Shut Up, She Explained

Here’s the setting: The temperature, even at dusk, is a zillion degrees.  My husband and I are driving around in his Prius.  Even though it hurts his mpg stats, he’s turned on the air-conditioner.

We are looking at prospective condo buildings.  There’s one just south of the river and three closer in, all in downtown Austin.  He and I each have our favorites.  I am actively ashamed of mine.  Too swanky, I’d opined in advance, too formal.  Not for us, the casual semi-bohemians.  We needed something a bit more avant-garde and off-center.

So much for premonitions.  The minute I saw the swanky place, I fell in love.  The marble baths!  The enormous closets!  (At this point in my life, I’d sell the shabby remnants of my soul for a good walk-in closet.)  The roomy balcony, the granite kitchen!  It swept over me all of a sudden: I wanted to move in and be taken care of for the rest of my life.  Taken care of by a staff, the salesman had assured us, who was more like a family than employees.

Sure, the family was expensive, but don’t quibble.  I was in love.

But here we are, driving around, and I’m feeling dreamy, imagining my new, luxurious, probably unaffordable life.  Then my husband spoils the mood.

“I want to ask you about something,” he says.  “After we sell our house, why don’t we think about renting?”

Oh, my God.  Where am I?  Somebody has just set off a bomb in my head.

Okay, so we all have our foibles, our tender spots.  This “innocent” question, for me, is akin to being a patient in the dentist’s chair.  The fucker with a scalpel just touched an exposed root.  I’ll need to be peeled off the ceiling soon.

“What are you talking about — renting?” I snap.  “Why do you want to rent?  It’s not like we’re in our twenties.”

“I just want to find out,” he continues, “the core of your not wanting to rent.  You know, what lies beneath it.”

“There’s nothing beneath it.  It’s all core.  I refuse to rent.”

“But, why?”

“This is not about logic,” I say, quite calmly for somebody who is totally flipping out and may need medical attention very, very soon.  “This is all emotion.  I don’t want to live month-to-month, temporarily — ”

“We wouldn’t live month-to-month.  We could stay as long as we liked — ”

” — surrounded by transients.  Subject to eviction — ”

“What are you talking about?  Nobody’s going to evict us — ”

“Living in the constant shadow of eviction!  In my golden years!”

“I just wanted to explore this idea,” my husband says, with his irritatingly logical, hyper-male air.

“You’ve explored it.  I’m not renting.  I refuse.  I’m also not going to eat catfood when I’m old.”

My husband points out that we’ll probably be able to afford expensive catfood in our dotage, but believe me, I am now tuning him out.  I know I’m emotional, possibly illogical when it comes to renting and owning real estate; I know it probably stems from being reared by Depression-era parents whose greatest dream was to live in a dwelling that was paid for.

I know, too, that I’m chasing an illusion of permanence and stability on a crowded, overheated, polluted, weary planet where we will all die sooner or later.  In fact, I’m at an age when I’ve been stripped of so many illusions that it’s remarkable I can still sit up.

But guess what?  That just means I’m clinging all the more frantically to the few I still possess.  I’ll eat catfood before I rent.  That’s not an opinion; it’s a manifesto.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my very favorite posts on my shameless addiction to the real estate section

31 comments… add one
  • Joyce Link

    You and me both on the catfood thing, Sister.

  • I wouldn’t want to rent either. It’s about control. When you rent, the control is in someone else’s hands – when the leaky faucet gets fixed, how much you pay, who plays electric guitar at 3 am over your head, etc.

  • I had the VERY SAME conversation w/my hubby. Something about renting made me very sad. It’s hard enough to pack up your house and change the way you live, but to do so when you feel like what you have is not your own? That’s hard to swallow…maybe even harder than cat food, even the expensive kind.

  • Oh, I get this. Renting implies another move. As in … more than one move, potentially in quick succession. That alone would require peeling me off the ceiling.

