Taking Residence -- 2-24-14

(Editor’s note: Bob Maginnis is away on family business. This column is one he wrote about homeownership in 1998. His garden column will resume when he returns. The photo is of a False Black Widow - in the genus Steatoda. Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Twenty years ago this past October, my wife and I packed the little bit of furniture we owned into the bed of my brother-in-law’s Chevy pickup and headed out of the city, seduced away from our lovely apartment by the dream of home ownership.

Our rented place was on the third floor of a beautiful old mansion on Hagerstown’s historic South Prospect Street. We could walk to work or to City Park, and on Saturday night, we get a pizza sent over from Corsi’s, the only pizzeria delivering at the time.

In the fall, when the leaves changed color, it was a splash of airborne art provided by Mother Nature, instead of a reminder to dig out the leaf rakes. Leaves in the yard? The landlord’s responsibility. Leaves in the spouting? Let someone else muck them out.

The painting, the plumbing and making sure the oil tank was filed were someone else’s jobs. We paid the rent, tried to respect our neighbors’ privacy and enjoyed life. But then we began to listen to talk about how we were actually throwing away money on rent because we weren’t building up any “equity” in the property. We were not yet wise enough to see that a house is like a horse.

Don’t believe me? Well, just ask anybody who owns a horse how expensive it is, not counting the time you have to spend grooming and cleaning out the stall. If you rent a horse for an occasional trip down the bridle path, you can have all the fun of riding it without having to lift a single forkful of manure. If you own a house, it demands grooming, too. And, like a horse, it must be “fed” whether you’re there or not.

Don’t believe me? Go away for a week and turn off the furnace. If you’re lucky, the pipes won’t freeze and burst. Once, when the temperature dipped to 15 below zero, the four-foot-long, 500-pound cast iron radiator on our sun porch cracked. The plumber had to saw it apart just so his crew wouldn’t herniate themselves taking it out. The replacement, a smaller used model, was “only” $500, installed.

There are two advantages to owning a house. One is that you can play your music real loud. Until you decide to have children, that is, at which time you stop listening to amplified music at all, because it might prevent you from hearing your children cry, cough or bang their heads on the side of the crib.

The other advantage is that you can wash your clothes on the premises, provided, of course, that you don’t have problems with your country estate’s septic tank. Then, you still have to go to the laundromat, which, if you read those bachelor/bachelorette columns, is supposed to be a nice place for singles to meet.

Perhaps in another time zone. Every time I ever went, the only women present had two or three kids playing “race car” with the laundry carts, until they either tumbled over or ran into another adult. At that point, mom would snatch them up, serve up a couple of quick curses, then slam them onto a bench where they would sit sobbing for about two minutes, then start racing again. If there is justice in the afterlife, mom and the kids will return there, to wait for a load of towels that will never dry.

Other joys of home ownership: The varmints that move in without paying any rent. We’ve had squirrels and bats in the attic and groundhogs, moles and skunks in the yard. And don’t forget the mice; there’s nothing that raises the hair on the back of your neck like seeing a tiny rodent sneaking around the corner of your living room.

And do you wonder where all the spiders go at the end of the summer? They come to our house, for the annual box-elder bug round-up. Box-elder bugs, for those who’ve never seen one, are one of the few bugs that don’t freeze in the winter. They hide under piles of leaves until the sun comes up, and then they walk up the walls and sun themselves until dark.

The spiders, however, are on borrowed time. Like hunters on the last day of whitetail season, they’ve got to bag whatever they can before the first hard frost. But because it’s already getting cold, they’re moving very slowly. Fortunately for them, so are the box-elder bugs, so it’s kind of like watching a group of turtles on a snail round-up.

The spiders are like some hunters in one respect; they don’t take their trash with them. After they’ve wrapped up their prey and sucked the life out of it, they toss the carcass aside like a fast-food wrapper, for Ranger Bob to retrieve.

Retrieve them I do, along with spider carcasses and egg masses, which you would think would cut down on the number of web-spinners the following year. It doesn’t, and I imagine that somewhere on the outside wall of the house there’s a message in spiderese that says, “Plenty of bugs, webs seldom disturbed.”

In reality, the message is probably worse: “Unbalanced owner. Watches bugs when he should be doing something productive.”

(Did you enjoy this column? Send suggestions and constructive criticism to bobmaginnis@myactv.net.)

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