Friday, March 9, 2018

I Bought a House. And I Saw a Coyote.

As much fun as I had staying with my auntie and uncle in their 55+ retirement community on the eastern fringe of Phoenix, their constant partying and debauchery was wearing me out. There are only so many speedballs one can take before developing a permanent drool, you know?

What is that Dr Demento song? “...they used to trip on acid, and now they trip on rugs”?

Uncle uses top quality binoculars to watch for the mailman.
Moreover (well, more truthfully), retirement communities are pretty strict about their minimum age requirements, so despite my great relationship with auntie and uncle, I left the nest. 

Last fall I drew out detailed plans to convert a cargo van into a camper van so I could live in Walmart parking lots. By living in my car those three months and not paying for any housing at all, I was able to save a shit ton of money very quickly, and I thought if I could do that for five more years, then all my student loans would be paid off, and then I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of my life, like disappear into a cornfield never to be seen or heard from again.

However, I quickly found out that even small empty vans are really expensive and their fuel economy is abysmal, so my main profession of delivering pizza would be a problem. Then, after vacationing with my aunt and uncle in their large, comfortable home here, I remembered how nice it is to stretch out fully when I sleep and change my clothes standing up, and how marvelous it is to have a private bathroom versus showering at the gym where a line of people are banging on the door trying to get you to hurry up just moments after you got in. 

Living in a sedan is massively cost efficient, but it also requires you to live in secret--while also being in public 100% of the time. If you want to avoid detection and subsequent disapproval and pity (and possibly police involvement), you have to regularly remember to lie about your address and living situation to coworkers, acquaintances, customers, service personnel, and to the government. Between work, the library, the laundromat, public bathrooms, eating in the open, and sleeping in parking lots, you're living a secret life and hoping no one notices--that no persnickety soccer mom calls the cops to report you as “suspicious.” It's hard to shower and change clothes, much less make friends, build community, vote, get a library card, stand up to injustice, or do anything important when you're living in secret.

I didn't want to live in secret anymore. One of my goals for this year is to speak up and be more assertive, and I can't do that if my living situation requires me to be invisible.

So I started looking at mobile homes, which are a) far more comfortable and b) much more space for the dollar than a vehicle/camper/RV. Out of the 16 “all ages” mobile home parks I called or visited, I found one home that was both move-in ready and within my budget, and that's the one I bought. Hey, exactly one month ago! Happy home owner-anniversary to me.

That's my house! My first house. Or trailer, rather. 

The park was asking $8,000. When I offered $5,000 cash, they accepted right away without any counter offer, so...could I have gone even lower?

My trailer is a 1956 Buddy. Half remodeled, half fixer-upper. 

Five windows in the living room, and only one opens.


Yes, the TP holder faces a direct hit from the shower spray.

So yeah. I work in food service and I live in a trailer park. I've pretty much got it all figured out.

I didn't think my trailer was particularly unusual, but when I called two different insurance agencies for quotes, they both sounded horrified and insulted when I told them what year my home was built. I'm not even kidding—they raised and quickened their voices and rushed to hang up like their phones would explode if they even continued talking about it. Apparently a trailer from the 1980s is considered old and barely insurable, much less one from the year Grace Kelly got married, Elvis topped the charts, the Civil Rights movement was just gaining momentum, Eisenhower was president, and the interstate highway system didn't yet exist. Fortunately the third place I called insured it at a very reasonable price without slamming down the phone in pearl-clutching terror.

Now that that's done, I'm tackling my massive improvement to-do list. The bathroom, kitchen, windows, and doors are original, and by that I mean grimy, stained, broken, warped, lopsided, and dysfunctional. Out of the 11 windows, five are operational, and only one of the two doors works. I refuse to turn on the 1950s Wincroft stove at all, as I'm pretty sure it would create an actual fireball. Or great balls of fire, as they called 'em in the old days.

Wait, is that Jesus in my vintage grease trap?

This is the "vent" above the burners--a piece of particleboard on a pivot.

You know, I'm cool with sandwiches, salads, and cereal. Hot food is not necessary.

Uncle and I replaced the miniature water heater with a normal one, since the 4-minute showers weren't really cutting it.

And he's coming tomorrow to rewire the broken porch light. Yay!

Getting all the trash out of my yard has been a wonderful exercise in patience. The hundreds of cigarette butts, nails, screws, broken glass, insulation scraps, fast food wrappers, crayons, crack pipes, etc were easy. The hard part is the barrel cactus that someone threw on my lawn for no apparent reason. How do you move a 50-pound succulent covered in vicious spines?

 Believe me, I tried rolling it to the curb with my foot and with a bow rake. No go. 

There was also no mirror in the bathroom, so I taped a little $4 one above the sink to tide me over until the full bathroom remodel happens. This little mirror is acrylic and not glass, so it's not, you know, flat. 

Time to brush my teeth!

Put in my contacts...

And wrap my hair...

I wonder if I'll forget what my face actually looks like.

I later found the original glass mirror face-down in my yard, the face 3/4 covered in spray paint. Which I assume is the reason the contractors chucked it outside and left it for dead. 

I also have to fix the front steps and install a secure package delivery box so that porch pirates can go fuck themselves.

The trailer's frame is solid and the roof, plumbing, and electrical system are updated though. So there's that. And a healthy palm tree in my yard.

