Tag Archives: home

Selling Our Family Home

Sometime in January I finally had the votes to sell the family home.  It was a hollow victory with no joy attached.  The feeling is akin to being named the “best dressed” Hell’s Angel, or the world’s tallest dwarf.  Granted I lacked a ringing mandate, but with the tacit approval of the children, and JoAnne once more speaking to me in complete sentences, it was time to proceed.

The Japanese describe the ideal cup as small on the outside and large on the inside.  This is our house.  It is not a sprawling three-story Kenwood mansion.  To the tax assessor and passing strangers, we live in a modest two-story bungalow with nobackyard.  From the inside it is a high ceilinged, sunlit and airy five bedroom home with a studio apartment in the basement.  Large and small: both images are true.Our house has always been closely tied to our identity as a family.  By rights of income we had no business living there.  We long ago rationalized that where we gathered was more important than eating in nice restaurants, joining a country club, having a new car, boat or cabin.  The house was a Rorschach or litmus test for prospective friends.  It said so much about us that visitors felt they knew us in a short time.  Miraculously, our kids bought into our skewed world view and were happy with garage sale clothes and a public school education.  Since becoming adults, neither of them are mouth breathing cretins, nor members of the NRA,  and so I feel that we have done all right.

JoAnne and I loved our house, but kept it together on a tight budget with liberal applications of Crazy Glue and duct tape.  Our discretionary funds went into maintaining it, and our philosophy was rooted in the Hippocratic oath, first do no harm.  It could be a fine house, we always said, but the octopus furnace still worked too well to replace it,  installing new windows was prohibitive, central air was hopelessly beyond our budget, and we did not want to refinish the floors with Stella running around.

Our pride and joy was clearly not for everyone.  Maybe you “get” the architecture,  the seven-foot tall Tim McCoy movie poster, the multiple bookcases housing the works of Noam Chomsky and Jack Paar, the 1950s pamphlets on the pros and cons of building a bomb shelter, and JoAnne’s 16 harness floor loom and room full of fleece.  If this makes sense to you, perhaps we are kindred spirits.

Furnishings aside, the house is unique and quirky.  Finding someone who would not only appreciate it, but was willing to pay a fair price, looked to be a challenge, particularly with us in California.  Meg Forney of Coldwell Banker has always been a friend and a helping professional.  She volunteered to give us a no obligation appraisal.  Better than her word, she included our place as a stop one week on the realtor’s open house junket.  She was able to get us twenty professional opinions.  Not surprisingly, the estimates of what price our house could bring were widely discrepant.  The range alone was over $200,000.  Like I said, you either love the house or hate it.

All of this is backdrop to the Hill and Lake Press connection.  In 1994 I received a complimentary letter from Barb Pratt, a self-described fan who enjoyed my writing.  As unaccustomed as I am to such positive feedback to my column, I did not respond right away fearing I would be somehow ensnared in a pyramid scheme.  Fortunately this inordinately perceptive neighbor later hosted a garage sale at which introductions and a working blender were exchanged.

Since then Barb and her husband Alan have become good friends.  They were frequent guests in our home, and we knew they “got it”.  When we were ready to sell, I did not think of them as potential buyers because their huge three-story home in Lowry Hill with eclectic gardens, porches, and beautiful backyard is much grander than ours.

Then came a mysterious e-mail from Alan.  We were to expect an offer from them within 24 hours.  They loved our house, warts and all.  They would embrace or improve every quirk, and were eager to move down the hill. They would keep our children’s growth charts penciled into the playroom door jamb.  They were respectful of our mixed feelings and overwhelmingly supportive.  A fair price was agreed upon, and within a month we were done!

Of course there was the not insignificant matter of Tim McCoy and thirty years of garage sale stuff.  Suffice it to say I am in deep in debt to JoAnne and will need to write a column about her.  In the meantime, think of her as Mr. Wolfe (Harvey Keitel), in “Pulp Fiction”.

Barb and Alan plan to maintain the house’s integrity while enlarging the upstairs bathroom, redoing the floors, and opening up the kitchen.  Changes we never could have brought about are happening.  Rather than be jealous of the makeover, we cannot wait to see how it turns out.  Barb, a political activist, plans to hold a number of fundraiser concerts in their new home.  I am fine with the concerts, it is the rest of the last sentence that is hard.

