Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

house, home

as astute readers and meatspace friends know, i've been house shopping of late. to call it a fraught endeavor for this single, underpaid, debt-ridden, lifetime apartment-dweller, is to do a disservice to the manifold ways it eats at me. it's no simpler given that i haven't moved in five years; i'm as entrenched in my current apartment as i have ever been anywhere. i didn't feel this rooted, this immobile, when i was buried to the neck in the sand of family over a decade ago in new jersey.

the looking for the house part is fun. i like the houses in pittsburgh. i like peeking into the lives of others. i like intellectualizing what is finally a far more sentimental exercise than the logistics, the promise of endless paperwork, and the grim reaper of bankruptcy suggest. i even like thinking of myself as "house-hunting." there's no harm in it. it makes me feel grown up far more than smoking cigarettes as a teen, falling in love, graduating college or law school, or being sworn in to the pennsylvania bar ever did. it helps that i'm looking in pittsburgh, where the single, underpaid, and debt-ridden can put a pretty nice roof over his head if he sets his mind to it.

but it's not a house one's buying, and technical concerns fade in that light. it's a home. an apartment houses a person, and may eventually feel like home. but we are raised in a culture that venerates property ownership above virtually everything else, a value we internalize in spite of ourselves, property being one of the more stable ways to put the capital in capitalism, and to lease, to occupy a place someone has let you, just doesn't satisfy practically or philosophically. home has indefinite connotations, it suggests the possibility of permanence, there by no one's permission but one's own, free to use or abuse the property as whimsy suggests, unable to walk away.

like most good things, it's terrifying and invigorating all at once.

i find myself wondering, in my looking, whether it is a house that i can turn into a home i am looking for, are something that already emanates an aura of home, something ready made. it's the nature-nurture debate recast. or the difference between love at first sight and a slow-growing passion between old friends.

and perhaps the question is as intractable as those analogous inquiries, its answer lying somewhere in an indefinable middle. but as with choosing a partner, choosing a house, nominally binding oneself to thirty years' debt in an amount utterly unprecedented in past experience, feels like its own ascent to the altar, something one would rather not do than do wrong, or hastily, or for inappropriate reasons.

i want to buy now; interest rates will never be better. but is it worth a couple of points, tens of thousands of dollars, to wait a little longer, to look for that gem? or am i deluding myself that there is such a thing, in my price range or any other, that any house will be built to suit, as they say, that i can possibly afford anything that won't need to be taken in about the waist, hemmed, cleaned and pressed a couple of times to excorcise the remnants of a prior inhabitant?

in this undertaking, as in baseball, or law, or anything else if you try hard enough to see it, there is a bas relief of life beneath the microcosm's veneer that only certain tricks of the light suggest in the unlikely gathering of shadows near a corner, the intimation of concavity amid an atoll braille of prominences. and so it is that, just as i have felt once before something like the love i hope to share with someone, i also have touched upon the sort of house i might want. and as she managed to slip through my fingers, so did the house.

the details aren't important: i spent a week loving a house but convinced i had to look more, that i lacked the money to make a bid sufficient to warrant the seller's consideration, that there was another shoe and it would drop upon a second, more skeptical walk-through. but the day of the second walk-through, mere hours before the scheduled visit, i learned that another bidder had moved in and made a play for the house. my house! something inside me howled; as so often is the case, we learn what we most want only when faced with the prospect of losing it. the next few hours were a blur. racing home from work, i crunched the numbers again, and discovered, through the marvels of debt endlessly deferred, that i could afford perhaps $10,000 more than i had originally thought. i wrote a new, astonishingly alien number on a blank piece of paper. eyed it warily for several minutes. felt no impulse to scratch it out or amend it. stood, looked down at the number one more time, and left to meet my agent.

second walk-through. no shoe poised to drop in sight. just an ache, a belief that owning this house would square some circle, or otherwise lend a new order to my chaotic existence. coffee shop. nervous laughter and reams of paperwork. offer. then an interminable next day of waiting. and waiting. sure that i'd won, and afraid. afraid that i'd lost, and sure. but when the news came that i had been outbid, i lacked the energy, or the sense of karmic insult, to muster much anger. instead, a sort of fatalism, the pretense that i saw it coming.

i have seen other houses. online. in the real world. houses more aligned with the expectations i had when i began to run property searches online. and had i not seen this perfect house, i might have been excited about one of them. or two.

but the human brain's currency is pattern recognition, measurement its medium of exchange, and it inexorably subjects the world and all it contains to an endless concatenations of comparisons. i hate telling people that i don't compare them to others, in any context, though i do in deference to a social ritual; it's as much a lie as it is unfair, indeed ignorant, for any one to demand otherwise. if we are mind in some heuristic reductio of the cartesian sense (the full-blown version being demonstrably problematic, even as it provides a flawed model nearly as useful as newtonian mechanics for engaging the problems of perceiving self in the world), then we are, by definition, measurers, weighers, old ladies in the grocery store squeezing tomoatoes, all of us, enslaved to our inability to see anything in itself, for itself.

it's no surprise that none of the other houses measures up.

and so for now, in this apartment in a house that isn't mine and thus can never be home no matter how many formative events have transpired here in the past five years, i grow impatient, injured by loss, sometimes inexplicably convinced that i have been passed by, that the next bus just isn't coming.

i comfort myself with an article of faith nearly liturgical in its insistence: there are many other houses. and at least one more home, whether ready-made or of my own devising. that old saw, as true as it is disquietingly nebulous: i'll know it when i see it.

if i see it.

but my insubstantiable conviction is as unshaken as it is unbidden, as persistent as it is unverifiable. there is a home still to be discovered. and crossing its threshold will be sublime.


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