Eight years ago, I bought a house. It wasn’t the first time I’d done that, but it was certainly the nicest of the bunch. Don’t get me wrong, the condo/bunker in St. Mary’s County had a certain charm and the Memphis house had the virtue of being absolutely new, but this place has the combination of interior space, sufficient distance from the neighbors, and geography that the others lacked.
How that happened all of eight years ago, I’m not entirely sure. It feels like it’s been about eight weeks – or maybe eight months if I’m feeling particularly generous. It’s not until I add up the projects – backyard drainage, the generator, tree removals, sod, a new furnace, and most recently the bathroom renovation. Thinking back on all of those, it absolutely feels like eight years have slid past.
I’ve reached a happy point where there are still projects that need doing – new carpet, interior repaint, a new roof, replacing the air conditioning condenser, and a bit more tree removal – but even without these things, the place is comfortable. Unsurprisingly, I’ll take comfortable over new and flashy every single time.
Despite what has felt like a never-ending litany of repairs and improvements, I’ve developed a real affection for the place. The longer I’m here, the more I realize how lucky I was to find it at the right time and for a greatly negotiable price. It might not be capital “H” Home, but it certainly feels like a strong lowercase home for sure.
There are a lot of nice houses in my neighborhood. There’s one in particular I noticed the first time I drove through the area and that I take note of every time I drive past. For my money it’s the best looking house of the bunch, which is saying something because there are some really well put together homes in this particular hood. It looks to all the world like a colonial stone house set down on its two acres in the middle of everything else built in the 21st century.
I noticed the for sale sign had gone up in the weeks leading into Christmas and it appears to be on the market as a short sale. At a little more than twice my current square footage, it would be far too much space for me to ramble about. I’d also need a second job to make the payment comfortable. Giving up my current sub-3% loan for something closer to 6 or 7% is absurd. Even if all of that could be looked past, I hate the very idea of packing up all my crap and moving it is just more than I can bear thinking about.
Still, there’s more than a little bit of lust in my heart. If I were just a little bit more impulsive, I’d probably have spent my Christmas vacation coming up with ways to jump on this short sale. It helps that the place needs a fair amount of updating around the kitchen and bathrooms – if I’m honest, the interior doesn’t do justice to the exterior – but it’s probably best I’ve constrained those impulsive tendencies to settle in and watch this pitch sail past.
As a rule, I find the Twitter algorithm much more entertaining than the one Facebook uses. Twitter tends to feed me a steady diet of people who talk about dogs, UK politics, the age of fighting sail, archeology, military affairs, book collecting, egirls, and the occasional American politician. It’s more or less balanced based on my interests.
Every couple of months, though, I somehow land in environmentalist crackpot twitter. My most recent territory was getting twisted up with Twitter’s urban planners who were demanding that everyone must live in densely built walkable communities.
I’d like to encourage that group to piss directly off. Not everyone wants or needs to live in dense, urban housing – walkable or otherwise. I’ve spent my life specifically avoiding living under those conditions. I have no idea why it’s so hard for urbanites to understand that not everyone is interested in living asshole to elbow with their neighbor, stacked 47 floors deep, just for the pleasure of having a bakery or bodega a block over. I worked my ass off to make sure there was plenty of space between me and the next guy. In fact, I suspect my current space allocation isn’t nearly enough and the next time around I’ll focus on less house and more land.
I’d be hard pressed to think of a single argument the urban planning true believers on Twitter could make that would lead me in a different direction. That won’t stop that oddball little corner of twitter from being filled by people who think they have the One True Way and the rest of us should just live in accordance with their pronouncements of the higher good.
I obviously need to find a way to get Twitter to stop feeding me this nonsense, as I’d much rather focus on the nonsense that actually interests me instead of rabbit holing me into things just guaranteed to elevate my blood pressure. Damned glitchy algorithm.
