The flat was built into a garrett beneath the roof, four floors up, on the corner of Lyon and Oak. Our high kitchen windows overlooked Panhandle Park, and each year we’d awake one morning to the sound of thousands of runners passing on the Bay to Breakers race, and each year on another day we’d awake to see the stage of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. From our high windows front and back we could see the high tops of the victorian houses around us. Janice Joplin had lived in the blue house across the street, once upon a time.
From my tiny office, however, the windows opened only to show the roof of the next house, perhaps six feet away. An occasional gull walked the roof. Not much to see.
But in this room I discovered a house.
Adrienne had introduced me to the books of Charles Givens, who suggests that you save 10% of your earnings, and who spelled out for me the virtue of buying a house. I wasn’t so sure about that 10%, but I’d decided to buy a house.
Every day people called my phoneline to buy voicemail, and on this day I was chatting with a guy who’d called to inquire. He’d lived in San Francisco, down in the lower Mission in a rough part of town, but now had another home in Marin county surrounded by pine trees.
When I told him I was looking to buy a house, he suggested that I might take over the payments on his San Francisco house, which was just about to be foreclosed. I said good idea, and he mailed me a key to go see it.
In case you don’t know, houses in San Francisco are very, very expensive. Even the smallest ones back then cost a quarter of a million dollars, and during the high interest rates of the 1980’s, for a self-employed person, monthly mortgage payments would generally exceed $2000. I’d probably be able to handle that, but the down payment would exceed $60,000, and I’d never, ever had that much cash at one time.
This house had payments already made, so its cost was $130,000. I was interested. The house was run down, slightly set back as if hiding narrowly between two other homes. Behind a high fence, it was two stories, dingy and cheap throughout. It would take a lot of work. But with no downpayment other than the back payments, and a monthly payment of $1400, it was a good opportunity. My contractor friend Pat looked at it. He regularly bought and fixed up homes. He said it was a good deal.
I raised the back-payments money from my friend Dennis, signed an agreement with the fellow who owned it, and took a check to the bank. Now in less than a week I owned a house.
Proudly, I took Adrienne to see our new house.
She became silent when we arrived in our new neighborhood, and was frowning on our new street. Her eyes widened as we parked outside. Once inside, she seemed stupified, and then burst into angry tears.
She hated it. How could I have bought such an ugly place? My pride contracted … became concern … evaporated. She said she would never live in such a place. It was ugly. It wasn’t a nice house!
I was in a quandry. The money had already been paid to a bank. Too late, I realized I’d made a fundamental error in not consulting her. I’d thought she’d be as delighted as I was. It was to be a surprise, and the surprise had gone bad.
Oddly enough, the next day, the bank sent back my check, uncashed, for the back payments. They said that the payment had to be a cashier’s check. I gave the money back to Dennis, and phoned my regrets to the house’s owner.
Today, that house would be worth perhaps $400,000, perhaps more. It would have been a stupendously good investment. But I don’t have that house. In fact, I have no house at all.
But I do have Adrienne. She’s my million-dollar baby.