000,” he says. “It’s $15,000 below asking, but in this market that’s considered close. It’s a good offer.”

Think about it for a while, using your logical brain. Stay far, far away from your emotional brain. In fact, unplug that thing for a while. Put it in a moving box and tape it up. You won’t want to use it during this whole move or you’ll be sad about all the memories you have here and all you’re leaving behind. You could really regret just about everything right about now. Minimize regret.

“Think about what we should counter at,” you tell the realtor. “We should counter, right?”

“Sure,” he says.

Don’t get emotional. Don’t get emotional. Even when your husband gets emotional, since there’s no law he has to be logical if he doesn’t want to, don’t you go and get emotional.

“I think I want to rent this place out,” he says.

“If that were a good solution,” you say, faking calmness and almost convincing yourself, “we would have done that in the first place.”

“How much will we have to bring to close?”

“Less than ten thousand, I think. I don’t know for sure.”

“Where’s that coming from?”

“Let’s let the realtor do his job, okay?” You both don’t have to come to an agreement all at once. Even if you lose one night of sleep, it’s only one night. Getting emotional, getting angry, does a lot of damage and we need this team to be strong. Who knows what else is in store for your team in the future.

“Okay,” he says. He says a lot of other things but since they’re emotional, you’d do best to let them keep on going past your ears and out the window.

The realtor meets you for your signature on the counter offer. “Don’t get greedy,” he says. “You’ll lose the buyer.”

You sign all the papers. No, you don’t want to be greedy. You let the realtor do his job.

“Don’t start celebrating,” the realtor calls and says later, “but I think it’s sold.”

You call to tell your husband. While the phone’s ringing you remind yourself you’re on the same team. You have to face reality and it’d be nice not to face it alone.

Remind yourself if he needs to process this particular reality, he’s free to do so. If he needs to vent a little and share with you some of his more interesting, most private emotions, remember the good of the team. Anyone can get stressed selling a home in a sh#tty market, cash advancing the credit cards to give the buyer a gift at closing, ending up with negative nothing.

Show some team spirit and enjoy the last part of this game. There are so many more teams endlessly stuck in this game without a prayer of moving on.

It’s your time to be positive now.


Saying Goodbye to the Best Dog in the World for the Second Time

“The apartment managers are leaving,” my dad says. “If you want to take their job, you can move to San Francisco.”

“Yes,” we said. “We’ll do it.” We didn’t ask another question. A decade of appeals finally paid off. Don’t let anyone tell you dreams aren’t realized by humbled and repeated begging and pleading.

We’ve been trying to leave Portland for so long that our friends ignore us when we tell them our latest plans for escape. Nothing comes through, not the job in Hawaii nor the one in D.C. Eight months of the year we wake up angry that we’re still here. That’s how many months it rains if you hadn’t noticed. Some people who live here don’t notice but they usually came from somewhere like Phoenix or Las Vegas. Their weather sensitivity faculties must have malfunctioned by living in a place like that. They seem so happy to live here in the gray, wet, moldy, allergy-producing, ex-rainforest.

We made the best of it here. We raised our kids, had jobs and friends, and got a dog. You’re supposed to get a dog when you’re settled, just like you are supposed to have kids once you’ve done your world traveling. There’s only so much root-pulling you can do to another living thing. But how were we to know we’d be moving four times in the last four years?

At least dogs don’t have to change schools. Unfortunately, they have to change owners if we want this job. My dad’s apartment doesn’t allow dogs. After more whining and begging, I came to the grown-up conclusion that it was either the job or the dog. After even more whining and begging, this time to God, I came to the conclusion we had to find a home for the dog. We couldn’t say no to the opportunity to live near family and out of the rain. God wasn’t bending on this one, so I saved my prayers and tried hard not to get mad at my dad or at God. That didn’t seem like a good course of action in the long run either way.

My cousin and her little family came through town during this time so we met them for breakfast. Ariana greeted me with a little stuffed bulldog she’d saved from her Happy Meal. “This is for you,” she said. “See, it looks exactly like Lulu, with a patch over her eye and everything.”

Who isn’t touched by a gift from a six year-old, particularly when it’s a gift like this? I never gave away Happy Meal toys, or any toys, particularly to a relative, as a kid. It’s difficult to share things you love when you can’t control yourself any better than a six year-old.

