Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons. Tonight!

We're going to see the Simpsons movie tonight. Stoker wanted to go to a midnight showing, but since I had to work today (he did not), I thought that would be unwise. I guess I'm at the age where I think things like, "that would be unwise." Three years ago I would have thought it more important to be one of the first to see the new Simpsons movie. And I would have done anything to hang out with a hottie like Stoker. And then after the movie I would have stayed up until 3 a.m. talking to him, and then risen at 7:45 the next morning to make it to work at 8.

Oh wait, I'm doing that now. I guess I should have just gone to the midnight showing.

It still irks me that Springfield, Tennessee didn't get the world premier. Vermont? C'mon! It doesn't even make any sense, unless their criteria wasn't based on a feasible location for where the Simspons' Springfield is. I'm not sure what their criteria was based on, some homemade video contest or something. But think of all the episodes where they almost reveal where Springfield is. It's the midwest! (Or even midsouth, as in Tennessee.) Vermont?

Remember the episode where Bart's class goes on a field trip to a Civil War site? It's the episode where the PTA disbands. Were ANY Civil War battles fought in Vermont? I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I'm going to have to say, NO.

Remember the episode where Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin rent a car and go to Knoxville to see the World's Fair? Ok, how long would it take to drive to Knoxville from Vermont? Fifteen hours! Can you imagine four little kids driving for fifteen hours straight, and that's not counting all their stops -- don' t they stop in Branson to see Andy Williams? That's an additional ten hours! A total trip of 1614 miles! I mean, you have to work up to those kinds of distances . . . you don't just drive 26 hours straight the first time you get behind the wheel.

Springfield, Tennessee to Knoxville, Tennessee is about three hours. AND, we have a Shelbyville! FYI, Vermont doesn't have a Shelbyville.

Anyway, Springfield, Tennessee may not have been the BIG, WORLD PREMIER spot, but they had a premier. Or two. I don't know, I didn't really pay attention. I looked into getting tickets, but you had to go up to Springfield last Monday to get them. You couldn't buy them, as far as I know. So, we'll be seeing it tonight.

And unlike SOME people who couldn't help but SPOIL the big Harry Potter surprise (Terry, I mean you), I won't accidentally explain the entire Simpsons movie in detail on my blog. I won't assume that everyone has already seen it, just because I happen to be one of the first to read it. I mean see it. But I will mention whether it's good, crappy, or life-altering. I'm expecting life-altering. Is that too much to hope for?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wright, Oliver, Dunn, and Hirsch

Today I'm reading poetry. I brought a few books from home and every few minutes, I'll pick up a book and read at random. Here are some particularly good lines from some of the poems I've read today*:

"This is the earnest work. Each of us is given
only so many mornings to do it--
to look around and love

the oily fur of our lives,
the hoof and the grass-stained muzzle."

Mary Oliver, from "The Deer"

"Snub end of a dismal year,
deep in the dwarf orchard,
The sky with its undercoat of blackwash and point stars,
I stand in the dark and answer to
My life, this shirt I want to take off,
which is on fire . . ."

Charles Wright, from "Reading Lao Tzu Again in the New Year"

"I can't remember
ever saying the exact word, tenderness,

though she did. It's a word I see now
you must be older to use,
you must have experienced the absence of it

often enough to know what silk and deep balm
it is
when at last it comes."

Stephen Dunn, from "Tenderness"

And there's this one I read again today, by the poet Edward Hirsch (from a book Shannon the Great gave to me), about his cat that I'd love to put on here. But I can't. It's too long. It's about his cat and how much he loves him. As with any great poet, he doesn't come right out and say, "I love my cat. This is a poem about my cat and how much I love my cat." He illustrates a moment. And it's pretty damn beautiful.

Of course, I'm always tempted to write poems about my cats. Who isn't? But I haven't. Not yet anyway. I'm waiting for the perfect image to happen. Hirsch's poem is called "Wild Gratitude" and it's found in the collection of that same name, which I find particularly telling.

Here. I give in. Here are a few lines from it, just to give you a hint of the beauty that awaits you: "And only then did I understand / It is Jeoffry -- and every creature like him -- / Who can teach us how to praise -- purring / In their own language, / Wreathing themselves in the living fire."

It just so happens that I've given you the last stanza. Which is sort of cheating. But as with any good poem, you've got to read the whole thing to really appreciate the carefulness of it. To appreciate its precision.

