Do you remember that old movie from the 80s, The Money Pit? The one with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long? In Spanish it was called “Esta casa es una ruina” (literally translated, “This house is a ruin”), and I used to love it as a kid.
I haven’t watched it in ages, but I have the feeling that adult me wouldn’t like it much. Because, you see, real life trumps fiction. Or at least it comes close to it.
The first time we were homeowners we bought a condo in a high rise. Which doesn’t really count as a house, since there were a wonderful maintenance team and condo association who took good care of us and our property. And pipes. And heating and cooling systems. And trash. They would even change lightbulbs for me!!!! But it was home, and I still love it so much that when we changed tenants last year I decided to have a little picnic in the empty living room.
Then, we became houseowners, which is a very different story. Technically townhouseowners, to be more precise. And while our actual home is closer in size to a shoebox than to the house in the movie, the money black hole doesn’t seem much smaller.
In four years we have had to replace a furnace, the engine of the A/C system, the microwave (who the hell breaks a microwave?!?!) and now the water heater, which is not even 5 years old. I know that the plumbing will have to go at some point. We had to hire a critter control company to make sure that the lovely Chicago alley wildlife stays right there, in the alley. And all I wonder is, when will the washer finally die too? That is the only one I am truly rooting for.
One of the issues I have encountered as a foreigner is how to find good repairmen. If I were back home, my dad would immediately know who to call for every single little job needed in the house. Or he would just do it himself. Going from growing up with a countryside doityourselfer to marrying an well intentioned urbanite who thinks that building IKEA furniture should get you a Home Depot badge has been an adjustment. An expensive adjustment.
We were some of the first among our friends to have our own place. Which means no one I know had had to use a plumber, roofer, electrician, and the likes ever in their lives. They would just call Mike, or Boran, or Gaby down in unit 135 and they would take care of emergencies, fixes and repairs. And that left us with no references on who to call.
Some years later, and through the old trial and error method, I have found a decent plumber. We angrily switched our heating company when I called their emergency service at 7pm on a Monday evening and the guy had the nerve to tell me that I was not in their service area. In the middle of Lincoln Park. He was wrong, their scheduler assured me the next morning while trying for me to schedule another service appointment with them. By then I had hired a different company who was willing to come in the middle of the night, whether there was Monday football on TV or nor. We found a guy who does fine woodwork after the first one we hired ruined our new gate. I am starting to be able to recommend people myself. And, hey, I want a badge for that too.
But although not as sprawling as the money pit in the movie, this money pit is our home now, and we will have to keep taking good care of it, for better or for worse, in emergencies and disrepair. Just so our three little terrors have something to tear up every now and then. And some place to call home.
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