Sunset Boulevard (not quite)

I’ve taken a journey.  Haven’t quite returned yet, but I thought I’d drop by with a postcard to explain my extended absence from my blog.

This journey began 50 years ago.  I was 14 at the time. My mother had decided to find the family a new, larger house, something we could still afford on my father’s salary. She figured $20K would be about right. So she perused the ads in the paper and found a realtor to help her, and that realtor found a beautiful Spanish style house up in the hills above our little town to the east of L.A. It was a bit out of our price range–$40K to be precise. But my mother fell in love with it, had to have it, and my father could never say no to my mother, mostly for fear of getting his balls ripped out of their sockets. So…we  bought it, talking the sellers down to $38K.

She was amazing, this house.  I’ve described her previously. Here’s a picture of a painting my father did of her in her heyday.

Painting of Norma

In need of some work, but filled with little amenities you’d never find anyplace else. At the height of my romantic teens I ended up with a balcony Juliet would have envied. All the way to the right of the painting, over the windows to the kitchen and breakfast nook below my bedroom. I was happy there, for a time, but eventually at 20 I moved out to my own life (a story for another time).

Fifty years on, parents both gone for more than three years, and my sister and I finally put the poor rundown lady on the market. We couldn’t take care of her, and she was devolving into the Norma Desmond of residences, just waiting for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Selling real estate is a bitch. I suspect purchasing is as well, but I’ve never been there. We ended up with an agent who, thank the fates who brought her to us, guarded our interests like a bulldog. She posted the listing fairly late into a Friday night, and within 15 or 20 minutes, we already had an offer $15K above asking.  It was an as-is, cash-only listing.  We knew no bank would take a chance on Norma’s plumbing or roof, much less everything else that was wrong with her.

By Saturday morning two agents insisted on seeing her that very day. By Saturday afternoon, an impromptu open house had ensued, and my sister (I had to work) was escorting dozens of people through the place, filled with animals and trash and heaven knows what else, and many of them expressed an aching to own her, restore her, love her like we do.

Sunday brought the news that offers had risen to $50K over asking.  Unbelievable. Monday we’d reached $120K over.  Wow.

A series of small complications arose on Monday and the highest offer was rescinded, leaving us with another $105K in excess of asking price, and that’s the one that we chose.  That’s when the rollercoaster of offer, addendum and counter offer ensued, after which we entered escrow.

I’ve decided every time a house goes into escrow, another tree must die.  The paperwork is unending, with faxes heating up telephone wires. Not to mention the amount of gasoline consumed by the real estate agent as she dashes between office and client home to get “just this one last document” signed. Does it really have to be all this tough?

In the meantime, since this was all part of a trust and since I was no longer speaking to the lawyer who’d drawn it up, we had to get an EIN for tax purposes and open a trust account at the bank, then provide a deposit slip (non-existent, hence a letter on letterhead had to make do) for wiring of funds into the account when escrow closed.

But escrow didn’t close. Not when it was supposed to. Took an additional four days to get there.  We even had to put the buyer on notice, a buyer whose wife had apparently wanted the house for some time.  (They had submitted the original offer.)

So my life for the last month or so has been filled with: call the IRS, call the accountant, sign papers for hours and hours, and a plethora of other seemingly meaningless busy work all designed, I believe, to keep me from concentrating on the thing I’ve just retired from my equally meaningless job to work at full-time—writing.

I’m nearly back now. Distributing the funds remains, and I dread working out all that math, but I will.

And in the meantime, our agelessly beautiful, aged Norma Desmond awaits her resurrection. Knowing she will shine for the neighborhood to see and to marvel at was worth everything.  Oh, and the cash helped, a little.

Farewell, California Contessa

When we met, I, just a teenager at the time, gazed up in awe at this beauty in her prime. Her youth behind her, my parents convinced her that an alteration of attire would benefit her greatly, and so it did. She went from the entirely inappropriate coloring of pink accessorized by baby blue to a more stately, perhaps even regal off-white accented with warm green, her strong iron jewelry all in black. This matched her terracotta bonnet, and she complemented her entire neighborly entourage.
My family loved her fiercely. We groomed her inside and out, restoring all those little corners and great rooms in a soul that people sometimes misinterpret. After all, her conception had brought together all the best that creative humanity could offer at the time; we would recover all we could of where she had begun.
For over forty-five years we loved her, depended on her, trusted her. Sometimes she let us down, but in the end it was we who brought her to where she lingers now. Unkempt, disheveled, she stands on her hill, filled with memories, more ours than those of anyone else she’s known. I sit with her on Sundays as I prepare to abandon her completely, and I remember. Oh, my dear God, how I remember. It halts me in my work.
Here we once put the Christmas tree, in front of the great, paned window in the massive living room for all to see.
And there, we painted the master bedroom on March 15, 1964, my parents’ twenty-third anniversary and the day that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton married for the first time.
My balcony, a Romeo-and-Juliet balcony if ever there were one, turned out to be not nearly as well connected to her skeleton as it should have been. They had to tear up the floor in my bedroom and cable it to support beams in the far wall to make it safe.
Then there was the Sunday right before our first Christmas all together. I headed down to the basement to wash my hair and smelled the smoke. The Fire Department discovered the wooden framing for the cement catch below the fireplace, placed there thirty-five years earlier, had never been removed. An ember had caused the wood to smolder. The nice firemen put it out, then spent the next hour or so feeling walls for heat. Problem was that forced-air-heating ducts riddled the thick walls. Luckily we’d lived there just long enough to know where all those ducts belonged, and soon the gentlemen fire fighters departed, leaving my father to announce that not every kid gets a real fire engine for Christmas.
I feel her observing me as I think back. She remembers far more than I do, despite her dilapidated and slightly addled state. She watched as we moved in, and she’s watching as we prepare to walk away. It’s the right thing to do, I know. Her wounds and genetic defects will be healed once we are gone, and she will rise, a phoenix from the fire, unbearably beautiful in bright new feathers yet with a weathered eye. I will miss her terribly. I already do. But she will be the better for our departure. We have no money to maintain her. We cannot pay her taxes. It’s time to let her go.