Selling My Place In The Country: Real Estate Meets Magical Thinking
There is this concept called magical thinking and what it means is when you think something you then believe it is true, illustrated most abjectly by the current magical-thinker-in-chief in residence in the White House. The people I know who exhibit signs of this delusion are mostly women although a man recently told me his cat doesn't hunt birds. (Really man? Every cat in the world catches birds except yours?)
Now people can think what they want, imagine what they want, believe any illusion or delusion they choose, and I'll call them on it every time, and then move on. But when business is involved or they start insulting me because of some thought they had that doesn't reflect reality then it's time to say basta!
(Just today a friend offered up an example of magical thinking. She told me false information which she believed, next vehemently defended it, and then attacked me for challenging her. Sounds familiar?
“You're not listening to me!” she said.
“I am listening to you,” I answered. “I just don't agree with you.”
With the magical thinker facts, note our magical-thinker-in-chief, don't matter. If you “believe” something is true then it is. This may have started with God and astrology, some of the foundations of “fake news.”)
I had this renter who wanted to buy my house in the country. There were a few leaks and she would call saying, “There's water dripping down onto the stove. I can't live like this!” So I would run out there multiple times, try to get some carpenter to climb out on the roof, and after some weeks two of the main three or four leaks were fixed.
She had lived there on and off for a few years and was interested in buying the place, or some place, as she had recently sold her house east of the Cascades. I didn't want to sell it because I've always considered real estate a good bank account where the value only goes up, especially a pretty little spot with water, privacy, a sliver of ocean view, and a spectacular hour-long hike along the creek to the sea.
I was moaning about all the trips out there and in frustration said I'd like to just get rid of the place. She gave me some lowball offer and I laughed. “For that much I'd donate it to hospice,” I said.
But she was working me and it was working. I was limping around on a bad hip and knew I had bigger priorities than maintaining that cottage on five acres. If it were just bare land I wouldn't have even considered selling.
It would be a big deal to sell because then I'd have to deal with all my stuff out there, a forty-year accumulation of furniture, gardening supplies, tools, kitchenware, and much more. There were three or four filing cabinets full of personal papers and all sorts of memorabilia, from “Pure Schmint” theatre programs to softball league schedules from the eighties. It would be a hassle to sort through and move it all.
I could have sold it during the Greenrush heyday a few years earlier and gotten more money. I probably could have sold it to a Bulgarian weed gang to use as their coastal hideaway from their plantations in Ettersburg.
One day I called her and said I would seriously consider selling it for a discount below my previous firm price. I had decided that after forty years it was time to let go. With a hip replacement probably coming up in the next year it was time to consolidate my energy.
She was a friend with the full cash amount in her hand who insisted that I could always visit the old place any time I wanted. It was an opportunity to offload the cottage on five acres without the hassle of fixing it up, finding a buyer, and dealing with all those myriad complications.
She felt like the place was home, she was getting deeply involved in a local environmental organization, and she had snagged my long-time friend Buzz, “The Accidental Saint,” as her boyfriend.
Since I thought I was giving her a really good deal I requested that she pay all transfer costs, another five to seven thousand dollars. I didn't want to be stressed out by the move so I set these simple non-negotiable conditions: She pays the cash amount and all costs, I have six months to move whatever I want out, and I can leave whatever I don't want.
I wanted plenty of time because the previous year I had left my truck in a bamboo grove in Austin, Texas and needed to go back down there to get it. And if I were in central Texas I may as well head down to Mexico to eat some cabrito and do another writer's retreat at Las Palmas restaurant in Matehuala, San Luis Potosi. I had been scribbling my misadventures at the same table for over forty years and all the waiters knew me, my international claim to fame. Plus I was due for mother duty in Tacoma, Washington later in the summer when my sister and her husband would be out of town at Lark music camp in Mendocino. This meant I would be visiting her in the nursing home for an hour or so twice a day.
She had two issues she wanted checked out before she would buy: a perk test for a septic system and another test for quality of the water. She dawdled and procrastinated all winter but I didn't care because I didn't really want to sell the place anyway.
I started making calls to some engineers to get some consulting about the perk test. One, who had grown up nearby, assured us that most of the land in the area was able to be perked successfully and he would be willing to be involved with the digging of the test holes to prove it. He did a few hours of research and said he was ready at any time convenient to the buyer to come down from Arcata and start the process.
