Thursday, March 31, 2011

Me and Joyce Carol Oates

The last time my mom was at her favorite place, her trailer at Mountain Shadows Lake in Newton, N.J.

Joyce Carol Oates lost her husband unexpectedly when she drove him to the hospital because he had pneumonia and he caught something there. A staph infection or C-diff or something, just like what was always getting my mother sick. A week later he was dead.

I hold up Raven’s Wing and think—she wrote this when she was innocent. When she didn’t know what pain was. I think about when I met her over twenty years ago at a reading she gave in a library in Princeton. I asked a question. I always ask questions even if I’m scared. She was a famous writer! Now I look back and I think about how she and I didn’t know what we were in for. Being scared is nothing compared to losing someone who means the world to you. We could have never imagined our futures back then when our paths crossed and we shook hands, she in a grey wool coat and beret, me in a twenty-nine dollar jacket from Bradlees. She was smaller than I’d imagined. Her hand was cool. I said something nice about her work. I worried that I sounded like a jerk. I worried that I smelled like cigarette smoke. It was an innocent time when all I had to worry about was what a famous writer thought of me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good News and Bad News

View of our neighbor's farm.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, I’ve been getting a bunch of inquiries about the farm. The bad news is, nothing is happening with any of them. I have a couple of people from northern Virginia who have told me they are going to come down to look at the place but they haven’t yet. I have a couple from other states who have said they’re coming, but they haven’t yet either. A few—I don’t know where they’re from—ask me questions and I get excited because I have the right answers.

For example, “How much of the property is fenced?”

Yay! “All of it is fenced and cross-fenced, and a lot of it is board fencing—hard to find around here.”

And, “What are the neighbors like?”

Oh, good one! “The neighbors are gifts from god! They are one reason I don’t want to leave this place. Pearl and Eldon will bring you a pie when you move in, plus they’ll watch your animals whenever you go away. They’re friendly but they won’t bother you. You can’t ask for better neighbors.”

But it doesn’t matter how good the answers are. I never hear from them again.

Then I have one who is local. They did a drive-by and then they e-mailed me. They love the place. Love it! But they have to sell their place first. I have one from up in Maine who begged, “Don’t sell it to anyone else! I want it! But I have to settle some business first.” Whatever that means. Then I have a lady who wasn’t planning to move until she retires in four years but she stumbled upon my place and wants to know if it would be possible to lease it out? As a matter of fact I’ve gotten, four, count them, four people who’ve asked me if they could lease it. Plus Pearl and Eldon will keep an eye on it. Please see the above about our wonderful neighbors.

One of the people who inquired about the farm is now a friend of mine. She is not in the position to buy it, but we got to yakking on e-mail and then we got to yakking on the phone and I now have a new friend in Georgia.

I’ve even gotten another offer on it. The only people who came to see it since my deal fell through offered us the full asking price like the first people. They even admitted they were looking at it before I lowered the price and were prepared to pay that. Shoot. However, and this is a big however, they have to sell their place too. I understand I might have to take a house-selling contingency. I wanted the seller of the winery house to take a house-selling contingency from me. So I understand that. But I know that my house is going to sell. I’m in control—I know I priced it right (in fact, it’s now underpriced, reduced even below the appraisal), and I know how to market it. I have it advertised all over the place:, Land-and-Farm, FSBO,, Virginia Equestrian, Virginia Horse Journal, Horse Talk, Horse News, Homes Now, HorseTopia, HorseClicks,, Lands-of-America, Craig’s List, Facebook, you name it. I also put flyers everywhere. We even created its own website,, with tons of pictures and information. This is not the first rodeo I’ve been in. This is the fifth place I’m selling by-owner. If there is anyone out there who needs a little horse farm in this price range and who is actually capable of buying it, I’m going to sell it.

But how do I know my buyer is going to do a good job selling his house if I take a contingency? I have no control over what they do to get their place sold. What if they don’t put their all into it like we do? What if they have a real estate agent who just collects listings, sits back and does nothing, hoping it’ll sell itself and if it doesn’t, well, no skin off his nose? So we called the agent to see if we could get a feeling for how things were going to go.

“Well,” he yawned. “It’s in the MLS and we run ads in the newspaper and we’re going to have an open house.”

