Friday, March 9, 2012

In the Old House, and the Other One

"The moon is bright in the almond blue sky," I said. for the third time this minute.
"What does that even mean? Why do you keep saying it? Almonds aren't blue are they?" she said annoyed.
"I don't know. Isn't it a crayon color? Oh maybe it's cauliflower," I concluded. "The moon is bright in the cauliflower sky."
"Why? What is wrong with you?"
"I'm nervous. You know how I pace when I'm nervous? Well I can't pace in a car, so I talk."
"Great. Maybe you should walk there then."

We were on a mission of silliness; the house I used to live in as a kid was up for sale and I thought this might be the last chance to take a look around before some other family slid in, anxious at the chance for a cheap fixer-upper in a weak market.

Sadly that person wasn't going to be me. When we moved out of the house when I was 17 and staring at college and other delusions, and bitter about leaving a town that I had never like until recently after getting into a nice groove of walking down the street to meet up at the Revered Nicholas O'Leary's house where, for a small nominal fee, beer was secured and left at the basement window, where, after sneaking past Reverend Nick's parents, we headed to the basement and recovered the bounty.

As those drunken days wound down I figured one day, when I was rich, I would knock on the door of the house, thonk down a great big stack of cash and politely request whoever was living there vacate the premises in the next 48 hours.

That didn't happen.
I have no great big stacks of cash to thonk down in front of anyone, which is unfortunate because these are supposed to be the earning years. The prime years. When you're supposed to be making money so you can enjoy life, and one day not have to work.
I should have this kind of money to thonk down.
But I don't.
So I did what any forward thinking man, robbed of his dreams but not his ideas would do: get his girlfriend to accompany him to an open house.

We showed up as the real estate agent was scraping the crumbs off a plate where a pile of donuts once rested but now it only housed a single, lonely cruller.

"Oh are you here for the open house?" she was startled.

"Yes, we are Ted and Claire Beaumont, and we like this neighborhood," I answered stiffly.

"Well as you can see, Mr. Beaumont, we were just winding down here, but if you are interested in the house I can make an appointment for you and your wife to come back," she smiled hesitantly.

"Can't we look at the house now?" I hinted at irritation while looking in through the porch window at the kitchen. It resembled nothing but a barren, musky room, with boxes stacked in a corner.

"Well I just shut all the lights off Mr. Beaumont, and I do have other appointments later this afternoon. We will be having another one of these next weekend if it doesn't sell during the week, perhaps you can come back then?"

I looked at my girlfriend.

"Well," she started, "I guess we could probably make it back next weekend."

"Here, take one of my cards," the real-estate lady did her high-heeled waddle and handed us each a black and gold card:

Judy Simpson
Real Estate Agent.

"Feel free to give me a call during the week to see if the house is still on the market. Like I said if not we're planning on having another one of these next Saturday, they start at 2 p.m.  I'd be happy to take you through. Some really great attic space in this house, it's a little bit of a fixer-upper but at this price you're really not going to get a better deal in this area."

"I just hope to God it's still on the market so we can get a look at it Ms. Simpson, or else I'll never forgive myself for our tardiness."

My girlfriend looked at me incredulously.

"Now Mr. Beaumont, I'm sure if this house isn't available we'll be able to find something that meets your needs. If I wasn't in such a rush I'd love to get your info, but please call me during the week."

"I look forward to it Ms. Simpson," I shook her hand vigorously again. "Oh one last thing.."

"Yes?" she asked carrying the doughnut platter and her excessively large purse.

"I take it the owners of the house have moved out?"

"Yes, they retired down to Fort Lauderdale. Why?"

"Just curious of how long it would take us to get in should we be the lucky buyer," I smiled.

"Ah, well, not long at all I think," she smiled graciously but continued her pace out the screen door, waiting for us to follow. "I look forward to speaking with you."

She headed to her car in the driveway, threw the platter into the back seat, hurried into her car and took off out of the driveway. 

We stood by our car, by all appearances ready to get in and take off on our own way.

"You realize we have to go in, right?" I said to my girlfriend.

"What do you mean, it's probably locked, you want to break in?"

"No, I know how to get in from the basement. The one window only jammed from the inside but it never locked you can push it open easily from the outside, I used to sneak out and get back in that way."

"That was like what 15 years ago?"

"Probably more than that."

 "What makes you think that they haven't fixed it?"

"Because the house is for sale for less than we sold it for 15 years ago, there are giant craters in the driveway, the paint is peeling off, and the trees in the front are half dead. Does it look like they put any money into this house? C'mon we have to at least try." I pleaded.

"Why don't we just come back next weekend?"

"What if it sells? Oh c'moooooooon,"

She looked around. The street was quiet. No one was looking. No one cared. When you're about to do something illegal, if you're not already used to doing something illegal, you feel like someone is definitely watching you.  The FBI could use traffic cameras or satellites to somehow catch us breaking into my practically abandoned childhood home. A quiet, nosy neighbor, vigilant against such things was peeking through the curtain, with a phone in hand and 9-1-1 on speed dial just waiting for such an opportunity to unleash justice.

