house

I had intended to write about something else today–a story from my Peace Corps life–but my actual life, the one I’m leading today, is bigger and more compelling at the moment.

I have another blog, Days of Transition which covers just about the entire kitchen sink of my life but is primarily a documentation of the biggest thing I’ve done since I retired in 2003:  my partner Steve’s and my preparations to move from the house we live in now, pictured above.  We have lived in this little 1938 2-bedroom colonial box since 1981, and practically from the day we moved in, we have been transforming it into a showplace as only two gay men with expendable income and no children can do.  Steve is the original handyman, so the entire project has been challenging fun for him, and over the years I’ve basically tagged along, grateful to be able to make the Home Depot runs and cook the hot dogs.

We started by digging an underground wine cellar in the basement, and then we put in a wood-burning fireplace.  But these projects turned out to be mere warm-up exercises.  The next step was to knock the back of the house off and create two storeys of new space, including a new kitchen and powder room downstairs and a fancy, faggy bathroom, complete with a jacuzzi and a walk-in glass block shower, upstairs.  Along the way we stripped the original asbestos siding off the house, got down to the original studs, and then put in insulation, new siding, and all new windows.  Then, we removed the concrete front stoop and replaced it with a full-length Victorian-style front porch in the San Francisco, “painted-lady” style.  And I repeat, Steve did every lick of this work himself–all the electrical, plumbing, ductwork and carpentry–and passed every county inspection, usually with compliments from the inspectors and their asking who did all the great work.

We now literally stop traffic.  Total strangers drive by slowly, just looking–we had one couple stop and explain that they’d brought their out-of-town friends along to look at the house.  Another time we were mistaken for a b&b.

We designed the house for comfort and entertaining, and we’ve had huge, wonderful parties here.  For years we did a yearly Christmas open house, and we threw major summer cookouts in the back with all of our work friends plus all of our neighbors.  Some of my old Peace Corps buddies know our neighbors as well as we do, and one Peace Corps friend threw his own parties here when he house-sat while we were on vacation, so there are even people who are total strangers to us who know and love this place as much as we do.

There was a time when all the changes were new and we were so proud of our house that we could never even imagine leaving it, but life does what it wants with you, and now, lo and behold, that time has come.  Steve’s job is about to end–he’s headed for a forced retirement because his company decided not to renew the federal contract he works for–and we are both ready to turn a page.  We love the water and want to live closer to it, and so we find ourselves among the throng of early Boomers headed for the Atlantic seaboard.

We’ve had our share of hurdles along the way; sometimes I describe our life over the past year or so as “a soap opera about real estate.”  In 2004, at the height of the bubble, we bought a gorgeous little piece of heaven in Delaware, virtually the last good waterfront lot left in that infinitesmally small state.  The land had an ancient trailer on it which we made habitable and visited every other summer weekend.  We found an unbelievable deal on a used pontoon boat and bought it, then put an addition on the pier to accommodate it.  We designed a house to fit the tiny, quarter-acre space and were set to start building it about now–and then the bottom fell out of the real estate market.  Anticipated proceeds from the sale of our little palace here, which were supposed to pay off the land loan and build the new house, became smaller and smaller, until finally the land loan became an albatross–the very place that had powered our dream became a burden we could hardly bear.  We knew the sane thing to do would be to get out from under that burden by selling the land, but the market in Delaware currently has about the same substance as Banquo’s ghost.  How could we ever make good?  We had one ace in the hole however:  a rich neighbor who had always coveted our little plot.  Over the years he had told us repeatedly that if “anything ever happened,” we should talk to him first about selling the land before going to the open market.  In January we decided to test his word, and, miraculously, he offered us practically what we paid for it–within a few tens of thousands of dollars, anyway.  It was a gift from heaven.  Suddenly the future opened up for us again. Putting that Delaware dream to its final rest was very hard, but with heavy hearts we did what we had to do, cleared out the trailer, put things in storage, and moved on.

We have a new dream now, in North Carolina.  As soon as we were able, we found a real estate agent who drove us all over northeastern North Carolina one weekend showing us waterfront property for sale.  The prices were amazingly lower there than what we had come to expect from our experience in Delaware, and we quickly fell in love with 2.5 acres of cleared waterfront pine forest just waiting for a house.  We settled on it last weekend, and are about to decide on a builder who will make the same dream house we designed for Delaware a reality, at a price we can afford.

Meanwhile, we are down to the last frantic preparations for selling the house here.  Over the past year, we’ve been going room to room, putting away excess tschochkes and furniture, removing wallpaper, painting and repairing.  The interior work is finally done and this weekend we will put the finishing touches on the exterior.  (That painted lady out front was in dire need of some TLC.  Yesterday I was washing the vinyl siding under its roof and on my hands and knees scrubbing its floor.  I had already painted its woodwork, including all 102 of its decorative railing spindles.)  This time next week the yard will be graced with a “For Sale” sign, and we’ll be on our way.  If all goes as we plan, by July we’ll be renting a house in North Carolina, supervising the construction of our future.