Coffee heat rising

How incredibly lucky…

royalpalmparkithinkAfter bicycling over to a neighbor’s house to help her climb into her car (she’s moving clumsily from recent foot surgery), I spent about an hour this afternoon riding around the neighborhood and the one closer to Central Avenue. One of my RAs said she and her new husband put a bid on a house somewhere in that area, and I was curious to see which place it might have been. A couple of places were possibilities, but if so, then the new hubby must be earning a ton of money.

I never cease to marvel that somehow I managed to land in such a lovely, in-town area.

Fifteen years ago, as a new divorcée I was living on an amount of alimony that my lawyer and my financial advisor had urged me not to accept. Neither of them thought I could possibly survive on it, nor did anyone expect that after 20 years as a society matron I had a chance of landing a job that would pay a living wage. A drive-by shooting outside the apartment complex where I was living led me to contact a real estate agent and set him to searching for a house.

front yard in a rainstorm, through the living room window
The old house: front yard in a rainstorm, through the living room window

During the several weeks we looked at candidates, he took me to a 1970s block house that seemed dark and un-promising. Though it had been immac-ulately maintained, it still had the harvest gold shag carpets, formica countertops, and appliances that must have been installed when the place was built. I rejected it. We continued to look. After I saw the other shacks that I could afford, harvest gold took on a certain retro charm. And the house’s beautiful, professionally landscaped yard with its mature trees that created a park-like atmosphere in back looked downright gorgeous.

My agent managed to get the house for $30,000 below the asking price. Meanwhile, I had cowritten a book that quickly became a best-seller. My pay for that was enough to put down more than 20 percent on the house, leaving me with a mortgage that I couldn’t possibly pay alone. However, I easily persuaded SDXB (who at that time was simply BF: Boyfriend) to move in with me. He paid half the mortgage and part of the utility bill, which I carried on my books as rent. This allowed me to deduct a large portion of the many improvements the house needed, making new carpets and countertops more or less affordable.

As it developed, the little tract of block houses that I’d bought into is adjacent to one of the most upscale neighborhoods in the city. The centerpiece of this area is a large, beautiful park which, because the residents insisted that no bathroom facilities be installed, is free of the usual midcity transients and so is a safe and pleasant place to hang out: an asset instead of the drawback that a public park can be. My neighborhood forms a buffer zone between the fancy district and a pile of ratty, crime-ridden apartments on the other side of a main drag that has long been a conduit of blight. Because of that and because of the large number of rentals in my area (at one point, Mr. B***‘s rental empire comprised six houses in the two- by three-block development, and his were not the only rentals), the value of the sturdy, well built, and well designed houses has consistently lagged behind comparable properties in the North Central district.

After some fix-up, I fell in love with my house and the immediate neighbors, some of them original owners and all of them friendly and quiet. After several years, though, the harassment factor from the constant cop helicopter flyovers and the noise from the thundering intersection about three blocks away came to feel like real problems—you could set your clock at 11:00 p.m. by the cops buzzing the war zones to the north and the west of us, and some nights the traffic roar was so loud SDXB and I had to shout to hear each other speak in the backyard. The trees in the yard were dying: I lost an olive tree in front, two of the three ash trees were suffering from ash decline, and the gorgeous old fig tree developed a canker disease that an arborist had declared incurable and terminal. I replaced the olive with a mesquite, but the other trees would each cost about a thousand bucks to cut down, and when they were gone, the back yard’s charm would go with them.

I began to think I wanted to move somewhere else in the central part of the city. Months of searching elided into years, with no luck at finding a new-to-me place. By now, my house was paid for, because I stumbled into a good job whose salary allowed me to apply all the alimony plus a small inheritance to the principal, eliminating it fairly quickly. I did not want to take on another mortgage. Because of the location and the rentals, what I could get for my house would not buy another place comparable to mine in a neighborhood that felt safe for a single woman. Everything in my price range made my house look fantastically good. Any house that was similar to my place cost $80,000 to $100,000 more, and anything better—either in design and construction or in location—was astronomically beyond my means. Eventually it became clear that my only options were to stay put or to move to the suburbs or Sun City. I don’t care for the ‘burbs; my commute to the university is long enough, thank you; and Sun City is anathema.

Climbing roses on the deck

Just as the housing bubble was starting to inflate, the house I’m in came up for sale: in the same neighbor-hood I was living in. The owners, lovingly known as Satan and Proserpine, had done a lot of fix-up: removed the old dark-brown 1972 tract-house cabinetry and replaced it with handsome new cabinets, appliances, and countertops, installed very attractive floor tile, ripped out the plastic shower surround and replaced it with travertine, knocked a hole in the west wall and installed an Arcadia door opening onto a pretty little covered deck, installed an Arcadia door in the master bedroom…all of which created a bright, updated effect. The house had a fireplace and a big swimming pool—which my old place did not—and best of all, it sat on about a quarter of an acre in the quietest part of the neighborhood: the house is located as far away from the tenements and the main drags as you can get without being in the more expensive tract. It is, in a word, right in the rich folks’ laps.

This corner of the neighborhood is much, much quieter. Although the cops still roar overhead once every evening or two, they don’t park right on top of the house while they harry the perps, as they still do over the old house. Traffic noise is barely audible here. At night, I can sleep with a window locked partly open, out of the question in the other house. With Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum out of the picture, the street is pleasant enough. And the mature, shady neighborhood of $500,000 to $1.5 million homes that starts about 200 feet from my front yard is very pleasant, indeed.

Come to think of it, the very idea that a middle-aged grass widow without a hope of ever earning a decent living should land in a beautiful—paid-off!—placelike this is absolutely incredible. I should still be dodging bullets and fighting off car thieves downtown, or trying to sleep through the midnight serenade of boomboxes and remote car door lock quacks and yaps from an apartment-house parking lot, or at best hunkered into a condo in some rabbit warren on a main drag in Scottsdale or Tempe.

Amazing how things work out, isn’t it?

The deck from the dining room