*I have tried to keep the orginal formats of the poems, line breaks and all, but the publishing feature erases them as soon as I hit "publish post." I'm not savvy enough to figure out a way around this. For original format, see the original poem in a book.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Few Days Later, the Healing Begins

It's hard to be mad about the house now. I feel like I've gone through a break up. I had my heart set on that house, you know? There was a short period of shock, disbelief, and mourning. But now I'm at the vengeful stage.

"How could the house do that to me?! Who did it think it was? That lying bastard!"

Honestly, now I just count myself lucky that we got out relatively unscathed. I mean, there are scars, of course. Of course there are scars. But at least we found out early on that it wasn't quite what it appeared to be. Before we got in too deep. Before we'd gotten too committed and breaking up would cost twenty thousand in repairs and a structural engineer to vouch for it's soundness. You know what I mean?

So, I'm moving on. And I think anyone who'd take that house would have to be a blind idiot. If they're smart, their love affair will be short-lived. Just long enough to figure out what lurks below the surface, in the crawl space (might I say it?). No backbone. You know. Nothing there. No integrity.

Integrity and backbone. Two essentials for a good relationship. With a house or a human.

Friday, July 20, 2007

And Then The Mother Raccoon Shreds the Insulation, Making a Nest for Her Babies . . .

I really think a family of raccoons lived in the house at some point. We almost bought it. We came this close to buying it. Then we had it inspected yesterday and we were lucky enough to get a thorough and honest inspector who charged a fortune, but can you really complain when he saves you from purchasing a former raccoon's nest? Do raccoons live in nests? Is it only rats who live in nests?

I know it was raccoons by the names of Angel and Sheila because those were the names written in the circuit breaker. They also seem to have operated a barber shop somewhere in the house. I imagine it was in the room with the black disco ceiling fan. Though it could have also been in the little room next to the closet and the master bathroom. I had thought there used to be a vanity in there. But now that I've put more of my deductive reasoning powers to work, it's occurred to me that one of the raccoons was a barber and he cut hair in the little room by the master bathroom. No vanity. Just a barber chair and maybe a mirror (both gone now, of course). Of all animals not in the homonoidea superfamily, the raccoon is the only one I can think of who could brandish clippers and a comb.

Angel and Sheila seem to have been fond of jury-rigging important household items like the water heater. They enjoyed storing their treasures in the ventilation ducts for later use, items such as nail files, crayons, and pogs. It was also extremely necessary that every room in the house be cable friendly, thus the six way cable splitter dangling from the house like a fly caught in a spider web.

Angel and Sheila also loved nestling in the insulation in the attic, or when it got too hot up there, down in the crawl space. The crawl space insulation was a little more tricky because first they had to rip it away from the air conditioning ducts. But that was actually convenient, as they could then tear a few holes in the duct and instantly cool the crawl space at the same time. And why have your dryer duct carry dryer heat and lint to the outside world when you could make another perfectly soft nest in the crawl space with all that heated lint by not connecting it to the dryer vent? For the winter of course. When the attic was too crowded.

The crawl space was the perfect spa for two raccoons.

Only raccoons would think a Lowe's emergency jack would really support a structure, when they realized their kitchen was sagging because it didn't have a finished foundation. And that was the biggest mistake of all. That was the real kicker. That's why we won't be buying that house. I could live with all the other crap. Rather, I could fix all that crap. But the sagging kitchen? No way.

To make a very long story short, I guess if you don't take care of your house while you're living in it, when you move out you realize you've been living like an animal. Or you never realize it and simply move on to the next house and destroy that one through neglect, too. It depends on your level of enlightenment. Do you collect crap and store it in the vents like a rat? Do you tear things apart and leave them a mess like a raccoon? Do you feel comfortable and cozy wallowing in your own filth like a pig? Or, are you more like a cat, bathing all the time?

So it's back to the drawing board for me and Stoker. In our defense, the house looked pretty good.

Pictures to come. Maybe. If I feel like it. If I get around to it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Tract of Land Surrounded by Water and Smaller than a Continent...

It's weird how we're all at different points in our lives, all of us. The normal ones. I have to make exception for the murderers and sociopaths among us. I don't count them as us. They are they. The others. I'm not sure why I have to make exception for them, but I always do that about everything. I think in stereotypes and then I sort it out from there, unraveling the stereotypes or confirming them.