Our home for eighteen wonderful years is ours no longer.  It is the right thing, like giving your crazed dog to a kindly farm family that will give him room to run.  Still you miss the rascal…


Tom H. Cook is less local, but is still middle class, middle aged, and cranky.  His column will continue. 

Retirement in Redondo Beach

The summer Hill and Lake Press has historically been a children’s issue with clever, witty, and innocent poems, pictures, and stories.  Despite the fact that I write in crayon, my submissions in past years to the July-August issue have been tactfully returned.  Because of the children writers strike this year I am pressed into service.  Normally I would support the young artists’ demands (scented markers, unlimited gummy bears, and the freedom to use the word poopy in a non-salacious context).  The editors were able to break my iron will and steadfast solidarity by letting me write about my summer vacation.  Sorry kids, but who can pass up the opportunity to tell others about a trip.

My wife and I are staying just south of Los Angeles in Redondo Beach, where we are tracking down stray relatives and friends.  There is no sign of the Urban Coyote, who may be out here peddling scripts and doing meetings.  I am, instead, working on shaving every three or four days, body surfing, eating avocados, and going to Dodger Stadium.  The rest of my time is spent foolishly. 

Driving is a challenge in the L.A. area.  On 35W or the Crosstown you check to see if anyone is coming before you change lanes.   Here it is a given that many cars, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, and large trucks covet the exact spot you are currently inhabiting.  I am reminded of the old Red Skelton line about the freeways.  He said, “Southern Californians are real baseball fans…out here you are either a Dodger or an Angel.” 

Word from home is that it has finally stopped raining and all plans for an NRP-funded ark have been abandoned.  Everyone I meet  here (after the requisite discussion of the weather) wants to know about Jesse.  I am toying with the idea of being from Michigan.  The politics here in southern California is more conservative than I am used to.  There is still a Proposition 13 feel in the air, and it is a laisse faire world.  All is well for those who can manage on their own.  I have long believed that each of us has a cosmic banana peel with our name on it, and we will require support of some kind.  Here it seems people live happily, busily, hurriedly, but without a net.

If I am so critical, why am I here?  That’s simple:  I love the beach.  I have swum and paddled in the city lakes.  I have enjoyed moonlight dips at friends’ lake cabins, but there is something about the ocean that grips me.  I feel most whole and complete in the ocean.  It is truly a “Roots” experience.  Being in the ocean takes me way back to my distant ancestors who must have been ocean dwelling single celled protozoan. 

In more recent years I have resigned myself to compromises and diminished expectations, such as our federal income tax refund check.  Practicality and prudence aside, I do not want to pass from this life without ‘quality beach time’.  As a friend said recently, “Yeah, I’m middle aged if I live to be 110”.  This ocean fantasy will probably not win me the Albert Schweitzer award for humanitarian service, but I feel the sands of time moving.  

As a child, I mourned growing up in New Jersey and not being able to get to Atlantic City, Wildwood, or Asbury Park.  If I were a  Minnesota native I probably wouldn’t hear the siren song of the sea.  But to be sixty miles away and unable to will myself to the shore is something I still lament.  Granted, this is not Oprah material. (“ Our next segment is a real tearjerker:  Adult children of parents who could not swim and were too tired from working to take their kids to the beach.”)  Still, without getting too existential or pop psychology about this, I have been in charge of my own life since I was 46, and if I was going to make it to the west coast for the summer it was up to me.  Thanks to the generosity of a number of friends, most notably Michele, who has adopted Stella (the mad beast) for the summer, I am in Los Angles having made slightly better time than Balboa.

So here I am, and I love it.  In time I will miss garage sales, work (or at least the money), and the friends who have had the decency not to come and visit.  In the meantime, surf’s up, hang ten, and have a wonderful summer.


Tom H. Cook conveniently forgets that he was a shy, pale, thin, non-athletic, virgin with conspicuous ears who would not have experienced most of the things he feels he missed, had he only been ‘under the boardwalk’ in 1964.