I went house shopping today and I saw an old and fat Chinese man in a business suit riding a skateboard. I was getting my oil changed so that I could drive up to the suburbs. To kill time I was just standing around watching through the big glass garage doors. I wasn't expecting to see an old and fat Chinese guy wearing a business suit and riding a skateboard. In fact, if someone had told me that I would see that during the day, I would laugh and say "doesn't exist." A couple of those variables, sure. That could happen. Maybe a Chinese guy or a guy in a business suit. I'd even allow for the possibility of an old fat guy riding a skateboard. But an old and fat Chinese man in a suit on a skateboard? Can't happen.
The combination of variables put the imagery over the top. I couldn't cope. I would suspect it's the same sort of reaction people have to seeing a UFO or an angel or something. This can't be real. He didn't have any safety gear. He wasn't wobbling around with inexperience. He just cruised past the glass doors of the garage like he'd been doing kick flips on handrails his entire life.
I'm not superstitious, but even I could tell there had to be some sort of portent to what I had just witnessed. I was preparing to make the most important purchase of my life so far and the impossible just cruised past me in a suit jacket. I briefly wondered where that guy could be going. Job interview to be the manager of a skating park? A non-traditional weight loss clinic? Wherever he was going, I wasn't allowed there. It might not even exist for people like me. He'd ride into his magical land of old fat Chinese guys wearing business formal and doing 720s off of dumpsters and I'd just see an abandoned warehouse or an empty lot.
I told my fiancée what I had seen and I don't think she believed me. I wouldn't have believed me.
The thing about living in a big city - and I assume this is true all over the world - is that you do have to possess a certain tolerance for the surreal. I'm not talking about naked cowboy or some dude painted like a robot, those guys aren't surreal in the least. They want to be noticed. Surreal is a bunch of guys passed out drunk underneath the trees in front of your apartment at 10 AM. It's some incredibly muscular guy screaming in a voice like the vocalist for Cannibal Corpse at a retarded woman in a wheelchair. Surreal is people being incredibly strange or creepy and not wanting you to notice.
You just have to accept that sort of thing as your reality in a big city. Yet, this still managed to be unbelievable.
Welcome to Schlotzky's, Haung Phan will be your server.The interstate was dead so we made it to the realtor's nearly an hour early. It was almost noon so we decided to get lunch at a nearby bagel shop and deli. It was run by a Vietnamese family. The Vietnamese are not known for their delicatessens. When you think of a bagel and lox you're not thinking of Saigon. When I want a kosher pickle my mind doesn't start wandering down the Ho Chi Minh trail. The food was perfectly fine. It wasn't even close to being the best deli food I've ever had, but it wasn't close to being the worst either.
The inside of the bagel shop was pleasant in a vague and non-threatening way. There were no jars of pickled eggs or weird fish that originate from some deep ocean trench. There was no well-worn chalkboard with the fresh specials or new savory delicacies. The restaurant was a palette-shift away from being a Starbucks. If the place had roaches even they would be wearing khakis. Stereotypes and ethnic character, for the most part, need not apply in the suburbs. The bottom end of the spectrum has been excised at the expense of the very top, leaving a palatable, but not memorable, middle ground.
We finished our lunch and headed to the realtor's. Looking for a house is not a short process. Probably not even for the fabulously wealthy. First you have to decide that you want to commit to buying a house and you have to start saving money. Life has a way of throwing a lot of curveballs at you that make this take much longer than you would think. Once you've got a nice down payment built up you can start seriously browsing around for houses in your price range.
Houses in our price range were pretty much unavailable within the city limits. There was a dead body slumped in the gutter on our block a few months ago and the house next door to our apartment sold for 800,000 dollars. Despite that disconnect, we live in a really good neighborhood. To find something affordable within the city limits we would have to buy somewhere with double digit figures for crimes I've never even heard of like "lascivious trespass" and "posing as a city employee during an aggravated sexual assault."
