Monday, July 09, 2012

[House and Home] A Supposedly Fun Thing

A Supposedly Fun Thing: I never really pictured myself as the kind of guy to buy coyote urine. But that's the sort of person I am now. Fox urine, too. The coyote urine is for repelling deer, the fox urine is for repelling rabbits and chipmunks and such. (Although I am not clear on why coyote urine wouldn't work for all sorts of critters short of say, a buffalo. Come to think of it, wouldn't bear urine be best -- sort of the king of all urines?)

It is somewhat disturbing to note the ready availability of these substances, and it speaks volumes on the ability of the free market to satisfy society's needs.

It is incredibly disturbing to think that some internet pervert searching on "urine" might land on this post.

Such is the nature of homeownership. Owning a house may not make economic sense at present. It's more of a right of passage -- a common cultural touchstone. People who took to home ownership early in life often to despise its demands. It sucks money out of your wallet at an alarming rate and burns time even faster. And for what? The hope (now more tenuous than in the past) that you will get some back when it comes time to sell. It compels you to wonder what you are passing up for the honor of suburban life.

But here's the thing: No matter what you do, you will wonder what you are giving up. And if you don't you must lack imagination. At age 50, to see what I had given up meant to learn what the great masses of homeowners learn earlier in life, when they were seeing me spend all my free time and money travelling around, writing novels, staying fit and cursing because they had to spend all their money on a new roof. For me this has meant learning basic stuff like swapping out light fixtures, sharpening mower blades, taping, priming and painting, dealing with bug infestations, re-hanging doors, etc. Most importantly, I've learned to get a grip on when it makes sense to call for help and when it makes sense to take a shot at things yourself.

If it's something that is going to require expensive specialty tools or is a potential disaster if you screw it up or if it's just something you'll never do again, it's probably a good idea to farm it out. An example of this for me was installing a new sump pump. It was not expensive and I'm sure with a little research and trial and error I could have done it myself. But if I screwed it up I could have had a basement full of sludge. Plus, sump pumps last decades so once I got it in, the likelihood I would ever re-use the skills learned would be pretty small.

Alternatively, if it's something you are going to have to do regularly and the tools required are not too expensive, you should make it a DIY if you can. You'll screw it up the first couple of times (again, hopefully that won't be too expensive), but after that you're good to go. Mowing my lawn falls into that category.

Not that lawn mowing is particularly complicated. I used to mow lawns for money when I was a kid, but those were flat, little 1/4 acre plots. I have a solid two acres with chaotic slopes and contours. The first couple of times I did mowed it took me over two hours and patterns in the lawn looked like something Van Gogh painted. Now I have it down to under ninety minutes and I get the lines pretty straight. (Although it doesn't help that one of the local lawn cutting pros told me that his crew would consider it a failure if it took more than a half-hour.) I also learned how dull mower blades can cause healthy grass to look brown and dead and how hornets are not particularly fond of lawnmowers as a class of product.

It's all about failing and learning. That's huge for me personally, since it is something I have struggled with all my life: to not be afraid to fail. As I look back I see so many things that I could have done in my life had I not been afraid of failure. Actually, it was not so much failure as fear of other people looking down on me or belittling me or thinking less of me over my failure. And that is truly pathetic. My actual fear was not what I thought about myself but what other people would think of me. And the thing is, although I came to terms with the need to fail some time ago, I didn't until recently see the cause behind my own fear until the last couple of years as the house has made me try and fail with great regularity. The follow up would be to deep dive into why the hell I ever cared what anyone else thought in the first place, but that sounds exhausting to me and I'd probably end up blaming my childhood or something lame like that.

So as you can see, homeownership continues to be a philosophical and psychological adventure for me, which is just what one should have in one's life after living half a century.

Still, I could do without the urine.