The house we like

A friend in the Netherlands emailed me recently to ask if the Ukrainian and I were taking advantage of the falling house prices in the U.S. and bought a house here in San Francisco.

Nooooo….we are not buying a house here. Even with the falling house prices and my proclivity to purchasing overpriced shoes, we are nowhere near the economic strata necessary to purchase one.

In October, however, we did come upon this wonderful little house with amazing views in the Glen Park neighborhood. The asking price at the time? $929,000. We thought “Wow, what a deal. You can actually buy a house for under $1,000,000 in San Francisco. Of course, the mortgage payments would work out to be about $7k a month. We can’t afford that.

Curiously, this morning, I checked to see if the house is still available. It is!! All for the low, low price of only $849,000. Here it is!

http://www.redfin.com/CA/San-Francisco/35-Sussex-St-94131/home/1760569

(*I joke. I really don’t think that $849k is a low price for a house. And we still can’t afford it.)

(Rereading the listing, I think it *is* in the process of being sold. It’s in escrow right now.)

Do not Disturb

I’ve been sitting on my bed thinking about how melancholic I feel. There is no reason for my melancholy. Overall, I have great balance in my life.

This melancholic-for-no-reason feeling has been lingering for a few weeks. I have tried to stave it off by buying fancy new shoes, emailing Honda dealers to see who can give us the best deal on a new car (I am bored of that now and have lost my desire to purchase one), browsing CraigsList for a better apartment (there isn’t one for under $3000/month), browsing the Black Friday circulars for special holiday deals (all avoided), picking up books and movies and not getting through the first 5 minutes.

This is a common feeling in my life. As soon as everything is perfect, I start to look for something “more”. Something “different”. Something that will challenge me and make me grow and give me great adventurous tales to tell. But usually what happens is that when I make that change, I find that not only have I left something behind that I really loved, the stress of the adjustment almost leaves me too paralyzed to enjoy the change of which I dreamed. And then finally, I settle, only to find myself melancholic and longing for that something else.

Sometimes, I think, I am merely trying to avoid myself — trying to avoid the basic humdrummery and drudgery of life. Oh sure, there is always beauty. But when you see the beauty enough, it eventually becomes unobserved.

So I’ve been siting on the bed feeling melancholic, looking for an outlet. I tried to write, but it gave me a headache. I transferred the photos from the holiday weekend from the camera to the computer, but I could not find the motivation to upload them to the blog, flickr, or Facebook. I wondered if I should maybe put the laundry away and tidy things up before the week begins. But then I figured that my melancholic nothingness would still be there when I finished. So what good would that do? Only more things in my life would be in order.

My husband, the Ukrainian, thinks this melancholic endless searching for something all comes from the lack of a baby in our lives. Perhaps. Maybe I’ve done enough in my relatively-young life that it’s time to bring another into the world. But somehow, I feel like I will always want more.

Funny, I was only able to write this because the Ukrainian interrupted my melancholic thoughts. I was sitting alone on the bed when he entered the room to interrupt me. But my melancholy did not want to be interrupted. I told him to leave, to get back to work. I just wanted to be alone. I told him I would like a “Do Not Disturb” sign for our bedroom door as he had been interrupting me all day (I had to do some work for my job, which I did while sitting on the bed).

But now, I think of him interrupting me. He is so very cute. Not emotionally-distant at all. The perfect anecdote to my moody irrational self. That search for whatever it is that makes want something more will not go away, but with the Ukrainian at my side, perhaps I will find the tenaciousness necessary to figure out what it is without changing a thing.

Invitations from the past

Chicago in the winter -- from zachanderson.com

Chicago in the winter -- from zachanderson.com

It was lunchtime. I was browsing the Chicago Craigslist, drooling over the large beautiful apartments that could be had for much less than what the Ukrainian and I are paying for our 1 BR in San Franciso’s Noe Valley. The day before, I had calculated that Chicago has a 26% lower cost of living than the Bay Area, but only a 11% lower average salary rate. It is also significantly closer to my family in Iowa and only a 2 hour flight to friends in New York or family in Washington, D.C.

These are the thoughts that cross my mind when the Ukrainian and I talk about having a baby in such dismal economic times. A baby is something I really want, but I worry about how we will manage it all on our combined income — while not impoverished in the slightest, is very definitely middle class — when housing and childcare are both not only so expensive here, but also extremely difficult to find.