I had to share my kids when their dad and I divorced. Charlie and I didn’t have a house big enough for them to stay in, and every night they were away was like living without the use of your legs, paralyzed without a wheelchair. I can whip up a good panic attack just thinking about that time. Sharing still sucks.

Lulu was probably bored to death sitting in our little condo in her crate, waiting for us to return home. When we were home, we’d walk her but she couldn’t walk too far. Mostly she sat around watching us sitting around. Without kids or a yard, the only excitement in her life was the nights when she got to catch the popcorn pieces I tossed toward her while watching Groomer Has It.

My cousin’s daughter insisted we go back to our condo after breakfast so she could say hi to Lulu. Lulu’s our bulldog. She loves little kids and she loves Ariana. Several years ago, when Ariana was just a toddler, the rest of us were all on the couches watching the Super Bowl. Ariana and Lulu were both lying on their tummies, their legs spread out the same way, nose to nose, having a great time keeping each other entertained under the table.

If my cousin couldn’t adopt Lulu, I wasn’t moving to San Francisco. I told God that and everything. I didn’t tell my cousin that, though. No pressure.

My cousin and Ariana were delighted to adopt Lulu. I wasn’t sure how Ariana’s older brothers would feel about adopting Lulu as they’ve been around her when she was a puppy with digestive problems. She was an adorable puppy but even adorable puppies are hard to be around when they’re barfing all the time. She’d get excited after eating and she’d barf. I won’t elaborate on what puppies do after they barf, as I don’t want to admit the best dog in the world did something disgusting. The boys, though, said they were excited to have a dog again and I’m sure they’ll be good about not getting Lulu too excited, particularly after she’s eaten. I’m sure they still remember the consequences, too.

Today we stopped by for a visit, the first visit since she moved to my cousin’s home. Lulu has been to my cousin’s before her big move, so I knew she’d be happy there. She liked running around all the space, looking at the lake in their backyard, watching all the birds fly by and pretending to be serious while barking at them, like she’s some working hunting dog. Even the neighbors stopped by to see her when she visited, just to say hi. She had her own fan club even before she was adopted. All this made it easier to tell myself she’s better off. I’d even be better off at my cousin’s house, with the lake and the birds and the space, so Lulu’s certainly better off. Who wants to stay inside, sitting around while watching someone sit around?

When I first saw Lulu, she wouldn’t stop licking my hand. She grabbed my wrist with her mouth and kept licking me, she was so excited. It’s been six weeks since I saw her and I’d hoped she’d be so happy here she wouldn’t remember me. I try not to cry when I see her pictures, which is all the time at my condo, but I wanted her to be so happy with my cousin that she forgot all about me. She’s excited to see everyone, I told myself as she kept licking me. I used to be afraid she’d be stolen, she loves everyone so much. All you’d have to do is pet her and she’d follow you anywhere.

While we were eating lunch with my cousin’s family, Lulu sat right under my chair. She sat next to me when we were in the kitchen cleaning up, and while we watched Bolt with Ariana. We couldn’t hear the TV in our little condo when she’d snore, she had so much reverberation going. Here, in my cousin’s bigger, better house, it wasn’t disruptive at all. You could watch TV without the sound at 50 and you could hear everything over the snoring. The boys were doing things, my cousin was doing things, we were watching TV and Lulu was snoring. She filled out the ambient noise of a happy family’s house.

It’s time to go. I have to hide in the bathroom and talk myself out of the crying I’m trying not to do. Is there anything that sucks more than having to do grown-up things you don’t want to do AND not be able to have a big hissy fit in the process? When you’re six and you can’t have your way, having a temper tantrum seems to make all the difference. You can deal with anything after a good pounding scream. When you’re an adult you have to do yoga or count to ten. It’s hard enough to be an adult without having someone overpower you and help you stop. God’s busy with Iraq and more important things, so I don’t want to waste His time over something so insignificant, but I do. Otherwise I’d be in the bathroom all night. Inside I’m still six, I’m afraid.

I come out, act my age, and see Lulu standing by the door like she has to go out. I open the door and she runs right to my car. She thinks she’s going home. If I hadn’t been in the bathroom for an extended period preparing for this, I’d be full of tears right now. Or having a fit of some kind.

“Ariana,” I say. “Is it time to feed Lulu?”

