I bought a house in the Texan suburbs. If you’re my age and you haven’t bought property yet, you likely think you can’t afford it. Well, let me tell you: you can’t. No one can. Buying a house is stupid. Everyone continues to tell me what a great investment I have made, and I did all the financial things you are supposed to do, but by the time I’ve paid off my mortgage, I will have paid double the sales price of the house. And that doesn’t count all the money I put into upkeep and improvements which, one week into living in the place, has already been more than my car. So unless I sell this house for at least fully three times what I paid for it (which is impossible given that I have purchased a modest ranch house with an outdated kitchen I’m never going to improve), I’m coming out the loser, and even at that price, it doesn’t get me that much of a profit. I realize I’m missing a lot here, like equity and inflation and using real estate as a bank, etc. I can probably understand all that stuff if I think about it, but it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me, so I’m just going to take everyone’s word for it that I’ve done a wise thing and not worry about it. I hope to never move again, so I will pay off this house and then die in it. That will make it feel worth it to me.
Did you know that you have to compete to buy a house? I did not know this! When I found a house I wanted to buy, my parents (who are property owners in east TN, which is truly the bargain basement of America, and if you didn’t grow up there and so have too much baggage attached to the place to enjoy it, I suggest you get your ass there today and begin living like a queen before everyone else catches on) counseled lowballing the seller and being as coy as possible. This is not how you buy a house in Austin. In Austin, the second you see a house in your price range, there is someone from California who has already offered ten thousand over the sale price in cash. So you try to be creative and offer additional perks that might appeal to the seller more than a lot of money (note: no one in the history of humankind has ever opted for less money for any reason).
It’s such a cute house! I’m really enjoying living in it! I redid all the gross floors (floors are the main thing I care about) and I just spend my days gliding from one wood-floored room to another, enjoying the silence. For the first time ever, I sleep without earplugs or a noise fan of any kind, because it’s so quiet! (Except for the refrigerator and the air conditioner and what I think is likely a creature living in the attic who only runs around at night.) I lived in a freestanding house one other time, in Albuquerque, but there was a neglected dog next door who barked his head off all night every night, so I still had to do a combo earplugs/box fan to sleep. So this silence is really a novelty.
Also, I have my very own washer and dryer, and the pleasures of this cannot be overstated. My first day here, before I even had a bed or felt ok about sitting on the toilet, I washed everything. I washed purses and floor mats and reusable shopping bags and couch cushion covers and CUSHIONS THEMSELVES and big old blankets that had been in the trunk of my car for the last five years because I sat on them in a field once and then didn’t know what to do with them. I ran loads until there wasn’t a scrap of cloth anywhere in my house that had not been laundered. And now, instead of carefully sniffing all my clothes when I take them off to see if any are salvageable for longer, I just throw them wantonly into the laundry basket. I am even washing my BRAS! It’s a new world.
I am suffering a bit of culture shock. I’ve met three of my neighbors so far, and each of them has asked me about my husband. I do not have a husband. I have never had a husband, and I will never have a husband. This is difficult enough to explain in very progressive American circles; in the Texan suburbs, it immediately creates a gap of understanding so vast, I don’t imagine it will be crossable. I feel very tempted to invent a husband who is permanently absent for some reason, perhaps deployed overseas, but then, I’ve watched enough sitcoms to know that this lie would eventually spiral out of control at a some sort of key outdoor social event involving (in various roles) a priest, the man of my dreams, my boss, and a sassy gay best friend who alone knows the truth.
It took me three months to find, buy, deal with, and move into this house. That might sound like an especially exhausting stretch of time, but it wasn’t really, because I work for a company that gives its employees a three-month paid sabbatical for every five years of employment, and I took mine to buy this house. I finally moved in about a week before it was time to go back to work, and I actually felt very sad and wounded that I “used up” my entire sabbatical in such a way, which is really the most privileged asshole problem that I think anyone who has ever existed has ever had!
After moving in, I explored all the various closets and drawers and things, looking for dead roaches, abandoned possessions, old splashes of blood, etc., and in the course of my investigations, I spent some time poking at the control panel of what I thought was a defunct security system.