  • Funny that we feel this way, isn’t it?  You must be right about where it comes from.  I have been thinking along these same lines.
    A younger couple is staying at the B&B.  They must be in their early 50s. They have become friends over the years.  I listened to them tell me, with great excitement, about buying the prefect fixer-upper in rural VA for eventual retirement, an hour from their home in DC.  Having financed much renovation in my parents’ old house, I kept thinking about how different it feels to be 60.  At 50, one sees a renovation project as fun.  At 60, it is a headache.  Yes, your search for a condo makes perfect sense.  I think I’d go with the marble and “taken care of by staff”, too.
    And, you did not touch on retirement communities.  My brother’s parents-in-law bought into one, which is sort of like renting because you do not get the money back.  Then they decided retirement community life was not for them and moved back into the house, which had not been sold. One year later, “taken care of by staff” sounded good again.  This time they had to sell the house to buy in …
    I hope you will write a follow-up to this post.  Sounds like this discussion isn’t over yet!

  • Interesting post. As a widow of 4 years (age 58), I just sold one of my houses a few months ago. Had tenants, and trust me, the maintenance issues as well as trying to collect rent was a disaster, nothing but frustration. I am thinking of renting someday, that is if I can’t find an affordable condo — the “owner’s fees” can be prohibitive and honestly, remind me a bit of a monthly rent payment.
    Currently I’m able to do my own lawncare, hire what maintenance needs done, but a rental with a good landlord/upkeep policy in a nice, quiet place would be considered.
    I also have always felt that owning a home was very important, due to growing up in a rental without my parents ever owning a house. On the other hand, the way the real estate market has been lately (and probably for the foreseeable future), I’m not sure it’s much of an investment to own a house. For certain, as a widow living alone, my perspective has changed on home ownership.

  • Cindy A Link

    Aren’t you the same woman who rented an apartment in New York for a year and had the time of your life?  Think big.  You could rent a place in San Francisco or Paris or Rome and have the time of your life there…

  • I, too, flip out when the ‘logic’ label is used to justify an opinion.  If your husband persists in this renting idea, send him over to meet the renters next door to us, who never mow their yard, let their great dane/German shepherds bark all night and poop in our front yard, and don’t seem to care that their teenagers come and go in the wee hours of the morning.  They plan to move in a year, so they obviously don’t care to invest time in home upkeep or good relationships with the neighbors.  I can’t imagine if we shared walls!!

  • Ah, we all have our push button issues. Your hubby seems to have found one of yours. Last time I said something similar it was about a lower priced item than a house. I wanted a NEW iPod instead of a second hand one.

  • I want to rent an i pad, but I would have to change my whole life.
    I think paid family sounds great. 

  • Cling away, I say. We’ve gotta get it where we can find it. Although after dealing with Bank of America and their non-existent customer service regarding my mortgage – which they’ve completely screwed up – I’ve been daydreaming about selling everything and buying a cool vintage Airstream and just parking it wherever. I’m sure it’d have its ups and downs, but at least I wouldn’t have to deal with the dark lord Bank of America.

  • I’ve always fancied catfood a lot more than dogfood.  So, look on the bright side.  You could sink lower.

  • Some things just aren’t negotiable.

  • Craig Link

    I think if I had a do over with my life I would never have bought and would still be renting. Since I play with other people’s houses for my lively hood,  my own house is just a roof over possessions.

  • Anita Link

    You had me at the closets. Give me tons of storage and take away my lawn and house maintenance. My husband and I  just have to find a really, really cheap third-world country to live in. Just really cheap isn’t going to work. We definitely need really, really cheap.

  • I’ve been staff before but never considered actually having any of my own.  I think it is worth seriously considering, especially if they open doors and come attached to large closets.  In the version of the world that exists in my head, renting is only ever a step towards buying.  As things stand now I hope to be buried in my back yard.

  • Linda Link

    Ruth, I laughed so hard at this!  My husband would ask the exact same questions in the same logical tone (all Spock like) and that description of the bomb going off in your head was right on the money. I can’t wait to hear how you two work this out. I have to admit, I love Cindy’s A’s way of looking at this but everybody needs a real home to come back to that feels permanent and safe. Having just come back from a visit to Biltmore, I’m all for marble and a family-like staff and great views.

  • During our transient time living between two states, we rented. I hated it. Hated it. After being a homeowner I think it’s incredibly difficult to go back to renting. I wanted my OWN home in the state I was in. Thankfully, that happened several months ago. What a difference to know that it’s my place to do as I will.

