Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Life in the ‘Hood: This, that, and WTF?

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The ‘tother evening I went over to a small neighborhood party down in lower Richistan. That was amusing. A variety of locals, young and old, new and veteran, gathered in one worthy’s front yard. The beauty of events like these is that you can learn a lot about the ‘hood, invariably fascinating in an old, established district like ours.

So after the corgi cuteness had broken the ice — corgis do have their uses, even in the absence of sheep — I sat down next to an older woman who said she’s lived here for 40 years.

The current hot topic of conversation is the bums imported on the lightrail. None of the locals are hearing any of the argument that this neighborhood has nothing like the problem we used to have in the Encanto area when it was gentrifying. There, you couldn’t stick your nose out the front door without encountering a derelict. Here, even though you find their leavings in the alleys — drug paraphernalia, feces, and toilet paper, you rarely see the bums themselves, except where they hang around the QT and the Circle K in the war zone at the intersection of Conduit of Blight Blvd and Gangbanger’s Way, which happens to be the end of the line for the damn train.

She — the old gal — insisted the place was over-run with them, and that the alley running behind her house is the main Bum Thoroughfare through the ‘hood. Could be: she lives close to the home where the drug-addled fool jumped a neighbor’s fence and molested her two little girls while they were playing in their backyard. Fortunately the mother caught him before he could make off with either one of the children.  Oh well.

Where the two ne’er-do-well men who lived in the wrecked house with their old mother until she died have moved out, they left their cats. These cats were mightily neglected while they were living there — mostly the neighbors fed them. So it has become a Neighborhood Project to figure out what to do with the cats.

At the moment at least one of them has gone missing: someone has put up a sign on the mailbox offering $100 for information on the absent cat.

The old gal said that while the brothers were running their shade-tree car repair business, there were at least two explosions at that house. Not surprising: Orderly was not their middle name. 😀

The neighbors speculate that the house will have to be torn down, now that the family (or whatever they were) is gone. They had the roof, which is designed to be clad in asphalt or cedar shingles, sprayed with a thick layer of white roofing foam. It’s a gawdawful mess that will require the entire roof to be removed. The fix-&-flippers, facing an unholy job, only paid about $350,000 for the place, even though it’s over 2,200 square feet on a large piece of irrigated land.

In Phoenix, you can keep the original set-back on a house that you’re re-building if you leave one or two walls — any walls — standing and claim it’s a re-hab, not new construction. This enables speculators to build what is essentially a new house yet get around some of the newer, more onerous code requirements. So we expect that’s what we’ll see in the near future.

Not a corgi…

Meanwhile, the old gal said she lives right behind the other major eccentric in the ‘hood, the one who was breeding the “King shepherds.” You may remember, she tried to sell me one of these outsized Ger-sheps. This is the house where the Level 2 sex offender dwells — supposedly a child molester. Evidently those sex-offender-tattler websites are not read by real estate buyers, since two families with small children moved in on the same street…one of them right next door. At any rate, Our Informant reported that this woman never got rid of the litter of pups she had, and so now NINE adult German shepherds live and bark in her back yard. Right behind Informant’s home.

She said before this woman got the German shepherds, she had wolf hybrids, which used to jump the wall and roam around the neighborhood.

How exactly this differs from the coyote who lives in the alley over there escapes me. Said coyote, whom I’ve seen twice in the past week or so, undoubtedly has something to do with the mysterious disappearance of the abandoned cats.

{sigh}

It’s interesting how these central urban neighborhoods age and evolve.

When Richistan was built, in the late 1950s, that would have been a pretty nice area. It was a little too close to Conduit of Blight — in those days Realtors would advise buyers looking in North Central never to buy west of 7th Avenue. But nevertheless, a couple of areas in the frowned-upon zone managed to be developed into upper-middle-class areas. They were in the Madison School district — the only decent school district in the city proper, at the time — rendering the location highly desirable for young professionals who did not want to commute. So: doctors, lawyers, business execs, and their Junior-League wives.

Richistan has kind of held its value, largely because of a couple of very fancy enclaves over there and of course because of the school district. But over time, as the kids grew up and went away, it developed a kind of…hmmm…senescent eccentricity. Hence, the wolf lady and her questionable son, the shade-tree repair garage, Mr. “Freeman” the Tax Revolt Guy, and a number of run-down houses that, in recent years, have lent themselves to profitable fixing-and-flipping. The nearby horse properties were sold and turned into small McMansion tracts.

The area is looking pretty good now — Zillow had a “Zestimate” of $468,000 for the garage with the foam roof. I’m sure they’ll get much more than that, once the place is cleaned up and refurbished. Those irrigated lots alone are worth almost that much. I’d kill to have one — but keep the 2250-s.f. shack, please. If I could get the lot alone and built a human-sized house on it, I’d jump at the opportunity. But that ain’t gonna happen.

