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Of Beasts and Bars | 2015 | Stuck in the Middle (of Lake George) with You


A person should be more concerned with spiritual than with material matters, but another person's material welfare is his own spiritual concern.  

-Rabbi Israel Salanter

House Mad

Amber decided that we need a house. This was news to me, since I am presently fairly copacetic with our apartment. The driveway is a war crime and the bathroom could use a window, but it is a good amount of space for the rent. However, she didn't consult me as to her desire for a house until she had been researching it for weeks and felt it was feasible.

However, it is not a house Amber wants as much as land so that she may farm and raise livestock. This is no idle lark. Amber does nothing halfway, so she has read more books this year on farming and agricultural real estate than I have of any other subjects combined.

She spends so long mentally persevering on the notion of having a house and land that she neglects to clue me in as to her plan until she already has an appointment with a realtor.

She only persuaded me to look at the first house because she assures me she isn't serious about buying a house. Looking at houses she doesn't expect us to buy is just her current hobby. She says this only because I have been wracked with anxiety since she brought this up. I don't see how we can possibly afford a mortgage and utilities only on my salary. She had no inclination toward stable employment, hoping that she can supplement our income well with her eventual farming.

For the most part, she is hoping we will encounter a house that will win me over and then she can shove as many goats and chickens into the back of her car as is allowed. (She explains that each acre of land can legally house one livestock animal-anywhere between pygmy goat and buffalo-or twenty chickens. I'm glad there is a conversion rate between goats and chickens.) I am not such a fan, since I assume that my day job isn't unstable even four years in. As a means of control, they threaten to shut us down every two months. At a gubernatorial whim, because Andrew Cuomo wants to prove a political point, I could be unemployed tomorrow.

The first house is right on a highway. I could step seven feet from the front door and be hit by a car. The driveway and the highway are eighteen inches apart, separated by a wooden fence. If we bought this place-and, before the realtor shows up, I alert Amber that we will absolutely not be doing so-we could never open the windows without choking on exhaust and being deafened by cars. I do not care if this is the choicest parcel of land on the Hudson (and it is not, since the goats would fall headlong into traffic), I wouldn't knit by fate with this house.

Inside the house is nicer, two houses connected and gradually improved, but it little matters. This is not our house. Maybe the owners could rent it to gullible Bard students, but I don't know what sort of people would be eager to purchase it. Perhaps a nice deaf couple, until an errant eighteen-wheeler does some unapproved renovations.

This house is nearly two hundred grand. Amber and our realtor Dana act as though this is what one should expect in the housing market in our area. I look agog at the two of them, chatting about money I don't have and do not expect to have. I have never really dared to imagine myself as owning a house. "Homeowner" is a status for another generation, one with secure jobs and a world that cared a touch more for the consumer than the banks. I have been so poor I felt like a failure as an adult, when I saw how close I was to the precipice. I do not ever feel too far removed from that ignoble state. Home ownership is a luxury I cannot imagine affording, no matter how often Amber assures me we would save money buying instead of renting.

The next house we see is lovely and quirky, with more space than I can conceive needing. It is brick and sits on six acres, largely undeveloped. Prior to a hasty divorce, a yuppie couple renovated it into something even quainter than the original builder (a paranoid man who assumed the Russian would take over and so build the water pump inside the basement). We joke about having Daniel live in our basement, then we stop joking because it makes a great lot of sense and he later agrees. There is a lot of land on which Amber's presumptive goats could roam and graze. There is a duck pond and three-car garage. The asking price is two-twenty, but Dana believes we can talk them down by taking advantage of how motivated they are to no longer have to deal with one another.

This house is obviously out of my price range, which is the only price range that matters here. Amber wants me to think that this is a house that could make us money, but this is not a concept I acknowledge. Farming is a lovely avocation and she is beyond knowledgeable on the topic, but I don't think this is going to allow her to farm enough to afford the mortgage.

