Farewell to the Shire

I lived in Swarthmore pretty much all of my life. Now I have left the peaceful shire to move into the city of Philadelphia. I can hardly believe I have lived here for two months. My life has totally changed and I love it.

Things have come full circle in a way. I don’t remember my birth, which also happened in Philadelphia, but by all accounts it involved a lot of activity, given that it happened two and a half months prematurely. After surviving that, my parents moved around a little. I have a vague memory of making an alarm clock radio make a loud squealing noise in Georgia, but not much else. After that, my parents moved to a suburb of Pennsylvania called Balacynwyd. I have some pretty clear memories of that, but couldn’t tell you the layout of the house. I did get my first computer there, an Apple II/e, which I still have and which still works. Around my eighth birthday we moved into a big house in Swarthmore, and I definitely remember that.

We lived in that big house for many years. We all loved it, especially growing up and not having to take care of maintenance and other more adult concerns. One day, my brother and I woke up to discover bulldozers in our backyard. “We’re getting a pool.” our Dad informed us. That pool provided us with many fond memories, and by pool I often mean the Jacuzzi which adjoined it. We practically lived in it during the summer and still miss it to this day. That house saw us through our childhood, the birth of my twin sisters, and our growth through adolescence and the turbulent high school time. It also saw us through my parents’ painful divorce. We all loved that house, but it did take a lot of work to maintain.

I moved out when I turned twenty-three into a crappy apartment. Even though by all measurable accounts it sucked when compared to the big and beautiful house, it still gave me my first taste of living on my own and I still enjoyed it for that reason.

Within a year I began to feel cramped in my tiny apartment, and decided to start looking for options. I also began to realize that having real estate makes a good tangible investment. In the summer of 2002 I found a house also in Swarthmore that fit the bill. I planned to live in it, get it fixed up, then sell it for a profit. It seemed like a lot of house for one person, but I stuck to my plan.

The house definitely needed some work. My brother does carpentry and other such work, and we went through it. The kitchen looked old, but then we walked into the mud room in back. “Please let me take this down! This piece of shit is ready to fall apart. Oh please!” my brother begged. He and I both have the engineering instinct to just rip something out and start from scratch so I agreed. I also agreed to let him rip out a crappy wall in my crappy bathroom. He put up a sheet of plastic in its place.

Mom’s friend designs kitchens, so we had her design a beautiful new kitchen and my brother built it. It took months of agonizing on and off work. I had to use cardboard for a countertop and watch where I step. One day, my brother said: “The sound you are about to hear is us moving a wall of your house.” On and on it went. Finally they had done it, I had a beautiful modern kitchen.

He also did some other work at that time. He built a back deck which I called the tobacco deck because we all smoked tobacco in the sweltering heat. I really enjoyed that deck, though it did get direct sun. He built a shed sort of thing. We planned to put screens around it to make a nice screened area, but that never happened. And after falling down the basement stairs he built a solid new set. That seemed like enough work for the time, and I enjoyed the next few years with my new kitchen and deck. All of this happened by the summer of 2003.

I knew at some point I would have to downsize. In the interim I did what I could to maintain the place and live my life in peace. I had gotten into the Lord of the Rings, and realized that Swarthmore reminds me a lot of the Shire, the peaceful idyllic region in MIddle Earth in which hobbits live. That felt just fine for me.

My brother had moved into the city to fix up a house of his own, a project he could really throw himself into. He told me of some new condos going up across the street and suggested I give them a look, but I brushed it off. Why the hell would I want to move into the smelly city with all that negativity? Mom and I continued looking for new places to live around Swarthmore.

As the economy worsened I knew that I could not sustain myself in that big house. Just keeping it clean and maintained cost a lot of money. The same held true for my Mom, who had also downsized. It cost a lot to live in Swarthmore. Things had begun to change.

In 2010 I knew I had to start preparing this place to sell. It wouldn’t happen immediately, but I had to do what I could to raise its value. First, I got my living room repainted. It didn’t look any different to me, but it did make the walls feel smoother, and everyone praised it.

Then, my upstairs bathroom needed replacing. The sheet of plastic still hung instead of a wall. It had become known as the ugliest bathroom in Swarthmore. So in May of that year we rebuilt it. My brother and some of his friends worked for a few weeks, and at the end I had a shiny new bathroom. We also fixed up the downstairs bathroom to have everything ready.

In september of 2011, my Mom’s stepsister Mimi, who also works as a realtor had a strange experience. One of her friends wanted to find a place to live. She expressed the same need. She also had all of us in mind. “Oh, I know the perfect place for you guys.” Her friend told her of these nice condos in the city, and pulled up right in front of my brother’s house. She showed her the very condos my brother told me to look at all that time ago. We could hardly believe it.

I admit that at first I didn’t really like the sound of living in a condo in the city, despite the amazing synchronicity. That all changed as soon as I saw it. I fell in love with it immediately. My crappy apartment felt too small, my house felt too big, but this felt just right. I knew I would live there. Mom and Mimi felt the same about the condos they had picked out for themselves. Now my whole family would move from the suburbs and live in the city.

Mimi also acted as my real estate agent. She told me a real estate saying: Buyers are liars. They don’t know what they want. They will say they will never live in a certain place then end up buying a house there. It happens all the time apparently and it happened with all of us.

