Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in recent weeks we’ve been sharing the stories of our annual road trips that we undertook before I launched MCC in April 2012. Starting from the beginning and working our way forward, so far we’ve covered 1999 to 2005; our 2006 trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota was remastered before its 2014 sequel. That brings us to 2007, another year that brought two major changes to our lives. They didn’t affect our travels, but they gave us better reasons to want to return home.
During the previous excursions, I’d been living in the same two-bedroom apartment since March 1994; my son joined me later after I gained custody in spring 2003, with Anne following suit after our wedding in July 2004. We avid collectors united our grand assortments of comics, books, toys, magazines, and other boxes full of stuff and things within a single small space, leaving us about five square feet for walking around. My comics alone took up half the dining room. Bookshelves lined every wall. Posters covered any blank spaces between shelves. And that was just the adults’ possessions. Much of our home sweet home looked like a big flea market booth.
It was claustrophobic, but we were attached to it. I’d lived in this same complex nearly my entire life. I was used to it. The location was convenient. The management’s strict vetting process at the time kept the neighbors largely on the up-and-up. The roaches were off-putting but easy to ward off for months at a time with judicious application of the right Raid product assortment. And for the longest time it’s all we thought we could afford.
Then a funny thing happened after we both left the fast-food business and got office jobs: our paychecks kept improving. By 2003 both our cars were paid off. Ten years after my 1997 bankruptcy, my credit situation was finally back on track. God kept blessing us in ways great and small. All factors snowballed until together we made the decision to become first-time homeowners.
Friends at church recommended a realtor and fellow member to us, a great guy who went to bat for us in a number of ways. We toured ten houses total, all in the school district we wanted, each with their foibles. One overwhelmed us at the foyer with multiple pet smells. One had a refrigerator in the living room. One had a ten-foot backyard that led to a wooded thirty-foot precipice. One was next door to an auto racing superfan who decorated his mailbox with flame decals. One had a potpourri machine that spat a scent grenade in my face and left me smelling nothing but lavender for the next hour.
Eventually we were led to the modest house in the lead photo. The retention pond out back is fancier than the house itself. According to our mortgage company we could’ve afforded far more than that. The rough calculations I ran before we contacted them disagreed with their definition of “afford”. To maintain our budget at the level we preferred, I figured we could afford a house that cost X. The lender swore we could afford at least X+9%, or a lot more than that if we asked nicely. The house we chose cost about X-9%. I also insisted on a fixed-rate mortgage, absolutely not variable rate. My day job had taught me enough about basic finance and borrowing terms that I knew which concepts and options were absolutely not for us.
Beyond the new carpet and a few repair jobs the previous owner agreed to handle, as an added bonus our closing date was on my 35th birthday. Luckier still because we found out at the table, just as they validated our IDs before we commenced with signing over sixty different pieces of paper, that my driver’s license expiration date was that very day. If we’d closed one day later, that would’ve thrown a bit of a wrench into the works. Closing otherwise went off without a hitch except for writer’s cramp. Just like that, we were first-time homeowners.
We’d gotten in under the wire right before the 2008 recession turned American life topsy-turvy for millions of other homeowners with far more unfavorable contracts. In the ten years since we got the keys, the company name at the top of our billing statements has changed three times. Much of that shocking era was covered in the 2015 Best Picture nominee The Big Short. The film rattled me on a number of levels, particularly when two of our mortgage companies’ four names popped up in the evil-lender montages. In general we’ve gotten what we need from them apart from some bad customer service during one particular period, but any and all subsequent attempts to sell me more of their products and services have been a waste of their time and junk mail.
Our adventures on the open road into other states had represented big steps for us. Home ownership was a river-wide leap in comparison. I’d never even lived in an actual house before, raised on rentals and assuming that would be my lifelong lifestyle. But here we were with a house of our own to take care of as we saw fit to the best of our limited skill sets, subject to HOA approval, someday to be paid in full. We’ve done a bit with it, but to this day there’s so much more that needs to be done, or that we’d like to improve someday before we die just as soon as either of us figures out how. Thankfully we’ve had no serious calamities to date, except that first winter when we learned the previous owner had installed a new furnace filter without taking the plastic off it and effectively burnt out the entire system months later. Eventually we forgave.
Our new home’s best special feature was added a month after we moved in: a new dog.
Anne’s hairy old sidekick Harrison had passed away long before we moved, leaving us dogless during the transition. A month later, Anne’s brother offered us their dog, which they thought their oldest son wanted until he changed his mind and decided he’d rather have a hamster. They’d been keeping Lucky in a cage because he was so high-strung and given to spontaneous outbursts of speed that they feared for the safety of their youngest tyke. And/or he just drove them nuts. They thought he was part chihuahua and part dachshund, but to me his coloring suggests a distant lineage from some Jack Russell terrier, which I now suspect is a royal euphemism for “Tasmanian Devil”.
Longtime MCC readers might recall photos of Lucky from previous entries. He’s been a handful at times, but in his own way he brought balance to our new abode and our family.
Next week marks our tenth anniversary as homeowners, a full decade since the old apartment. The hard work it took for us to get to something resembling middle class was an accomplishment more challenging and painstaking than any road trip we’ve ever done. Once we got used to traveling, we couldn’t wait to get out of that dingy hovel sometimes. I mean, sure, we were proud because it was our dingy hovel, but it was nice to trade in for a more solid home base. We don’t have to share walls with noisy neighbors. We’ve never had a single cockroach here. And when we return from every vacation, we have all the walking space we want and all the leg room we need.