The husband and I are going as the Joneses for Halloween—Indiana and Jessica. He’s got the hat, I’ve got the leather jacket and grey scarf, and both of us favor costumes that allow us to dress more or less how we always do. Admittedly I would never have thought to be Jessica Jones if the husband’s kids weren’t fans of the show and I hadn’t caught a few episodes depicting the glumly edgy Marvel superhero. I’m pretty bad about keeping up with TV; most of the time I’m years behind, and if I happen to be watching something currently popular, I almost always forget to watch it one week and then lose interest. (I am also, by the way, possibly the only person in the world who actively seeks out spoilers so I don’t have to bother with watching the whole damn show, and my forgetting that I am in fact the only person like this has gotten me into a lot of trouble for blurting out things like “Abraham and Glenn.” You, uh, already knew about them, right?)
There are pretty much only three things I watch fairly consistently: 1) Baseball, 2) Animal documentaries, and 3) Home improvement shows. Baseball is just about finished for the season, and animal documentaries are few and far between (the channels that should be showing this stuff tend to feature instead shows about “rugged” people who live “extreme” lifestyles where nothing all that dramatic really happens even though the narrator assures us that death by bear, snake, shark, or avalanche could happen at any moment). That leaves home improvement, which in truth isn’t all that different from much of the rest of television. Impossibly attractive people are put in made-up situations contrived to produce conflict and rising tension all leading to a happy resolution. In this case the conflict involves things like house-hunting couples who disagree on house styles (someone always says they like mid-century modern, even though I’m pretty sure no one in real life has ever said that, because no one in real life knows what the hell that means).
You might think this sounds unimaginably dull, but you’d be surprised. Even the dullest show provides nearly endless opportunities for snark. A few examples:
- Curb appeal. Why is this even a thing? How many times you gonna stand on the curb looking at your house?
- Bathroom size. Why do so many people complain about how small the bathroom is? What are they planning on doing in there, rhythmic gymnastics?
- Bathtubs. Why do people want them? What exactly is the point? You sit there like a dufus waiting as scalding hot water parboils your body just so you can enjoy the minute and a half that the water is the perfect temperature before you’re left sitting in cold dirty water. This is fun somehow?
- Subway tiles. Every last designer wants to do the backsplash in subway tiles. Right, because nothing says clean and sanitary like the walls of a New York City subway station.
- People who complain about “cookie-cutter houses.” You do realize you just criticized the way all these houses are exactly the same by using exactly the same phrase everyone else uses to describe them, right?
- A house that has a perfectly usable kitchen or bathroom but because the cabinets aren’t white or Shaker or otherwise don’t go with the subway tiles you have planned, you’ve simply got to take a sledgehammer to it and haul everything away. You can’t, like, carefully remove it so someone else can use it, no. It’s hammer time.
- That one designer who puts the same things on the walls of every single house. A big clock. An antique map. And always, always some insipid tautology like “Today is a good day to have a good day” in shiny metal script.
- Many materials can be used for countertops. Granite is only one of these. There is no need to pout because a house doesn’t have it, or to shriek with ecstasy because it does. Ditto hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, and Travertine tiles, which as far as I can tell are just regular tiles with a monastic-sounding name.
After a while my commentary pretty much devolves into a single theme.
“F--- CLAWFOOT TUBS.”
“F--- SUBWAY F---ING TILES.”
“F--- YOUR F---ING SLEDGEHAMMER, YOU STUPID WASTEFUL F---.”
“TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO GO F--- YOURSELF!”
The husband finds all this occasionally alarming but mostly amusing, especially when I go all potty-mouthed. To his great credit, he never asks why I continue to watch these shows when they piss me off so much; he just rolls with it, assuming there must be some reason I persist. The truth is I don’t really have a good reason, though I do have a genuine interest in design, paradoxically because I’m not all that skilled in it. Some people are only interested in things they’re good at, and while I’m like that in some respects, there are also things that captivate me precisely because I’m thoroughly mediocre at them. This mediocrity gives me a deep appreciation for those who truly excel at them. I love the idea of taking an old rundown house and fixing it up myself. I love the idea, yes, but lack all ability, which is why my first foray into real estate was a condo that didn’t even require so much as a coat of paint when I moved in.
Five years later, I’m about to enter my second foray into real estate, and it could not be more different from the first. It’s 116 years old, it’s on 4 acres, it’s just west of the middle of nowhere, and it does in fact need to be painted—one of these days, when we get around to it, after the fifty billion other things we’ll need to do to make it habitable, as it’s pretty much a shithole. Projects! Projects everywhere! There are two front doors, a real one and a fake one, but no kitchen appliances, stainless steel or otherwise. There are holes in the ceiling, cracks in the drywall, and a stain on the master bedroom floor that looks like it might once have been cordoned off by police tape. There’s an old deer pen on the property—there used to be a deer farm here, which as I understand it isn’t as much to produce venison as it is to sell deer pee to hunters—and right now it’s thick with brambles that will likely require many hours with a machete. Right behind the house is a pile of junk the previous owners somehow thought would disappear if they moved it behind the house. The pile includes an exercise bike, a filthy mattress (there’s always a filthy mattress), and six TV sets—basically every television these people owned for the past 50 years, dating back to a huge Sears brand the size of a dorm fridge, with big clicky buttons in lieu of a dial or a remote control. It’s like the history of television all in one broken-down place.
The husband and I have had our eyes on this shithole for some time now; it’s a short sale, which has meant no end of runaround and hoop-jumping. It also means we’re getting it for crazy cheap, which further means it will almost certainly turn out to be a money pit. But it has acreage, which we need to fly our birds and possibly expand our home menagerie, and it may allow us to live a somewhat more off-grid lifestyle—growing more of our own food, using alternative energy sources, making and doing more while buying and consuming less, yeah, all that. It’s enormously exciting and absolutely terrifying at once.
“So this is your revenge on me because I made you watch so much HGTV, right?” I joked to him as soon as we put in our offer.
“Are you having second thoughts?” he asked seriously.
Of course I was. Of course we both are, and continue to do so. We’re both too practical and realistic to imagine this is all going to be pure joy from start to finish. I swear a lot just watching TV; can you imagine the concert of cussing that will accompany my attempts to sand floorboards, strip wallpaper, and dig about a million postholes for fencing in the property? I’ve screamed myself hoarse when I couldn’t get the zipper of my rainjacket back on track. This is gonna be interesting.
And that’s pretty much the point. It will be interesting. It will not be easy or predictable, and we’re going into this having only a vague idea of what exactly we’ve gotten into. That’s one of the cool things about living something instead of just watching a show about it: there’s no chance for spoilers. Who knows what lies ahead for the Joneses, but it’s sure to be an adventure.