That meant the suburbs. Chicago has a lot of suburbs. It took months to decide which suburbs had the right mix of easy commute, nice housing, nice schools and shopping. Then we started picking out houses on various websites. Then we started driving to some of the houses to see what the neighborhoods looked like. Then we contacted a realtor and the house tours began.
I'll spare you the details, because relating the tours to you would probably just double the doses of boring radiation my body absorbed. The thing that bothered me the most during the tours of the houses were the rare instances when people decided to stay home. I was raised in a protestant household but my mother was raised Catholic. That meant Catholic school and the infamous Catholic guilt. If you're not familiar with Catholic guilt, it's basically that everything bad that can somehow be linked to you through an elaborate web of faulty logic is your fault. You feel guilty about nearly everything.
The Catholics are a terrifying people.I inherited Catholic guilt from my mother despite the fact that I have only actually been inside a Catholic church maybe four times in my entire life. It's basically like being hyper self-conscious, only instead of thinking everyone is making fun of you or whatever you think everyone is quietly simmering because you're somehow to blame for whatever is wrong in the world. It's also linked to eternal damnation in some way, but since I don't really believe there is some torture pit of hell it's more of a vague sense of eternal damnation. I'm not going to burn forever because I didn't buy a hybrid car and some kid got lung cancer from my exhaust, but it's my fault all the same and the unknowable universe will punish me. In fact, I deserve it!
That Catholic guilt surges to the surface when you're stomping around someone's house while they're trying to corral their kids into the den to watch Veggie Tales. Intellectually, I realized that they wanted me to look around and think their house was awesome. Catholically, I felt that I was a horrid barbarian, ruining their kid's weekend and earning their well-deserved enmity. After all, who was I to barge into someone's bedroom, throw open their closet and immediately judge whether or not it was spacious enough? Just give me the floor plans and I can get a pretty good idea. Yeah, I'm sorry, won't happen again. You and the kids can go back to not being subjected to my monstrous behavior.
After many house tours we managed to narrow our choice down to just two. The final deciding factors in a binary decision like that can get downright bizarre.
Could I really live in a house that had prayer tapestries hanging everywhere? What if they left some kind of really religious amoeba behind on the taps just waiting to take up residence in my pancreas? I don't know if I could ever stand to buy a house with a kitchen that smelled that much like cardamom. Boy, these folks sure like NASCAR a lot. I wonder if I'm going to start liking NASCAR? The walls in the basement have creepy angles.
We finally picked out our house on Thursday. After a lot of paperwork and an opening offer we bid the realtor adieu. She told us to expect a counter-offer by eight that night.
For some bizarre reason my fiancée thought we should stop into a nearby Fanny May Candy store. I'm not sure if they're all over the United States or regional or what. It's basically a candy store that is the exact opposite of something Willy Wonka would dream up. It's like selling Snickers bars at a children's cancer ward; antiseptic, white and staggeringly depressing. It's also almost inevitably staffed and visited by senior citizens.
A Fanny May Candy store is one of the most common places for old women to die. It comes in behind their residence and a hospital and is tied for third place with Hallmark stores. The endless cycle of stick candy and porcelain figurines is like the death spiral of a stalled jet. If they need a Trinidad and a Shoebox Greeting on the same day, well, you can just forget about seeing that old woman alive ever again. She'll walk into the Hallmark store and nine hours later they'll be wheeling her corpse out on a stretcher with a card for her grandson locked by rigor mortis into her gnarled claw. The coroner's report will indicate traces of powder around the mouth that could only come from those pastel-colored mints that are like doggie treats for old ladies.
You know that flash of annoyance you get when you hear someone cough or sneeze? It's not real anger at them for making noise - barring the occasional whooping cough sufferer who decides to see a matinee - it's more of an instinctual revulsion at the expression of suffering. It's even more acute with animals because they have to hyper-vocalize discomfort for humans to understand. A dog will somehow get its dewclaw mixed up in the shag carpet and you'll think an Irish curse unleashed banshees on your rumpus room.
That flash of annoyance - that subconscious burst of animal horror - is extended to your entire shopping experience when you are being serviced by an extremely elderly person. Every normal retail request results in an agonized fumbling. You can hear the creaking of their arthritic joints and see them wince in pain. You are inflicting yourself upon them. You are, by simply shopping, a sadist.