Big whoop.

Next we took a ride and looked at their place ourselves. It’s a nice new ranch house but it’s on a main road plus the property is wooded and hilly. Which is exactly the reason they liked ours. You have to walk way down to get to their barn and they’d love to have a real riding arena. On top of that, they were next door to a trailer with a blue tarp, torn and shredded, dangling from the roof and flapping every time the wind blew. There were dogs on chains around the trees in the front yard and stainless steel bowls, dented and upside down, were scattered about. My heart sank. I was hoping this was going to be it and we could take their offer. We looked at the comps just to be sure but I don’t have any confidence they’re going to sell that place for a long time. They’re going to have to drop their price about fifty grand, maybe more. I had to tell them to come back when they’re under a solid contract.

So I’ve got all these bites but nothing’s happening. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. Eventually I’m going to sell it and then all of a sudden they’re all going to come out of the woodwork, suddenly they’ll all be ready and they will be heartbroken that they missed it. This always happens when I’m selling my places. Only this time, due to the market we’re in, it’s just taking a little longer. I want to tell them hurry up, hurry up, you’re not going to find anything better than this in this price range… But of course I can’t. They’ll think I’m desperate. They won’t believe me.

In the meantime, I am officially out of contract on the winery house. The seller finally signed the release forms and they are sending my earnest money back. This is good news and bad news too. It’s bad because the house is freed up now and even though giving me a house-selling contingency wouldn’t have stopped her from selling it to someone else (if someone made an offer, she would have asked us if we were ready to perform and if we still couldn’t close, she could have taken the new offer), it might have prevented other people from looking at it when they found out it was under contract.

But it’s also good because we could renegotiate when we do find a buyer for this place and who knows, maybe get the winery house cheaper. I’ve learned some things about it—taxes are even higher than I was told, homeowner’s insurance is going to be practically impossible to get… Also, it’s possible we might find something that’s even better. Trying to look on the bright side. Because I am heartbroken I might miss it just like all the people who inquired about my place are going to be if they miss mine.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Big Guns

I got out the big guns. I’m not talking about my real gun. I hate that thing. I want to get rid of it. I have no idea what it is—a shotgun, a rifle… I keep getting the two of them mixed up. I keep having to say, “Kurt, what do we have again?” when I want to tell someone about it. The only reason I got the stupid thing was because of the Evils. The cops couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do anything, so after I got hit with the hammer, I went down to Walmart and got the gun. I filled out some paperwork. It took fifteen minutes. The next thing you knew I was wheeling it out to my car in a shopping cart next to the macaroni-and-cheese, and some kind of ammunition—buckshot, bullets, I don’t know—was in the seat up front where babies usually sit.

One of the church ladies sent her husband over to show me how to shoot it. It nearly knocked me off my feet even though I lift fifty pound bags of grain on a regular basis and push wheelbarrows full of manure, dirt, rocks, you name it, every morning. But it’s been almost five years now and the Evils are long out of the picture and the gun has been sitting in the closet making me nervous… under the bed making me nervous… in the attic making me nervous... One time I put it in the extra refrigerator out in the garage but that made me nervous too because what if we get a thief who’s hungry? Plus I had no place to store the beer and hot dog rolls when summer came. Then I read about some guy who was moving to New Jersey and he got arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike because he was transporting his gun in a locked suitcase underneath boxes of china, dish towels and the toaster oven in the trunk of his car. So I’d like to get rid of it.

Anyway, I’m not talking about the real gun. I’m talking about something even more powerful. It’s so powerful that I almost told the seller of the winery house about it when she called to see if I had sold the farm yet. It appears that someone else is interested in the winery house and they want to make an offer but it’s also contingent upon them selling their property and I think she wanted to make sure that I was still interested before she told them no. Yes I’m still interested! We’ve asked for a house-selling contingency but they never responded! I assured her that my farm should sell quickly. I told her I have people coming from other states to see it. I told her to go look at my website so she could see for herself that my farm is beautiful and it’s priced right and it should sell in a timely manner. I told her that I just put it on Then I almost told her about the statue.