All those official test holes would have trashed out the nicest part of the property and she wasn't ready to replace the “cowboy system” I had installed thirty years earlier anyway. After emails and phone calls with my engineer friend over a period of a few days she felt assured that a legal leach field would be doable. I asked her if she would throw down a hundred bucks to Thorn for his trouble and she refused. I didn't pay him anything either since the deal was no fees for me.
She finally got the water tested and called me late one night in a shocked panic. “There's this many parts per whatever in the water,” she said. “It's polluted!”
“Great!” I said. “I didn't want to sell the place anyway.” But it turned out to be one of her reverse magical thinking false alarms, another emotional exaggeration, and just a mistake. She hadn't read the numbers correctly.
Selling the place without an agent would be interesting. When I bought the cabin exactly forty years earlier the owner and I went down to the county seat with her boyfriend and she had signed a quit-claim form transferring the land to me as I handed over the cash in a brown paper bag at the recorder's office. She had buried the deed but couldn't find it, along with her gold and silver jewelry. (When she vacated the property she left everything behind including her skunk stole and zebra skin. She gave all her money, including proceeds from the land sale, to her LSD cult called Shivalila. They were planning to buy acreage in Missouri but instead they all moved to India until the money ran out.)
I never had the deed but my name was on the land tax form so I guess the place was mine. (I recently found the tax bill from the year after I bought it: $1.48 a year, I kid you not. I did not pay it in two installments.)
I offered my cousin, a real estate agent in Berkeley a bag of buds to help walk us through the deal. He didn't like the part about me not paying any of the transfer expenses and he thought six months to get my stuff out was too long but I would not compromise.
He emailed me many forms, mailed me more, and I worked my way through the stack of disclosures. We spent a few hours on the phone going over every line item with him telling me what to put if it weren't obvious. Many were checked, some were initialed and others were signed. Almost every aspect of the cottage had issues and all were disclosed. It was the classic fixer-upper.
After I had filled out the thirty to fifty pages I sat there with the buyer and we went over every thing Cousin Bob had said to do. It was excessively thorough but we got through it all. I gave her the pile of papers to take home and told her to go through and initial or sign wherever Cousin Bob had marked it. “I've got my plane ticket for Austin May 15th,” I said, “so you better get right on it.”
She brought them all back in a few days, we made a minor change or two, and sent the completed copy down to the land title company at the county seat. Her last minute addendum was that I clear out the rental cabin across the land from the main dwelling before I leave for Texas. This I did with a couple truckloads, abandoning some drying racks and screens as well as furniture. I was letting go! (I also emptied out the filing cabinets into boxes and hauled them into town. Whether the deal went through or not, many fall apart at the last minute, I was getting a head start on moving the memorabilia, a treasure trove of interesting, to me anyway, artifacts of my life for the last forty years.)
On May 15th the buyer, me, and her boyfriend piled into my fancy new Lesbaru and hurtled down the highway. In a stunning plot twist her boyfriend was the same guy who was the boyfriend of the woman I bought the land from forty years earlier. He was coming along for the ride again.
The title company had been alerted to the time crunch and the papers were ready for me to sign. Then the buyer came in and signed them as well.
Business done we all jumped into my spiffy grandma car and drove to Santa Rosa to meet my cousin at the airport. I gave him his bag of weed and we hung out in the restaurant until my bus to the San Francisco airport arrived.
By two in the morning Texas time I was settling into my friends' party barn/guest house on Creekside Farms Road just outside the humming city of Austin. (I had to go to the bathroom but didn't want to disturb my sleeping friends in the main house. I looked for a shovel but found the backyard was all hardpan—I could not dig an inch. I found the Peet's coffee box on a shelf that held my stash that I'd sent on ahead. I emptied it of coffee and weed and used that.)
On May 23rd the check for the land was deposited into my bank account by the title company and the six months began.
I got back to California from Mexico and Texas driving the long way around by way of Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
The first sign of trouble was when the buyer, who had also been my cook (we had traded lodging for cooking and light housekeeping) offered up a new deal. She wanted a $2.50 an hour raise, specified that the clock would start as soon as she entered the house, and that she would come in and cook her massive amounts of healthy organic vegetables (horse food we called it) only on Fridays. She said she would only come if I had gotten a truckload each week.