While browsing Craigslist, I was also listening to Alice 97.3 on ITunes Radio. The Smashing Pumpkins’ song “Tonight, Tonight” came on. I listened to the lyrics, waiting for the lines: and the embers never fade in your city by the lake the place where you were born. The city by the lake is Chicago. The place where I was born — well, really, it’s the suburbs of Chicago. But still…everytime I heard this song, it takes me back to the life I had before I first moved to California. Could it be a sign, I wondered, to hear this song while browsing the Chicago Craigslist? I dismissed the thought. Signs had not done much for me in the past.

I checked my email to get away from all thoughts of returning to the Windy City. I have a good job here and the Ukrainian is establishing his life here. It would be asinine to shake things up. And there, in my email, was a little mini-shake-up.

“We’ve received an invitation from E to his Halloween party on Saturday,” I IM the Ukrainian.

“Who’s E? Your ex-boyfriend?”

“Yeah…” E and I met in the midst of the breakup with the Bulgarian. We dated in the months I spent preparing to move to the Netherlands. We broke up while I was there. Got back together in a much more tentative way after I returned to San Francisco and then broke up once again in the spring of 2007. It was the demise — or rather never-success — of this relationship that made me post the ad on Craigslist to which the Ukrainian responded. While E and I never call each other up to say “How’re you doing?” we do end up on each other’s party invite list. I’m never sure why.

“So what do you think?” I asked the Ukrainian. I never mind a good house party (they’re much preferable to clubs these days, now that I’m in my 30s and married), but was there the need to keep putting my husband in the awkward spot of being paraded around in front of my exes? Besides, I have now learned from E’s last party — the first held since we were married — that the more interesting male guests no longer pay attention to me. It’s the ring on my 4th finger. It’s the husband whose eyes my eyes meet from across the room every 30 seconds or so. If the men are single, they have little to gain from much conversation with me. And if they’re not, it will only be moments before their significant other will find away to interrupt the conversation. It is moments like these I despise the more puritanical twists of American culture. Europe always seemed more relaxed. Indeed, at the dinner parties I attended there, significant others were always seated apart to shake things up a little. It was a chance to talk to someone besides the one person you talk to everyday.

I.E. in a bikini

I.E. in a bikini

“Well, I have to meet up with I.E. this weekend. She is in town for the weekend. But I have to be at a conference all day Saturday and I have a midterm due Tuesday.” Oh right. I.E. His childhood friend from his hometown in eastern Ukraine who now lives in Chicago. My inner puritan woke up started flashing:  red light! red light!! Where had I heard this story before? Oh right, the Bulgarian whose ex-girlfriend from Bulgaria so innocently reinserted herself into his life, apartment, and then bed. I needed more information about this I.E.

“Do you have a picture of her?” I IMed the Ukrainian.

“Check your email,” he responded after a moment’s pause.

And there it was. Right there in my email:  a picture of a beautiful, blond Russian woman in a bikini. She was the sort of Slavic beauty that so many American men fantasize about when they visit sites like russianwomen.com.

“Mr. Ukrainian, she’s hot!” I ferociously panicked-IM the Ukrainian. My mind raced back over the few slightly-heated discussions we’d had over the past few days about a few key issues regarding the future. Now was not the time for him to be finding solace in his childhood chum who happened to look like a swimsuit model. And who was she anyway to be sending my husband pictures of herself in a bikini?! Damn these East European women! They are so clever. These were not the sort of social skills we learned back in rural Iowa. My mind recalled the model-like build of the Bulgarian ex-girlfriend. Not again! I thought.

“Check your email again.” The Ukrainian wrote over IM.

I went back to my Google mail. And there is was. A snapshot of a nice-enough looking woman standing on a bridge in the night wearing a formal (bridesmaid?) gown. She was attractive enough, but so very much not the Ukrainian’s type. I relaxed with relief. And then I started laughing. My, did the Ukrainian know how to rile me up. He knew exactly what he was doing when he sent that swimsuit picture.

“Assehole!” I IMed back. He knew I was joking too.

Now that the threat was gone. I became more truly curious about this woman who came from where my husband comes from and now lives where I came from. Maybe, just maybe, I thought. She could be a key to get us back to where I though I might want to really be.

