On the one hand, I had fallen to the point where, in the middle of what should have been a work day, I was scrubbing the stovetop in my underwear with a shredded paper towel. David tries to find a way back home.On the other hand, I was going on dates with professional women, farcically extolling my career as an “experience consultant.” On the one hand, I slept fitfully until ten, evaluating the cost-benefit ratio of staying in bed to masturbate, or getting up to make coffee and watch TV. On the other hand, I went to the gym a lot, and cooked fancy tomato sauces. On the one hand, when people asked me what I did all day long, I either said I was “working on my writing” or “setting up” my new apartment. On the other hand, I knew I could just sell my apartment and go anywhere, anywhere but here. I explained all this to the Peruvian while she curled her legs around mine. “First world problems,” she said.
“Of course they are,” I said. “I’m living in the first world. So are you, by the way.” When she wore her soft, white shoes, she looked like a maid — a teachable moment in personal bigotry. But like any privileged South American woman, she wore fancifully lacy thongs, and brandished well-crafted tits. I had no idea why she liked me, beyond her once saying, “You are quite funny, you know.”
“Funny?” I said. After months of panic and self-torture, of fearing I’d die alone, I had a one-hundred-percent woman in my bed, and I gorged my famished libido on her. She resisted just until the moment that she completely gave way. She liked me more than any fear she might have had of catching a disease.
Then the next day came a call from Cindy the broker. “Is this a bad time? Because I have some big news.” No, I said. I’m at home, “setting up” my new apartment.
“Someone wants to buy your house.”
“What? Already?” In Vermont, property is supposed to languish; it’s where you put a house for sale before you need to sell it.
“And it’s a cash offer. The buyer wants to move in by the end of the month.”
“But–” I had imagined a last summer at the house, and a reconciliation with Veronica,who had already visited New York twice on my dime, ostensibly to decide whether she wanted to have babies with me, but for what I suspected was really to shop, to see the skyscrapers, and to remark on how tall the “Chinamen” were in New York. I wanted my last summer in Vermont, I wanted an excuse not to work, an excuse for middle-age slackering. But what I frankly needed was a famine, a flood, extended unemployment, a harsh reckoning, and a comeuppance.
“You don’t say no to a cash offer in Vermont, David.”
I had two-and-a-half weeks to pack, send things back to New York, and to sell off all the furniture, the tools, the pots and pans, the utensils, the weed whacker, the mower — everything basically that accumulates in four-and-a-half years of living in a home miraculously larger than 500 square feet.
“So who is this guy?”
“He had a breakup with his partner, that’s why he needs to move. He owns an antique store near town. I think he’s 81.”
“What does he want with a three bedroom house? At his age.” But I already knew, because it was probably for the same reason I’d wanted a three bedroom house. To prepare for an imagined future, one that included people filling up all the rooms. Maybe he would have more luck.
“You’ll call me when you’re back?” asked the Peruvian before I left for Vermont. “Or you stay there.”
With a contract signed I flew into Burlington. “Let me tell you about Abe,” Cindy began when we rolled out of the airport.
But I already knew about Abe. I had paid the price of stupidity when I robotically wrote my cell number in the contract I faxed back to Cindy. Once Abe got hold of it, he began to call. He began to leave messages. Poor Abe didn’t know that after two real estate transactions in 12 months I was done being the pussy and was determined, this time, to be the asshole.
“David, this is Abe Meyer, the buyer of your house. I have a few questions, maybe you can answer them for me. Please call me back.”
Germans, even half-Germans, we like rules. And the entire point of paying a broker $10,000 to sell your house is so they stand stalwart as the buffer between you and the buyer. Abe was already breaking the rules. I ignored the first message, but when Abe called again, it was also the German in me that forced me to answer the phone.
“David, it’s Abe Meyer. I’m the one buying your house.”
“Well, the reason I didn’t call you yesterday is because my friend needed to drive me to the hospital. Nothing serious! I need to get my eyes check twice a year because I have some macular degeneration. Now, I just wanted to say, David, can I meet you at the house? I have some questions about the furnace and some other things that maybe you could show me how to work the oven. It’s a very unusual oven; I’ve never seen any one like that. I could be by around 3pm.”
“I’m not in Vermont. But I’m flying in tomorrow.”
“Okay, David, that’s fine. One more thing, one more question. There might be one or two things I want, furniture maybe, things done–”
“I’m happy to show you around the house before the sale, but we should negotiate through the brokers for anything else.”
“Okay, David, that’s fine. I think we can talk. We’re both human beings. And don’t worry. As far as a I’m concerned I already bought the house.”
