The sky wept here in Brooklyn Saturday. Was it the remnants of Hurricane Ernesto, slogging up the East Coast--or were the heavens wracked with recollection of the day we closed on the CrazyStable, September 2, 1986? (Either way, the roof's Valley of Death leaked so copiously that we upgraded from foil roasting pans to an old baby bathtub...and a new leak popped open in the pristine snowy ceiling of Dear Tenant's freshly re-plastered apartment.)
Our closing day was as nerve-wracking as the one immortalized by Dave Barry (in which he describes signing an endless parade of documents including, perhaps, the realtor's toaster warranty, or a description of the digestive system of a badger). We signed papers, and we signed checks--checks for just about all the money we had (except for a lump sum to fix the roof and electrical systems--that was the rest of the money we had), along with a good chunk of all the money our surviving parents had. Mr. Chang, the seller, said little, speaking in Chinese with his lawyer, a wizened little Hobbit named Mr. Pan. Our lawyer, Morty, was also Hobbit-sized, but mustachio'd and pure old-style Brooklyn. During the course of closing, we got to watch the two Hobbit Lawyers, Chinese and Jewish versions, engage in an elegant little legal tour-de-force: They used a yellow legal pad to save our deal from disaster.
Because, the day before, we had shown up at the CrazyStable to perform a routine called the "walk-through." It's just that--a chance to make sure that, on the eve of closing, your seller hasn't, say, burned the house down or sold the copper pipes for scrap. A mere formality in most cases, but in our case, these both seemed like real possibilities.
What we found on our inspection, however, was...that nothing had changed. No pipe-selling, but nothing else had vacated the premises either since our house inspection the previous spring--cheap furniture still there, basement still stuffed to the rafters with unidentifiable crap, even some occupants still puttering around. What the hell?
We had called Morty in a panic. The place was to have been delivered "broom clean" (a strange concept in a house coated in sticky black gunk with a lint coating, but you get the picture--all portable debris was to have been removed). Not to worry, said Morty--the closing would go on, but he'd execute an "escrow rider" or something that basically gave Chang two weeks to clear out the junk or else pay us $10,000 to do it ourselves.
And so it went, as Morty and Pan scribbled at length with nice ballpoint pens on the yellow legal pad, which everyone of course dutifully signed. "Bloom creen," muttered Pan to Chang, who betrayed no guilt or remorse over the affair. It was over. We staggered out onto Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, looking for once in our lives for a place to get hammered. We couldn't even manage to find a bar (I realize now we should have gone to a hotel, but we were in shock), so we went to a fancy little ice-cream parlor in the Fifties and stuffed ourselves with sundaes as twilight fell. The CrazyStable was ours.
The next day, with trepidation, we drove up to its stockade gates. Now the place was a whirl of activity; the barren front yard looked like the set for Sanford and Son.
One little old Chinese man was carrying up all this stuff from the basement on his back, in time-dishonored coolie fashion, God help him, while Chang, a strapping middle-aged layabout, laid about. Well, no, he kept busy negotiating with us to keep some of the crap and thus reduce his dumpstering fees. "You buy furniture!" he wheedled. No, no, and no. (We later learned that he'd pitched it to everyone on the block.) Then: "Okay. I give you furniture!" No! However, I added, seeing a few intact tables and bureaus, you could leave those two if you want. Chang's face lit up with scorn. "Aha! Now you WANT furniture!"
At the end of the day, the house was not bloom-creen, and we haven't really finished cleaning it 20 years later. But the busted chairs, car seats, and mattresses were gone, and so, mysteriously and immediately, were the poor tenants. A few filthy appliances were left in the two kitchens, and trails of white powder (some lethal ancient roach-killer, we presumed) festooned the floors; we vacuumed them up, the heroic last act of my parents' 30-year-old canister vaccuum before its motor burned out in despair.
It would be close to a month before we moved in on October 1, 1986--a month we spent shuttling between our cozy Park Slope newlywed apartment and 3,000 square feet of Flatbush squalor. The nightmarish part of our dream had begun.
"And you will say to yourself, this is not my beautiful house...
And you will ask yourself, my God, what have I done?"
--The Talking Heads