Ariana has the job of picking up Lulu’s poop and feeding her. That’s more responsibility than I could handle at 12. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little but she seems more responsible than me even five years ago. It’s clear she loves Lulu if she’s picking up her poop. That’s a lot of love.

Ariana calls Lulu for dinner and that’s when Charlie and I run out to the car and take off. As we’re waving to my cousin and the boys, I see Lulu’s head peek through their legs at the door. She looks up, watches us leave, then turns around to finish her food.

I could have an epic hissy fit right about now if I were six.

Battle Ground

“Who would drive down this road, see all this and think, ‘Yup, sign me up: I want to live here?’”

I’m the former Realtor but Charlie thinks he learned a few things while putting up my Open House signs. I think he learned a fear of farms long before I passed the Realtor exam.

“It’s like ‘Children of the Corn,’” he says.

We’re two married people, having a conversation in the car while completely lost. We’re on our way to visit his stepdaughter’s house in Battle Ground.

“That house right there?” he says, pointing, “it’s like the house Forrest Gump and his girlfriend threw rocks at, remember that? The girlfriend’s house where her dad abused her? It’s like a bunch of houses like that out here. Why would she live here?”

“She doesn’t live here,” I say. “She lives in Battle Ground.”

“Battle Ground? What kind of battle did they have there? Who would battle over this?”

“Lewis and Clark went through here,” I say. “Maybe the battle was an argument they had. You know how history exaggerates things.”

“Yeah, probably they were arguing about the fastest way to go home. Wasn’t this asphalt blacker a while back? The further we go, the more worn out it looks. Everything’s getting older the further out we go. I hope I’m not getting older.”

“You sound older,” I say. “You’re starting to sound like your dad.”

“I’m turning around,” Charlie says. “It’s like a cult would be here. I’m afraid I’m going to see people in robes wielding knives any minute.”

There’s a bend in the road with a small dirt driveway peeking out from overgrown roadside brush. He pulls in to turn around but he doesn’t slow down more than necessary. He’s quiet like he’s thinking about what other movies might have been filmed here.

“You’re going to have to help me not be negative,” he says.

You? I’m the negative one in this situation. After five minutes around this adult daughter of his ex’s, things come out of my mouth that sound like bad dialog from a Lifetime TV movie. I don’t know who I am around her she unnerves me so much. It’s like I’m back in high school and she’s one of those tough girls who relentlessly picked on me. It’s a lot of work.

Charlie asked her years ago when she was still a teenager why she didn’t like me. She said I was too nice. Stepfamilies are hard and she’s step twice removed. That makes her extra hard. Or me extra nice, as I like to tell myself.

“You don’t have to mention these rows of broken-down old school buses along the roadway,” I say. “Do people live in those, do you think?”

Charlie looks away from the road toward the school buses. There’s a little paint-less house next to them, with a little old man inside sitting. He’s blue as is the room he’s sitting in, from the glow of the TV. He looks back at the road and accelerates.

“This isn’t the highway,” I say. “We’re supposed to be on 502.”

“Do you remember seeing this row of old RVs?”

“I don’t know. Everything looks different now that it’s getting dark.”

“I’m driving faster before I see people coming after us with chain saws.”

We stop talking for a moment. That’s what happens when you start compounding the fear of being lost with the fear of the dark.

A counselor once told us, “There isn’t a problem communication won’t solve.” When you’re driving together in a car, lost, there isn’t much you can say that doesn’t sound like a problem. We haven’t been in an argument while lost for a long time. Either we’re learning to communicate or we’re learning how to be lost.

Actually we’ve learned very well how to be lost. I think it’s something we’re really good at, being that neither one of us can turn around and remember what we just drove by five minutes before.

“Why would she live here?” Charlie says. “Is she in the witness protection program, trying to escape something? There are no normal people within twenty miles of here.”

“There’s no Starbucks, is what you mean.”

“My point exactly. Who lives this far away from civilization? What do you do all day?”


“How do you live out here? I’m serious. How do you get through the day?”

As if to answer Charlie’s question, there’s some sort of art farm coming by on my side of the road. They’re huge sculptures made of used, rusty, recycled-type parts. It’s hard to see exactly what the artist intended with these effigies, except perhaps to say that the dump was just too far away to bother.

“Who wants to look at that?” Charlie says. “That shit’s just crazy.”

