mercredi 19 mars 2008

This is where the fun starts

What, I ask you, is better than pain multicéréale grillé et tartiné au beurre doux de Bretagne et au bon miel d'apiculteur? Ok, I am avoiding.

The pressure is on. The men finally show up to take a look at the house, the third outfit in the last year -- that's how long it takes me to get people to show up and how scarce labor is with all the houses that need work and the horrible little tract homes springing up like champignons -- and the bell sounds for the first round. Trust me, it's a lot easier to be the architect than the client, particularly if the client is married, where you get two points of view for the price of one and all the arguing you can stomach! I realized when Audouin walked through the door at 8:42 PM how pleasant it was to be home alone, Sam up in his room ("working, Mom") when his first words after a domestic kiss hello were, "Okay, ils sont venus? Qu'est-ce qu'ils ont dit?" Only I should have a right to know! Here's the thing, it's already hard enough to deal with all this, the vast, yawning space between all you want so badly to do and all (much less) you can afford to do, your own hopes and expectations, and then pile the frustration and irritation of conflicting points of view on top.

"Do you really want to hear about this right now, or maybe wait until a little later?"

"It can wait until dinner," Phew. I had bought another 20 minutes and pulled out the pistachios and the Knockando. "Besides," he added, "I have the taxes on the private practice due tomorrow, " and proceeded to lay out piles of paper and tax forms on the dining table; just the perfect preparation for a discussion of the contractors' recommendations and anticipated estimates.

However, I wasn't getting off the hook. Why is it that after 5 1/2 years of marriage I still fall in all the traps? It's in the detail; give as little as possible and understate dramatically should be the two reigning rules for presenting any project to your spouse. So, what do I do? I start out gushing to reassure him that this guy understands exactly how I want the stucco (chaux around here) mixed, pigmented and applied -- custom mixed with the pigment integrated for exactly the ocher we want, samples from which to chose, and hand-troweled! Isn't that wonderful?! A pregnant pause and then, "Okay, je voudrais juste dire, préliminairement -- " I stopped him right there. Foul!

"No, no. If you are saying it now, it isn't a preliminary remark at all; it's a comment in reply!"

"Mais je voudrais juste dire qu'avant de décider combien nous faisons sur la maison, il faut savoir qu'est-ce que nous faisons. Restons ou vendons-la?"

No fair! Referee! Ref!

In other words, before we decide how much money to spend, we need to decide whether we are staying or selling. Translation between the lines, "You have spent so much time complaining about this house from every angle imaginable -- location [too far from the highway, Paris, our friends and Sam's school and too close to his ex], the village [you can't even buy a baguette but you can spend the afternoon drinking at the bar and restaurant almost across the street that reopened a couple of years ago and the sad houses lined up along the empty street], the quality of the neighbors [let's just say that the lower classes are more romantic in Baudelaire and Hugo than in line at the local grocery store], and the house itself [too small, no storage, no room to which I can easily consign my step children and their friends, who are here while Sam's aren't -- I said I would try to be honest -- and still appear kind, and requiring an investment we don't really have available to make] -- so, decide, are we selling or staying, and you had better be happy with your decision!" You can hear the unspoken "Or else!" reverberate in the air.

There's no place to be like with your back up against a wall.

I tried like the Democrats in 1993 to table that discussion and make a brilliant presentation of all the wonderful things our home renovation would include, hoping to muster the votes for passage by The House of Spouse before he had time to scuttle it with objections, like the Republicans did with health care reform and government as we knew it in 1994. Big Wife, spend spend spend, pork barrel, the end of the modern economic system and prosperity as we know it!

It just wasn't fair. I argued. I can't say we should move when I haven't even had the chance to live in this house when it wasn't falling down around me -- some days, I find pieces of the balcony lying in the grass -- or the humidity in it molding my clothes. I have thrown so much away, water-stained and lichen-covered, but I console myself with the fact that it's outdated anyway. I might actually want to stay once it's nice here. Don't make me have to decide before I even get a chance to find out! And he accuses me of confusing the clarity of the argument when I say that Sam still has another year or two of lycée, and I don't know if it's better to look around at real estate within a reasonable distance from his school, or wait until we know what he is going to do afterwards and perhaps expand the options closer to Paris. That's just the pot calling the kettle black! All I want (all) is to fix the house up, do it a little justice, and see. Is that too much to ask? Besides, if we want to sell it, it needs to be fixed up for "curb appeal" so that someone will want to buy it for the best price the market can support and not feel automatically entitled to knock us down to rock bottom. Right?

And then there's the electricity. I detailed all the outlets that don't work. I told him I asked for a number for a typical wiring of each room, "But I can do that," he interjected.

"The ones you installed fall out of the walls, and I haven't been able to turn on that lamp in the living room for weeks."

"That's because..." and he continued to give me a lengthy and detailed explanation of the failures of the industry to produce wall outlets for solid masonry walls, lamenting, "everything now is made for hollow walls." Everything at LeRoy Merlin. I held my ground.

"Even if we sell, we have to provide wall outlets that work. Your needs are so basic it's ridiculous. One plug for the television set and then you will live on sliced saucisse sèche," he laughed despite himself because I was right on the money, "but anyone who needs to do the housework, wire the computer or prepare a meal is ill-served!" I carried that point, but I knew I had gone too far when I started talking about the bathroom.

That did it. I never should have mentioned the feasibility of putting a toilet in up there so that I won't have to go all the way downstairs, across the terra cotta tile floor (cold) to pee at night. It could only be worse if I had to go to an outhouse. Audouin does not agree. I have trained myself never to need to relieve myself from bedtime until waking.

"See? You don't need a toilet upstairs!"

I understand his concern about putting more into it than we can recover if we decide to sell, especially with the volatility of the real estate markets now, but it's just the tiniest bit mean-spirited. It was like when he used to say, "Really, I am all for you working, and we'll even move to Paris once you have a job, even if that is terrible for me, but you had better never complain or be unhappy about your choice." Like that amounts to support! I am supposed to visit a sampling of real estate agents now, when we finally have someone prepared to undertake the work in about a month, and probably only because the man's son tutors Sam in math, to find out whether we should do the work and how much to do just in case we decide to sell. Not like real estate agents tell the truth any more than contractors. Grump grump grump. I left him to his taxes and turned in with a book, and then I played possum in the morning when he leaned down to kiss me good-bye and wish me a nice day. I wasn't having any of it.

"Tu fais la tête?" He seemed genuinely surprised. Optimist or thick-headed? I was going to be as parsimonious with my words as he is with the budget and his consideration. Five and a half years I have lived in this decaying "old home with charm and potential". It's my time. I nodded. I was pouting.

"But, we agree on almost everything!" Almost is the key word. "We agree that the outside needs to be done," but he said maybe the cheaper way using premixed chaux and then painting it to make it ocher, "and refurbishing the windows and balconies, and insulating the inside of the wall and," here his voice became noticeably weaker, "redo the plaster. It's just the bathroom."

Come to think of it, maybe I am winning this one.

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