Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Home is Where the Mortgage Is

Everyone in California is obsessed with real estate, and I am no exception. Before we bought our house I spent countless hours perusing Realtor.com until I had memorized the asking price, square footage, and HOA fees of just about every available place in the Concord area. When we finally moved, I figured my fixation would diminish, but I find myself drawn to the website again and again - to reassure myself that we did not pay too much, to see if property values are still increasing in my neighborhood, or - more typically - to torture myself by looking at the price of housing outside of the Bay Area.

Yesterday, bored out of my mind on a lengthy conference call, I was at it again, checking out listings for Salt Lake City, Utah. Though I have absolutely no plans to move now or in the forseeable future, I have always kept Salt Lake City in my mind as one of the places I would consider living if I weren't so tied to this area. The economy is healthy, the natural surroundings are gorgeous and clean and not clogged by traffic and pollution, crime is practically non-existent, and the Jewish community, while tiny, is close-knit and so progressive that the synagogue is led by a gay, female rabbi. Also, my dad grew up there amid a large extended family, so I feel like I have a personal connection to the city. Aside from an elderly aunt, all of my relatives there are gone, but I kind of like the idea that if I did live there I might periodically run into people who remember my dad or my grandma or my Uncle Max, who taught me how to play hearts and Crazy Eights and once bought me a triple-scoop ice cream cone because I couldn't decide what flavor I wanted.

What I found on Realtor.com was astounding - so much so that I almost blew my cover and shouted "Holy Crap!" in the middle of the conference call. Most of the homes were selling for about half of what we paid for our house - and the homes in that price range were typically brand new 5-bedroom models with huge yards and more square footage than I would know what to do with. And what could you get with the amount we did spend on our place? Well, how about a 7-bedroom, 4-bath custom-built showcase with an entryway straight out of Gone With the Wind and a master suite with a hot tub and fireplace? Or, if you prefer, a lovingly restored 5,276 Sq. Ft. Victorian with a 4-car garage, stained glass windows and a panoramic view of the canyon?

It's not that my house here in California is so bad. In fact, when real estate envy overtakes me, I have to remind myself that not long ago I was toiling for poverty wages as a social worker, and even moving to a bigger apartment seemed out of reach. I never dared hope that in just a few years I would be the owner of a nice four-bedroom house in a wonderful community with miles of greenery and a playground and three swimming pools and one of the best school districts in the state. I love my house and I do appreciate how lucky I am to own it - yet I must admit I am still recovering from the disillusionment of being approved for financing beyond our wildest dreams, and consequently discovering that even that seemingly astronomical amount only qualified us for the most basic, no-frills, modest older homes in the area.

Then again, it is not just "the area." It is the Bay Area, and that is really what I am paying for - the chance to live in one of the world's leading centers of arts and culture, museums, resturants, wineries and shopping. As nice as Utah seems, I don't know that I would feel comfortable in a place with so little ethnic diversity - or political diversity, for that matter. I don't necessarily toe the liberal party line on every single issue, but it would be VERY hard for me to live among people who would allow Proposition 3 on the ballot, much less vote in favor of it.

So, even though moving to the Beehive State would make it easier for me to stalk both Donny Osmond and Ken Jennings, it looks like I will be staying here for awhile.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Member of the Tribe

I wasn't really in the mood to go to the first meeting of the Rabbi's Retirement Committee last night - I had to work late, I was tired, and what I wanted more than anything was to put the kids to bed, take a long hot shower, and curl up with my new library book. But in the car on the way there, I had a change of heart and actually started to like the idea of being more involved in synagogue activities. Having grown up at the shul, all through my gawky childhood and awkward adolescence, I often feel that people there still don't really see me as an adult - they either remember me from when I was a kid, or they only know me once they realize who my parents are. Working on a high-profile committee might be just the thing to change that.

So, I arrived at the meeting, helped myself to a cup of coffee, and sat down at the table. As other people came in they greeted each other warmly, then looked warily in my direction. Who is this stranger in our midst, their faces said, and why should this imposter have any say in the Rabbi's retirement party? They were all people I vaguely recognized, people whose kids were in my Hebrew School class or who were active in Hadassah with my mom. But most of them had not seen me in years and had no idea who I was. They sat down in clusters, leaving the chairs next to me conspicuously vacant. A few people whispered to one another, then glanced at me and shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders in confusion.

Finally one brave soul reached over the empty chair to offer his hand. "Hi, I'm Jim. I don't think we've met before."

"Yes," said the woman across from him. "In fact, maybe we should go around and introduce ourselves. I'm not sure I know quite everyone here," she added, looking pointedly my way.

"Sounds great!" I offered brightly. "I'm Aimless!" A dozen faces looked blankly back at me.

"Uh, Aimless E______, that is . . ."

More blank faces, knitted brows and perplexed stares. I knew there was simply no way around it.

