The Empty House Cupcake Dream

March 9, 2009 § 4 Comments

I was reading in the New York Times Magazine about abandoned houses in Cleveland. Not a place I’ve ever wanted to live, even in a mansion, but the article was long and I kept seeing the empty houses—single family, unpretentious, a few bedrooms—seeing them in the hundreds and thousands and thinking: They’re empty. Why can’t people live in them before the pipes are ripped from the walls and the boiler stolen? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

I don’t know where I’m going to live six months from now. Here in New York or in Florida or both, going back and forth like the child of a particularly odd divorce. I’ve talked about this with both husband and boyfriend; we all have decisions to make, not knowing what the future holds; jealousy and possessiveness are still in play but security looms larger.

Philip has often said plaintively, “Why can’t we all just live together?”

“Because Christine hates me,” I would reply. “And Charles hates you.”

Now Charles has his own girlfriend, whom I will call Cynthia, and he won’t be able to afford me if he loses his job. Yesterday, he said, “I’m starting to agree with Philip. Maybe we should live together.” Meanwhile Philip dreamed that William Shatner was running for Governor, and he wanted to be his campaign manager. I want to be getting a snack in my mother’s beachfront kitchen in New Hampshire in 1974 while she and my teenage brother watch Star Trek reruns on TV.

The Times article mentioned houses being sold on ebay and craigslist for prices like $2,000. Now if it turns out that the house you bought for $2,000 has been stripped of its innards, condemned by the city and comes with a large back-tax bill, your deal is slightly less awesome than what you can find on my ebay site (beautiful jewelry, guaranteed-your-money-back free of mold, mice, vandalism and zombie banks).

But my interest was piqued and I went on line, looking at houses in South Florida. Houses that cost $8,500, or $24,000, or $55,000. Tiny houses and very small houses and smallish houses that resemble road dividers. The tiny and very small ones are often cute, painted fuschia or tangerine, with front porches, bushes, and white trim. Dollhouses. Surely I can buy several, string them together like Christmas lights?

Ten minutes later I was reading an article on about the amazing deals that can be had now on designer clothes, electronics and so forth. They might as well have been talking about discount plastic dog vomit. I couldn’t imagine buying anything more indulgent than dessert.

Houses like cupcakes, and the rose-tinted old days. That’s what I dream about.

After They’ve seen Paree

January 28, 2009 § 2 Comments

Old Post Office, Washington, D.C.

Old Post Office, Washington DC

Gray day, light snow and eddying pools of slush at the corners of 6th and 7th avenues. I walked in a daze—I had left the apartment in desperation, hoping that a long walk would energize me—and my neighbor John had to jump directly in front of me waving his arms to get my attention. Even then it took a couple of seconds to recognize the man with whom I’ve shared a wall for 25 years.
We talked about the people we know: those with no money, those terrified of losing their jobs, and those for whom this is a wonderful shopping opportunity. The easiest way to tell about someone’s finances now is to ask about the summer. When they say, “I can’t look that far ahead,” you understand perfectly and change the subject to the unlikely possibility that Obama will fix things really quickly.

In the mystery bookstore two people were arguing about whether a certain author was a high-level CIA agent or just a good at doing research. The bookstore proprietor remarked that when he met the man, he commented on how legibly he signed his name, and the author replied, “Probably because I invented it recently and haven’t gotten bored with writing it yet.” I fantasized about pseudonyms, which used to seem risky—you think you’re anonymous, publish things you don’t want to be known by, but you’re not safe, someone always finds out—and now seem more like Internet dating. When I first tried that, in 2000, several of my girlfriends were worried. In the end the only risk was love. The ‘stranger’ part of the equation offered novelty, entertainment, hijinks like those I hadn’t indulged in since I was 15—intrigue on the cheap.

My friend Jocelyn remarked last night that in the Great Depression, at least people could go back home, live on the family farm and grow their own food. I said that a lot of people had had no farm to go back to. She conceded this, but still thought it was an option for more people then than now. But we have far more wealth in this country than we did in the 1930’s. There are plenty of houses. Some people are going hungry but most are losing their dreams—their own home, college for the kids, a safe retirement…all the province of the upper classes in 1932.

Still, it feels like the perfect storm. Ice, snow, freezing rain; the great sinkhole of the summer when the cash runs out; the post office wanting to eliminate Tuesday.

I’m ready for a new identity.

Tenantless farm, Texas, 1938, Dorothea Lange. Public Domain.

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