Dana begins the showing of the third house by pointing out that it has asbestos siding, apparently a fire resistant fashion in the sixties that has yet to be updated. I am aware that asbestos only takes on its fatal aspect when particulate and airborne, but I find it easier to avoid in this context when not covering my home.

The floors and the kitchen are so new that the appliances are still covered in plastic. That is to say, the appliances present, since there is a noticeable gap in the wall that should contain a refrigerator. I have never seen a house wishing to be occupied that didn't have a place to put one's food.

Dana is willing to let us wander here, but there is not much to look at here once we marvel at the countertop. We walk up the stairs, which don't have a railing. The two bedrooms are tiny, perhaps the smallest rooms I've encountered. The agent can't help herself from pointing out that these are legally not bedrooms because they lack closets. Legally, this house contains no bedrooms, so we will have a tough time convincing a bank to give us a loan, which is presuming that we would ever want to buy this place. Still, we are here and Amber is going to make the most of it, if just for the experience of looking. In the back is a rusted disc four feet in diameter, which the agent guesses might be a leech field. The basement is visibly damp. The sump pump is in standing water. There is no washer or dryer. Amber points out that this would make a good root cellar. Both the agent and I point out that this is not a habitable structure and so her talk of root cellars is for naught, but Amber means nothing by it.

As we leave, I assure the agent that this is the way to show the houses. The amazing and quirky house, fashionably adorned, followed by the one that looks like part of a Potemkin village. She doesn't seem to think this is funny, but registers in it a suggestion that we like the other house and there may yet be a commission in it for her.

A week later, we drive to Hudson to meet with a financial advisor named Lisa, one situated beside a Chinese restaurant. I do not fully understand Lisa's job, even when Amber explains that she is going to pre-qualify us for a loan. This is not the same thing as getting a loan and is, I gather, not a transferable promise that we can get a loan, but it is a required step in the process.

A secretary buzzes us in and refers to me as Amber until I point out that I am Thomm, husband of Amber, and my wife is dawdling in the July heat. In short order, the secretary directs us into Lisa's glass enclosed bubble.

Amber knows the language we are supposed to use in this financial dealing, so I allow her to be our representative, though the majority of what Lisa cares about is my last pay stub and tax return. I am suffering mild heat exhaustion, so I cool off and scan Lisa's bubble, rife with pictures of her two Boston terriers and tacked up thank you cards, presumably from people who are now homeowners because of Lisa's assistance.

I do not understand how Lisa is paid, though we do not hand her any cash. Perhaps, like so much in this world, she gets a nibble of the money we will have to hand over to almost every player in this game in order to buy a residence. She types numbers into a form on her computer and, in time, it spits out a quote that we would have to pay around $1500 a month for the mortgage, owing to the lushness of the school district and the fact that we would not have a down payment owing to a USDA program (that would subsequently charge us every month until we both died). This is not to say that we wouldn't have any upfront costs, as Lisa lays claim to every iota of a nest egg I have squirreled away for a rainy day, some $12,000 and change.

Amber mentions that her mother might take out a loan against her home to help us out with our initial payment. Lisa all but shoots this down, saying that Amber's mother shouldn't do this for us.

"Do I think you could afford this house?" Lisa asks rhetorically. "Maybe. But I don't know if you want to. This wouldn't be easy and you would have to be very sure this is what you wanted to do."

We play around with other counties, other towns, but we cannot find the sweet spot. Lisa assures us we don't want to live across the bridge, as her clients invariably report hating driving over it in the winter. To her credit, Lisa understands that we don't want a house simply to have a house. We don't want to ruin our lives just to say we are homeowners.

In twenty minutes, we leave. I feel lighter and, shaking Lisa's hand, tell her that I am glad she is in our corner. Amber is sad that this house seems outside of our reach, but resolute that she will be able to find another home. No matter what, she isn't going to stop looking for a home for us.

Soon in Xenology: Lake George

last watched: The Babadook
reading: Don Quixote
listening: Damien Rice

Of Beasts and Bars | 2015 | Stuck in the Middle (of Lake George) with You

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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