House Hunters

Our realtor knows us pretty well by now. She knows she has to bring snacks in the car or else I’ll get cranky and that Zack will only consider homes with basement storage so that he can have his bikes and beer brewing. The man wants a man cave, and I don’t blame him. We’ve only been looking at houses for a little over a month, but it feels like a lot longer than that. The listings have started to blur together. Row homes are cool because they feel adult and complete. Condos are enticing because there’s less of a commitment in the event that we want to leave Philly. We’ve probably seen two dozen places.

Liz has a bright personality and a deep, throaty laugh that catches you a little off guard because she’s so tiny and high-energy. I met her when I participated in Le Grand Continental, and she gave me her card after our last performance. “Standing up to serve you!” The card has a cut-out of her body that flips upward. She orders new ones when she changes her hair color.

We go looking on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, mostly. When we get in the car Liz blasts pop music and grins. “Are you ready to find your house today?!” We have lists and lock box codes and open houses and rating scores. Most places rate a six or seven and we’re striving for that nine-point-five. There are three things we want the most: closet space and outdoor space and counter space. Oh, and a decent block. Gotta have a decent block. Liz says when you buy a house it’s gonna be 80% of what you love and 20% of what you’re going to have to make your own. We understand. A small bathroom isn’t a deal breaker. A crack corner is. “You can change anything about a house except it’s location.”

We circle blocks and listen to Siri give directions. You think you know this city like the back of your hand, but then you forget about the side streets that only exist on one side of Broad. Liz constantly touches the talisman that hangs from her rearview mirror. She got it in Asia and she says it brings her good luck when it comes to finding parking spots. I believe her.

Last week we fell in love with one of Liz’s “wild cards,” a house on Madison Square, which is a historically certified block in Graduate Hospital. It’s one of those streets you can’t drive on- there’s a wide brick walkway and a well-kept garden that runs down the center. I had never heard of it before. It amazes me how much Graduate Hospital has changed in the past three years. Zack and I lived on 21st and South when we first moved to Philadelphia and there wasn’t much south of South. I know gentrification gets a bad rap, but I think it’s pretty great.

Madison Square was the first place we saw that I felt could be ours. The second time we walked in I got butterflies, like I was in the same room as a middle school crush. It was wide with high ceilings, loads of charm and character, counter space and outdoor space and a basement. No central air, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. Not a lot of closet space, but we could make it work. It was out of our price range, but it was vacant and had been on the market for almost three months. Liz said it was overpriced and we should give it a shot if we wanted to, so we put in an offer that night. I was terrified, but it was thrilling. In a matter of weeks, my entire life savings could be gone and Zack and I could own a house. I started pinning ideas on how to make the most out of a small bathroom.

The seller countered our first offer, slept on our second and denied our third. There was a $10,000 difference between our highest and his lowest, and I wish so badly that he would have just accepted it. I know everything happens for a reason, and what’s meant to be, will be, but goddamn, I wanted those built-in bookshelves. I wanted that dining room, I wanted that crown molding.

“You have to think about how you’re going to live,” Liz tells us often. “It’s going to be your house. How will you live in it?”

Decor

I am very good at two things: finding home furnishings on the street, and telling people I just met what celebrity they look like.

Every single piece of furniture in Zack’s and my apartment has been given to us from my parents, Craiglisted or picked from the curb. Except for this gem:

…which we bought from IKEA in Houston for $59.99.

The vintage hoosier table was purchased by my parents from an antique fair in upstate New York, and was refinished by my grandpa. It served as my family’s kitchen table for awhile, and then spent some time in the room above our garage, always covered by a table cloth to protect the wood finish from blunt burns or beer spills. Now I cover it with four lime green crocheted plastic place mats my mom bought for me from Urban Outfitters when I moved into Burrowes Corner, spring of junior year.

The fancy Victorian green velvet chair that everyone loves to fawn over was found on Hunters Lane, by my mother, in front of the small house where the two big ladies live. It had a crack in the seat, which we half-giggled about, and Zack fixed it with wood glue.

The rug is from Zack’s granddad. Thick and heavy and Oriental (if it’s not PC to say Oriental, what do you say?), it covers most of the living room floor and hides dirt a little too well.

The mosaic coffee table and simple black bookshelf were Craigslist finds (Dallas and Philadelphia, respectively.) My white wood dresser was purchased from a man on 18th and Pine, the “entertainment system” from a kid somewhere in northeast Philly.

The tiled glass corner table, sandwiched between the couch and the love seat, was waiting for us outside on the curb when Zack and I moved into our first Philadelphia apartment on 21st and South.

Over the summer, on 3rd and Catharine, I found an original print by a man named Harry Anderson. It’s signed with pencil, ’77, and has an image of two cowgirls (or boys) holding each other. The quote on top reads: “I’D SAY this is not a job for an amateur. Yes…I’m on  your side. Yes.” I have Googled all of these words with all different descriptions and cannot find anything like it. Harry Anderson, however, does have a Wikipedia page and apparently paints a lot of Jesus. A lot of stuff was on the curb that day- an older woman who could no longer take care of herself was being sent to a home. The man unloading her apartment told me to take whatever I wanted. Aside from a small water stain, I think the painting could be worth something.

On the same block about two weeks ago, I found two decorative bundles of tall bamboo sticks bound with rope. Right now they’re standing next to the bookshelf. I have no idea where to put them. Zack thinks they’re silly.

The matching nightstands in our bedroom were purchased for us, by my mother, at the Clover Market in Bryn Mawr, just weeks before I moved to Texas. I knew that we’d never be able to transport them there, but I loved them so much and convinced myself that I’d be back on the east coast eventually. They’re vintage, painted slate blue, with cabinets and bronze hardware and smaller pull-out drawers on top. I keep medicines and creams and pens in the drawer (just call me Leone Kur) and my notebooks (every notebook I’ve written in since 2004) in the cabinet. “They’ll be waiting for you,” my mother said when she bought them from the antique seller at the market. “I’ll keep them in the upstairs hallway.” We piled them in the U-Haul at our Hunters Lane pit stop after the 25 hour drive from Houston to Philadelphia.

I found our couches on 4th and Fitzwater, about a month after moving to Queen Village. Our old couch (also found on Hunters Lane) and love seat (Craiglist, Dallas) were not what we wanted any longer (too shallow and too discolored from the sun, respectively) and Zack and I had been discussing buying something…new. But then I was walking home from work one day and stumbled upon these seeming leather goods with a simple sign that read “FREE!” I sat down on the couch and sunk into the seat. It was burning hot from sitting in the sun, and I did a little happy dance with my butt. They matched. They felt great. They fit perfectly. And they were going to cost us nothing at all.

I waited on the couch for about an hour for Zack to get home with his car. A couple people drove by, asking “Are you taking both of those?” and “Is that yours?” “Yes!” I screamed. “They’re mine!” Zack and I loaded one into his Jeep while I sat on the other. Couldn’t take any chances.

Turns out they aren’t leather, and they sink a little too much which means your ass hurts after too many hours of watching television, but they’re pretty good, for now.