After my mom died, the albatross of her house was placed squarely around my neck. Sure, in the thriving market of yesteryear this kind of inheritance could be looked at as a windfall. Maybe it still would be to someone who understands the intricacies of zoning, surveying, and selling something other than their words. A year and a half ago I lived in a room of a tenement with a handfull of bartenders and no lights in the bathroom. Instead of a working refrigerator, we had a hot plate. In place of artwork, nails projected from the wall. I paid my $400-a-month on time and never commented about the exposed insulation or strippers in the kitchen. Owning a house, let alone selling one, is about as far out of my skill-set as sailing a yacht or competing in a UFC tournament. Actually, it would be easier for me to compete in a UFC tournament on board a yacht than it is sell this house.
The house’s selling point, to me, is the fact that you can hop on the local train and get away from it. Other than that, it has crickets in the basement, no cell phone reception, and countless square feet of crap that my mother accumulated. Once she died, I had to face the fact that my mother was a hoarder. If you factored in the two cats she kept in the basement, her social status was upgraded to Crazy Cat Lady. The physical remnants of her years of squirreling away receipts, ribbon, and rubbish have become my responsibility. Me. The girl who gets overwhelmed when she tries to match her socks. The girl who was content to live in a windowless closet in Park Slope for $750 a month, and wouldn’t have moved if she hadn’t fallen in love with a boy. A boy who was sharing a house with a pug, its owner, and her boyfriend. Did I mention that his room was also devoid of any natural light?
While the promise of selling a house excites me in that it will allow me to stitch the merit badge of Adulthood onto my sleeve, I’m afraid that I’m completely incapable of not fucking it up.
My father, ever savvy, gave me one piece of advice. He said, “Real estate agents are whores.”
Now, for a while I was excited at the prospect, imagining women in fishnets and hot pants running acrylic tips across every flat service and dipping into the laundry closet for a few minutes alone with any potential buyers. Instead, what my father should have said was, “Real estate agents are desperation personified.”
At my mother’s wake, a redheaded old lady kissed me aggressively and shook my shoulders as she emphatically stated, “I knew your mother. If there is anything I can do, let me know. I imagine you’re wanting to sell the house.” I nodded. “Wonderful!” She shook me again, slammed a kiss into my cheek, and stalked off, leaving me completely confused and struggling to remember her name. I noticed that she approached my family and had started to pass out her business card, which brandished her photo, flame-red hair and all, next to the title Licensed Associate Broker.
The next day, after the funeral, the reception was held at the house. As I hugged relatives and reminisced on my mother’s ability to turn any casual cookout into a four-course meal served on a china set, the redhead broker walked in without ringing the bell. She carried a platter of lasagna, which she thrust into my chest.
“This is for you! When you return the platter we can discuss the comparative numbers!” I didn’t stop to tell her that I don’t eat dairy, or that I had asked my mother’s good friend — another less animated, less ginger-gourded broker — to help me figure out how to sell the damn thing. I just wanted to get her, and her lasagna, out of my house.
I figured that this is the way adults do things. They bring food and hustle. Maybe there were accountants and podiatrists dressed in all black in the back of the burial hocking their wares. This was the first time death had included me in its choreography. I didn’t want to complain, lest my ignorance show as clearly as my tattoos. In truth, I was ashamed, and humbled. An alcoholic with a history of idiotic behavior, I hadn’t given my mother much to brag about. Swooping in and taking care of her had been the least I could do to make some sort of amends. I knew that the majority of people who had known us throughout the years would assume that, inevitably, I would run from the obligations that followed. The pressure I was putting on myself helped to restrain me from grabbing carrot-top by her dangly earrings and dragging her into the garage for a little education on the depreciating real estate of her face.
Instead, I employed the high-school method that I had used to break up with girls. I figured I’d ignore her, and eventually she’d go away.
Like those high-school exes, it began with the calls. One or two a day, with high-pitched whinnying on my voicemail. She wanted to discuss the recent sales in the neighborhood, and when she could put the house on the market. Deleted. Then came the messages on the land line, my mother’s very own answering machine.
“I’ll call her and tell her to fuck off,” Simon said when the tape finished playing her screeching entreaties.
“Unnecessary,” I said, and resumed going about my daily life, which had become a Sisyphean task of carrying contractor bags filled with my mother’s junk into the garage.
Finally, I called my broker, that soft-spoken woman who had helped my mother sell her old house. I asked if she could come by and talk with me for a bit, maybe tell me what the next steps would be. We agreed that 2PM would be best. I hung up the phone and went back to the backbreaking black bag brigade.
1:55, there was a knock on the door. I ran downstairs to open it, expecting the soccer mom brunette ‘do and mild manners of my broker to be on the front step.
Instead there was Red, a folder in hand, opening the screen door to my house, about to walk inside. I slammed my hand on the door-frame, blocking her entry. Simon, ever one for a Beat It style dance-off, lumbered up to my side.
“I’m sorry, I have someone else,” I said, before she could begin her sales pitch.
I’ll save you the details, but the folder remains as a coaster on my table, Simon’s coffee and my green tea on top of it. She blew me a kiss as she left, which I fear is some sort of real estate agent spell for doom, gloom, and eight months on the market. No matter. I used to think that what we lacked as copywriters was the ability to go out and whore ourselves loudly. My mother had raised me to have a little bit of tact, to fear being disliked, and to never be pushy. I’m glad she did. It turns out that the hustle isn’t always what makes good business, whores or no whores.