I’m trying to think of something nice to say.

“They let people out of the state hospital for a week to build that stuff,” Charlie says.

I used to take the opposing side when Charlie criticized anyone’s honorable attempt at creativity. Looking at these rusty monuments to rural recycling, I don’t know how I could bend my mind like that back then.

We used to get into arguments back then, driving lost. We used to have battles over stupid things like turning left. One benefit of knowing someone well is that you’re comfortable with uncomfortable silences. You’re not forcing the conversation, like you’re on a date. You’re not trying to project a certain image or trying to act like some ideal you have in your head.

I think some people get married just so they can stop dating. It’s hard to be an actor for an extended period of time. I don’t think most of us are very good at it. Sooner or later we burp loudly and laugh, and then we have to make a decision on whether to go back to acting or not. Acting a certain way isn’t easy for anyone for any length of time.

It’s been a long time since we acted for each other, although Charlie still doesn’t fart in front of me. That’s for another reason entirely. Charlie would fart and laugh at himself all day if he could.

He started our relationship holding back this bodily function, acting like he doesn’t fart. He must continue to hold back or he can be accused of creating a false impression. I’ve created a few false impressions of my own, like acting like I enjoy riding on the back of his motorcycle which I do until he goes past fifty-five on the freeway. Then I have to act not scared or I can be accused of creating a false impression, too. Some acting in a relationship is necessary, no matter how comfortable you are in the presence of your partner.

The asphalt starts to look a little blacker and newer. The road seems to be straighter, too. There still isn’t a road sign anywhere and even if there were, it’d be hard to read now that it’s dark. I think we’re close to where we made the wrong turn.

“There’s nobody out here,” Charlie says. “There’s no one to make fun of. You can’t make fun of people living in shacks, with three broken-down school buses lining their property.”

I could be oppositional and make a good argument for his ability to do exactly that, but I don’t. It seems like too much work. When did taking the opposing view seem like too much effort?

Maybe not bothering will make me not as nice, too, at least through dinner. I don’t give it another thought.


Saving String

<-- Incognito Tightwad

Don't you just love a good tightwad? They're those relatives that when you go over to their house for dinner, you find yourself peeking around and exploring when they're not looking. There's a drawer full of coupons, rubber bands and twisty-ties, another one full of spices and tea (organized alphabetically, it appears), and another one that doesn't open but if you pull it a little bit you can see a ball of string.

String? Where does anyone even find string? When's the last time you saw a ball of string? What would you do with string if you had any?

I asked one of my most tightwad relatives what he used string for and he said, "I don't know." He didn't act like it was a bad thing to have it, just in case. Is this relative a tightwad or a hoarder? Tightwads are good and they share; you're always coming home with something you didn't know you needed, like a basket with bunny decorations. Hoarders, on the other hand, are on Dr. Phil.

Tightwads have one thing in common: they're obsessed with money. They are. Listen to their conversations; that's all they talk about. They could be obsessed with living life without thinking about money, because they have so much but they don't brag about that.

They brag about how much they saved driving across town, to get gas. They brag about how many coupons they used when they spent all afternoon shopping at three or ten stores. They show you the $1 chairs they found at a garage sale they happened upon in the bad part of town. Who needs a balanced life when you are on an endless quest to pick up cheap chairs? You're only as good as your last steal of a deal.

Prove me wrong, but I have this idea that tightwads aren't poor at all. My relatives certainly aren't. I think they wouldn't be poor even if they weren't tightwads, because they are good people with good jobs who don't get divorced and have to pay alimony, and because they never, ever sell low or buy high. They are already better than the rest of us; they don't even have to brag about their cheap chairs.

They don't know this, though. They love to share their tricks to their success, even if they don't realize that all the driving across town for cheap gas doesn't balance out the costs of divorce or selling in a bad market. You can't tell them, though, because they don't have this experience. They're too stable to go through crap like that.

If you dare complain about not having enough money to a tightwad, you'll get suggestions. Here's a list of suggestions I recently received, along with my justifications and comments that I wish I could say outloud to my tightwad relatives. They wouldn't listen, though. They're right: they have more money. And more cheap-ass chairs.

1. Reuse fabric softener sheets.

Great suggestion except I've never once bought fabric softener sheets. If I had money for things like that, I'd have money enough to use hot water when I do the laundry.