I told her the raise was okay and added a couple requests of my own: If she's late she owes me an hour. If she cancels with less than twenty-four hours notice she owes me an hour and I would like her to come any day except Friday. Friday was Farmers Market day so I already had enough going on. I told her I didn't want to link the cooking to the land deal as that was separate. I didn't like her new hardball attitude and so I had answered in kind. I never heard back.
The next sign of trouble was when she sent me an email alleging that I had been using some Frontier phone services and charging her for it. She had decided that I owed her fifty or seventy dollars, that I was a “devious ripoff,” and she couldn't trust me.
I asked her to tell me what services I was using but I never got a clear account. There were some parts of the phone bill I had been using, like unlisted number for four bucks a month and call forwarding for about seven dollars a month, that she was already aware of.
She accused me of not caring about her by not trying to get a better long distance plan and I reminded her that we had already gone through this already and found that no better plan was available.
“Why do you call me a devious ripoff?” I said. “Do you think I would even bother to try to rip you off for that small change? We've got a big land deal going here. Besides, it would take time and effort to plan to deviously rip you off so why would I bother? Would you please apologize for calling me a devious ripoff or back up your accusations with some facts?”
“Well, the Frontier lady on the phone told me that,” she said.
“The Frontier lady told you I was a devious ripoff?” I asked.
This was the beginning of her onslaught of magical thinking, when she prefaced each of her accusations with, “I believe that...”
I wasn't sure where this was going but I had an idea where it might have come from: Her father had called her stupid. Her husband had called her stupid. Her boyfriends had called her stupid. She was going to believe in herself and no man was ever going to control her again. If she believed something was true it was.
Well, maybe it wasn't her fault that her Monsanto daddy raised her and her sister on the company's experimental food he brought home regularly.
Okay confession: People find me annoying because I'm always right. Or usually. I always call everyone on it if what they say sounds untrue, like bullshit. It's not that I'm really intelligent, it's just that I'm fact-based.
The buyer was like some millennials I've talked with recently: they are constantly bombarded with data on their smart phones and often say, “I just don't know what to believe, what is true or not.”
Sorry, but I know what is true. Why? Okay, admittedly I've been a news junkie for decades, I study this shit. I've developed some instincts and have an acute bullshit-detector that tells me what's real and what's not. Like I've said before: “I see reality for what it is. Others see reality for what they want it to be.”
A magical thinker has no chance with me and will lose every argument because they are never able to answer these simple questions: So where did you get that information and how do you know it's true?
She refused to apologize and I tried to let the thing blow over. On to the move—I still had tons of stuff to get out of there.
Over the summer and into the fall I hauled out truckloads of things I didn't need. A few times I hauled out items I should have just left, and found myself taking it the next day up to the thrift store.
Things were pilling up in town. There were stacks of boxes full of personal items like my Little League trophies and many boxes of Mexican folk art including mirrors, candlestick holders, and kitschy armadillos with their little heads wagging back and forth. I also dragged into town about seven huge redwood slabs I'd gotten in a “divorce settlement” back in the '90's.
I hauled about seven solar ovens as well as filing cabinets holding old journals and all the personal souvenirs from the past. Look, there's the ticket stub from when I went to the “Lord of the Rings” movie in 2001 with my latest obsession, the last time a much younger woman gave me a shot. We made out the whole time and missed the movie.
The magical-thinker-in chief absolves you of your ignorance. If you agree with the president how can you be wrong?
Is it the revolt of the stupid people or the revenge of the stupid people? Once again we see the Trumpian parallels: the misinformed are tired of the smart people telling them what the facts are, i.e., why they're so stupid. Maybe stupid is too strong a word. Maybe misinformed, igno rant, confused, or uneducated would be a fairer judgment.
One thing I'm curious about is do magical thinkers know they're magical thinkers? Do they know they just pulled a non-fact out of their ass, are defending it, and attacking those who disagree?
Halloween came and I still had a couple of truckloads to go. On this trip I was going to get my few valuables which were locked up in my desk upstairs: a sword from Borneo, some silver jewelry and a hand-made plate-setting, and an LP of The Talking Heads designed by the pop artist Robert Rauschenberg.
All that year and for the last few years whenever I came out to the land the renter/buyer opened the gate before I got there. This time the gate was shut. My hip was worse than ever (throw a bone to the buyer, she was the one who insisted I get x-rays and deal with it) and it was an effort to get out of the truck with a moan at every move but I got the gate opened.