When I say "our lives" and "all of us," I mean the people I work with and the people I pass on the street and the people in their cars, filling up the four lanes of traffic heading into downtown Nashville at 7:30 am. And I mean my grandma, across the country in the mountains of central Utah, sitting at home all by herself, probably reading or planning to go out with the other seniors who live in the tiny towns of the Sanpete valley. And I mean the kids going to school, not knowing how their lives will end up; and the people who are retiring, not knowing how the rest of their lives will feel.

It's just weird. My grandma is at a completely different point in her life. The twilight years, I like to think, where everything feels more quiet and everything seems a little less pressing. It's more about waiting and walking slow. She was once like me. Really passionate, determined to shape the universe into what she desired. She's really beautiful and I miss her.

I see other older people walking around, driving their cars really slow, like the car is about to take off and spin out of control, and I get a little annoyed with them. But then I think of my own grandma. I know she has worries and fears and I know there were times in her life where she probably wasn't sure she'd make it. To see her now you'd hardly think she ever lost her composure. I'm not sure she did. She's always smiling.

It's crazy to me that there are different things on our minds, her mind and my mind. And the people I work with. And the people driving their cars, on their way somewhere, getting in my way. Some of my coworkers are older and I know, though I forget sometimes, that they have concerns that are very different than mine. Some of them are more worried about their retirement than me. Some of them are probably thinking about being the primary breadwinner. So we all sit in this little room and it's so quiet I could scream, sometimes, just to make a noise and shake things up a bit. The white noise coming from who the hell knows where, hardly covers the sounds of us typing or moving in our creaking chairs. Quiet, but how loud would the sound of our voices be if the buzz of our thoughts could be heard?

It reminds me of the beginning of the German film, Wings of Desire. I own that dvd just so I can occasionally watch the first scenes, where the angels walk amongst the people (it really makes you think about what it means to be human: the beautiful little things like how newsprint leaves its mark on your fingertips). They can't be seen, but the people sometimes feel them close. As the angels draw near to a person, they can hear that person's thoughts. They hear all the mortal concerns and sometimes an angel just touches the person's shoulder and usually the person suddenly feels hope.

It's just like what I imagine it would sound like to be able to tune into all the millions of thoughts. I'm not saying I want to, unless of course, all the freakos are excluded from the calling. See, I have to have an exception. I don't want to be concerned with psychopaths unless I'm being asked to be a superhero and I can use the power to stop crimes from being committed. I just don't want to go there, into the freaky realm. The scary door.

That would be the problem with me and any supernatural powers. I'd use it to do good. But would it be good, ultimately? I guess it depends on what good means. If it means no pain or suffering, then I'm not sure it's good. That's why humans can never be trusted with supernatural powers. We could never be given the power of foresight, like, the power to see into the future and to grasp all the possible paths a person might take.

Take, for example, love. What if all my prayers had been answered and I'd been spared the pain of the break up with that first boyfriend right out of college? I'd have never married Stoker. But if there had been a superhero standing by, he'd have forced the ex-boyfriend into marrying me because it would have been good by some standards of bad and good. But from my perspective now, it would have been bad.

In any case. It's amazing how our paths cross and how we weave our lives together to make sense of our loneliness. I think we are islands, ultimately. All alone in our heads. But still, we rely on each other. Uh-huh.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Smaller Than Life

If I really think about it, I can't believe how small my life is. And I'm getting old, but I don't feel older. I still feel like this little kid whose big dreams keep her moving forward.

It's weird. I come to work every day and I sit here being real small and unimportant. Some days I have a lot of work to do and other days, like the past few weeks, I have nothing to work on. So I sit here and try to make sense of all this free time. Stoker teases me about it and we both get a kick out of how this tiny cubicle in the basement of this ugly building has nurtured my antisocial behavior. And by antisocial, I don't mean that I'm a nutcase. Although one could argue that that's what it is.

I research things on the web that I'm curious about and I check out Phd programs and I pine for all the things I secretly want but haven't the courage to go for. If I were a hustler like Stoker (and by hustler I mean a go-getter, nothing to do with the seedy magazine. Curse them for ruining a perfectly good word), I'd be generating an income in this free time. I'd be writing magazine articles and pitching ideas to magazines and publications all over the place.

But I'm an indecisive, over-analytical sort of person who pines away but never does anything. I mean, I do some things. But I don't do the right things. And I never make my mind up about anything pertinent. Because I'm so afraid of making the wrong choice, I never make any choice. It's pathetic.

And so my life is small. And it always will be. I'll always be smaller than life. And if you met me, you'd see that it shouldn't be like that, because I don't seem like a smaller than life type. I seem like I should conquer nations and manipulate political powers. Yeah, that's how I seem. Trust me.