It’s a St. Joseph statue, about three inches high, cream-colored plastic, and would look good next to Mary in the manger if you were missing Joseph. It could even fill in for one of the Wise Men if you were in a pinch. But he’s really for burying in the yard like a dog buries a bone. Or a pirate buries treasure. They say that if you’re trying to sell a house and you bury St. Joseph in the front yard, it’ll sell fast. You would think that the only thing selling is the St. Joseph statues themselves. They are all over eBay and for sale on websites with names like Good Fortune For You. But they work. I can vouch for that! This is the third St. Joseph I’m burying. It worked when I was selling the Oklahoma house and that was a tough house to sell because it was the second highest priced property for sale in the county in an area that was very depressed. It sold for the full asking price in two weeks to a cash buyer with no contingencies—no mortgage, no appraisal, no inspection, nothing. And then we practically had a bidding war but we were already in contract. People were coming out of the woodwork begging me to buy that place!

It worked for the Ferrum house with the Evils next door. No one thought I was going to get out of there alive. But that house sold in two months. It took a little longer. That’s because I had to do it very quietly—I couldn’t let the Evils know. I didn’t even put a for-sale sign on the lawn because if they got wind that I was selling, they would have done something to sabotage the sale. Both of those sales, like this one, were for-sale-by-owner. For-sale-by-owners aren’t easy when conditions are good. They’re almost impossible when conditions are bad. In this case, it’s the economy.

So I ordered another St. Joseph. You’re supposed to dig it up and take it with you when you sell the house but it’s so windy out in Oklahoma, any tell-tale marks in the yard where I had buried it were blown away and after digging the fifth hole with a kitchen spoon because everything was packed already and finding nothing but worms and a bottle cap, I gave up and left him there. Ferrum, I was so happy to get out of there I’m lucky I didn’t leave Kurt, never mind the statue. I wonder how many St. Joseph statues excavators will find in the future? I can just picture happy homeowners on their hands and knees, digging in the garden and finding St. Joseph. “What’s this Honey?” They stand up with a hand on a hip and blow the dirt off. Squinting, they hold it up. “It appears to be a religious artifact of some sort,” one of them speculates.

The thing came with a little plastic bag and directions. You’re supposed to bury him inside the bag, upside down, facing the street. It seems kind of mean putting him in the dirt head first, but that’s what it says to do. You have your choice of prayers. I said both of them. I figured if one is good, two is better. The horses hung their heads over the fence watching me. Effie went by in her old turquoise pickup truck. She tapped the horn. She probably thought I was planting spring bulbs.

When I was finished, I decided to do some weeding. You never know when someone will want to look at the place so you have to keep it up. You have to be ready. I weeded the flower beds. I weeded the vegetable garden. Then I got some mulch.

Later, when I went in the house there was a call on the machine from someone asking about the farm. It doesn’t mean anything. But you never know.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Things I've Learned in Virginia

1. If the wheelbarrow starts going down the hill really fast and you’re losing control, just drop it and hold on. You’ll skid a couple of feet and then stop. If it’s a really steep hill and you’re heading for something you’d prefer not to crash into—a tree, the pond, the manure pile—just drop it, hold on, and sit. That should do it. (Spray & Wash is not necessarily going to take all the orange out of the seat of your pants.)

2. Do not park a full wheelbarrow laterally on a path that zigzags down a hill because it will fall over the minute you take your hand off the handle to scratch your nose and all your hard work will go tumbling down to the bottom and you will say F-it and leave it there. Park straight, facing down.

3. All these years I’ve been eating rutabagas, not turnips. I’m still traumatized over that. My whole life my mother said they were turnips. When I confronted her about this deception, she acted all nonchalant, like it was no big deal. “Yeah? So? They’re really rutabagas. We just call them turnips.” She didn’t care one iota when I told her how embarrassed I was when I bragged to Pearl about my delicious family recipe for mashed turnips and she informed me, “Why Debi, them aren’t turnips at all. You’re getting your root vegetables all mixed up, bless your heart.”

4. When someone says “Bless your heart,” that means you’re a moron.

5. The mayor is not actually a crazy person who runs amok, crashing through fences all over town, trampling people’s lawns and gardens like a madman. The mayor is a mare, Wesley Bell’s sorrel broodmare who thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and can’t be kept contained because the minute the electric fence goes out, she knows it.

