California Seething: I am my own slumlord [HOUSE HUNTERS vs RENOVATION REALITIES]
The rantings of a non-driving theatre professional living in altogether the wrong city
For most of my adult life, I have been an apartment renter. This means that I sent a check each month for about 18 years to a scumbag for the rare privilege of living in a place which Anne Frank would have referred to as cozy and which would have made my great-great grandparents wish they hadn’t tried so hard to elevate the family out of urban squalor in the first place and would have just gone to the beach in those weird one-piece stripey bathing suits instead. Among my many scumbag landlords were Giacomo, who ran a charming little neighborhood mafia front and who’s legitimacy as a businessman was rivaled only by the legitimacy of his orange tan.; Eli, who resembled Mahmoud Ahmadidjad in every way, except that he was way more of a dick.; and Bob who specialized in rehabbing brownstone and rehabbing from heroin. The trouble with Bob was that, if he didn’t finish a project before falling off the wagon, he would end up reallocating his resources to his veins. As a result the outside of the building was painted half fire-engine red and have urban-decay beige and the only way to drain the sink was to use a bucket and dump all the standing water in the bathtub- which, also did not drain, but was much larger, so he would typically sober up and fix it before it was totally full.
All these crumbums, however, pale in comparison to the cheap, apathetic and useless bastard who owns my current place — me.
Two years ago, my wife and I celebrated the global economic collapse by buying a little condo (she also made cupcakes — peanut butter credit crunch — my favorite!) Fortunately for us, it was cheap and available right away since the previous owner lost it to foreclosure and got thrown out on the street (don’t judge me, I work for the arts). The place is almost as old and small as my grandmother, but we saw a lot of potential for improvement (unlike my grandmother). It seemed as though we were entering a new phase in our lives — a long term, mutually fulfilling relationship with our home. What I didn’t realize was that buying an old house is less like getting married to the love of your life (something I was fortunate enough to do), than it is like trying to fuck a stripper. You get so tantalized by the potential of what might be that you keep spending money on something that’s never going to give you any real satisfaction until finally you go broke and give up and the next sucker moves in with a box of chocolates, a Lumber Liquidators card and the same dumb idea.
To be fair, though, it’s not really fair to blame the house. A life of renting did nothing to prepare me for the rigors of home ownership. As a renter, I only needed two tools to accomplish all home repairs — the “telephone” and “rage.” Since I’m pretty good at dialing and throwing tantrums (“the call and bawl” as it’s known in the trade), most everything got done, eventually, though with a modicum of concern for safety and quality. As a homeowner, though, I’ve discovered there are all sorts of tools required for repairs — weird shit, too — like the “circular saw”, “wire strippers” and a “hammer”– fuck do I do with that?. I still use rage, but it’s far less effective than it used to be. Mostly, it just terrifies the dog, which doesn’t really help me since that lazy fuck can’t fix shit no matter how many Snausages I give him. The telephone can still be useful, but only when combined with a third tool — “money.” While it’s not hard to figure out how to use money, it is the most emotionally difficult tool to employ — particularly since, if I had enough of it to fix everything, I wouldn’t have bought a place that needed so much work to begin with, or, at the very least, I would have bought a better insurance policy so I could afford to burn the place down.. If I choose not to spend money, but to use one of the more complicated tools instead, the telephone can still be employed to call the hospital and let them know about the blood spurting from the location where my middle finger used to be (which severely impacts my ability to use rage), or notifying the fire department about the wacky yet catastrophic consequences of my hapless efforts to fix the dryer or change a light-bulb.
The problem is compounded by the fact that I was raised by Jews and, as a result, “home improvement” was witnessed about as often in my life as “criticizing Israel”, “loving Jesus”, and “going outside without a sweater and not getting endlessly nagged about it until I just want to scream ‘I’m 38-years-old for God’s sake! And it’s 80 fucking degrees out –- I’m not going to freeze to death — leave me alone!!!” No one in my family has ever been particularly handy- according to legend, my great-great-grandparents left Poland because their sink was clogged and my biblical ancestors hired Mexicans to smear the lamb’s blood on their doors.