Once I had made the decision, I had to prepare myself for the agonizing process of selling the house, packing, and moving. Packing and moving I had done before so had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but I had never sold a house. The process basically consists of having showings, where you let complete strangers and groups of strangers go through your house. They also like it if you leave the house, or at least keep out of the way. I did not enjoy this, but Mimi made things as bearable as possible. Fortunately, the process went as smoothly as it could have, and one day while watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, my house sold. We had done it! We had sold three houses in the worst real estate market Mimi can remember. She really deserves the credit here. I could never have done this myself. I even made a profit, a difficult thing to do with any investment right now. My plan had worked!

We schedule settlement for the end of January. Mimi had already sold her house. Mom had sold her house, and her settlement would happen a week before mine. It would get pretty nutty, we all knew that. Still as nutty things go I think it went as well as it could have.

We threw out so much crap in my house. I’ve collected technology since childhood, and as any tech person knows, you hold onto things because, you know, you might, like, need them some day. You might need an original 8-bit Soundblaster. You might need an IDE hard drive cable. You might need a thirteen-year-old laptop with a broken CD drive slot and a 56K modem as its only method of connecting to the outside world. Sure.

While going through all this stuff, several things became apparent. Cassettes have become ridiculously antiquated, though my buddy Jason Scott might not agree. Optical media like cd’s and dvd’s will soon become similarly antiquated before long. Old technology weighs a lot. I found an old portable printer I used to lug around during high school, and it still felt heavy and unwieldy as an adult. Technology goes out of date fast, but adaptive technology goes really out of date really fast. I threw out pretty much everything outdated, except for my old Braille ’n Speak. I just did not have the heart to.

Bags and bags of crap went out to the curb. Mom went to Good Will every day between our two houses. We accumulate so much stuff over time. It actually felt good to get rid of it. Some of it even had some bad energy. Get it all out!

The day got close and it felt like we still had a lot to do. We had a few terrible days but by the night before we had done it. I still had my computer and stereo to pack, but I could do that myself. I buckled down and did that, and found myself standing alone in a quiet house. It felt weird.

I thought about all the things that went on in this house, and all the packed stuff that went along with the memories. In the living room, I thought about all the great times I had listening to music and watching DVD’s. I lay down on my cool couch for the last time, since it would not fit in the condo. I went into the dining room, taking in the ambience. I had my tobacco cabinet here.

I walked into the kitchen, a real highlight of the house. I had many good meals here. It has an island and barstools, giving the whole thing a relaxed feel. The corion made for easy cleanup. It also has a gas stove, which sadly I would have to say good bye to. The condo only has electric. I felt a little sad about that.

I also felt sad about about a girl I loved who broke my heart, then broke my dishwasher. I know how to fix my emotions, but I don’t know the first thing about dishwashers. I got a repairman to fix it as best as he could, but it never quite closed properly again. I also thought about the Frigidaire refrigerator. I had a lot of problems with it. I even got a custom made braille sign that says: Frigidaire Sucks Balls! I wanted it to say something else that started with the letter F, but figured they’d never allow that so I compromised. Despite these imperfections, the kitchen has a joyful vibe.

I went upstairs and stood in my office. At least the people who bought my house would have a sweet FiOS connection wired for ethernet. I also did some work to clean up the power a little, since the house had a lot of old wiring and poor grounding. If you have never had to deal with a ground hum then you just can’t understand. Now the machines had fallen silent like a museum. Nothing hummed. I walked into the new upstairs bathroom and made sure I had packed all my toiletries. I knew the new owners would enjoy the new bathroom.

I walked into my quiet bedroom. I had just packed an overnight bag, a good idea when moving. I then took a breath, and walked into my meditation room. I loved this room. My friends loved this room. Steve Jobs loved his meditation rooms, as his biography pointed out. I knew i would really miss it, but the meditation technique I developed here gave me the internal tools to deal with this and know that something else would arise. Meditation comes from within, and a meditation space just mirrors this internal relationship.

After that jolt I lay down for a few hours sleep and then the most insane day ever began. I woke up at six o’clock or something. I quickly ate and the movers came right on time. They did not waste any time, and just kicked ass. While that happened, I went to my settlement. For a few hours I had no home. As we finalized things, we saw the moving truck going down the street. I had definitely moved.

We headed into the city. It felt weird. I arrived at my new condo and found the movers moving things in and putting my desk together. We made some decisions about arranging the furniture, and the unpacking continued. I felt so tired and things felt like a dream. Finally they had finished and left. We ate our first dinner together at Hawthorne’s Cafe, a good local place. I lay down in my new bedroom and prepared myself for my battle with Verizon.

While freaking out about moving, I talked to my awesome new friend Rachel. I told her that Swarthmore reminds me a lot of the Shire. She said: “I’ll bet you won’t go back to the shire. Frodo didn’t go back.” I could hardly speak. I knew she spoke the truth.

Having lived here a little while, I can already say that I love living in the city! It rules! It has so much authentic stuff. For example, we get real Italian restaurants instead of chain ones. I have a few health food stores within walking distance of me. I can get tons of vegetarian food either with a short walk, cab ride, or delivered. It really opens things up. Plus, the grid layout of Philadelphia makes navigation a lot easier. GPS comes in even more handy. I know I made the right move.

Interestingly, my cat loves it here too. I thought she’d feel scared, but she took right to it. Before she would just kind of hide out in my bedroom. Now she acts friendlier and more playful. She enjoys sitting in the loft, getting sun and overseeing the place. We both feel the same way.