  • I grew up renting (and we were thrown out or looking for a new place many times) and then my husband and I rented until the market did not appear to be getting better and bought a house. We live on Long Island. Our house is small. It was very expensive. We bought it about 5 yrs ago. Every day when I pull up I sigh a little and think, “Thank god that’s my house–it’s true. We have a house.” It’s a tremendous feeling to know it’s YOURS–warts and all.
    And, just to point it out, there are tremendous tax benefits to home ownership. Esp if you’re like us and still paying sick amount of interest on your home loan and outrageous local taxes.  😉

  • Forgive me for laughing. It’s all about core! Tee hee. But actually, I read a book a LONG time ago about how renting can totally simplify your life. Every time something breaks in my house (that we own except for the HUGE mortgage), I think of that book…

  • This was really interesting – and I liked the part about it’s all core. I haven’t thought about renting in years and now you’ve made me get in touch with all these emotions about it. I’m conflicted!

  • Ah, but your semi-Bohemian, shouldn’t the potential to move easily be a good thing? Growing up  I lived in the same place my whole life and always wanted a chance to explore; now that I’ve lived in a few different places, I’m ready to settle down. I can understand wanting to feel rooted somewhere.

  • I saw why embrace changed that you don’t need to embrace. You can own a condo. Own a condo.

  • Cindy D. Link

    My vision of the perfect old age residence is to have an “old ladies” commune (since there are so many single older women).  We’d each have our own living quarters but could share the cooking and maintanence.  I envision sitting on the porch in a tie-dyed T-shirt listening to the Beatles or maybe the Stones.  There would also be a “medicinal” garden in the back so we could all keep smiling as we sail to whatever is next.
    If I could afford it I’d certainly go for the marble and walk in closets.

  • Is your husband crazy?  When you were a young couple you rented, and that was a kind of hell.  And in the days you were a renter didn’t you have all those awful, tedious, hellish jobs?  Does your husband really want to open the floodgates to all those kinds of memories in a neurotic, semi-bohemian, post-menopausal woman with whom he expects to continue to maintain a blissful domestic relationship?  Indeed, you SHOULD hit the ceiling– and pray all the plaster rains down on HIS head!  Rent– harrumph!  I’m with you on this one.  Go with the swanky, honey!  And marble.  And granite.  And walk-in closets big enough to house a staff of a dozen with room left over for 800 coffeetable books.  If the condo fees get a little out of hand, then tighten the budget and let HIM eat the catfood!  I’m sure your condo chef can offer serving suggestions.  Just check the fine print and be sure its permissible to sub-let the condo in case you want to take another extended sabbatical.
    ***Linda, I’ve been to Biltmore also.  Tears actually ran down my cheeks as I walked into the grand entry hall and turned all around.  Old World taste nestled in NC mountains– perfection.

  • *** Cindy D.
    My vision of the perfect old age residence is to have a private suite atop a college dormitory.  The resident students could wait on me, with much bowing and scraping, and humbly seek the wisdom of my age.  Visions from The King And I play in my mind.

  • Wow, the illusion of security we all cling to, hey? I’ve owned and rented and now, as a single mum renting for the past three years, I have to say I don’t feel transient or marginal.
    I think when you turn your life upside down (or it’s turned upside down for you) by the biggies: death, divorce, loss of home/spouse/child, a move, you realize that control is just an illusion.
    That doesn’t stop many of us from wanting it, me included here. But one thing I know for sure: The kind of “security” that comes with home ownership doesn’t automatically lead to happiness and contentment.
    I know this is a minority view among your readers but it’s something to consider.

  • Steve Link

    The title alone of this post made me laugh out loud.  I think it will be the opening line of my novel.

    I can’t imagine selling a house and moving into a condo, much less renting.  I get the logic of both, of course, but you and Jamie are both more open to change than I am.  Everything, in my human experience, changes (which is why I am one of those unusual Christians completely at peace with the theological notion that God changes),  but for that reason the older I get the less I intentionally change things of which I am at least in nominal control.  It’s why Beth and I still have, in our living room, the sofa we purchased in 1975.  It may be on its 4th or 5th covering, but its MY sofa.  “Shut up,” she explained.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I can’t take credit for the title.  It’s a play on an old joke or New Yorker cartoon or something.  Originally, it was Shut Up, He Explained.  I do prefer the female version.

  • Kaye Link

    I stumbled across this blog when I was googling “shut up,” she explained and wanted to say I. Love. This. Post. Going to lurk around. Is that creepy?

  • jlla Link

    “Shut up he explained” is usually credited to Ring Lardner–in “The Immigrunts,” IIRC.

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