After nearly 40 years in Newport Beach, my parents — like the Israelites in the Old Testament — have all but made the final exodus out into the desert. They’ve traded cool ocean breezes and the smell of salt air for the oppressive heat, the need for AC and putting greens. And while it wasn’t God who told them to go east (or at least I don’t think so), it’s a liberating — albeit painful — move just the same. Retirement is in their sights.
As for myself, I left Newport for Berkeley in 1985 and it couldn’t have been soon enough. By that time, the city had changed — was changing — going from the semi-nondescript beach town in the shadow of Los Angeles to the crown jewel in the fast becoming uber chic “OC”. Once quaint 40s style beach houses became tear down fodder for bloated mansions on tiny lots and exotic European car dealerships outnumbered seagulls, I knew my days were numbered and never felt the need to look back.
Still, even as the city was changing, there were things about the place that resonated within me; my family, the people who were there for us during difficult times, the beaches and our charmed home on Port Manleigh Circle. For my parents, especially for my mom, these are some of the things that have made it so difficult for them to completely pull up roots and leave. So much happened in that place, over so many years, with such deep personal investment, that their sense of loss is easy to understand.
Of course, it’s only natural for one to wax nostalgic, reminisce or even second-guess decisions as boxes are being packed, labeled and loaded to be moved to a new home. And it’s even more natural for one to feel unsure as you begin to fill a new home with old things, expectations and most importantly, life. But the wonderful thing about homes is they’re responsive to the things we fill them with, and will grow, blossom and fruit accordingly. Fill a home with love and goodwill and the home will give that back. If you’ve ever been fortunate to live anywhere long enough you understand this potential, and my parent’s new home has potential in spades.
Even still, I’m surprised my parents have indeed moved, and there’s even a little part of me that’s inclined not to believe it until actually see them firmly planted in the new place. But, the truth is — and all facetious disbelief aside — the move has been a slow train coming. In actuality, they’ve had their feet in two cities for a couple of years now, which — among other things — has served to temper a naturally difficult relocation process. As I said, their roots in Newport run very deep and if history has shown anything, it’s shown they possess an uncanny ability to influence decision-making and hold one in place.
That said, this isn’t the first time a move from Newport Beach was in the works — in the late 80s a move was all but eminent. At the time, it was less a choice and more of a necessity, but just the same, the gears were engaged and the house was on the market. Now, why it never happened is in large part a matter of fortuitous arrangement, but still I’m confident things wouldn’t have turned out quite the way they had had it not been for the unconscious (or not so unconscious) kibosh my mom levied on the process.
How NOT to sell a home
If you’ve ever been privy to the selling of a house, then you probably know it’s a good idea not to allow the owners or family members anywhere near the property while you’re showing it. And there are good reasons for this:
- Change is difficult. And while sometimes it manifests itself in quiet apprehension and introspection, more often than not it leads to visible moodiness and overt fear. And nobody, walking through an open house for the first time, wants to feel or see this.
- It’s a lot easier to picture yourself in a new home if the previous residents aren’t in it.
- People — above all else — are unpredictable and therefore you never know what sort of crazy thing a homeowner might say when asked a question directly or has the desire to be of friendly assistance.
Now, this is great advice and I would highly recommend anybody who’s going to sell their home to follow it. But, when it came to selling ours — circumstances being what they were — we went in a different direction completely. I, with a pressure sore, would stay at home in bed to recover, and my mom — who, with all her body and soul didn’t want to move — would stay with me — keeping me company, as she put it, but also at the ready to “assist” potential homebuyers with any questions they might have about the house. This, not very surprisingly, is where things went off the rails.
Unlike the housing market bubble of the not so distant past, the credit default swap and “don’t ask, don’t tell” loans had yet to be invented, and things at the time were comparatively slow. People came to check out the house, but more often than not they were “lookie-loos” rather than serious buyers. When a serious buyer would come along, conflicted emotions would run through us all, and I think secretly we were all wishing for the same thing — Amityville horror or some other paranormal interference.
But truthfully, though, one doesn’t need floating pigs, rooms full of flies or the devil if you simply go against the above advice as we did. My part in the kibosh was circumstantial, but nevertheless I was there. To this day, I try to imagine what it must’ve been like to come into an otherwise empty house on a buyer’s preview and find somebody still lying in bed in one of the rooms. Granted, there were no tubes or wires coming out of me or beeping machinery keeping me alive, but still, upon discovery, what sort of conversation would you initiate when this is your final stop on an otherwise typical open house walk through?