I was furious and started yelling at her at the first opportunity. It was very petty of her but it did provide her with the only victory she had during the whole transaction. I had yelled at her so in her eyes she's right and she wins. And in my eyes it was a set-back so I looked at it as a gift to her, something to justify her magical thinking.
The last couple loads in November her boyfriend came out too so we could do double truckloads. That day we went through the kitchen and boxed up a lot of pots, pans, and silverware I didn't really need but was helpless to leave behind. The buyer was bitchy and bossy as we worked through the useless items.
I got my small bow saw from the shed and she said, “Wait a minute, that's mine. I just bought that recently.”
“I really think this is my bow saw,” I said. I pointed out that the label was faded to the point of no legible words left. “Look, there's scratches all over it and the blade is rusty. This is my old saw.”
She continued to insist that it was the new one she had recently purchased, classic magical thinking: Even with the evidence starkly before her eyes she wouldn't accept the fact that I was right. I showed the rusty blade to the boyfriend but he didn't want to get in the middle of it. “Well, I'm going to take it for now,” I said, “because I have a couple branches I need to cut. Maybe you can find your new one.”
The move was completed a couple weeks before the six months were up on November 23rd. I started narrowing down my search and decided on Willits hospital for the hip replacement.
Around the middle of January a mutual friend told me that the buyer was doing her laundry at the Redway laundromat. We had been talking earlier about trading some work organizing and storing boxes from the move in exchange for washing machine use at my house but she hadn't contacted me.
I emailed her and said, “What's the deal? You're doing your laundry at that scuzzy laundromat? Didn't you get your washing machine yet? I got my big brand new one ready to go. What about our trade?”
I emailed her again and said, “Hey, you can just use my washer as a friend with no trade. But you have to tell me what the fuck? That whole thing with the phone bill where you thought I ripped you off. You have to tell me what really was bothering you because I can't believe it was just that fifty buck discrepancy on the phone bill.”
After awhile she emailed me back. “You were making me jump through hoops all summer,” she said. “I believe you were purposely taking a long time moving out just to stand in my way.”
“Hey,” I answered, “I didn't make you jump through any hoops. We had a simple deal for the cabin and land: You pay me the money and I have six months to get my stuff, and I can leave whatever I want. I stuck to that deal. Any hoops you had to jump through were your own, your own goals what you wanted to get done before winter. Why would I try to stand in your way? I did take it slow because I'm lazy, have this bad hip, and was out of town a lot.”
“And then you yelled at me on Halloween. It ruined my day. I didn't even feel like going up to the party after that,” she said.
“Yeah that was a gift to you to get upset,” I said. “Even though it was a mean aggressive act for you to not have the gate open I am perfectly willing to apologize for yelling at you if you will apologize for calling me a 'devious ripoff who can't be trusted' when you pulled that phone accusation out of your ass.”
It takes energy to be devious and I just didn't have that. (Later she tried to defend not opening the gate by saying she was worried some unknown miscreant might come down the road and somehow harm her. But if anyone wanted to mess with her it would be more effective to just creep quietly down. Why couldn't she admit she was just being a mean vindictive bitch?)
She refused to apology. “Why don't we get mediation?” I said. “I'd love to see you broken down in tears saying you're sorry in front of a third party.”
Then she went on an email tirade and said people are glad that I'm gone from the area, and what a terrible person I was leaving truckloads of crap behind. (“Who said what? Did you defend me?” Magical silence.) Well, she had been living there off and on for over five years so she had a good opportunity to see what was there.
It's true I was a slob and probably still am. About twenty-five years ago I decided to gather up and dispose of all the partial bags of Stutzman chicken manure that were lying around the property. They were wet and stinky and when all the bags were emptied and the shit tossed over the side or taken to the dump I had counted sixty-six. For shame!
“Really?” I said. “You're telling me all these vicious lies, insults, half-truths, and exaggerations just so you won't have to apologize for calling me a devious ripoff? Forget the mediation, you're not worth it. Please do not contact me again.”
A month or so later I was talking to her boyfriend and said, “So what was up with her?”
“Oh, she believed that you were calling her machine and secretly getting her messages,” he said.
“Well, I could have. I had the code. I set it up,” I said. “But no, I was not spying on her answering machine.”