Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

OK, Now These Folks Are Nuts

I'm reading "Minding Our Own Business" by Charlotte Paul, which was published 50 years ago and is surely out of print. My copy is a tattered green hand-me-down with yellowy pages. It's the story of a husband and wife who chucked their comfortable lives in Chicago and moved to Washington state to run their own newspaper.

To say their decision to move was impetuous is a drastic understatement. Charlotte and her husband Ed gave themselves two months to quit Ed's job, sell the farm, find a newspaper on the West Coast, buy it, move across the country and start making a profit. They took shocking risks. The whole journey was harrowing. The work hours were insane. The debt was enormous. The entire book gave me a heart attack. Ed himself had a heart attack in Chapter 8. Compared to them, Ron and I are hopelessly conventional. Perhaps journalists just shouldn't marry each other.

The book opens in August 1949 with Charlotte and her husband living an idyllic life on a small farm outside Chicago. Ed had been laid off from the Chicago Tribune and now had a comfortable job in PR; Charlotte was trying to publish a novel. She left their small boys with a sitter each morning and bicycled to a neighbor's house, where she had a little office. Sounded great.

But Ed was a little bored with his job, so they decided he should quit Oct. 1. Two months to pull it off. One month later, the farm still hadn't sold, but it was time to fly to Washington and Oregon and find a newspaper. They bought one in Snoqalmie, Wash., and flew back to Chicago. Two weeks left. They sold the farm (for much less than they'd hoped), packed the kids in the car, and drove out of Illinois in the dark.

Then things really got rough. I read the whole book in a day, goggle-eyed, reading passages out loud to Ron: "That first day in Snoqualmie I had noticed that the [newspaper] building seemed to need a new coat of paint. We soon discovered that what it really needed was a coat of wood."

One of the most memorable chapters was about their first vacation. They'd planned it for weeks, it was a necessity, given Ed's heart. But everything fell apart:

"We had to wait until the paper was out, so it wasn't until 4:30 that afternoon that the four of us got into the car and started out. Hi [the older son] was stretched out on a pile of blankets in the back seat, nursing his concussion. Johnny [the younger son] was catching Ed's head cold. My face was so badly swollen I could scarcely open my mouth or swallow. Ed, our driver, was in relatively good health; all he could boast of was two heart attacks, a severe case of shingles, a head cold and a sacroiliac that had slipped out of place that morning when he lifted a bundle of newsprint."

When they stopped for gas, a state patrolman saw them and said it looked like they were going someplace.

"Actually," Charlotte wrote, "we looked like a wholesale shipment for the county hospital. 'Headed for California,' said Ed, gay as a pallbearer.'"

Amazingly, they did have a good vacation, although their house was robbed while they were gone.

That chapter reminded me of my own family's vacation to Washington D.C. in 1992, which Mom was determined to pull off despite everything. I drove us all out of Michigan after midnight in a rented minivan. My sister was ill, Andy had a very bad eye infection. It was just days after I'd completed my first year of teaching high school and my nerves were shot. We were all exhausted. It also turned out to be a good vacation and thankfully, our mobile home wasn't robbed.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Won't You Be Their Neighbor?

I apologize for being such a terrible blogger -- this is only the second post this month -- but seriously, it would all just be tedious whining about how I hate packing our stuff and showing our house.

My brother Andy has graciously agreed to rent our house if it doesn't sell. I advised him to keep the family connnection quiet, since both our next-door neighbors dislike me. One neighbor, the one with the camouflage banners (let's call him Big Foot), is trained as a Realtor. He's mad because we won't use him to sell our house and hasn't spoken to us since February.

Our other neighbor (let's call him Little Foot) and I have had testy relations in the past. Little Foot runs a dogsitting service, and started bringing around a tons of dogs right after moving in. About a dozen dogs ran around his backyard every day. I'd complain about the noise and the odor, he'd get defensive, and we had several little discussions on the topic.

Finally he found a place to run his million dogs, and our relationship is now cordial. He still gets on my nerves, though, because Little Foot is a nosy guy. The first time I met him he asked how much we paid for our house. When I wouldn't tell him, he said, "I can just find out online." I glared at him and said, "Then do so."

As soon as we put our house on the market, Little Foot asked every time we met" "Got any offers?" I finally said to him that I wished we'd get an insulting offer, just so we'd have something to say to people who asked about it. He looked surprised and said, "I was just curious." Grrrrr.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Christine Does the Math

Oh, my life is completely weird now. I'm typing this on the back deck, trying to be invisible, while a very nice couple from Delaware tours the house. Since Ron has accepted a reporting job with the San Francisco Business Times, life has taken on an odd quality: a combination of Alice in Wonderland and two months of final exams.

And it's getting weirder as Ron and I dismantle our life in Michigan. Working From Home + No Car + House Showings = Christine Huddled on the Back Porch. Or as an alternate formula: Benny + No Car + House Showings = Christine Fleeing to the Park. We sold the Jeep last week, so we're down to Ron's small Saturn, which he uses to get to work.

I'm not cranky about it (really) because I'm pathetically grateful that the Jeep sold so quickly. Gas prices are at $3.18 a gallon, which doesn't help the SUV market. I drove our 2004 Jeep Liberty over to the dealership last week, praying for a decent sale price since we still owed more than $10,000 on it.

The used car guy inspected it, then sat behind his desk and looked at me as if his best friend just died.

"I'll give you $7,000," he said.

I blinked. "That's considerably below blue book," I said. Which it was, blue book being around $9,700.

"There's something wrong with the steering," he said. "And the oil changes aren't up to date. That really hurts the value."

I was floored. "But I'm only three weeks overdue."

He shook his head. "Doesn't matter. It's indicative."

"You're kidding," I said. "You're cutting down the price because of three weeks?"

All I got was a flat stare. "I can cut you a check in 20 minutes," he said.

I stood. "Thank you, but no, I don't think so." I stomped out, irritated with myself. I should have had the oil changed, and probably cleared those bits of mulch out of the back, too. Actually, I couldn't have sold the Jeep that minute anyway, since it was in Ron's name, but I wasn't telling Used Car Guy that. Creep. Blondist. Probably is mean to his dog, too.

I went home, chugged a Snapple and called another Jeep dealership. I described our Liberty to the used car manager, Ron N., who got excited when I said the mileage was 36,000. "If it looks good," Ron said, "I can give you $10,000."

"OK," I said casually, if a little breathlessly because I was dancing around the living room. "I'll stop by."

I raced right over and Ron N. confirmed the sale price. Then I raced home and tore the house apart looking for the Jeep's title. Couldn't find it, so Ron (husband Ron) had to drive to the Secretary of State in Canton (Mich., not China) and get a duplicate title. But the next night we sold the Jeep, and wrote a check for a few hundred dollars to cover the rest of the car loan.

So I'm not crabby about sharing the Saturn with Ron, although it's hard not having a car to stuff laundry and dirty dishes in when I'm showing the house. And it is really nice sitting out here under the trees, watching a soft breeze blowing our neighbor's huge camouflage drapes around. (1) After all, Benny's not around today and the formula is simple: Benny At Daycare + No More House Showings = Christine Popping Open a Beer on the Deck.


1) Oh, the angst. The people living diagonally from us built a huge addition last year, with giant windows looking straight into our next-door neighbor's back yard. This gave our next-door neighbors the heebie-jeebies when they were relaxing in their gazebo or walking beside their little pond. So next-door neighbors hung giant camouflage draperies on one tree to block the view. They change the colors in accordance with the seasons. I'm thinking of buying them pith helmets with leafy branches as a going-away gift.