“So what does she do?” I asked.

“She’s a commercial financial analyst.”

My eyebrows raised. I didn’t need to write anything on the IM. The Ukrainian could hear my thoughts.

“Don’t worry,” he continued. “After I graduate and get more experience at my company, I will apply to hers too.”

Maybe there are signs. Maybe we will be in SF forever. Maybe a year from now, we will find ourselves in Chicago. Maybe life will take us yet elsewhere. But suddenly, all the crushing weight I was feeling about how to manage having a baby in SF lifted just a little. There just might be other options. The world and our future didn’t seem so locked in.

Edward Hopper visits our flat

I lie on the bed in the front room our apartment. Our home is a long narrow railroad Victorian flat from the late 19th century. To call one room the bedroom and the other the living room is arbitrary. Even the kitchen wouldn’t be a kitchen if it weren’t for that fact that someone once plugged in a stove and refrigerator in the backmost, 3rd, room of the flat. The sink is in yet another, though much smaller, room that may or may not have always been a pantry. But perhaps it was once a part of the back porch. Maybe someone slept there once. It’s hard to tell. The place hasn’t been renovated since 1939.

So it is in the front room we placed our bed on which I lie. The sounds of San Francisco’s busy 24th St. echo in. We are on the first level of a 3-story walk-up. The wood frame of the building and the single-paned windows do little to keep the city out. We hear the motorcycles and the ambulances, of course — St. Luke’s is only 3 blocks away. And we hear the dogs and the children running around and the parents and the owners chiding them. We hear the drunken hipsters of course. They wax a discourse on the cool art project they are building for the next Burning Man. The stoned hipsters are quieter. More reflective. But we can hear them too as they wax poetics about what they saw at their last Burning Man. And we hear the lovers. Always the lovers. San Francisco is the American city for love and romance — despite what the money-grubbing, bubbling, vaporwaring Web 2.0 dot-com booming and busting venture capitalists and engineers and their related PR agents and advertising executives might tell you as they place yet another ad on Nerve.com, Match.com, Yahoo Personals, EHarmony and CraigsList never realizing the love they’re looking for is in the city itself.

And so the words of lovers trickle into our home as they make their way to or from the BART or MUNI stops, each synchronized step is a moment of foreplay for what will unfold once they reach the privacy of their home. I lie on the bed, in a slightly-fevered state from a mild summer cold. The Ukrainian is next to me, sitting in a red chair taken from the kitchen that isn’t really a kitchen. He has unfolded a card table that someone once gave us as they left San Francisco to return to the East Coast. He is typing and staring at his little 13″ white MacBook on which he has long-since removed the pre-installed Mac OS X and replaced it with Windows Vista because…because that is just the sort of thing the Ukrainian does.

I drift in and out of my fevered consciousness. The Ukrainian types and stares and moves the cursor around the MacBook. He is working on a balance sheet for his summer internship at a small financial firm here in the most romantic American city that once hosted the idealistic Summer of Love. He is doing a Merger and Acquisition. Some company somewhere I want to to sell to another. Somebody somewhere wants to love another. And the lovers outside want to be alone together so they can express their love.

And the Ukrainian and I? We are in love. In between each calculation on his Excel spreadsheet, he looks over, wanting to know if I need anything. Is there anything he can do to relieve my fever, he asks. Should he go, he wonders. Should he leave this room that intersects so perfectly with the lovely city outside and work in the kitchen that isn’t a kitchen so that I can sleep. No, I tell him. Stay here. With you here, I am happy. My fever will be ok.

I drift to sleep anyway. But in that moment before I lose consciousness to the world outside on 24th St., I remember Edward Hopper’s “Room in New York” where he depicts (what I presume to be) a husband and wife idling time in the front room of their flat. He is reading the newspaper. Her fingers are tinkling the piano. They are doing their own thing together. They seem at peace with each other and with their world. This poster hung on my wall throughout college. Someday, I thought, I want that. I want “Room in New York” with someone.

I take one last look at the Ukrainian — my husband. He is too intent on his work to see me watching him. Please, I say silently in my head. Please, never let our lives be anything but this. This peace, love, and harmony I feel with you right now.

And I sleep.