I’ve organized my life in such a way as to be reasonably unobtrusive and minimize the impact my day-to-day activities have on others. It’s probably reasonable to say I actively go out of my way to avoid people in anything but necessary interactions. Much as I’d love it to be otherwise, there are still times when people are unavoidable if you’re not an entirely self-sufficient operation. In those cases, I try to be polite, professional, and end the engagement quickly as possible so we can all get on with our day. In essence, I have a policy of trying to be exactly the kind of neighbor I want to have. Do unto others and all that.
I don’t let the dog stand at the edge of the fence line and bark at all hours of the day and night. I don’t have live bands on the patio well past 11 PM. I don’t light off a barrage of fireworks in celebration of July 27th. I don’t encourage any resident or guest to wander the property screeching and screaming at top volume for hours on end. The loudest, most intrusive thing I do is run the mowers, trimmers, and blowers that keep the yard neat and tidy once a week. All in, it takes about 45 minutes and with very few exceptions it takes place during a time when one or more of my neighbors are doing the same thing.
I suspect it’s our setting, being surrounded by woods, that gives people the illusion of privacy and distance from their neighbors. At the height of summer with trees in full leaf and thick undergrowth on three sides, perhaps it’s easy to forget that the next guy can be as close as 30 or 40 yards away. Then again, it also feels entirely possible that people are just legitimately the worst animal and do what they do without even a thought behind their glazed over, soulless eyes. As much as I’d like to believe it’s the former, the latter is likely more the case.
I won’t cast aspersions on all neighbors, of course. Some are obviously better than others. The best of the bunch are the ones who throw a wave when you drive past or speak and keep walking when picking up their mail. I’m lucky to count most of my immediate neighbors as falling into this good category. Sadly, it doesn’t take more than one of the other kind to disturb the tranquility of the place overall.
Without investing in thousands of acres, I don’t imagine you can ever completely control for how other people behave or what they choose to do for entertainment. The big ranch in Montana probably isn’t in the cards for me, though. I can certainly keep muddling along with how things are, but I’m definitely of the opinion that I’ll need more seclusion from the general population than 1 or 2 acre lots provides when I settle in for my last act.
I’ve known for a long time there’s a Ferrari in the neighborhood. It’s a project car. You can’t miss the guy working on it in his garage. Every time I drive past and the door is up, I slow roll past and drool just a little bit. We wave, so it’s no completely awkward. Mostly.
Last Saturday, though, I discovered there’s a second one here. This one is decidedly not a project car. I following it out of our hood and into town… and it was like watching (and listening to) art in motion. It was simply a very pretty thing.
It has also let me know decisively that any thought I ever had of keeping up with the Jones’s is officially dead and gone. After this most recent observation, I am, however, absolutely questioning my life and career choices. As it sits, I could either have the car or the house, but there’s no financially responsible way I could have both. I’ll probably just go on blaming these dual income earners ruining it for the rest of us.
The pain of this particular reality is eased a bit by knowing that I’d need a bucket of grease and a shoehorn to wedge myself behind the steering wheel. I’d also be too heartsick at the thought of dings and dents to ever take the thing further afield than the end of the driveway… but I’m still absolutely filled with an overabundance of lust in my heart.
In the last six months I’ve watched as about 30% of the neighborhood hung out a for sale sign. Each time the home in question was sold in a matter of days – and if internet records can be believed, commanded sales prices that no one would have dreamed of two years ago. Two more just on my far exurban road have “coming soon” signs that went up last weekend.
I’ve seen enough of these boom and bust real estate cycles to know that seller’s markets don’t last forever. Then again, neither do buyer’s markets. Even knowing that, I have to confess to just a touch of jealousy at those cashing out and moving up or on.
By the same token, I’m spectacularly happy that I’m not trying to find a house to buy in the current market. Too many people chasing too few good options. I don’t have the patience for a bidding war or the tolerance for assuming all risks by waiving every contingency.
