Though not the weirdest thing about moving into a new house, which for me has been the simple fact that I have purchased a house, I am nevertheless aware of the previous owners. I find their spectral presence strange. I don’t resist this, really. I have a faint kind of fondness for them. And though I do not know them, nor have I ever met them, I sometimes want to ask them questions, like, “Who did the kitchen floor and do you have their number?”
The extent of our interaction was a single, rather stilted epistolary exchange. It was encouraged by our realtors. We wrote them a letter explaining why they should accept our offer.
I was reluctant. My wife thought it worthwhile; apparently they often do — just the other day I read about a guy I know, mostly from playing basketball but also from the world of magazines, who lives in a gorgeous Chelsea pad in part because his wife wrote the previous owners a love letter to the place.
I can’t recall how our letter was drafted; I wrote some of it, Elizabeth fine-tuned, I think. I hated the whole process. So disingenuous, I felt. The housing market is a jungle of brutal pragmatisms playing out, and this attempted lubrication would surely have no discernible impact.
But it did have an impact. It prompted the sellers to write a letter of their own. In it they conveyed their appreciation for our letter, whose contents, boiled down, amounted to: We are decent people with little children, give us a break! Their letter’s point seemed to be: It’s a great house even if a bit beat up, and you are getting a great deal. So just take the bird in hand and we can all move on.
There was one line, however, that had a certain kind of poetry — a literary moment, if you will — and it has stayed with me, not so much the content as the tone. The author — I was sure their letter had been concocted in a similar manner to ours, the guy writing and the wife smoothing — extols the location of the house, notes that this is a cliche, but also that it is a cliche worth heeding. Then comes this: “There are houses in that neighborhood worth a million dollars!”
Suddenly I had a picture of the seller and it dawned on me: I was buying a house from the Two-thousand-year-old Man.
I don’t know why the Two-thousand-year-old Man has stayed with me all those years. I encountered him as a kid at the home of friends. Specifically my friend Jason’s parents, Eddie and Julie.
By this time this routine was already an artifact (as people who live that long tend to be), but they must have thought the Two-thousand-year-old Man would appeal to a couple of eight-year-olds. They were right. It really made an impression. The fact that his favorite invention was Saran Wrap has stayed with me.
Is it Mel Brooks? I could look it up. But if it’s not Mel Brooks it is of the era of Brooks, Zero Mostel, Etc.
WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM WITH THIS BREAKING NEWS.
I looked it up. It is Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. I listened to the first few minutes and came across this shocker: The Two-thousand-year-old Man’s birthday — the day he claims he will turn 2000 — is October 16th.
I am writing this on October 16th!
Holy Serendpitiy! Karma Alert! Chills!
Ok, back to the show.
Upon reading this line (“There are houses in that neighborhood worth a million dollars!”) I suddenly had a sense of the taste, the character, the predilections, of the previous owners. Until that moment they had been a complete mystery.
They had lived in the house twenty years, I knew from the property records. But by the time we bought it, they had been living in another city for well over a year. I knew this from our new neighbors. The place we walked through, on that fateful open-house Sunday, was not only devoid of their possessions, it had other, totally artificial props imported partly to promote the fantasy life of the browsers — but, if you think about it, primarily to obscure and subdue the ghostly presence of the Two-thousand-year-old Man and his wife. The problem wasn’t that they had bad taste. It was that for most people living in a house recently occupied by the Two-thousand-year-old Man is not that appealing. For one thing, the Two-thousand-year-old Man is, without question, old. And and while this in itself isn’t necessarily a problem — though I think it is, if you are a realtor — the house, too, was old. And so the two threads of oldness, manifesting as a feeling and also a faint smell, reinforced each other. The realtor brought someone in to paint many of the rooms, furnish them, move things around, and generally obscure the Two-thousand-year-old Man’s atmosphere. But it came through nonetheless.
For a while I have been pondering this question: Was I attracted to the house because I liked the presence, however, faint, of this character? Or was I attracted to the house because it is a house that only a Two-thousand-year-old Man could love? The question has taken on new urgency now that it turns out I was moved to write all this down on the the Two-thousand-year-old Man’s birthday. Or his alleged birthday, since whose memory is that sharp at two thousand?
To put the question more simply: the Two-thousand-year-old Man, c’est moi?
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