" . . . but, you probably know me better as the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. N____________."

"Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!" came a collective sigh from the now-friendly crowd, "We knew you looked familiar!"

I then spent the rest of the evening trying fruitlessly to get a word in edgewise as the rest of the committee argued, debated, and picked apart one another's ideas for a solid two hours.

Clearly, this "establishing myself as an adult" thing might be a longer process than I thought.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

My So-Called Life

I have been wanting to write a new blog entry for weeks now, but I have been hindered by a couple of issues. For one, I have been busy covering for our vacationing account manager, making it difficult for me to ignore my regular job duties to focus on the task of providing new reading material for my faithful readers (all three of them). But the major problem is, I have nothing to write about - nothing that wouldn't be painfully boring to read, that is. Let's face it, my life is just not that exciting. It's busy enough, what with the kids and work and soccer and Sunday School and play dates and Havurah events, but - like most working, married adults - my day-to-day life has a certain sameness to it, and as such is pretty much devoid of the emotional ups and downs and high drama that would make for a good juicy read.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks I am boring. A few months ago, the Director of Comunications at my old high school emailed me to ask if I could write an update for the alumni section of the school's annual magazine. Sure, why not, I thought - it will just take me a few minutes to dash off a few lines letting everyone know I am still here in the Bay Area, happily married with two kids. So I sat down at my computer, and I wrote that I was still living in the Bay Area, happily married with two kids, and . . . and . . . and . . . what else? Typically people write about being awarded job promotions or advanced degrees or fellowships, or they recount interesting travel experiences or unusual and creative occupations like documentary filmmaking or international archaeology. Sadly, none of those apply to me, so I spent days racking my brain trying to think of one thing - just one tiny little tidbit - that might be worthy of note.

As the deadline drew near I was still coming up blank, so I prevailed upon my long-suffering cubemate. "Help me think of something Chelle!" I wailed incessantly. Rolling her eyes at my whining, she finally sighed "I don't know - tell them you saw Sesame Street Live last weekend." Of course she meant it as a joke (actually, she meant it to shut me up already) but it gave me an idea. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek little paragraph about life with two little toddlers, describing how busy I was with intellectually stimulating activities like learning to distinguish between the different Teletubbies and attending sophisticated cultural events such as Meet the Wiggles and Around the World With Barney. In the end, I was pretty pleased with it - it was cute and funny and just self-deprecating enough while still managing to include references to those all-important signifiers of success, my new house and 10-year wedding anniversary.

So, the annual magazine arrived in the mail the other day, and guess whose entry was mysteriously missing from the alumni section? I am just going to choose to assume that with all my procrastination and dithering, I wound up missing the deadline - but I suspect that they simply found my entry far too mundane to commit to print. After all, they show this magazine to prospective families, and who is going to want to pay thousands of dollars in tuition just so their kid can end up hanging around 2-year-olds, wiping up juice spills and memorizing Elmo videos?

It's probably just as well, anyway. As I flipped through the magazine I noticed that my entry, had they deigned to print it, would have come right after that of our school's resident overachiever. After his three-column essay describing his various breakthroughs in the field of molecular pharmacology, my little blurb touting my ability to identify each Teletubby by name would have appeared a bit . . . what's the term . . . lame-ass.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Eh? Speak Up, Sonny!

I officially became an old fogey today. No, it's not my birthday or anything. It's just that I took the plunge and added KABL to my radio pre-set lineup. My mornings are so pleasant now! No longer do I have to suffer through the mindless blathering and juvenile pranks of other "morning zoo" style radio shows . . . instead I groove along to the smooth, vintage song stylings of Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, Dusty Springfield, and Nat King Cole, interrupted only by the occasional earnest comment from the trio of kindly grandfathers who make up the "Lange Gang."

If that isn't bad enough, I recently paid Diablo Stereo in Pleasant Hill over $300 to completely refurbish an antique Motorola console phonograph that I inherited from my aunt and uncle when they moved into a retirement home. After sitting dormant for many years, all of the inner workings need to be cleaned and lubricated, and the old-fashioned crystal radio needs new vacuum tubes. I can't wait to get it back from the shop so I can lug all my boxes of LP's in from the garage and introduce my kids to the wonders of classic Styx, Joni Mitchell, and Rod Stewart - and of course, to lovingly revisit my complete set of Donny Osmond albums.

I was hoping to nab my uncle's record collection as well, but it was snapped up (rightfully so) by one of his daughters. I am sure there are a lot of rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts among the set. According to family lore, back in the 1960's my cousins begged and pleaded for a Beatles album, but their parents considered the Fab Four a little too edgy. Finally they agreed to a compromise. For Hanukkah that year, they presented their daughters with a brand-new copy of "Pat Boone Sings the Beatles."

I would kill to have that album! Sigh.