Part of me would dearly love to put up a for sale sign of my own and unlock the COVID equity built up over the last 18 months. The real trouble is, the house I really want hasn’t been built yet – because I’m still toying around with floor plans and design ideas to somehow hide the contents of a neighborhood library in a traditionally styled house.
I’d very much like my next move to be my last move. With seven of them under my belt since August 2000, I feel like I’ve had my share of packing and unpacking in town to town, up and down the dial already. Changing houses now would be, at best, a change of scenery. Since the scenery I’ve got is pretty damned good, though, it’s not an idea swimming with motivational appeal.
So, yeah, I have a little bit of sales envy, but no intention of doing anything about it for the time being. Barring untimely death or global economic collapse following the Great Mask Wars of the early 21st century, there will be time enough to cash out and have everything put together just so.
1. Twitter. I follow a pretty eclectic mix of personalities on Twitter – celebrities, politicians, news outlets, historic buildings, porn stars, military thinkers, military do-ers, and government organizations. With few exceptions, the dumpster fire that is Twitter has turned both more dumpster-y and more fiery over the last weeks and months. It’s become considerably less fun. It may be time to clear out the ol’ Twitter feed with a chain saw to see if we can correct that issue before deciding whether or not platform is hopelessly beyond redemption.
2. Government spending. The only time the US Government spent more money than it is right now, we were fighting a war of national survival against Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Now I don’t mean to imply that the Great Plague and its fallout haven’t been bad, but I’m not sure it has been end of western civilization bad. That won’t stop us from collectively throwing absolutely shit tons of money at it though. We seem to have gotten use to throwing around dollar amounts denominated in trillions over the last year, but the reality is the amount of debt we’re collectively financing to pay for short term stimulus versus long term growth is simply staggering. If it’s true that we ended the Cold War, in part, because we spent the USSR into oblivion, I don’t have a hard time imagining the day when we, too, reach the upper limit of our national line of credit. It’ll make what we currently think of as hard times feel like the most welcoming Spring day.
3. Walkers. The warm weather this week, as it does every spring, has brought out the neighborhood walkers in force. This fine. Good on them for wanting to be out stretching their legs at bit. Personally, I prefer taking the air in my own yard and woods, but to each their own. People wandering past all afternoon doesn’t particularly bother me. I’m tucked in to the back of the house with better views than out to the street. The problem, because of course there’s a problem, is that as much as I don’t mind, at least one of my canine residents minds terribly… and shows it by frantically barking at every single thing that moves anywhere within his line of sight. I can’t stop people from walking, but I am strongly considering bricking up every window on the front of the house.
1. Login.gov. The main platform for applying for work with the federal government, USAjobs.com, has introduced 2-factor authentication. In order to log into you account you now have to enter you user name and password and a six digit number provided to you via phone. That’s fine, except that in order to set up this new fancy ID with the 3rd party service, login.gov, you need the original phone number you used to set up your USAjobs account – which is a desk number I had more than 10 years ago. Without that one little bit of information you find you can’t log in to your old account, you can’t set up you new account, and there’s no way to fix A without fixing B witch requires you to fix A. It’s one of the most magnificent do loops I’ve seen the government foist on us in recent years. In discussion with the “help” desk it turns out I can’t even delete my old account and try again unless I can somehow transport back in time and answer a phone at a desk I haven’t sat at in over ten years.
2. Lawn Sprinklers. I have no philosophical issue with anyone piping water to their yard when weeks without rain threaten to bake it into oblivion. Sure, we’re all on wells and probably drawing from the same aquifer, but after three years of reliable water, I’ve got at least a small degree of comfort that we’re not going to run the damn thing dry. My problem comes when, after almost a week of nearly unremitting rain, when rainfall records are dropping like flies across the region, these same lawn sprinklers are running full tilt in the middle of a torrential downpour. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but in my mind that also makes it one of those that’s easy to correct. I’m tickled pink to come from the land of plenty. I’m thrilled that the rain has turned my own lawn from wilting embarrassment to lush green carpet again. Although it’s completely outside the scope of what I usually care about, I’d really appreciate it if the house down the street could just stop making it rain for these few days while nature is providing the service gratis. I’m sure there will be plenty of days in August when they can show off their new toy to the neighborhood.
