Lena and I got married when I was living in Gainesville. I had been living in a miniature house in the back yard of a friend of mine. Perfect for one, not so much for two. From there we moved to an apartment, and later bought our first house. (A beautiful little home we thought we had no chance of getting.) A few years later Lena interviewed for, and got, a much better paying job in Jacksonville working in the headquarters of a large corporation. After an uncomfortable month with me in Gainesville selling the house and her living with my parents (a story all of it’s own) we found a small house to rent in Riverside, one of Jacksonville’s historic districts. It was cramped and in a horrible section of the district, there was a slum tenement building across the street and the landlord was both invasive and an idiot, but we got by.
The whole time we were there we were trying to get out. We spoke with realtors all over town, made lists of the things we wanted and the things we didn’t, and looked at dozens of homes. We saw a couple that were pretty good, but nothing that really struck us. I did learn a few things from my experiences though. I learned that when realtors ask you for a list of the things you are wanting in a house, what they are really asking for is a piece of paper they can put in the floor of their car to keep the carpet from getting dirty. I learned that when you give a realtor a $100,000 to $130,000 price range, the only number they actually hear is $150,000. I also learned that if you want to buy a house, a realtor is about as useful as a life-size bronze sculpture of a horse is to a drowning man freezing to death in the Pacific, while being circled by sharks and audited by the IRS.
But the most important thing was something Lena picked up. At an open house a realtor had left his laptop open in the kitchen so that passersby could look at other homes he was marketing. After a few seconds at the computer, she had both the website address for the company’s MLS (Multiple Listing Site — the place where they kept the pictures and records of all their agents’ homes for sale) and a password to use it. We smiled, thanked the realtor, and backed slowly out the door.
Once home we began going through the listings, and matching them up to our list. We were surprised to discover the house we wanted did in fact exist, despite the assertions of the many useless home agents we spoke to, and even more surprisingly in the price ranges we were looking for. Imagine that!
(On an unrelated note, I have it on fairly unreliable authority that “realtor” is actually the Latin term for a peculiar type of genital fungus that is extremely painful, expensive to cure, and leeches all the joy out of life. Think of it as having to pay a thousand dollars to be forced to watch America’s Top Model every week, with itching.)
In about a fifteen minute span, we found the home we had been looking for. We called the owners and set up an appointment for a half-hour later. They lived at the other end of Riverside which was much nicer and better cared for. You couldn’t buy crack cocaine on the corner, which is admittedly an inconvenience, but at least the neighborhood didn’t smell like vomit.
We walked into the house and I knew immediately I had just stepped into my new home. It was warm and comfortable and my soul slipped into it like a well-broken-in sneaker. We chatted for a few moments and I excused myself to go have a look around. Lena stayed in the living room with the owners.
Now at this point I suppose I should interject that I am occasionally a superstitious person. I believe I have psychic flashes in the shower, that my late dog Roxanne’s vocabulary was just as good as mine, that if I watch my favorite teams play they will lose and if I don’t they will win, that if I take a check into the bank early in the morning before the postman arrives he will bring me another one when he does, and that if I ever die in a fiery automotive collision slash explosion, it will be right after I have filled up the tank and replaced the tires.
I also believe in magic. Not David Copperfield stage magic, (I went to one of his shows once and was extremely disappointed to discover at the end that I had figured out every one of his tricks) I mean the magic of everyday events that pass right by us all the time without our ever understanding them. Where did that breeze really come from? Life in an egg. How do people and animals live together and become so dependent on each other? Fried ice cream. When I drink six beers and my pee turns clear, where does all the yellow go? After all the beer was yellow.
I used to live with a Wiccan girl. I read several of her books about magic and spells and herbs and all that good stuff. One thing I carried away from it was that “magic” is the natural, the ordinary, and the real. “Spells” were more a means to arrange the natural world around you than any kind of otherworldly influence. The book listed examples of animals in the wild doing essentially the same thing. I never really put a whole lot of stock in the lifestyle of Wicca, but I had to appreciate the simplicity of the outlook. Thus it was that the conversation in the living room between Lena and the home owners went something like this.
Lena: …and how many bathrooms are there?
Owner #1: Two and a half. Where is your husband? Should we go find him?
Owner #2: I think I saw him go out back.
Lena: (Face in hands speaking under her breath) Oh God.
Owner #1: Is everything okay?
Lena: Yes. Fine. I’m sure he’ll be right back. He’s probably just checking the fence. We have dogs.
Later, after promising to call them tomorrow with our feelings about the house, Lena and I got into the car to go home.
“You peed on their house, didn’t you!?” she opened.
“No,” I answered calmly. “I peed on our house.”
“I can’t believe you did that. What if they had seen you? They wanted to go looking for you!”
“Now it’s mine and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Which room do you want for your studio?”
I started the car and drove back to our crappy rental, chattering excitedly about TV rooms and art studios while Lena tried to decide which pair of pants I might have left my brain in the pocket of. Finally she sighed and looked up at me. “I suppose I should be grateful,” she said, “after all, it worked on our first house in Gainesville.”
Through the following month and a half, through the paperwork and the credit checks and the refusals and reversals, I remained calm. I knew the house was mine, everything else was just distraction. My confidence was infectious, and Lena accepted the red-taped hurdles with bold equanimity. When we signed the final form the owner presented us with a bottle of champagne.
I love my house. It’s big and old and happy and it feels good. It makes me smile when I wake up and put my feet on the floorboards and when I’m feeling lazy enough to take a bath in one of the enormous claw-foot tubs. As a kid I had always driven through this neighborhood looking at these gorgeous old homes and thinking I could never, ever be so lucky as to actually live in one. Now I do — and that’s just magic.