There goes the neighborhood – anecdotal reflections of one lesbian buying her first house – Column
B. Ruby Rich
Why didn’t anyone warn me about the perils of home ownership? A lifelong renter with no down payment in sight, I wasn’t a member of the Owning Class, not at all. But suddenly this year my status changed. Thanks to the dubious privilege of becoming an orphan, I got that tidy sum I’d never managed to earn and entered the house-hunting fray. Even worse than the actual real estate experience was the discovery that I — cagey escapee of every gay-girl fashion from marriage to motherhood to Martina worship — now find that I’m hideously implicated in a full-fledged lesbian trend.
Gay men have been owning houses for years. But lesbians? We were the rent-poor marginal-neighborhood renters: Jamaica Plain in Boston, the Mission in San Francisco, the East Village in New York City. Now, though, the millennium is coming, and dammit, we’re buying whether we can afford it or not! Real estate has even intruded into the world of cartoonist Alison Bechdel: Her new book is titled Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For. Yeah, the last refuge of true-blue lesbian righteousness has succumbed to the shelter frenzy.
In my case the house had charm. In real estate lingo this means it was standing, but barely. A tattered Edwardian, it belonged to a family that had been born and raised and had avoided basic maintenance there. I should have run, but the house spoke to me. It reminded me of my grandparents’ triple-decker, where I passed the first three years of my life.
Theirs was not the only presence I felt, however. Halfway through construction, after locks kept jamming and a window fell dangerously close to a carpenter, I hired a team of psychics to clean the place. They found a swarm of negative spirits and a vortex left by a curse. Hours later, after scattering tobacco and lavender and burning sage and cedar and uttering incantations and sprinkling rose water, after a lightbulb exploded over my head and a radio mysteriously switched itself on in a darkened hall, the evil was gone. Peace and tranquility were restored. Almost.
The psychics found it right away: trouble on my west wall. Therein began the tale of the Evil Lesbian Neighbors. One is passive-aggressive, the other is aggressively nuts. They’re deeply bonded in that style I recognize as one of the unheralded traits of our tribe, with a shared (invented) last name and a pair of giant dogs.
When I began my campaign of restoration, they went after reparations. A new window set off a weeks-long barrage of complaints and falsehoods, culminating in the arrival of our friendly building inspector, apologetically announcing he’d been ordered to shut us down. Thousands of dollars later, we were able to proceed as planned.
By the time spring rolled around, I had some neighbors I wouldn’t speak to and a bottomed-out bank account. The hunt for tenants was on. My carpenter claimed one floor for himself and his editor boyfriend: He’s tattooed and pierced and collects reptiles, but I have expertise in-house now if anything else goes wrong. Downstairs live the orchestra conductor and her girlfriend the singer and their two cats. They have T-shirts that say things like hate is not a family value, and their divine practice sessions sometimes seep through the floorboards. It’s all quite a change from the drug dealers and evil spirits that swept the building before.
Now there’s a new problem: interior decoration. Landed gentry that I am, I’m still a dyke and not a gay boy, and in these matters, stereotypes count. I don’t know how to whip out a rag and do the walls in faux marble. Don’t even ask me to strip a chair.
Next door there’s a spiffy new condo occupied by two spiffy buffed gay boys. Right away they moved in the sleigh beds and armoires, painted the trim by the light of the chandeliers, and held a barbecue.
At my place, though, spring has passed and summer’s over, and still I sit among my cardboard boxes, furrowing my brow. What’s my style? What’s my color? What’s my budget? I buy those fixer-upper magazines, full of what I call homeowner’s porn. I look and I read and I muse. Soon I’ll get started on my personal decor. Maybe by next year I’ll be ready to throw a barbecue of my own.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Liberation Publications, Inc.
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