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.”
“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