3. HVAC. Heating and cooling systems can be complex even at the residential level. Scale that into a multi-floor office building with a warren of offices, conference rooms, and open space, and I don’t even want to speculate on what mathematics may be involved in trying to make the place comfortable. First, I don’t want to speculate on that because I hate doing the maths. Second, I won’t speculate because I honestly don’t care. I just want the system to work. I want it to spit out cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Beyond that it can do whatever it wants. All I know is that somehow we’ve managed to make the lobby with 40 foot ceilings nicely chilled even in the heat of the day, but haven’t found a way to get any of that cool refreshing air down the hall to the back of the building. The first safety officer who comes down here bitching about too many fans plugged in is going to get kicked in the junk.
The local county zoning board is set to hear a request for a variance centered on our little corner of the Ceciltucky. This long stretch of the Elk Neck peninsula we call home ranges from protected wetlands, state park, state forest, conservation trust land, horse farms, and what in zoning parlance is “low density residential” housing. That LDR designation is what’s important here in that it’s what’s prevented all manner of undesirable development – things like condo blocks, giant houses on tiny lots, and, last year, a proposed “RV park” that got rolled back when property owners howled.
Now that county is considering what, at first blush, might seem to be a so what variance that would allow an additional 2500 square feet of space to be put under roof on that particular parcel of land that was once home to a now-defunct local convenience store. The wider issue, and there’s always a wider issue, is that the stated purpose of the variance is to allow Dollar General to develop the site as a commercial retail space squarely in the middle of what is almost exclusively a low density residential area. I say almost, because the Dollar General property is directly next to a small, locally owned convenience store where you can stop to get your lottery tickets, a fried egg sandwich, coffee, and as much of the local gossip as you can stand. This place is a community asset.
The request, of course, discusses all of the wonderful benefits of having a Dollar General come to “town.” As a consummate writer of bullshit memoranda, I can tell you whatever legal beagle put it together did a fine job off adding the bells and whistles to make an appealing case without saying much of anything at all.
I have great discomfort about telling a property owner what they can or can’t do with their property. That said, though, the owners purchased it knowing full well what was and wasn’t allowed based on the zoning in place when they purchased. I moved down to this quiet part of the county specifically because it was far away from the “retail opportunities” along major local highways. The last thing I want is to see some generic rubber dog shit selling baby big box store moving in just up the way. Based on the electrons I’m seeing being burned up online, the bulk of my neighbors agree. I guess all that’s left is seeing if we can pummel the county into submission one more time.
1. Doing it on the cheap. I’m assuming that the plastic mailbox pedestal you’ve installed proudly in the front yard is supposed to look like stone. I’m sure you’re trying hard to ape the style of the big houses up the hill. I’m sure someone in your house, maybe even you, thought it looked good. That assessment was incorrect. It’s tacky as hell.
2. Jet noise. Local news out of Anne Arundel County reports that residents near Baltimore-Washington International Airport are upset because they’re hearing jet noise. Let’s recap: 1) You bought a house near the airport; 2) Now you’re upset that airports are noisy and want the county to make the FAA do something about it. In summation: You’re an idiot.
3. Wind and the failure to plan for it. Every trash can in the neighborhood blew over last night. Since the weather reports were all calling for a dramatic change in weather following a fast moving system of thunder storms, high wind overnight shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But it did, because of course it did. Now, those overturned 60-gallon rolling trash barrels have spewed paper products and plastic bottles into every gutter and wood line, leaving our little corner of the county looking like some kind of 3rd world shithole. Somehow I don’t expect the doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs in my hood will bother themselves it make it right. All for the want of a few $2 bungee cords.