I realize that all this is a total contradiction of my previous post. But if you knew me like, say, Stoker does, you'd see how it fits. It does. Believe me.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Buying a House and Doing the Triathlon Thing: Hard Things are Fun

You know how you always plan on doing something but you never do it? I've been that way my whole life. I've been planning on going back to college to get a doctorate. I've been planning on finding a teaching job and getting my teaching license. I've been planning on becoming a big adventurer.

I'm finally doing two things that I've been planning on doing for a while. We're buying a house and I'm getting ready for my first triathlon. I know! I know! It's amazing that I'm actually doing something.

For some time now I've been using the excuse that I'm still settling after getting married and moving twice, and yeah, that's why I haven't been getting things done. It's been over two years since I got married and we've been in Nashville for nearly a year and a half. I'm not sure how long it takes to get used to big changes, but I've always been a late bloomer (my favorite book, as a child, was Leo the Late Bloomer. I'm not kidding. I had my mom read it to me over and over again. It was very short).

I have no evidence to back this up, but I think big changes are harder to adapt to the older a person gets. That's been true for me, at least. I think it's because you get more familiar with how shitty life is. Even if you're a very positive person, you have to admit that life is quite crappy. Yes, you DO have to look on the bright side. It's very hard not to ogle the dark side of things.

Anyway, I finally took the bull by the horns and said, basically, to hell with convention* and not having the best gear and not having an easy place to swim, I'm going to be a damn triathlete. A sexy triathlete. I don't know if triathletes are typically considered sexy, but I think fitness is good looking. Fitness and living healthy are the bright side of things. The dark side is not being healthy when you could be healthy. Like when you choose to drink and smoke and live a depressing, harsh life as though you have something to prove about your misery.

That's just my opinion and I've been there before. And in most things I'm not very good at being middle of the road. So if I'm not trying to be healthy, I'm sliding towards the dark side of things. That's the way it works for me and I guess you could call that human nature.

So on Wednesday I found a place to swim. It's kind of a long drive and it's going to cost money, but it's a great program. I found it through the Googles (as the cool kids are saying these days). They swim two to three times a week and there are two coaches. On Wednesday I nearly drowned a few times because I'm so unfit for the pool. I've been running and riding a lot, so I'm pretty good there. Surprisingly enough, running and riding strength don't translate much into swimming strength. I guess that's the beauty of the triathlon.

But it worked out great. The coach already gave me some tips that improved my stroke immensely. The thing for me is always getting my chin out of the water enough to not drown. And you know how it is, when you're worried you're not breathing well and you're running out of breath, the panic makes you breathe harder and instead of focusing on swimming well, you're struggling to calm yourself down and all that.

When I got out of the pool at the end of the session, I could barely lift myself up onto the pool edge. I was so worn out. But it felt awesome.

Buying a house is a different story. It feels great too, but it also feels stressful. A couple of times both Stoker and I were about to snap. I don't know what that means, really. Not that we were both about to go berserk, but that we were about to say, "Hell no. Let's not buy a house." The two of us know that it will be a good thing. All the stuff leading up to the closing is just a gauntlet, to see if you really really want to buy a house.

It's a very hard thing to do. What kills me is that there are all these people who have done it. And there are people who do it at the same time as breaking the law, like with stolen social security numbers and stuff (that's what I've heard, anyway). How the hell do they get through that? They must have no soul.

*I'm not sure what convention is in this case.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Houseplant Liberation Committee at Work

I feel bad for the plants in my office. I just barely noticed that we have a few of them in my immediate work area. I have to say that if I were a plant, I'd want to be in a room with windows.

How do they even survive? There's absolutely no trace of sunlight in here, reflected, stray, or otherwise. Everything I've ever learned about plants is that they like to be in direct sunlight or at least near sunlight (indirect).

I suppose some of my co-workers keep the plants as a cheery reminder that there is life beyond this cold, dark dungeon where we work. Unfortunately for the plants they have no legs and thus no choice about being here, there, or anywhere. They are where we put them, whether it's in a cold cellar (like my workplace) with no light, or out in the middle of a treeless meadow with too much light.

Fortunately for us, when we're done with our shift here, we get to leave this dank basement behind to go outside and go home and along the way feel actual, real sunshine on our bodies. And we don't even need the sunshine for energy production like plants do.