It was not defunct. I managed to arm it, and to somehow set it such that it would go off if any of the doors of the house were opened and a passcode (which I did not have) wasn’t typed in within ten seconds. It told me that I had done this, but I somehow didn’t believe that I would be allowed to trap myself in my house, so I immediately opened the front door. And then I was presented with a countdown during which time, I simply stared at the digital numbers, open-mouthed, with a gradually dawning sense of shock that I wasn’t going to be protected from the consequences of my own actions.
The alarm went off. It was super loud.
I ransacked the house, looking for pamphlets. There was one for the stove and one for someone else’s coffeepot, and that was all. I ran into the yard. I stood there, waggling my hands. A woman passed by wheeling a baby. She asked me if I was ok.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I don’t have the code.”
She laughed merrily and continued on.
The thing about the security system panel was, there was no brand name on it! I pulled it off the wall and looked all over it. Nothing branded.
When I moved in, there had been a security sign stuck in the front flower bed. There is a security sign stuck in the front flower bed of every house in this suburb. I think they’re tacky and paranoid and display a sort of small-minded fearfulness and superstition that I judge. Something to do with living in one of the safest places on earth and feeling that you can ward off any wandering bad guys with a prurient interest in your big screen television by displaying a totemic advertisement for a corporation. The modern answer to a crescent of sheep’s blood. Meanwhile, a mere five hours’ drive south of here, people fleeing lives surrounded by unimaginable chaos and violence are having their children ripped from their arms and thrown into cages by agencies that profess to be committing these human rights violations on our behalf, to keep us and our expensive appliances safe from these strange foreign victims.
So once I took possession, my first act was to pull up that sign and throw it in the bin. And now, as a result of my symbolic, snobbish, and judgmental action, I had no idea what brand to appeal to in order to make my house stop screaming at me.
I thought very seriously about calling 911.
Fortunately, I managed to keep just enough of my wits about me to realize that wasn’t quite the right thing to do, but then what was? Call the fire department? A locksmith? My father?
I ransacked the house again. Then, I saw a sticker on the back door for a security company. I called the number. It was disconnected. I googled the name. It directed me to a new, different name with a new, different number. I got a voicemail message to leave a message for Fred. This wasn’t a great sign, but I left a message for Fred broadly outlining the situation.
Then I googled “security alarm going off,” watched a few YouTube videos, and called an 800 number for some company. A guy explained how to disconnect sockets and remove batteries in two locations, which he said would disarm most systems, although he couldn’t guarantee mine given that it wasn’t apparent which system it was. I thanked him profusely, hung up, and followed his instructions.
Do you think that worked?
I went into the back yard with my phone where the noise was muted, and began image searching security systems, trying to find a picture of a control panel that matched mine. I didn’t but at some point, the noise stopped on its own! So I went back inside!
But, the thing is, I opened the door to get back in there.
Which restarted the countdown.
I texted my realtor. I don’t know what I thought she could do, but I was out of options. I got out my title, and I left a voicemail for the kid who’d represented the sellers. I called my uncle who knows about cars. I was just pitching around at anything by this point.
But then, guess what happened? Fred called me! He knew a master code! And after I’d entered it, he walked me through cutting the wires such that the panel finally went dead and he assured me that there was no possible way barring supernatural interference that the security system could make further noise.
Then he asked me if I’d like to sign up for service.
Guess what I said?
Postscript: Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here’s how you disarm a security system: find a weird-looking plug somewhere in the house. It’s often in the master closet (that’s where mine was). Get it out of the wall somehow. It might be screwed in and there might be wires. Just rip it the fuck out however, you can put the outlet back together in quieter, less desperate times. Then, pull the main panel out of the wall and remove the battery. There are probably several things that look vaguely like batteries: just rip them all out. This is no time to be hesitant. Throw the panel on the ground, bang it against the wall. Pull out anything that’s come loose. Press all the buttons a lot. That won’t help, but it makes you feel like you’re doing something. There’s going to be a big wire coming out of your wall that connects to the circuit board of the main panel with three little colored wires. Don’t try to yank the big wire out of the wall! It goes all the way through your house and connects to the thing in the closet, so if you pull it hard enough, you’re going to rip your entire house in half like one of those little plastic cheeses. Instead, get a pair of scissors and cut one of the smaller colored wires. Here’s the part where I can help you: you can cut any one of them, it doesn’t matter which! The movies have lied to you, they all diffuse the bomb. Also, it won’t electrocute you to do this. If you do all that, the thing should be dead.
If it still isn’t, find a new house.