In 1998, our landlords and next-door neighbors in New Paltz announced that they were selling the house from under us for reasons having to do with capital gains, now or never, and fuck the Democrats. It was the house they had raised their children in, the house we brought our child home to only a year before. Vividly, I remembered them telling us they would never sell so long as we wanted to be there. Vividly, they didn’t remember that.
“What?” said the man with an inflated, derisive incredulity that I can still smell, “not sell my house because John Burdick doesn’t want me to?” I had not impressed him. Liz, they liked.
In fact, they really seemed to believe that Liz wanted to buy their house (false), that Liz loved it like a dream (wrong), but, you know, the loser husband. If I could transport back to that chest-to-chest doorway confrontation, throughout which his wife pleaded, “Life is too short, life is too short,” I would script myself the line: “What? John Burdick? Here? Forever?”
Anyway, said events started a life scramble that ended up, half a year later, with something called home ownership on Woodland Drive, in case you are coming to let me know what you really think of my writing.
To buy a house. The act requires a better verb, one that gets at the cellular-level grafting of a sentient but stunned life form with not only a physical structure but with a behemoth economic one as well, both of which conceal plenty of dark secrets at the time the pact is sealed. Maybe you have a good eye for fine print. Maybe you have good eye for shingle flashing and carpenter ant frass. Maybe both, or maybe, like John Burdick, neither.
“Buy” is far too simple and binary a description of this transaction. One does not buy a house like one buys a luxury mattress or a vintage guitar. “The dream of home ownership,” that essential appeal of real-estate professionals to middle-class aspirants, gets pretty close to the truth, but dig: the home is not illusory. The ownership is.
$129,000 really seemed like too much to the loser husband, but calling it $135,000 and taking a $6000 cash-out at signing was pretty cool, and it was John Burdick’s first taste of the little leverages available to a nominal homeowner, all of which complicate one’s relationship to the economy and, the further down the line you think about, to the struggles of the dispossessed.
Less than two years after we moved in, Al Qaeda flew hijacked jets into two identical New York City skyscrapers. Two years after that, our home’s assessed value had tripled. The upriver flight began swiftly, and with it the rosy declaration of a thousand little Williamsburgs that didn’t come to pass, except for one or two.
Maybe this time? Because here they come, panicked again and loaded as ever, and if there is one thing I know about John Burdick, it’s that he has his price.