When You Snatch The Pebble From My Hand You May Be Tempted To Throw It At That Expensive Vase, Which Would Be Unwise, And Would Indicate To Me That You Were Not In Fact Ready To Leave Anytime Soon

When Cathy, the buyer's representative, told us that we wouldn't be buying the first house we saw — and that it was important to get a few out of the way to get an idea for what's out there — we didn't think that we'd have to see that many places before we found something that would work. Which is to say, we spent the summer checking out all manner of places that didn't work. We scoured the multiple listings for stuff for sale and would email her MLS numbers. Every so often she'd hear about a house that was going on the market.

Sometimes the houses we looked at "worked," in the sense that a house fit our basic requirements of habitability, but then they'd be too far away from the subway or too expensive, which is to say, they didn't really work. A house Cathy encouraged us to look at was great — it had a gigantic lot and a garage (Astoria brokers love garages on the theory that they increase a home's value and potentially provide rental income if you didn't own a car) and it was on a very desirable street — it was also a mile from the subway. Others had a pleasant primary unit, which worked for me and Jen, but a terrible secondary unit, which did not work for Michael. Michael, understandably, did not want to live in a low-ceilinged basement with no natural light to speak of — he's a tall guy, with tall friends — wouldn't work. One really nice two-family had a recalcitrant tenant who refused to open the door to the listing agent. Another house was small but OK — if you overlooked the facts that 1) its main bathroom was in the basement (the second time we'd seen this) and 2) its backyard abutted the 100-foot-high (I could be exaggerating, but not by much) rail viaduct on the main line connecting Boston and points north with Penn Station; the real estate photo, understandably, omitted this perspective. A nice place on 34th Street south of Broadway was a former (or current!) SRO. A house that Michael and I liked looked out onto the back of a middle school. Other houses were wonderful but they weren't anywhere near the ballpark figure.

So about the "ballpark" figure . . . Ballparks are funny like that. Occasionally a team will move in the fences in order to increase offensive output. The Mets are doing that this year, for example. But in real estate, fences always seem to go out, never in.

At some point I started to get down on the whole venture. Cathy encouraged us to have 20 percent down on hand in order to be more attractive candidates to sellers. It took me a while to figure out why this would be, but what I eventually gleaned was that sellers would prefer to have a dude come by with 50 percent cash in a suitcase than they would deal with three first-time buyers with ten percent and an FHA loan on the theory that the 50 percent dude was less hassle. Sellers shouldn't care how they get the money — they'll get the money from the bank once you get your mortgage — they just want a sure thing. Which is why in a strong housing market people think they need to have 20 percent on hand.

That wasn't going to happen. We weren't going to ever have 20 percent on hand for a down payment. Cathy off-handedly mentioned inquiring at "The Bank of Mom and Dad." Nothing is more disconcerting to an adult child than hearing the words "The Bank of Mom and Dad." That made me start to question what we were doing. Maybe we weren't suited to buying real estate in New York. Maybe renting wasn't such a terrible idea. Maybe we should move somewhere where it made more sense. I heard homes in Pittsburgh and Detroit were cheap. They can't even give away houses in Youngstown. Michael and Jen convinced me I was overreacting.

Summer dragged on and we were no closer to finding a house. Cathy told us that by August no one was showing houses anyway on the assumption that no one was in town to look, so we should resume our search after Labor Day. Labor Day came and went. Jen emailed Cathy. Jen left messages for Cathy. But I think Cathy was done with us. I don't blame her, but it felt like getting blown off by someone you went on a few dates with. Was it something I said? Am I too gossipy? Did you meet someone else?

On the upside, it felt a little like the absurdly long opening to the 1970s television show Kung Fu with David Carradine. You might remember seeing it in syndication. The opening went like this:

I have to admit that I never watched the show — that sleepy pace of the opening and dissonant music made me want to turn the channel — but I loved the lines the monk said to the young Kwai Chang Caine:

As quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand.
When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.
Please excuse me.

And then it goes through all the training David Carradine gets — and you're hanging over the front of the TV ready to switch the VHF knob because this was long before remote controls and because Kung Fu looks like it's going to be the most boring show in the world — when Kwai Chang Caine finally snatches the pebble from the monk's hand, the monk says to him:

Time for you to leave.

Now, like I said, and as you can see, this opening sequence stuck with me for some time. For many years, I didn't really understand what it meant. I think martial arts are stupid; in high school I tried to read Tao Te Ching and understood about .4 percent of it. I just didn't get pebbles and what bearing they might have on when David Carradine could go.

Then as an adult I worked for bosses who were terrible communicators and it hit me: The pebble was a form of hazing that people in power use to lord over subordinates. They never clearly tell you what they want and then lash out or be snippy when they don't have what they need and you're somehow supposed to figure that out from what exactly? Pebble, hand. That smug fucking monk. I still won't watch that show.

Anyway, which is to say, I think we learned everything we needed to know from Cathy: Negotiating points, damp basements, party walls, legal and de facto two-families, when roofs were redone, when the electricity was updated (if it was — sometimes listing agents didn't know this, which is a bad sign) — all of it. In the end we wouldn't need Cathy. We snatched pebbles (read: She never called us back). It was time for us to leave.

Posted: December 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , ,

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