My Beautiful Wickedness

Subprime? No, thank god.
August 9, 2007, 5:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Days like today make me remember that crazy time when we were in the market shopping for our home. We were pressured pressured pressured to borrow a lot more — like muchly much much more — than we could ever afford to pay back. The pressure came in various ways. We were shown a shitty (overpriced) home in the range we said we wanted to see — and then immediately taken to a McMansion “starter home” for “just” $179k. “You should believe in your earning potential.” (Trying to make us feel like losers for being fiscally conservative.) “But you’re both professors.” (Trying to appeal to our snobbery.) “Wouldn’t this be a nice lawn for your daughter to play in?” (Appealing to our desire to give her good things.) “The house is alright, but the neighborhood…is…transitional.” (Trying to appeal to non-existent racism.)

The pressure didn’t stop with the realtor. Even the mortgage guys tried to get us to borrow a lot more money to fix up the house. It was crazy. Of course we worried about it. And ultimately we said NO. After all, everyone in the housing game profits when they sell a huge house and they have no interest at all in what that does to your life after you make the purchase.

It was one of the hardest things we ever did to keep insisting that our time was worth more to us than a huge house. We knew that John was probably going to continue to have difficulty finding a full-time teaching gig here and so we didn’t want to commit him to a life of night-clerking at Target to make ends meet. Our current house does us fine. We’re fixing it up room by room and we’re doing it at our own pace, with half of it nicely done up in the four years we’ve been here. Keeping up with the repairs and the painting and the patching and all the rest of it is more than enough homeownership for us without the hours of lawn-mowing, the pool care, the disinfecting of the hot tub, etc. We spend all that “extra” money that would have been going into a big-ass mortgage paying private school tuition and dance lessons and piano lessons — in other words, investing in raising a happy, well-rounded intelligent kid. That’s an investment that doesn’t depreciate but continues to grow and give us joy. We don’t have two nickels to rub together at the end of the month really, but I don’t feel the sick robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul anxiety that I have at times when I’ve been in over my head.

A lot of people are going to go under over this. It’s really sobering to think that it could easily have been us.


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“Wouldn’t this be a nice lawn for your daughter to play in?”

Once upon a time, I set out to buy an engagement ring. I went first to the best jewelry store in town and was immediately greeted at the doorway by a friendly and impeccably dressed salesman. I told him that I was looking for an engagement ring with a marquis-cut diamond, that I wanted the best quality stone I could get, and that I had only $400 to spend–I was in college, and the only reason I had *that* much money was because I’d been spending my evenings typing libraries of data from the Racing Form into a dBASE II program that was intended to make the local mafia a lot of easy money at the track (this was the mid-’80s, when computers were still magical; long story).

Anyhow, the salesman showed me one $400 ring, and then went to the back of the store and re-emerged with a glass-covered display tray full of marquis-cut beauties that cost between $600 and $1200–they may have gone higher, but once I saw the four-digit prices, my autonomic nervous system began to shut down. I was distressed but polite when he showed me the first two beyond-my-reach rings, but when he picked up the third ($900) and began explaining its virtues and making it twinkle under the store’s lights, I very restrainedly explained again that I had only the money that I had, and no more, and couldn’t even begin to afford the sort of ring he was showing me. He tried to cajole me into love-led penury, ending his attempted manipulation by asking me, “Isn’t she worth $900 to you?”

“Yes”, I told him. “Yes, she is. She’s worth the *world* to me. She is worth a pile of those rings the size of your car and she is worth $900 every second of every day. But *I* am not worth $900, and I am not shopping here ever again, and I’m going to see to it that nobody else I know ever does, either.” I’m not a loud or publicly demonstrative person, but I said all of this plainly enough that I was sure the salesweasel’s manager heard it. And then, being a college student with a very pliable schedule, I made a point of spending every spare minute I had for the next week outside that jewelry store, politely asking anyone who turned to go into it whether I could tell them something about it before they entered. I turned a LOT of people away, three feet from their fancy front windows and almost always in full view of the guy who I’d hoped would see it all.

I’ve long since moved away from that state, but I still take the opportunity whenever I can to badmouth that store. I’m sure that particular salesman is long gone, but he set something in motion for which the people foolish enough to hire him still apparently must atone. I’m not a mean person, but they pushed me past some line I hadn’t known about before.

All of which is to say that I’m sorry you had to deal with a high-pressure jerk when looking for your house, and I’m happy that you didn’t succumb to their awful tactics.

Comment by John Gruver

John hit the same internal “line” when a gas station attendant tried to stiff him a couple of pennies (he prepaid $20, the gas came to $19.97, and the clerk told him that it wasn’t their store’s policy to refund change under a quarter.) He’s a very mild-tempered guy but boy howdy, he was madder than I think I’ve ever seen him.

Funnily enough, the engagement ring I eventually wound up with also cost $400…I guess that is the price point for “Bridgett engagement rings.”

Comment by bridgett

Funny thing about the three pennies: In my 1990s single-guy days, before I met V, I used to go out to the Baker’s Square near Chapel Hill Mall and have dinner once or twice a week. I’d get a burger or something and top it off with a nice slice of pie, which was their specialty. Not being large on fruit pies (or, indeed, fruit) I’d usually opt for the chocolate cream model, which was always very cold, very sweet, and supported by a tasty, flaky crust that was not much concerned with what one’s heart valves might have to say about it. I forget how much a slice was–$2.49, maybe?–but the sociology-major part of my brain always wanted to call the manager over and tell him (he looked like someone who enjoyed not infrequent trips to the pie cupboard, himself) that tonight’s pie was worth a good solid $2.39. Not $2.49–it was good, but it wasn’t *that* good. Would he argue with me? Would he make a scene over a dime? Would he risk losing a customer for that? And if not, what about a quarter? Or would he ask me *why* I thought that final dime was unwarranted…would I have to provide some line of reasoning?

What would happen?

But I never tried it, because (the trivial reason) those were tasty pies, and it was pleasant to go out into the world on inky evenings with a good book and the expectation of a sandwich and a slice, and (the major reason) I didn’t want to risk embarrassing or enraging anyone on a lark over a few pennies. I didn’t want to goad someone over a line they didn’t even know they had.

Comment by John Gruver

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