I'm about to liberate some houseplants. I'm going to do it. Don't try to stop me!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Crowded Cities: More Room in the Country for Me

Contradictions are nice. I love contrasts. I get a kick out of simultaneously hating people and loving them all at the once.

For example, I love how irritating traffic is. Where have all these people come from? Where are they hiding on a Sunday morning? They're like lemmings. They go into their homes on the weekend, multiply like rabbits, and on Monday morning it's like the population has swelled by fifty thousand.

They say by 2030 sixty percent of the world's population will live in cities (link). I don't know if that strikes fear into the heart of other people, but it does into me. They say as you grow older, your pain threshold increases (link). Maybe that's true, but I can't find any scientific data to support the theory that as you age, your tolerance for crowds decreases. I know that mine has.

There was a loud group of people in the café where I went at lunch. They were shouting and whooping and clapping like they were at a revival. I looked around for a preacher, but didn't see one. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed the discrepancy between the environment and the behavior of the people at that table. Everyone else seemed engrossed in their own thing.

Their loud, boorish antics went on. I could see that one of the guys was telling a story and two of the ladies were very into it. I wonder what he was saying. It must have been hilarious.

As a group they earned my disdain. As individuals, I'd probably appreciate them. Beautiful contrast. But I'm still going to buy a home in the country first chance I get.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Harper's and Pecans

Busy today. Reading an article from the May 2006 Harper's about hog farming in the U.S. It's a disgusting practice. I'm all for capitalism, but is it really ethical to artificially inseminate animals en masse? I think not. I'll tell you all about it when I'm done with the article.

I'm also eating these delicious snacks I found at REI, they're called Sahale Snacks and I'd walk across the Sahara to obtain a package of the Valdosta blend. I really would.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bike Shop Ruins Customer

I feel like the guys at the bike shop were talking smack about me.

You know how it is. You ask one of the sales people a bunch of questions. You let them know what you're looking for and why. And then one of the sales guys' girlfriends comes in and they've put you up to asking her about some women's cycling club and the two sales guys retreat to behind the counter. You're left standing near the front door talking to the girlfriend and you happen to notice the sideways glance of one of the sales guys. Like he's talking about you to the other guy.

How else can this sideways glance be interpreted? You know what a sideways glance is. It's the indirect look that's supposed to disguise the fact that a person is talking about you (we've all done it). The "I'm looking at the cash register here, not at you. See, my head is even angled downwards." As though you can't see the whites of the eyes that are so obviously fixed on you. It's hilarious.

But also incredibly disconcerting. As I left and got in my car, all I could think about was "What the hell were they saying?" And then I'm left to run through everything I said and everything I did. I replay it over and over in my head. I said this and this. He said this and this. And then it's like, "Wait, he kept mentioning his girlfriend. Did he think, somehow, that I was picking up on him just because I was asking questions?" And then I’m like, "Why the hell would he think that? I have a ring on and I didn’t flirt and it's his job to answer my questions." Then I wonder if I unintentionally sent signals.

And then I become a wreck. Then I wonder if I was one of those annoying customers who dream big but never do a damn thing. Then I remember how he said something like, "Yeah, tons of people come in here looking for triathlon bikes . . ." And there's that elliptical phrase, the unspoken, "but they never buy them and I doubt if they ever actually do a triathlon."

And then I think, "Well, I'll show you, Mr. Arsehole." And then I'm calling him names without actually knowing whether or not he was talking crap about me to his stupid co-worker and, after I left, the girlfriend too.

See, you can't ever do that. Unless you really hope a customer like me never comes into your stupid specialty shop again (I was the only customer in the store, by the way), you can't go behind the counter and have a word about the customer. And if you're not having a word about the customer, you really shouldn't do the eye thing, the sideways glance. Because it LOOKS like you're talking crap about someone. This goes for all social interactions.

By the way, the nice girlfriend: ripped as hell. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were veins popping out of her biceps. That sounds like an exaggeration but it completely isn't. She's probably nice as hell, too. I just couldn't believe my eyes, that's all.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What to Do for the Fourth

I have a day off tomorrow. In the middle of the week. I know they can't change the day the country gained independence, but would they? I mean, it doesn't help me much to have a day off on Wednesday, unless I take two extra days off.

They do other things, I don't know why they wouldn't move the fourth to a Friday or a Monday.

So what to do with that one day? I'm not sure yet. We just barely found out Stoker won't have to work. All I know is that we won't be camping. Tennessee isn't a great place to camp in the summer. Have you seen the bugs here? Well, rest assured they've seen you and they like what they're seeing. They're thinking it's time for a feast. They're thinking pass the salt and get me a knife and a bib.