Needless to say, the experience provided me with a fascinating insight into the nature of human interaction; not to dissimilar to witnessing how people in an elevator adjust to somebody facing the opposite direction from the doors and engaging in conversation. And truth be told, I almost got a perverse thrill watching as these homebuyers — in that microsecond of a moment — decided how they wanted to deal with this most unusual “elephant in the room”.
Unfortunately for the anthropological/psychological sciences community, and any future papers that may have been presented/published on the subject by moi, my mom — by virtue of her location with me in my room — was more often than not able to preempt said situation and temper some of that initial awkward contact. It must also be said, however, that any attempts on her part to explain why I was in bed during an open house — the physiology and treatment of pressure sores — though done for the uninitiated’s benefit — were not easily digested or understood. And in the end, I’m afraid, only served to add to the awkwardness and confusion of the situation, not achieving the purpose she’d hoped.
A coyote ate my baby
For homebuyers, our house was fairly unique compared to other houses that may been on the market in the neighborhood, as our backyard sat right up against an empty field. It was a great view and there were no plans to develop it in the future, making it a natural highlight for potential buyers.
On one occasion, after learning more about pressure sores than she’d ever expect to learn during a buyer’s preview (or anywhere for that matter), one of the more serious homebuyers — there with her infant daughter in her arms — asked what I can only imagine she believed to be a innocuous, but useful question about the field. Certainly, the conversation was crying out for a less intimate direction than the condition of my ass, but the question was no less a valid one.
“Well, we just love it.” My mom answered with a sparkle in her eye, “You’re right up against nature. We’ve got squirrels, hawks, buzzards, lizards, owls, frogs, coyotes… all sorts of animals out there. At night, it’s beautiful, you can often hear the coyotes howl.”
“Coyotes?”, the woman asked, instinctively clutching her baby a little tighter to her breast.
“Yes,” my mom said, not sensing the woman’s growing uneasiness, “But we rarely see them, they’re pretty shy.”
Now here’s were the conversation could’ve gone in a couple different directions, but even from my bed, lying more than 10 feet away, I could see it was headed for unintended consequences: like watching an accident unfold in slow motion, and wishing you could do something, but knowing, in reality, it’s moving way too fast to intervene.
“Oh.” She said, shifting the baby to her arm away from the window.
“Although”, my mom paused and then began again, “Sometimes they do come in and take someone’s cat or small dog, but that’s not very often. We’ve got big dogs”.
And boom! There it was, the collision. And just then, I could see the gears in the women’s mind start to turn, as the joyous pictures of her, her husband and their baby in their idyllic new Newport Beach home were quickly eroding and being replaced by that of her baby being carried away in the middle of the night by a coyote.
How I kept from erupting with laughter is purely a testament to the power of shock and disbelief. But my mom — God bless her — in her attempt to share something that is actually quite spectacular — hearing coyotes in a beach community at night (not the part about “fluffy” and “whiskers” becoming dinner) — was completely oblivious to the story’s affect on this young mother looking to buy a home in the peaceful suburbs.
In the end, the woman and her husband never made on offer on the house — and that was fine by us. The fact was, none of us wanted to move, that house on Port Manleigh Circle felt less like a structure and more like a gift, and was the hub of so much activity, goodness and love. And while by proximity alone, I’m indeed culpable to some degree in our house’s failure to sell, it was my mom’s beautiful, unchecked gift of gab that brought us home.
I have not yet been to the house in Palm Desert as it stands now, but nevertheless, I believe it’s starting to feel like home for them. They still rent a little refuge on Balboa Island they can retreat to when the summertime heat of the desert rises to the absurd temperatures of Venus, or they have work to do in the “OC” (retirement still seems to be a little further off), but I think ultimately, as the rest of us start to visit during holidays, weddings and funerals, it’ll begin to feel alive in the way only a family loved dwelling can. The structure doesn’t have much of a history yet, but like I said, that’s a remedy served by time, place and people.
As many of you may have discovered by now, a lot of these stories have their root with my mom. And there’s good reason for this. My mom is by far one of the most interesting, crazy, fiercely loving people I know, and her heart is an unchecked beacon that shines brightly and attracts many. But above all this, she’s hilarious and has the ability to laugh at herself in a way few people can or do. This I admire to no end, and hope that I possess at least a fraction of this DNA.
I must also point out, that my mom is now — and has been for many years — a real estate agent of great success, skill, integrity and loyalty, and would never suggest any home seller go against the above rule…
unless, of course, they really didn’t want to sell their house.