Normally I'd be let feelings like the ones preying on my girlfriend engulf me, but I felt safe. I felt like I knew what I was doing. Like cosmically, if not legally, I should be allowed to get a look at the house, to say some kind of morbid goodbye and apologize for not keeping up my end and having enough money to pay for it. It even went above and beyond: it hardly changed, it only aged, it kept it's price down. It was available. I was the one who fucked up, and I wanted to rub my own face in it. I wanted to see what I was missing. I wanted to imagine, in living 3-D, what could have been.

"Alright," my girlfriend relented as if seeing this despair in my face.

We re-entered the porch, the porch that had hosted a dozen birthday parties, and a few of my best temper tantrums about God-know-what. I was too busy being Mr. Beaumont and anticipating a full tour when we were glad handing with Ms. Simpson to notice that the porch had been closed in. A cheap, dirty carpet covered the red-painted floorboards that I remembered. The screens were replaced with drywall.

"Yeek. Maybe they did make some improvements." I said disgustedly.

We exited the back end of the porch into the yard, where my brother and I used to play baseball when we were kids. The yard wasn't big enough to play baseball but we did anyway, nearly killing each other on a few occasions. Everything looked smaller. My girlfriend had warned me of this on the way over.

"You were a kid, so everything is going to seem small now."

She was right. The clumsy above ground pool was gone along with the two decks that attached to it. The first was a small, wobbly  red (apparently my parents had paint left over from the porch) one that essentially consisted of a ladder to get up  to the platform and instantly jump in before the wood collapsed.

The larger deck that was put into replace the old one had the legs cut off and was rotting away in the far corner of the yard resting above the graves of countless family cats.

I shook all this off to look for the basement window. There it was; tri-paned and littered with hardened drips of maroon paint.

"That's it." I said and ran over and knelt beside it. I took a second to look in to make sure there wasn't a dog or dragon of some kind guarding the house.

"Well aren't you going to try it?" my girlfriend asked impatiently.

"Yeah sure I am," I pulled the window gently, assured that there is no way my plan wouldn't work.   It didn't move. I tried a little more forcefully. Nothing. I panicked and tried slamming my shoulder into and then pulling but nothing. I tried to get my fingernails under edges and pull but nothing. It was stuck.

I ran to the other basement window and tried the same thing. But nothing.
They were sealed. Locked, or stuck from years of latex paint mummifying in between the cracks.

"Maybe we should just go," my girlfriend suggested her eyes peering back and forth to  make sure no one saw me making a sporting attempt at breaking and entering.  "At this rate you might as well break the glass." she said coldly.

I looked at her, slightly coming to my senses. My knees were covered in mud from the wet ground.

"C'mon let's go. We can try next weekend. You can see all you want," she said warmly.

We left the back yard, and I took a long look around. The house wanted nothing to do with me. So we left.

But the weird feeling of nostalgia, crept over me. I didn't want to go home.
I wanted to try something else.
We stopped for a red light and I reached behind my girlfriend into the depths of the pouch on the back of the seat I slid my hand all the way down until I felt what I was looking for. It was still there.

"It's still there," I said as a grin crept across my face.

"What's still there?" she said.

I showed her what was in my hand; the garage door opener to the house we moved into after the one I'd just left.

"We're going for a drive."

We headed north, to the border of New Jersey, to the hilly development where I spent my college years. In a large house that I never quite felt at home in.

The development was a dead end with and our old house was at the top with a  marvelous view of the town and the hills surrounding it.

It was dark by the time we pulled up to the top of the street.
The lights were out and there were no cars in the driveway.

"Whaddya say?" I said to her as I aimed the opener at the door.

She rolled her eyes.
"Might as well, we drove all the way up here," she grinned, hoping quietly that even if it did still work that maybe the batteries had died.

I clicked it.
It was hard to tell if it had worked, much like it had been when I lived here, but sure enough the garage door slowly crawled up into the ceiling.
We looked at each other for a minute.

This would be a different adventure.
Someone still lived here.
We had no pretense to be here whatsoever.
We parked the car on the street.
My girlfriend was smart and checked the mailbox to see that there had been a large pile of mail stacking up inside.
We went inside.
The house was dark and quiet.
No dogs or alarms.

I flipped the lights on, as if I'd just come home.

We started exploring the rooms as I pointed out what was different when I lived there.
The house was too big.
Too big to ever feel like home.
Too sterile.
Too nice.
Too cookie cutter.
It was like living inside a movie.
It was familiar but not home.
Leaving it was ugly but not emotional.
I had no deals with it to ever return.
But here I was.
It was the silver medal.

"I think we have to have a party," I said to my girlfriend.

I have some fond memories of this house, many of them of parties.


I think we have to have a small party. We can use the deck, and the kitchen. If anyone comes home we'll see the lights or hear the garage and we'll scatter. All we have to do is get off the property and come back for our cars.

I texted a small group of friends.
Some came, others thought I was crazy and would get arrested.
I invited people I hadn't seen since I'd lived in this house.
My girlfriend explained the situation and let everyone know we had to keep it quiet and that if there was any sign of the owners everyone was to scramble at once. They would be on their own. Everyone stood on the deck where we kept a single light on as to not arouse suspicion.
I didn't go to the party.
I sat on the front steps looking out over the mountains and the rest of the town.
Waiting to see a car come up the street and give the signal for everyone to scramble.
"the moon is bright in the almond blue sky," I said to myself.
It wasn't home.
But it would have to do.