The trials of homeownership (selected highlights)

So we got our property tax assessment, and it sort of encapsulates what’s happened to Bay Area real estate over my lifetime. When the previous owners bought this house twenty-odd years ago, the assessed value of the house was divided more or less evenly between the value of the land and the value of the improvements to the land, weighted slightly toward the land side. (It’s a big lot.) Since then, the improvements have increased about 60% in value, which is actually somewhat less than keeping place with inflation. (Makes sense, I guess; stuff gets old.) The value of the land, meanwhile, went up 425%.

I came home the other night to a pronounced smell of gas in the house. All our pilot lights were on, and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, but I had run into a PG&E guy that morning who asked if I had smelled gas. So I called PG&E, but it turns out that their customer service is terrible after hours. Then I tried the non-emergency services number for Mountain View, and they advised me to get out of the house and sent out the fire department. So after a few minutes three fire trucks roll up, and a half dozen firefighters are looking around for where the gas smell is coming from. (Apparently it was a slow night.) Eventually they conclude that the smell ebbs and flows depending on where you’re standing, and does not appear to be coming from the house, and smells more like sewer gas anyway. So that’s that. Poor Finn was traumatized; he fears trucks and strangers, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quivering with anxiety like that before.

Over the last couple of days, our floor furnace has been misbehaving; the pilot has gone out a couple of times, but Jen has been able to relight it. Then this morning there was a faint gas smell, but the pilot was on, so I figured we were probably OK. Then a few minutes ago there was a loud THUD noise, like someone dropping something heavy. Jen and I both went to see what the other one had done to cause it, and we found a burnt-hair smell over the floor furnace, and the furnace was actually fully on now. “I told you I smelled gas”, says Jen. I think if this keeps up we should probably call someone.

This actually makes an old memory of mine make sense; I was sitting at my childhood kitchen counter when a gas leak blew out* the back wall of our kitchen, but the memory is much less violent than I would have assumed a gas explosion would be. I remember my mom jumping back in startlement (she was cooking at the time), but my actual memory of the event itself is…pretty much a loud THUMP. So there you go.

*”Blew out” maybe overstates the case. But there was a hole in the wall afterward.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Book Review: Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker

Checkpoint is an absolutely terrible book. Baker more or less writes by pouring out raw id onto the page, which in the past has made for entertaining if rather pervy prose. However, Checkpoint is a 2004-era Bush assassination fantasy rendered as a dialogue between two old friends, one of whom has apparently gone off the deep end and decided to kill the president. While Baker accomplishes his usual feat of expressing clearly and accurately the things that people think but would never, ever say, in Checkpoint that insight doesn’t lead us anywhere.

In large part this is, I think, because after the two characters have between them expressed the key dilemma of an assassination fantasy — the target deserves to die, but it would be Wrong to kill them — there’s not really anywhere to go. It’s basically the dramatic equivalent of a long blog thread on “Bush: Worst President Ever?” It would, I think, have been much more interesting if Baker had written a book about someone actually killing the president. There’s interesting conflict in killing the president, but not so much in wanting to kill the president, and only slightly more in admitting that you want to kill the president.

Originally published on LiveJournal