2. Use newspapers for cleaning windows.

You got rich by buying newspapers?

3. Reuse rubber bands, envelopes and paper clips.

There you go with the rubber bands again. You know you're a tightwad if you get just a little thrill when you see a rubber band. You're a big tightwad if you have a drawer full and you're still picking them up off the sidewalk. If you have more than ten, stop!

My relatives, when further elaborating on the envelope reuse, tell me this is how you reuse envelopes: "Carefully pull off the address stickers and add your own, or cross out their addresses and replace with yours."

Since I can't remember the last time I used an envelope, I guess I hadn't noticed how precious they'd become. Otherwise, why are you going to all this trouble? Can't you buy a box of them for like, a dollar? That is, if you need one? And, being a tightwad, couldn't you make your own, like with an old piece of paper?

Next time I'm shopping, I'm picking up a box of cheap-ass envelopes, paper clips, and maybe I'll spring for a box of rubber bands, too, if I can find a place that actually sells them. For just a few dollars, I'll be prepared the next time I need a great housewarming gift for my favorite tightwad relative. After complaining about what a spendthrift I am, they'll love me forever. They really will.

4. Save bread crumbs for meat loaf.

You can afford meat? If I had the guts to retort back, I'd say, "I haven't bought meat for months. You can just skip that whole food group and save enough money for a couple of lattes at Peet's."

If you're a tightwad, you probably had a heart attack at the thought of going to Peet's. Sorry.

5. Use old socks for cleaning rags.

If you saw my husband's old socks, you'd put rubber gloves on to throw them into the trash. He buys socks about once every decade and wears them only on special occasions (like a snowstorm). Since I'm washing them in cold water to save about $3 on my electricity bill, they wouldn't clean much anyway.

6. Save old Tupperware to store soap, cotton balls, or lotions.

If you're such a tightwad, what are you doing with "old" Tupperware? If it's still usable, why aren't you using it? And you buy cotton balls and you call yourself a tightwad? You can't make them out of old newspapers or socks?

7. When you're down to your last ounce of body spray, add water and use this as a room spray.

Why do you need to spray a room when there's a perfectly good window to open? If you need body spray, maybe what you really need is a good shower. Maybe somebody would tell you this but we're all scared of giving you suggestions. You might tell us we're going to die broke because we can't wean ourselves off of basic cable. Please don't tell me how to use an antenna again, please.

8. Use old cookie cutters for Christmas tree decorations.

Why not be a true tightwad and say, "Bah! Humbug!" to a tree. You can make one with old grass clippings, saved from your summer lawn and spray-painted green, right?

9. Save Halloween candy in the freezer. Use for decorating the gingerbread house.

This seems like a lot of work when you can eat the Halloween candy for dinner. You'll save time shopping, cooking, doing dishes, and much of anything else afterward too, as you'll be groaning on the couch with a stomach ache.

10. Make new pickles by putting sliced cucumbers into the old pickle juice jar.

Oh that's why things taste weird at your house!




Peet's . . . Peet's . . . Peet's



Does everyone consider at some time or another that they might be going a little psycho? Not psycho like living with your dead mother, stabbing someone in the shower crazy psycho, but psycho like catching yourself thinking, "is this normal?"

I had a friend who admitted he thought he was inches away from crazy on a regular basis. He was successful, good-looking, funny. He didn't admit this to me until I knew him well. I wish I could remember the conversation leading up to this admission. I would have it more often.

Turns out my friend wasn't inches away from crazy; he just wasn't happy in his job or his marriage. He changed both and moved away, and took his fears along with him, if he still had them. He never did talk to me about this again. I wonder if he was just trying to make conversation or if he truly thought he was on the edge. And why me? Did he tell everyone this? Did I look on the edge of crazy? Did he think I was standing there on the crazy-ledge with him?

I wish he hadn't said this because now I check my sanity on a routine basis. Am I sounding crazy? Am I pushing the people around me a little too much, like a crazy person would? If I heard what I'm saying, would I get tired of myself and call in a professional?

I'm all self-absorbed today because that's what happens when you have to face an unpleasant reality, right?

I'm trying to face the consequences of my reality and stay sane at the same time. If I can do it without being dramatic and not pushing the people around me too much, I'll respect myself in the morning. Mornings are hard enough when it comes to self-respect, the way I eat when I'm stressed. If there's chocolate cake in the house, there isn't for long. I've got a long list of justifications and morning is a lot further away than the refrigerator.