What I don't understand about this place is why there is no heating system whatsoever. No furnace, no ducts, no vents, no baseboard heat, no nothing, and practically no insulation in the walls, roof, or underbelly. I have no idea how people were surviving in this house for 62 years with no heat when overnight lows in winter often drop into the 30s. I have two fancy space heaters for now, but insulation is definitely at the top of my “urgent” list.

Once those 7,849,756,312,887 projects are done, I want to build a new bedroom closet, since the current one looks more like a spice cupboard than a place to store clothes. So for the time being, my living room is the most grand walk-in closet I've ever had.

If you said this whole post was just an excuse to brag that I have more scarves than clothes, you wouldn't necessarily be wrong.

Having all my clothing on display, along with car ownership and home ownership, makes me feel insanely, ridiculously rich, and therefore a little nervous. I have so much property all to myself. So much property to maintain and look after and pay for and enjoy. Historically, it's a lot of luxury for just one lone human. A whole car to myself? Lots of clothes and food and a whole house to myself? An entire private bathroom and hot running water just for me? My own toilet that doesn't touch anyone else's butt? And electricity too? All these joists and wires and pipes and outlets, and a bed just for me! That's so much stuff! That's crazy! What an embarrassment of riches.

Home ownership is a ton of work, but I already love it so much more than renting. The novelty of moving around and seeing new places every few months is exciting, but I also enjoy maintaining a home. Especially after the hell of a year I endured in 2017. Scrubbing walls and raking the yard are soothing for me. Mopping and dishes and making the bed are therapeutic, and there's a lot of satisfaction in looking over one's own handiwork.

In the past, when home-owning coworkers and friends would tell me about their home repairs, my eyes would glaze over. 'Cause I was a renter. Now when people talk about it, I'm super interested. “You just got new windows installed? What kind? Are they double-paned? Where did you get them? Did you get a discount??” I WANT ALL THE DETAILS. I want pictures of your new furnace! I want pictures of your subfloor! I want pictures of your new refrigerator! And I want them now!

It was much simpler to get approved to live in this trailer park than it ever was to rent any apartment. Lot rent is half the price of apartment rent. My neighborhood is reasonably quiet and there's no one stomping above me or partying below me. Everyone parks on their own property, so no more jockeying for spots. I can make all the design changes I want. There are no landlords constantly invading my privacy with random and inane “inspections”--no one can legally enter my house without an invitation or a warrant. And if this trailer park gets out of control at any point, I can arrange to have my trailer moved to a different park. 

The first time I lived in Phoenix, I fucking hated it. It's not pedestrian friendly at all. But like I said more recently, having a car has radically changed my entire experience and opinion of the city. With a car, this is actually a really nice place to live! I like it a lot. It's sunny and open and the roads are amazing. I'll do whatever I can to make sure I always, always have a car. I'd seriously rather have a car than food.

And I have good family on both sides here. That helps a lot. 

The mountains are lovely. I never knew that before because I never saw them in my car-free days. Now I see clouds freckle them with shadows and the sun burn them fiery orange, pink, and purple. I see them resting under navy shrouds at night, waiting for the next 4.6 billion years. With a vehicle I have the opportunity to appreciate them, along with other desert romance: wailing guitars, cowboy hats, quizzical saguaros, stars stretching from one horizon to another, and coyotes and roosters yipping and howling and crowing all night long.

Of course Floridian beaches are prettier, but I wouldn't buy property in a place so prone to flooding and catastrophic storms. Even though storms thrill me. I'd rather just visit Florida one week every summer for a swimming vacation, and keep my property and money safely here in the desert where the only weather issues are highly fluctuating temps and occasional dust storms.

Coastal Florida is exciting, while semi-rural Arizona is super chill. Florida is a kinky stripper while Arizona is a loving wife. Florida is gorgeous and flashy and likes to party, but a world of expense and drama and trouble. Florida is that wild pole-dancer named Stormy. Arizona is older, a little wrinkled, but practical, steady, stable, and affordable. Arizona is a safer place to commit and invest. Arizona is Susan in a minivan.

Bye, Stormy.

I've committed to a house!

When I told myself that, my chest began to tighten with anxiety. I'm the worst, most classic textbook case commitment-phobe on earth. So I promised myself five years in this trailer, and if I complete five full years, then I'm allowed to do another wild travel thing like join the Peace Corps. And then I felt better.

I don't want to have any more years like these last 12 months. Exactly one year ago I was in Florida preparing to move out of a moldy townhome I was renting with an ex-boyfriend after having an abortion against my wishes. I needed to get away from that guy but didn't have any money or friends or family in that state. Coincidentally, I was also under a deadline to put the finishing touches on a baby shower for a close friend back home. I was rolling tiny newborn diapers into cupcake shapes for table centerpieces while dead baby oozed out of me and icy tears streamed down my face.

2017 mostly went downhill from there.

I've spoken to that guy exactly once since then, and he told me he started dating in earnest a month after I left. He dated several women, spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on extravagant gifts and dinners for them, then had to move back in with his mom because he was broke. So the money he loudly "didn't have" to pay towards our baby...magically appeared when he wanted to get laid again.

If you want to apply the word "idiot" there, I mean, I'm not going to stop you.

When I hung up the phone, I was so relieved I'd made the right decision.

And now I have my own house. Something else to love and nurture and stay busy with. Something to keep me occupied and out of trouble.

I'm not living here in secret.

My neighbors have stopped by to say hello and introduce themselves. I can now be active in the community and speak up and be assertive.

I'm highly visible. I live in the first trailer on the left. It's impossible to miss.