Thanks to Martha Stewart, I’m going to live in a gingerbread house.
April 30, 2003
That insidious Martha Stewart is making my life a living hell. She may look like an innocent Betty Crocker-type, but once she gets inside your wife’s head, buddy, you’re going to have problems.
Stewart has her name on magazines, couches, pillows and even paint colors. I wouldn’t mind it so much if she kept her ideas to herself, but she’s managed to brainwash my poor wife. Stewart’s quaint, simple-country-living, East Coast lifestyle is seeping into my life and clouding my central Louisiana, red clay, pine tree worldview.
To be honest, I didn’t think my wife and I would even get to the point where we would be arguing about such ridiculous things like paint colors. It only took us 18 months to find a house and another two months for the mortgage company to comb through our pitiful personal finances, the insurance company to stick us with another uncomfortable monthly note and the bank to say it wouldn’t mind us taking out a loan for the next 30 years of our life. But, we survived it. Now, I’m trying to take the advice of several different men, who have told me repeatedly that when it comes to painting the house, it’s a battle I’m always going to lose. The best thing to do, they say, is to just shut up and paint. She’s going to want to repaint the house in a couple years anyway.
But even with the painting fiasco, we’re homeowners. I guess we’re living the American Dream. When my father and I were ripping out a ceiling, with fiberglass clinging to our bodies, invading our lungs, for some reason, in my head, I keep hearing Henry Rollins whispering lines from his poem “Family Man” – “Family man, family man/with your life all planned/your little sand castle built/smiling through your guilt.” I was smiling all right, not because I was feeling guilty, but because I was ripping out a ceiling. My ceiling.
That’s the thing about owning your own place. When you’re renting, you’re just throwing away money every month, putting it in someone else’s pocket. And for what? Just for a place to live. You’ve got to live somewhere, though, so why not live in a place that’s yours? Our big problem was saving up enough money for a down payment. It took us quite awhile, but I’m glad we lived on Ramen noodles and bologna sandwiches for a while.
If you’re renting a house and you need a justification for looking to buy one, sit down and figure out how much money you’ve spent in rent. Figure out how much that would be in just five years. Then ask yourself what you have to show for it. Generally, it’s nothing but a headache. Landlords are always complaining about tenants and what a nuisance they are, but there’s another side to that story. Getting a landlord to make a repair is about as enjoyable as a root canal. And when you’re living in a house that’s 50 years old, it’s going to need to be repaired every now and then. It’s not going to magically correct itself. I could tell you some landlord stories, but I just don’t have the room for it here.
The two things that scared me most about buying a house were taking out a loan from a bank and having to make repairs. I’m not the kind of person who takes the process of borrowing money from the bank for the next three decades of my life lightly. The house may be in our name, but I’m painfully aware of who really owns it. Until it’s paid off, I’m the one who gets to repair it. I’m not what you would call a handy man. I’m all thumbs, and I have the dexterity of a newborn colt. My wife sweats bullets any time I break out the drill or even replace the blade in a box cutter.
But when you own a house and there’s work to be done, there’s no haggling with the landlord or calling the bank and seeing if they can look into it. It’s all you. You have to figure out if it’s a job you can tackle or whether you would be better off hiring someone who knows what he’s doing and who can do it quicker, although you might have to dig deeper into your wallet.
It’s daunting to think of maintaining a house, but one of my neighbors told me to think of it as a five-year project. I’m starting to think of it as a 30-year project, one that I’ll be lucky to survive. But, right now, I’ve got other fish to fry. I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to go toe to toe with Martha Stewart and how I can save my wife from her evil clutches.