I guess reality started when I quit being a realtor (no regrets there) and applied to grad school for the fourth time. I figured we had enough money to carry me through and I needed to do something else, something I regretted not completing before. I had all the support anyone would want from husband and kids, but as usual, not my parents.

Nothing new there. "You're too old," one said. "Why waste your money?" "Why write?" the other one said. "You're wasting your artistic talent." Now I remember why I have a useless Art degree, which I've never used nor had an interest in using. No matter how old you get, you never stop wanting your parents' approval. There are worse things to work through.

I applied to grad school. Then my husband's colleague and boss were blown up by a bomb. Couldn't have predicted that, so I forgive myself. Couldn't have predicted that the hubby wants out, now, and couldn't have predicted that my dad would give us an opportunity to get out, now. We've been hinting for a decade to manage his apartment in San Francisco if the current manager ever left. She left. We're in, beginning this month.

Everything's great - the best school in the country for my program accepted me. It's low-residency so I don't have to live nearby. I can move, live low-rent, help my dad, live across the street from Golden Gate park and near extremely-missed family. This is hubby's dream almost more than mine.

We put the condo on the market hoping if we price it ridiculously low, we'll sell. We call the realtor, frantically, reducing the price more and more every few weeks. Now we'll have the priviledge of paying someone to buy it. What a crazy market. If I were realistic, I might have been able to forsee this. I didn't and even though, being an ex-realtor I know better, I'm taking it personally. We're going to have to borrow to sell. Borrowing for school, too, doesn't make sense anymore.

It turns out you can't just leave a job where 2/3 of the top administrators are either dead or in extreme pain and trying to recover. Hubby has to stay for a while. He can't quit anyway, because we couldn't pay the mortgage if he did. We'll be living in two different states until the boss can get his one remaining leg to heal. At least he's alive and getting better. One dumbass bomber killed two people, injured one, destroyed a bank, freaked everyone out, and way down the line, made it so I won't be going to graduate school.

We did nothing for Easter for the first time ever. As you can see by the photo, the hubby had his face lasered. Don't grow up in Florida with fair skin and a boat without sunscreen, or you'll spend days looking like this after the doctor has to burn so much of it off, it smokes. He says it doesn't hurt but I feel pain every time I look at him, and so does everybody else, judging by the looks on their faces. We hide out at home and it felt lonely until my brother-in-law called to say hubby's mom had a stroke. We need to go spend time with her before she's gone. Oh my God - of course.

The realtor sends feedback from the latest showing, good remarks as usual but not what the buyer was looking for. Reality hit, for some reason, with this email; it's gonna take more money and time than I expect to pay someone to buy the condo.

While reality was hitting, my Dad calls. "You ought to reconsider this student loan expense," he says. "You do these crazy, extravagant things like paying for basic cable. I'm more conservative with money." Something like that, anyway. If reality wasn't hitting me already, it was now. It's crazy to borrow to go to school. Absolutely, completely psycho.

God closed a door, so I tell myself, and I'm looking for a window to crawl through. Who makes up these dumb things that pop up into your head like this? These sayings aren't in the Bible but good people, too many of them, say these words to me so often they emerge in my thoughts like a bad 80's song when crap happens. "When God closes a door," I keep thinking, "He opens a window." Maybe for good people, who are better than me and who own homes with big windows just primed for hopping through. I'm stuck in Oregon, standing outside in the rain next to my condo's "for sale" sign. I'd just like a shrub to crawl under for a while. At least until the storm passes.

When I was homeless with four kids (twice) my mom would tell me, "You think you have it bad. You should hear about your sister." My sister is married to a lawyer with a CPA, doesn't have to work, has a fully funded retirement as well as all the things I can't afford, like Kleenex. I don't think she can qualify for food stamps but I give her a call. Empathy is good for the giver. You can put yourself in someone else's shoes and get out of your own smelly, holey, worn-out ones. Nobody is pain-free.

I listen to my sister talk. There's no mention of food stamps or homelessness but I try to support her just the same. Who am I to judge? I might be an inch away from crazy but she might be just half an inch. I'm here to help.