Meanwhile, the low-rent district where I live has also evolved. Built in the early 1970s, it’s more distinctly a tract — Richistan consists of what used to be called “semi-custom” houses. Over here, on the wrong side of Main Drag NS, the houses all look alike: the same block exteriors with only about four or, at the outside, five different elevations. I got in during the Savings & Loan crisis, when people were going belly-up right and left: a predecessor of the Bush Recession. The original owner of my first house here had died, leaving her son stuck with a house whose value was fading fast. My Realtor talked him down by 30 grand, presenting me with a mortgage I could barely afford, but which I swung by taking on SDXB as a “renter.” {snarkle!}

Quite a few of the residents were original owners, most of their houses well maintained. A number, though, were eccentrics or people who couldn’t afford to keep the houses up, and as the S&L recession continued, a number of places were sold to Canadian speculators who turned them into rentals. Needless to say, those houses went downhill fast.

Then the Perp moved in. By now the recession was over and the houses were beginning to regain their value. He started buying up houses from elderly owners, who had NO idea what they were worth. These he would turn into rentals, with little or no fix-up. Before long, I think he had eight or nine houses in this six-square-block tract.

Needless to say, the Perp’s activities did nothing to improve the neighborhood. He failed to chase me off, despite threatening a judge and scaring the shit out of my lawyers. But I did learn, several years after I moved into this house — which is in the same tract but further away from Conduit of Blight, the War Zone, and what at the time promised to be the Construction Project from Hell, which the City launched to build its damned lightrail — that the people who lived here sold because they were afraid of the Perp. Apparently he had terrorized the neighbors all around this corner. My neighbor Terri moved in at the same time I did, and so whoever owned her house evidently moved because of the Perp; plus he bought a house catty-corner across the street from me and another place two lots down and installed his daughters in them. Dave, proprietor of Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum, was pretty stolid: it would be hard to scare him off. Besides, he was armed. The people next door to Pretty Daughter moved out and some guy turned that house into a rental.

This was the state of affairs during the Worst of Times.

The Crash of the Bush Economy, though, did this neighborhood a favor. As real estate values ballooned to the exploding point, whoever was backing the Perp (we believe he was fronting for an investor, or at least was advised by someone who knew what he was doing) told him to sell all of his rentals — which he did, right at the top of the market.

A few of these were purchased at outrageous prices by people who wanted to live here — they fixed the shacks up within reason. A few were bought by people who couldn’t afford them or who shortly lost their shirts in the recession. But owners like Dave and the woman who bought my first house (and wrecked it) were forced out, having borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars against equity in houses that were now worth less than they paid for them before the run-up in fictional value. A few were bought by landlords who sold them to real people after values returned to normal. This got rid of the Perp’s Rental Empire, and it also evicted a number of folks who were not keeping the houses up.

As property values recovered and the City decided to let parents send their kids to any public school of their choice, the young and the upwardly mobile have rediscovered the place. Houses here now sell for what they were supposedly worth at the height of the Bubble. Again.

Is this a new Bubble? Yeah. Probably. But when it bursts, I doubt if values will fall as drastically as they did. Arizona is the home of the Boom & Bust Economy, and so real estate ups and downs are just business as usual. And since a fair proportion of these houses now belong to people who have put a lot of money into fixing them up — or bought them expensively from fix-&-flippers — I doubt if we’ll see a big exodus in the next recession.

In the WTF Department? The motion-sensitive porch light by the kitchen door has been out for a long time. Haven’t paid much attention, because in the summer it stays light so late that I rarely go out there while it’s dark. But now that the days are getting shorter, it occurs to me that really…I should change that lightbulb.

So I drag the stepstool out there, climb up, and start to remove the bulb. On a whim, though, I tighten it before unscrewing it…and LO! On it comes!

Whaaa? Why was the lightbulb sitting there half-unscrewed?

The only thing I can figure is that the house vibrates a little with the air-conditioning. Maybe that jiggled the thing loose. It was actually quite loose, though, as though it had been deliberately loosened enough so that it wouldn’t come on.

Wannabe burglar? Doesn’t seem likely: there are a lot of other motion-sensitive lights out there. Wouldn’t you think he would’ve unscrewed them all?

Maybe not: the rest of them are out of reach — you’d need a ladder to get at them. And if you didn’t know the yard well, you wouldn’t know there’s a ladder stashed right around the corner.

Oh well. It’s working now. 🙂

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3 Comments

  1. You’ll probably have to change the light bulb soon. Most often when you can get a bulb working by tightening (or in some cases loosening) it, that’s a pretty good predictor of upcoming failure.

  2. Oh, no! That lightbulb didn’t loosen itself. I suspect one of the workmen you’ve had at the home during the past year. I was ripped off by the maintenance crew when I lived in a dumpy apartment building back in the 80’s, so I’m always a little distrustful of janitors, repair people, etc. I always use the door chain when I’m home and I never leave my door unlocked unless I’m just going to the mail boxes. Better suspicious than sorry. Then again, you’ve got dogs and a gun, so you might be better prepared for a home invasion than me.

    • Well, it sure could be that the painter took it out when he painted, since he was spray painting and may not have wanted to get paint on the bulb. Or just loosened it in the process of taping paper over the fixture, which I don’t THINK he removed.

      Yah, I’ve had plenty of minor larcenies from various workers: hence walloping security screen doors with hardened locks and a habit of storing tools and anything that matters inside the garage. ‘Course, the security screens were occasioned by the Garage Invasion episode…but the principle’s the same: exclude unwelcome visitors. Better the guy doesn’t get in than that I have to throw him out or (heaven forfend) shoot him.

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