Yes, I would like this box of chocolates. No, I don't know the price offhand. No, oh god, no! You don't have to check the price. Let me check the price, please! Don't they have some version of a barcode scanner that corresponds to those huge print books for old people at the library? They expect someone with a hippocampus that looks like a deflated balloon to remember the price of every item in the store? If you ask for a bag you can just forget about sleeping soundly. She'll struggle to peel apart the sides of the bag and miss over and over again trying to put your item inside. You'll be able to feel the electric crackle of her ribbon-candy bones splintering from the effort.
Whenever the subject of eliminating Social Security comes up the AARP can just video tape some old people working. Witnessing the elderly at any job more rigorous than being a Wal*Mart greeter will send cold fear up the spine of a fiscal conservative. You want to make Meemaw Silverhair go to work? Watch as her parakeet bones collapse beneath the weight of a banana and her paper-thin skin peels off on the buttons of a cash register.
The only thing more depressing than shopping at a store staffed by elderly women would be robbing a store staffed by elderly women. My grandmother cried once because I yelled. Not at her or anything, I just yelled. When I was seven. The idea that she might not instantly burst into flames during an armed robbery is preposterous.
Oh no, an old woman is buying stuff at Fanny May. It's like a BDSM club where everyone just beats the shit out of each other and loves it.These aren't the mummy-fighting women of the Tomb Raider generation. They aren't even your hippy mom who probably gave a hand job to some drummer from a jam band when she was 15. These are women from a generation that thought kissing would get them pregnant until they actually got pregnant. Their entire generation wore hats. Not even regular hats with some degree of utility, I'm talking the little beanie hats with mesh and fake flowers. Even a totally unarmed robber speaking in a gentle voice would cause a series of firecracker-like cardiac incidents among the employees at a Fanny May.
I'm pretty sure "fanny" is also British for "vagina," which is a word association you don't want popping up unbidden while watching white spit-foam form in the corners of an octogenarian's mouth.
We purchased a little bit of candy for way too much money and got a whole lot of depression, on the house. We drove back to our apartment. At around eight we got a call from the realtor. Their counter wasn't showing nearly as much movement as we would have liked, but it also wasn't one of those cheesy symbolic counter offers where they reduce the asking price by like 50 dollars so you get the message and fuck off. Negotiations moved quickly after that, zipping back and forth between our realtor and the seller's realtor. In reality, they probably weren't even negotiating. They'd probably settled on a price hours earlier in a hotel bar and they were just calling up the respective parties between torrid sex sessions to enact their little scheme. No, I don't really trust realtors that much, why do you ask?
We reached a price. It was more than we wanted to pay, but just close enough to our somewhat arbitrary upper limit as to make us cave. It was right in the average range for other houses in the neighborhood, so we could at least be happy that we hadn't just paid the most for a house on the block.
It's not ours yet. There is a long ton of paperwork, all manner of inspections and a disgusting array of fees and expenses. I feel elated, at how great the house is and how much nicer it's going to be than our apartment. I also feel terrified, because it's our first house and the mortgage is enough debt to make me insane.
I'm also a little sad to be trading the city for the suburbs. I moved to Chicago from a small town and it has been a great experience. The city will still be within spitting distance, but I know, deep down, that it will be an infrequent trip. Once or twice a month at the most. I'll miss the complexity and bustle of the city. I'll miss the dizzying amount of options for entertainment and I'll feel like I never really took advantage of them when they were right next door. I'll miss the 100 year old walk up apartments and all of their character. I'll miss the scrap metal hunter-gatherers in their pickups and the cops who laugh when you report a hit and run accident. I'll even miss the dead body in the gutter.
Most of all, I'll miss that damn fat and old Chinese guy in a business suit riding a skateboard. I'm trading him in for a Vietnamese family behind the counter of a delicatessen.
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it's hard to shake the feeling that I've always got five stars in this Grand Theft Auto known as life.
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