She's pretty chatty for someone so hard on their luck. She tells me about her horses (who has horses when they're destitute? Dogs, maybe, but not cats. Cats help themselves: they're out finding their own open doors and windows if you aren't providing). Horses, more than one, doesn't seem to be one of those indicators of poverty you see, along with the drunk guy holding a "will work for food" sign, on the Woodburn I-5 offramp.

"The Lord helps those who help themselves," she says before she hangs up. Did I call her to be reminded to help myself? Am I a cutter, hurting myself on a regular basis?

Wait a minute, I think, I need to take advice from others. I might have forgotten some of my previous screw-ups, so I start to list them in my head and think about if, in hindsight, I was really, honestly, helping myself. The list is long and my head starts to hurt. Is this a sign of impending hay fever or another sign of impending falling off the crazy cliff? I give up. Can't do anything about my life up to now, now, unless you have a time machine I can borrow.

I still can't do anything about my life up until now. I'm not homeless and my four kids survived to live in their own homes, so I'm thinking about that little victory rather than thinking about bad 80's songs or whatever else I can beat myself up with inside my head.

There's one piece of chocolate cake left. I might be crazy, but it sounds as if it's calling my name.



<-- Charlie, married to his BlackBerry and Peet’s, not necessarily in that order.

When they were married, my mom and dad couldn't sit in the same room without bickering. It got past the point of embarrassment, past the point of anything constructive, toward that place where you hope one of them will give up or you hope and pray there'll be some sort of natural disaster like an earthquake; anything to end it, please God!

Interrupting wasn't an option. Which one do you interrupt? Whoever you picked would get pissed off since they weren't able to get their point across in the first place, and now there's an unfair advantage to the opponent. Neither one listened to the other, neither one respected the other, neither one waited until the other finished. They misunderstood, jumped to conclusions, made assumptions and thought the worst. They were way beyond thinking they'd learn anything from each other. That's what I thought, anyway.

They're both married to wildly different people now; they're wildly different people now, too. I've never noticed my mom trying to convince her husband of anything. She talks and he's happy to listen, it seems. It works for both of them.

My mom used to try to reason with my dad when they were married. She'd try to talk to him, lecturing him on why he was wrong or why he shouldn't do some particular thing. She'd get angry, she'd get silent, she'd lecture but nothing ever manifest her desired result: changing his behavior. His wife now, Mary, isn't so passive or aggressive. She's just exactly what he needs, what anyone needs, really. She can articulate her issue in a single sentence. Who has time for more than that?

For example, my dad sees Charlie parking the car and offers suggestions. "You're a little close on this side," he says. "You might want to go forward a couple feet." Nothing drastic but after hearing his suggestions all morning, all day for fifteen years, Mary says, "Oh Cal, you don't have to tell everyone what to do."

He shuts right up! She shuts up. They're happily getting out of the car and already moved on. I look over at Charlie and I see his shoulders hunching up and down rhythmically. I can't look at his face or I'll start laughing, too. Is there anything more humorous than the way married people talk to each other? Especially when one of them is this good, this talented with shutting down the other one?

Watching them is a gift from God, an answer to a prayer, an averted natural disaster.

We stop by my dad's office to get ready for a bike ride. He's got some paperwork to do, but first he shows me some old photos of San Francisco, lying on top of a couple of frames. "You can help me with these," he says. "I bought these at Wal-Mart or Target, somewhere like that. They go on the hallway in your building."

The photos clearly won't fit in the frame. My way of telling my dad he's wrong is to say, "you're wrong," or to smile and say nothing. Neither way works usually, but smiling seems appropriate now so that's what I do.

"Those won't fit," Mary says. Oh boy. "Those frame openings are too big."

That's what I was thinking. I'm still smiling. Charlie turns around. All I can see is his shoulders hunching up and down rhythmically.

"No, Mary," dad says, "They'll fit. These are a foot. My foot is a foot long, so let's see how big these pictures are."

He puts the photos up against his foot to measure. Mary, like magic, whips out a measuring tape. "Here, Cal," she says. Charlie and I enjoy watching the way my dad can figure things out. Not everybody uses body parts to solve picture-framing problems.

He takes the measure, measures the photos and says, "We'll have to take these frames back to Wal-Mart or Target, wherever I got them. They don't fit."

Mary, unlike anyone I'm related to, puts the tape measure back and says nothing. She doesn't sigh or harumph or make any sort of "I told you so" noise. How does she do that? She had a free pass.