6. Electric fences go out on a regular basis in Virginia. Or in the country, of which Virginia is mostly, agriculture being our number one industry. Of course some mortgage lenders (Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation) refuse to make loans on homes in agricultural areas even though we gave them all that money to do so--check out my story Bad News--in effect discriminating against country folks. But that is neither here nor there. The point is, the electric goes out in Virginia regularly and most people have generators. Some have them hardwired into their houses, it happens so often. We’ve been lucky; it’s only happened to us a couple of times and not for long so I’ve never had the chance to pull the generator out. And Kurt would have to be home if I did need it because I have no idea what to do. But I have it just in case. It’s next to the power washer, which we also don’t use.

7. In addition to generators, people in Virginia also have scanners. They listen to the calls that come in to the fire house or first aid in the beginning of winter when everyone is firing up their woodstoves for the first time and they didn’t get them cleaned first. Or when someone calls the ambulance for Brandy Hinkle because she took too many prescription drugs again, all those popular ones you see on TV, because she has nothing better to do than invent aches and pains because she’s bored out of her mind since she refuses to work or go to school and she got married when she was eighteen-years-old to someone else who refuses to work or go to school. It’s a vicious cycle over there and the only excitement is when the ambulance comes. As far as the cops, you rarely hear anything on the scanner about them. At least in these parts. Well, other than the occasional shooting. Because everyone has guns around here. Pearl keeps a portable scanner right in her breast pocket like a pack of cigarettes just so she can stay on top of things. If there’s anything I need to know, she calls me.

8. Bobcats mating sound suspiciously like women being murdered. That’s when I called the cops.

9. Tall grass is hay.

10. Baptist churches have white people.

11. Handy things. Like how to give shots, clean sheaths, stack hay, bake pies, and grow vegetables, all things I used to pay someone else to do in New Jersey. But I still can’t put new string in the weed-whacker. And I don’t know how to start that generator.

12. Just because there are old farmhouses all over the place doesn’t mean I am going to find anything good at garage sales. This is the hardest place for garage saling with the exception of Oklahoma. The people will not part with their old stuff or they have incredible patience and will sit around till the cows come home waiting for the right person to come along who will overpay for a jadeite sugar bowl because they’ve been looking for that exact piece for ten years. Either way, you will find Fisher Price toys, NASCAR collectibles, VCRs that don’t work, baskets, old shoes, brass fixtures and stained Tupperware at garage sales but no Roseville unless you want to pay an arm and a leg.

13. Testicles on dogs are the norm. When I first moved down here and started seeing all the testicles, it was so weird to me I might as well have been seeing dogs with antennas coming out of their heads. Some people actually think they’re going to make money breeding dogs, but the real reason is they just want to get some puppies because they’re cute. But they don’t think they’re cute enough to warrant a trip down to the local dog pound to save one, and certainly not cute enough to stop adding to the mess. Thousands and thousands of dogs get put to sleep in Virginia every year and even more cats.

14. They sell liver-and-onions at the local restaurant down here. It’s a buffet-style place called Chitwood’s Home Cooking and the last time I was in there, the whole pan was scarfed up faster than the one that contained the marshmallow salad. I couldn’t believe my eyes. People actually choose liver-and-onions? I thought liver-and-onions was something mean old aunts gave to kids in the 1950s and the kids spit it out when no one was looking. I thought liver-and-onions went out of style with kerchiefs and aprons.

15. Speaking of meat, people claim they hunt deer for the meat. To put food on the table. Trying to be open-minded, I tasted it. It tasted like crap. They say that’s because it wasn’t prepared right. It has to be cooked just right. Anything that has to be cooked just right to be edible is crap. And if it’s so good, why doesn’t Walmart sell it? Why isn’t it flying off the shelves down there? Why isn’t it in a stainless steel pan next to the liver-and-onions down at Chitwood’s? Because it’s crap.

16. Bulls are the boy cows who can mate. Steers are boy cows who are castrated like what should be happening to all the dogs around here. Heifers are the girl cows. I’m still not sure what that thingy is that’s hanging from their bellies. Is it a penis or is it something to do with the bellybutton? And you can’t go by the horns. Both boys and girls—sometimes they have them, sometimes they don’t. Hence, I can’t tell a boy cow from a girl cow.