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

That was creepy

Last night, someone knocked on our door. I’d been sort of expecting this, because there’s a vacant unit in the complex, and the management always puts their “RENT” sign on our shutters, so people decide to come talk to us, and then Finn has a conniption and we have to calm him down. However, I did not expect people to come knocking at ten at night.

So I open the door, and there stands a sort of portly middle-aged guy with a mustache and a just slightly lazy eye. He says “What room is Elizabeth in? ‘Cause I think she’s in a situation that she doesn’t want to be in.”

“I…don’t know.”

“Yeah you do.”

“No, I really don’t.”

“Don’t play games. You know. She lives in the complex back there.”

Now, I think maybe I’ve met Elizabeth in the parking lot, but I’m not sure which of the other tenants she is, and I certainly don’t know which unit she’s in, and I’m not really comfortable unleashing this guy on her.

“Look, I just live here. I don’t know the other tenants.”

“Oh.” He seems slightly taken aback. “You’re not the owner?”

“No, I just rent this unit. I don’t know where Elizabeth lives.”

“Well, she’s drunk, and this guy drove her home, and I … followed them back here, and I waited five minutes, and he hasn’t come out yet, and I just want to go check on her, and if she’s OK, then I’m out of here.” He pauses. “She’s a friend. We work together.”

…OK, so now we’re out of mysterious hostile creepy and into stalker creepy.

“Sorry, I don’t know which unit she’s in.”

This is a little bit of a lie. I suspect it was Elizabeth who came home about an hour ago and felt bad because we disciplined Finn for barking at her. She parked next to our car, and that spot belongs to unit 3. However, I have no reason to help this guy, and a general “don’t be complicit in the creepy” reason not to.

“Do you mind if I go around back?”

I kinda do, but it’s not really my business, and I’m not sure what I could say.

“Go ahead, if it’s open.”

I guess it was, because I didn’t hear from him again. I feel sorry for Elizabeth, though, and complicit in the ew.

Originally published at LiveJournal

Saturday night in the barrio

It’s been observed by folks who know the area that Jen and I basically live in the barrio. I think all our neighbors aside from the family in the other half of the duplex are Mexican or Central American, which is pretty typical of large swathes of Redwood City. As I’ve noted before, I think it’s kind of cool living in a town with ample opportunities to eat a taco with brains or tongue. (Not that I do, but I like having the option. As I think about it, I think that’s part of why I wanted to come back to the Bay Area; it’s an excellent part of the world to be in if you like having options that you have no particular desire to pursue.)

I think we’re the edge of something; on our side of the street and to the west, it’s mostly single-family homes. On the other side of our street, it’s mostly mid-grade apartment complexes (I was about to say low-grade, but then I realized they’re not really any more decrepit than the place I managed when we first moved to California. My standards have drifted upwards).

Ordinarily, there’s no special flavor to the neighborhood other than the flock of pushcart ice cream vendors and the guy who sells things resembling the love children of a Cheeto, a pork rind, and a pretzel off the front end of a bicycle. As the weather warms, however, a certain community feel emerges.

Tonight, while I was walking to the local 7-11 for some milk, I discovered that one of the local youngsters (I say this because I’m pretty sure he was younger than me; anywhere from 15 to 25 would have been possible) has converted his garage into a streetside pimp lounge. Mood lighting, frathouse-grade couch, warm colorful fabrics draped over everything — the whole nine yards. And it’s a garage that opens to the street. He and his friends were just lounging around, one of them freestyling to a beat they had running.

Across the street, some kids were doing doughnuts on a motorized Big Wheel; meanwhile, some of the grownups in the same complex were doing the same thing.

I like this neighborhood.

Originally published on LiveJournal