We're still waiting to ride around Sutro hill. We have our bikes outside on standby, we've got our helmets on and there isn't a reason why we haven't already left as far as I can tell. Mary takes this opportunity to roll up the cord to the lamp sitting on the desk.

"Mary," my dad says, "You don't have to do that now."

She really doesn't, but I've lived with my dad for fifteen years, too. Sometimes you have to keep yourself busy while you're waiting for him.

She lets go of the cord. "Let's go then."

Genius in action! She figured out how to get my dad to quit checking his paperwork while we and our bikes wait for him. As a kid, we started many vacations sitting strapped in the car waiting for my dad to check that all the lights were turned off in the house, the doors were all locked and the car's fluid levels were sufficient. I remember sitting so long in the driveway, waiting for him to replenish the oil, that I had to pee again.

I thought I knew something about communication and relationships but now I feel like an infant in a playpen. I can't recall the last time my dad said anything sounding bickerish, to anyone. In fact, he sounds pretty excited about everything he talks about and Mary seems pretty pleased to have the opportunity to listen to him. Me, too.

I follow Charlie and his rhythmically hunching shoulders out the door toward the bikes.


Moving, Ugh

<-- Stella at IKEA

We're moving again. I counted moving 33 times after college and before moving to Portland. It's exciting, like travel. It's a way to see the world, to experience life the way the locals do. We localled our way through Montana and Idaho, Bury St. Edmonds and Hopton (U.K.), and California and Atlanta. I moved eight times since moving here about a decade ago. You'd think I'd be used to it.

A friend told me once, "Three moves is as good as a fire." I didn't understand what that meant. He said, "Your crap can't take many moves." He said this when crap wasn't so cheap and could probably hold up better than crap nowadays. A lot of my crap is IKEA, so it wouldn't take much for it to fall under the "fire" category. My crap is cheap crap. What do you expect for someone who has moved so many times? Heavy stuff? Who's going to lift it?

Charlie lifted everything from the Portland moves, since that's where we picked up, and he has a back to prove it. He wants to sell or get rid of everything and start over. We acquired several very heavy pieces during the last year, heavy glass tables and things. These, I recall, weren't my idea. But I'm used to them. I like what we have. He does, too. He just doesn't want to pull his back lifting these things. Nothing's enjoyable when it hurts that much.

He's got the CraigsList ads all ready.

This is typically my position. He's usually the one hesitant to CraigsList our lives. Maybe after forty moves I'm becoming normal and I just want some familiar crap around me when we move. I know the next round of crap will be worse because we don't have money to buy good quality crap. We'll be replacing the non-IKEA stuff with, well, probably IKEA. If our apartment ended up looking like a showroom, I'd be okay with it. It won't. If I had enough money to buy all the accessories to make it showroomable, I'd buy something else. Something really heavy.

Trouble is, our stuff fits our condo now. It's all contemporary with lots of glass and clean lines like the design of the building, the lobby, the finishes everywhere. The glass of our tables looks great with the black granite in our condo. The clean lines of our furniture goes with the flat, sleek surfaces of our condo. It's harmonious in a Dania sort of way.

We're moving to my Dad's apartment in San Francisco. His grandparents lived there when they retired. There weren't a lot of sleek surfaces to be had in 1930 when it was built. Instead, the place is filled with curves and arches and William Morris details. I'm having a hard time thinking about juxtaposing clean bright red Billy Bookshelves against hand-painted tilework and 90 year-old rounded wall corners.

Moving is freeing. You can sell or give things away you don't use. You can share things with people who like your stuff and who will take care of it much better because they won't move so often. You can start over.

Isn't that what moving is all about? Starting over? I'm excited to move and to start over. It's just hard to start over with everything, all at once, with nothing, again.

I'm thinking of compromising on everything but the bed. It's a new bed, for us anyway, bought two homes ago and still fireproof. It's the only bed we've actually bought and it's not from IKEA. Beds are one of those things you can usually find for free from someone's Grandma or somebody who doesn't want to move it. We had our share of free beds and the free beds keep on coming. There's one waiting for us in our new place, discarded from someone who got a new one and didn't know what to do with it.

Starting over just doesn't seem as fun in someone else's bed, even if it's free. I must be getting close to settling down. Right?