“I hope he’s not going to be trouble,” said Cindy.
“I can handle him,” I said.
My cell rang when I got to the house in Hobson. Abe. I didn’t answer it. He left a message. He wanted to meet. I left the house and ran into Griswold at the café.
“I heard you’re selling your house, Dave!” Griswold is one of the few people I let call me Dave. Otherwise I insist on David. Dave — it’s just not me. Dave belongs to the long-haired recording engineer who’s possibly got an English accent. Or Dave’s a surfer guy who nods idiotically during every conversation.
“You’re selling to Abe Meyer, right?” Griswold shook his head. “Oh, boy.”
“He’s calling me already.”
“You need to be firm with him or he’ll take a mile.” I bought Griswold a coffee; something about gifting myself control. “Thanks, Dave! So, why are you selling?”
“I’m not here enough. I can’t justify it. It’s an 1860 house. It needs the stewardship of someone who’s here all the time.”
The real reason was that it felt immoral to own it but not be here, and it felt ridiculous haunting a three bedroom house by myself. I’d thought maybe I would move here; I had envisioned Clarissa here, or The Girl, wearing wool hats in winter and cutoff jeans in summer. I thought the garden would break out of its five-by-eight frame and grow to fill the yard with tomato plants and chard.
Almost everybody in town knew that I was selling my house. People I didn’t know knew I was selling the house. “Oh, you’re the guy that’s selling the house on River Road.” And they all knew Abe.
Abe appeared at the house the next morning, rheumy-eyed but limber. Hair dyed brown, and a dominating bloom of Aqua Velva.
I showed him how the stove worked: propane gas range, electric oven. In the basement, I explained that he needed to point a fan at the PVC pipes that fed water to the washer upstairs, because they froze in the winter. I showed him the mummified albino spiders, after years still hanging from their silk.
“David, I just want to say that you’ve been a real gentleman so far. I have no complaints.”
He appeared the next day, too. He wanted to know if he could start moving things in before the closing. Impossible, I said. The next day when he drove up I hid upstairs while he knocked on the back porch door.
Abe left a message about his son coming to town, his son who owned a successful Chinese restaurant in Boston — “great Chinese food” — and that he’d be happy to bring some over for me. But I didn’t call back. Not me, not the asshole.
I ran into him everywhere. “David! Hey, I just heard you were also a Jew!”
“You couldn’t tell?”
“What are the chances that among the few Jews in town, this would happen? David, if I still went to the synagogue, I’d try to find you a nice Jewish girl!”
The next day Abe came over with a big plastic bin. “Can I just put this on your porch?”
“I was wondering, one more question. I need to move in immediately after we’re done, but the living room floor needs sanding. Can I have someone do that before the closing so it’ll be ready for my furniture?”
Abe looked crestfallen. “Why didn’t you take the Chinese food?”
Abe had never bought a house before, so he was anxious. I wanted to access some empathy while maintaining my asshole approach to the sale, especially when, after I had started to complain about Abe at the café, the owner said, “And you want to make the process as easy and lovely as you can for an 81-year-old man, right?”
I remembered when I bought my apartment on the Lower East Side. The confusion, the fear, the lingo, the dozens of “sign heres,” the insane amounts of money bandied about in the form of bank checks. Abe had lived in the same house for decades. His lover of 50 years had, at 95, been put into a home, while his son, who had never approved of the relationship, ordered Abe out. What did Abe know of contracts and closings? Little, since he thought he had already bought my house.
It’s true that at first I thought Abe was ruining my last few weeks in the house, in Hobson. But as I got on Vermont time, as priorities shifted, as everything slowed to a friendly crawl, I stopped worrying about Abe, and soon his interruptions became part of my Vermont-y routine.
One day, while I was standing on my deck contemplating existence, Abe dropped by to make sure that his old telephone would plug into the telephone jack.
“Well, let’s find out!” So we went in together and made sure it plugged in. “You can leave it here, Abe.”
“Thanks! You’ve been a gentleman. I have no complaints.”
Back home from Vermont, all I could think about was Vermont. All I could think about was a vision of a woman with dreadlocks, one who knew how to grow kale and milk goats. We would take our twins to our friends’ cookout, to which our other bearded and flower-skirted friends would arrive bringing locally sourced potluck. And we’d watch our kids with their unruly hair running around with all the other little kids, while our skin and clothes became smokey from the fire pit. Maybe rain would come and we’d go inside, where Liam would take out his banjo.
“Hello. David.” It was the Peruvian, punching my shoulder. “I’m sitting here, you know.”