Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Beginning: Blowing Up Our Lives

I'd like to think that my husband and I had reached the end of making a series of really, really stupid decisions. The first stupid decision was to put our life savings and some of our home equity (I know, I know) into opening a cafe with a couple of friends who, when things finally went to hell, we spoke to only via a very expensive attorney. (Hi Paul. Thanks again. Great work.) We spent a few weeks stumbling around in pain and grief over having lost the business, but we've come to realize that loss was inevitable. The location sucked, the city sucked in working with us on the permits and planning, and the market for a tiny, charming, upscale food place was non-existent.

The pain and grief over that loss, though, was replaced by anger when we got the complete bank statements for the business and realized there was a shitload of money missing.

(Not missing exactly--we know where it went. It went on vacation and out to dinner and to the vet and on multiple trips to the gas station and out shopping for new cell phones and other toys with our former friends.)

We did what any sensible people do when they're grieving. We blew up our lives. My husband started getting signals that all wasn't well at the huge, Silicon Valley semiconductor company where he had worked for 11 years and decided to change jobs. His new company offered him a relocation package that included buying our old house (for less than we owed, mark this "Stupid Decision No. 2") and we moved to the "Gourmet Ghetto" neighborhood of Berkeley. ("Stupid Decision No. 3.")

Berkeley, people swore, would be fabulous for us. So intellectual. So vibrant. So ... completely overrun with vermin and hippies and opinions and drugs that I found myself pretty much unable to breathe. Everyone knows about the hippies and opinions and drugs, but rats are North Berkeley's dirty little secret. Early last spring I gingerly asked one of the neighbors I liked (there were 11 of them that didn't make me stabby) if she had any pest issues, and she nodded sadly and handed me the number of "The Rat Whisperer." Berkeley made me anxious, Berkeley made me scared. I grew up in Chicago and I couldn't hack it there.

I also needed a grandma back in my life. One who was retired and available and who would be able to keep an eye on the boys after school and make sure they weren't doing the stupid stuff adolescent boys do until one of us got home from work. One such grandma happened to live in Salinas.

On Aug. 8, I looked at my husband, laying in our bed in our rat-tastic North Berkeley house, and said, "Not another minute. I won't live here, not another minute." On Aug. 10, he contacted the real estate agent who sold us the house, arranged to pick up a U-Haul the following weekend and we started packing.

The Berkeley house sold in nine days.

Now the only problem with moving back was we had nowhere to go.

My husband's new company (rhymes with "Mafeway") had spent a year fixing every tiny thing that was wrong with the old house they purchased from us. A year because they hired a savant of a contractor, a genius when it comes to wood and plaster, an idiot when it comes to time and budget. But the day before we were going to make an offer to buy our old house back, someone else came in and bought it.

About 18 months ago, some friends left Salinas for job reasons. He's a chef, she does marketing for golf courses, and while he lost his job here due to downsizing, he got a gig as executive chef of a very nice, very busy hotel in Sacramento. But they were never able to sell their house. And then the bottom dropped out, their house went under water by $400,000 and they were so unable to sell their house that they finally asked Chase Bank, "Where do you want us to send the keys?"

The bank told them, "We have 300,000 people in line ahead of you. Why don't you just hold your breath and we'll get to you when we feel like it."

For the past 6 weeks, we've been squatting in their place while we try to buy a house.

Which brings us current and to the point.

We've found the house we want. It's a circa-1890 Victorian with its original plank flooring. It was in the middle of being rehabbed when the bottom dropped out; the owner was unable to finish the project and the property reverted back to the bank.

The house is stripped down to the studs. But we look at it and see everything that's possible.

We should know in a week if it IS possible. There are meetings with the city to be had, and plans to alter and financial details to be worked out. But there are five bedrooms, and enough room for family and friends and the way of life we missed in Berkeley.

This is the story of House226.


  1. You make me smile. I wish I had your balls. Also, it's time for me to admit I have no idea where "Salinas" is, California-wise. Off to get my map. Aren't you happy to have your little Midwestern ignoramus putting you on her G-reader YET AGAIN? - you burn me and burn me with this "Read my new blog!" bidness and I keep coming back so you will forgive my geographical shortcomings, right? Also my penchant for adding Velveeta to things? xo

  2. I'm not judgmental about Velveeta, I swear. It's a necessary evil for making chili queso. As for Salinas, pick up a copy of "East of Eden" by Steinbeck and you'll get the full picture. Only in addition to land wars, now the third generation of the landed gentry are involved.


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