Chap 2: Even air-raid sirens couldn’t deter me
The end of the month of June and the month of July are often scorcher months temperature-wise around here, and the first week of July back in 2000 was no exception. We had placed an offer on the house, it had been accepted and now it was time for all the wonderful things that happen when you’re “in escrow”.
Hubby had to work during the day, so I got to be the one that met with our agent while the inspections happened the morning of that first Wednesday of July 2000. How do I remember that it was the first Wednesday of that month? Well, I’ll tell you.
Our agent, Joan, and I were standing in the stuffy house as the inspector was going through every nook and cranny to determine if this house was sound enough to be a wise purchase. Hubby, Joan, and I had already been through a previous inspection on a previous property that we had wanted to buy. That previous inspection had uncovered issues that we were not willing to take on so we called the deal off. Having had a trial-run with our inspector, Jim, we knew he was good… really good. He left nothing uncovered. And he documented everything in a very well presented binder at the end of the whole shebang.
So on this hot day in July, Jim was crawling around in the 3 foot crawl space under the house checking the foundation. He was up in a non-insulated walk-in attic that had to be over 100 F or more even at that time in the morning. He poked, he prodded, he kicked, and he scraped.
While Jim was doing his inspecting, Joan and I stood around in the bare kitchen taking stock of the place. There was pale pink and green plaid wallpaper on the kitchen ceiling that had been there since the house was built. And it was encrusted with almost 60 years worth of cooking spatter and nicotine residue. This ceiling paper butted up against the laundry alcove off the eat-in kitchen area that had a bright red tomato patterned wallpaper (gotta love that combo). The rest of the walls were yellow while the kitchen cupboards had been faux wood-grained in a deep mahogany tone. Paired with the original black tile countertops and backsplashes, it was a real cave.
As we looked around, Joan was trying to be optimistic and cheerful but I could tell that she thought Hubby and I were extremely naïve and looking at things with much too rosy an outlook.
As we stood there chatting about all the DIY things I knew how to do because my parents built their own house when I was 6 years old, our conversation was suddenly interrupted by the wind up of a deafening air-raid siren. It sounded like I had walked into an old WW II movie. Joan’s eyes got huge and all her pretending that she wasn’t concerned for us went right out the window. The siren continued to blare for what seemed like an eternity (in reality it was probably about 60 seconds). We ascertained that the siren must be coming from the Shell oil refinery whose “lovely” stacks we can still see peeking over our tree-line in the back garden.
When the siren finally wound down (sounding much like a deflating goose), Joan rehearsed with me again how we could back out of the offer for various reasons. She reminded me that if we found out someone had died in the house, we could walk away from the deal (just in case there were ghosts). If we drove through the neighborhood at anytime during escrow and saw drug deals or seedy characters, we could walk away. And she intimated that if this air siren from the refinery was indicative that our health would be at risk, we could also walk away.
I suppose under any other circumstances, I would have been the first to say, “Air raid sirens aren’t my cup of tea. We’re walking.”
But surprisingly, I felt very calm inside. I had this peaceful sense that it was no big deal. I just smiled and genuinely giggled at the comedy of the whole situation. Joan laughed along with me, albeit nervously.
Jim completed his inspection not long after the siren had gone off.
I asked him what his preliminary verdict was. He said that he found the foundation to be sound. The house was even strapped to the foundation so it would be solid in an earthquake. He said the house “had good bones”. It just needed lots of TLC.
Joan asked him for a ballpark estimate on how much “TLC” we were looking at (again she was trying to be realistic with this obviously delusional woman standing next to her). Jim casually rattled the figure of $50,000 minimum to get the house truly livable. And despite that figure, again, I was calm and cool (not like me at all).
In the week following the inspections, our little house was tented in a large covering looking much like a dirty red and yellow circus tent so it could be fumigated. We drove by it once while it was all wrapped like a giant birthday present. It looked so odd like that. We were glad when the tenting came down.
The weeks of escrow passed quickly and soon we were signing the final documents that made the house ours. By July 28, 2000, we were handed the keys and the house was all ours.
The following week, on the first Wednesday of August, the air-raid sirens went off again… at 11 o’clock in the morning just like they had when Joan and I were there. It turns out that is the oil refinery’s scheduled monthly drill to make sure the sirens are operable and in working order.
And every Wednesday since then at 11:01 a.m we are serenaded with the sound of a deflating goose.
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