Yeah, so be careful. I'm not kidding. Especially be careful if you're used to a four-season high desert with just a spider or two and an occasional stink bug. The bugs here have longer to evolve. Soon they'll be building tiny cities with tiny technology: anti-aircraft missiles, nuclear bombs, and giant robots they control in a cockpit behind an eyeball. It will be war on the human race. The bugs will win, enslave humanity, and reign supreme over the earth.

That's how it feels in Tennessee at night. In the woods. Bug spray is futile, so don't even try it. They'll only laugh.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Shopping for a House in Nashville

We're looking for a house. To buy. I know, I know. It's a million things all in one: scary, exciting, exhausting, scary, and exciting. Tell me about it.

Stoker is always at work, so when do we have time to even look at houses? We don't, usually, but we went to look yesterday. The only day off Stoker has had in a while where we knew two days beforehand that he had a day off.

Flashbacks and the Unattainable Neighborhood

It sucks looking at other people's houses. Especially when they vacated the house quickly and left it a mess. It spurs flashbacks to my mom's house and the Underwood's who rented it just before the divorce. In my dad's real estate gluttony, we rented that house and moved into a new duplex. That's when everything fell to pieces and then the Underwood's were sent packing and we retreated back to the old house -- our dad kept the duplex. The Underwood's had ruined everything and the things they didn't want, they left behind for me and my sisters to throw away. It was awesome.

I guess it wouldn't be a problem if Stoker and I could afford an expensive house in an upscale neighborhood. But, ha ha ha ha, we can't. When we were driving around yesterday, we called a for-sale-by-owner number to find out their asking price. The house was smaller and in a nice neighborhood. A rich neighborhood. I asked the man what their asking price was. He told me the price and I coughed and choked and cleared my throat and said, "Ok, thanks, buh-bye now."

That's not what I said. And I kept my composure. But Stoker and I relived the moment and laughed about it a lot after I hung up the phone.

You Get What You Pay For; Or, How a Free-Market Society Works

What were we thinking? I mean, what fantasy-land were we living in when we thought the two of us -- poor, white-trash ne'er-do-wells -- could afford even a 600 square foot house in THAT neighborhood? Hardy har har.

Don't you just wonder how a person justifies selling a house for the price they're selling it for? I mean, take an 800 square foot house in a nice neighborhood. That tiny, cramped cottage could sell for $500,000 in some neighborhoods and no one would be allowed to bat an eyelash. That's what it's worth because it's a nice neighborhood.

Some of the neighborhoods we drove around in were really frightening. At any minute we expected to be ambushed and made to get out of our car by a gang of hoodlums, who would then take our car on a joyride to the see the sun sphere at the Knoxville world's fair.

But we could totally afford a mansion in those neighborhoods.

Navigating the Waters of a Codified Language and a Specialized Market

Buying a house is tricky. There are all these unspoken rules. And there are things your agent can't say. For instance, our agent can't say that the neighborhood we're looking in is dangerous and teeming with gangs, drugs, and murder (in 2003, Nashville had 74 murders, 1.7 percent higher than the national average). Even though that information would be helpful to us, because in Nashville there are so many neighborhoods that we know so little about. She can try to tell us about the neighborhood by using a difficult to understand code language, with phrases like, "That area has changed." Or "That part of town is really fast-paced." None of which sound like what she means: "That area is scary as hell. I saw hypodermics in the gutter and I saw a man get shot outside a gas station."

And they say you don't want to have the nicest house on your street, for appraisal reasons. But you also don't want to have the ugliest house on the street. Our agent can't tell us where we should live, though that would be helpful too (but knowing me I'd do the exact opposite of what she told us to do). She can't really tell us which areas she thinks will increase in value, though that would be extremely helpful, too. We'd love to buy a house and watch the area change (for the better) overnight and the value of the house appreciate fifty thousand dollars in nine months.

Anyway, the point is that the only way to learn how to buy a house, really, is to do it. And it kind of sucks. Especially when you get to a house and it's 95 degrees outside with 65 percent humidity and the house you're checking out has been shut up for a day and it smells like the previous owners housed birds and dogs and snakes and quite possibly, ducks. That's when you decide you can afford to look at houses ten to twenty thousand dollars MORE than the house you're standing in, with it's old red carpet and water-heater in the hallway.

Also, it helps to have vision.