Clearly, then, the best solution is to sit on my ass doing nothing. While I’m doing that, I’ve found a couple of TV shows to watch — one when I want to feel like shit about myself, and one when I want to feel awesome.
Show that makes me feel like shit: House Hunters
In LA, property is like sushi. It’s overpriced, sold in tiny portions, and the cheap stuff will make you sick (trust me). In other parts of the country, though, this is not the case. In some states — like those where it snows all the time and it’s cool to fuck your cousin (Minnesota) real estate is served up like tuna noodle casserole at the Hometown Buffet — piled on in huge, cheap, tasteless slabs smothered in granite, chrome and engineered hardwood, and served with a heaping side of inground pool and water feature. On House Hunters, wide-eyed young couples in these backwards regions are taken to see three massive, beautiful houses and asked to choose one. Along the way they express grave concerns like “I’m worried that my music studio is too close to the baby’s room,” “this doesn’t feel like a true three car garage” and “I’m totally overwhelmed by how big it is.” In the end, they choose a house which they invariably LOOOOVVE. They then invite all their friends (and, for some reason the real estate agent) over for a huge BBQ to rub their happiness in my face. It’s the worst kind of self-flagellating House Porn- like making a movie where three pool cleaners come over and the star picks which one to fuck by comparing the size of their cocks (“I’m totally overwhelmed by how big it is”) and awesomeness of their moustaches (“it doesn’t feel like a true pornstache”), and then has a big party where she invites all her girlfriends over to remind me of how small my dick and condo are (Note to self — think of title for pitch meeting — “House Humpers”?, “Hunk Hunters”? suggestions welcome- but not “Hump Hunters” since TLC is using that for a new reality show about hunchback fetishists or “Quasihomos” as they are more frequently known). Considering that my main concerns when house shopping was “will all the squatters move out before we move in?” and “exactly how fast is the bathroom sinking?”, it’s absolute torture to watch — and yet, as a Jew, I hate myself and can’t turn away. Even worse is House Hunters International, where these same couples, 30 years later, kick me in the face again by buying a huge fucking house in Belize. My only consolation is imagining these same perky young couples on my other favorite Houseploitation show…
Show that makes me feel awesome: Renovation Realities
Renovation Realities- aka- How About a Contractor, Moron? Or I Tried to Build My Wife a The Kitchen of Her Dreams and Ended Up Killing The Hateful Bitch Instead is absolutely the best thing on television, aside from Top Gear. On this delightful program, a couple — a little older, a little uglier and a whole lot trashier than their counter-parts on House Hunters attempts to renovate some portion of their dumpy little house in Worcester (or equivalent armpit) and fails spectacularly. It’s magnificent fun.
Each episode starts with the husband, who learned everything he could possibly need to know about home renovation from his job as a pharmacist, explaining his plans in the casual tone of a man ordering takeout from a Chinese restaurant as his wife looks on lovingly. “Yeah, so, you know I’m just going to take out these cabinets, the oven, dishwasher, water heater, countertop, backsplash, windows, floor tiles, floor boards, two supporting walls and the roof and then, I’m gonna like, move all the plumbing and electrical two feet to the left, put in five new windows so we get a better view of the sunrise, install and refinish hardwood floors, build new cabinets from scratch, put up new walls, cover everything with mosaic tile and put in a life-sized chocolate fountain where the water heater used to be. Oh, yeah, and my wife wants to put in an island, but I think that’s just nuts. Anyhow, President’s Day Weekend is coming up, so I should be able to knock it all out for around 30 bucks and the change in my ashtray.” Then, the camera catches every delicious moment as long days turn into long nights, and the renovation collapses along with the marriage. Gas lines are severed along with lines of communication, dead rats and buried resentments are unearthed behind the walls and the hopes and dreams of young lovers lie hopelessly shattered like hunks of old plaster in the dumpster of life. It’s like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with a caulking gun — awesome!
So, watching all this television has taught me some valuable lessons:
- You can buy a great house for a reasonable price, but only if you like snow and have a hot cousin.
- It’s not worth ruining your marriage over a kitchen renovation, even if you do get an island out of it.
- It’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. So long as you’re trying and failing on TV for my entertainment and I don’t have to do shit except for sit back and feel smug. Sucker.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to train the dog to unclog the sink.