I've worked at the same newspaper since graduating from college, which makes me a weird throwback to the disposable employment culture of the 2000s. For two of those decades I wrote a column - at first a lame attempt to co-opt Dave Barry's niche, and then, when I became angry, an effort to get people thinking.
Recently I came across a column I wrote in 1987, shortly after I bought my first house. I'd forgotten the column but I'll never forget that house, and the terror that arrived with the first mortgage payment.
Reading my words from 24 years ago I'm surprised how cavalier I felt about the enormity of my commitment. I'm also surprised that, in some parts, it's actually kinda funny.
Here's what I wrote:
Recently, many of you were shocked and saddened to learn that I was living at my parents' home because the newspaper publisher refuses to pay me the piddling $4,000 per week necessary for me to buy a home of my own.
The outpouring of grief and sympathy was heartwarming, and I truly appreciate the thousands of letters of support I received from real estate agents.
You will be happy to learn, though, that I have finally purchased a house. Now you can go back to worrying about other things, such as nuclear war and the trade deficit.
It was all rather sudden. In fact, I'm still not sure if I actually bought the house or will live in it as an endentured servant. At any rate, I signed many papers and learned how to repeate difficult-to-pronounce terms such as "soffit," "escrow," "bankrupt" and "debtor's prison."
Looking for a house was an exciting experience; it ranks alongside hav ing hemorrhoids surgically removed. The problem is that no matter how nice a house you find, you are hesitant to commit yourself to 30 years of payments, especially if you are under the influence of alcohol. But I was assured that everything would be fine after a week of diarrhea.
As a potential buyer, I was given vast powers. I could barge right into a house - even if the occupants were having dinner, reproducing, hiding dead bodies or planning to overthrow the government. This experience taught me two very important lessons: (1) Many of us are slobs, and (2) Do not enter a slob's house until the dog is chained up.
Before I went looking for a house, I prepared a rigorous checklist of important features that a prospective house would have to meet:
1. Did I see roaches during my inspection?
2. Was the house constructed on an ancient Indian burial site?
3. Did the neighbors have moats or gun ports on their houses?
4. Was there any indication that devil worshipers had conducted midnight rituals involving goats on the premises?
5. Was the house within staggering distance of a tavern?
Fortunately, the house of choice exhibited none of these characteristics, and even offered several pluses, such as a telephone in the utility room; so now, as suds spew from the washing machine, I can call up Mom and ask, "You mean you're not supposed to use the entire box of soap?"
When my working companions learned I had purchased a house, they wanted to know one thing: When is the party?
The party, my good friends, is when you cough up the microwave ovens and rocker-recliners and wall-to-wall bookshelves. I guess that means never.
Perhaps years from now, when my neighbors are assured that I won't be raising llamas in the back yard or renting out the spare room to a heavy-metal guitarist, I will have a housewarming party.
But first, I have to get a couch.