Hello, friends! Over the next few weeks, I am away for my wedding and honeymoon, so I’ve invited some of my favorite writers to keep you entertained in my absence! Enjoy!!
I have discovered that buying a house is not only hard on finances, it’s also hard on one’s sense of identity. The prospect of home-ownership has revealed that I’m a despicable and fallible creature, that my so-called principles are worthless. And I have the ACLU to thank for this painful but necessary learning experience.
It began with the drive bys (a phrase I found confusing until I realized it just meant driving by houses I might be interested in – clearly I’ve spent too much time watching crime dramas and not enough discussing property investment). My real estate agent said, “Do some drive-bys before you commit” (which seems like sensible advice regardless of whether you’re talking about homeownership or a life of crime).
So I did some drive-bys. Have you ever wondered to what depths you’d sink if you were really pushed to the limit? How your values would hold up if you were teetering on their brink? I don’t need to do that, because mine began to crumble on the first drive-by. If you asked me before, I’d have told you I embrace all people as equal, I challenge prejudice, and I never take my own privilege for granted. But as a potential homeowner, I suddenly saw everything and everyone as a threat or problem. Every house I drove by became a helpless target for the criminals of Connecticut. I no longer cared what social injustices might have pushed any of my theoretical criminals into a life of crime. I just saw danger on every street corner. “They” would be out to get me as soon as the moving truck left, they’d be watching me, checking my movements, breaking into my home, searching for non-existent valuables, and being unpleasant to my cat.
And it wasn’t just my woman-of-the-people image that was swept away while I drove-by. I was transformed from a reasonably optimistic-it’ll-all-work-out sort of person, into a fear-driven-everything-I-do-will-inevitably-lead-to-ruin nut-job, imagining the worst, convinced that as soon as I committed the rest of my working life to thousands of dollars of debt, the roof of my new home would cave in, the furnace would stop working, and a sink hole would swallow up my house, leaving me and my cat homeless, penniless, and forever in debt.
But that wasn’t the end of my painful self-awakening, because the next thing I did was complete a spending plan worksheet. I thought I was doing this to see where I might have unnecessary expenses, but apparently I was doing it to see what a terrible human being I am. The section for fixed expenses wasn’t so bad. After all, rent, car payment, utilities are all necessary and reasonable, and of course I had them. But when I got to the “variable expenses” section, the real me began to emerge from the depths of my psyche. I wasn’t completely honest, of course (for example, I put zero dollars for the amount spent on clothes every month, because I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to buy any new clothes, ever again, and apparently I’m also only spending $25 a month on going out to dinner or the movies, and you should bear that in mind if you’re thinking of asking me out).
Even with my creative accounting skills, all those variables added up to a whole mortgage payment. I needed to be ruthless. I looked at my monthly charitable donations and my TV subscriptions, and I decided to cancel everything except for causes (and TV shows) I really believed in. I cancelled my Netflix subscription (well, I say “cancelled” but Season Five of House of Cards was about to start, so I decided to cancel it after that. Definitely). I kept Hulu and Amazon. Planned Parenthood made the cut. The Obama Foundation was out (I felt kind of bad, but I figured they’d get along fine without me). And this is where it gets really bad. This is where it came to pass that I found myself trying to decide whether I should cancel my $10 a month donation to the ACLU, or my $10 a month subscription to the WWE pro-wrestling channel. I agonized. For five whole minutes. For reasons I won’t go into here, I’m extremely attached to the WWE, but I’m also quite attached to constitutionally ratified liberties and freedoms.
So I googled “how do I cancel my donation to the ACLU?” And it turns out you can’t do it online, you have to call someone in New York. Devious bastards. They’d found the bedrock of my principles. I was damned if I was going to talk to an actual human being at the ACLU and tell them I was cancelling my $10 a month donation, because they might ask me why, and although I’m a terrible person, I wouldn’t be able to lie, which would mean I’d have to tell the truth, and I wasn’t about to tell them that wrestling was more important to me than defending civil liberties.
Reluctantly, I went instead to the WWE website, and felt a real sadness as I hit ‘cancel membership’. They make it very easy. They don’t insist you call Vince McMahon and explain to him why you don’t care about wrestling anymore. They don’t even bother putting a little box on the screen that says, “Are you sure you want to cancel?” They don’t have to. They know you’ll be back for the next pay-per-view event. I guess the ACLU doesn’t have that luxury, but at least it’s smart enough to realize it, and hang on to all those $10 donations from ethically compromised people like me.
So thank you, ACLU, thank you for making me retain a shred of decency during this whole process, even if it did come from a place of fearing to expose myself as an asshole. Thank you for teaching me who I really am. And regardless of whether I ever become a homeowner, in the leafy suburbs or urban metropolis, I publicly vow never to cancel my donation to you. Unless I need the money for a new home security system. Or a new dress. Or therapy for me and my cat.
More of Fee de Merell’s writing can be found at jaggedhead.com
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