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There's no place like home for cost and aggravation


I had a hilarious joke that I was going to start this column with, but I can't find it. I can't find anything. We just moved into a new old house, and all our possessions, including dirty underwear and dust balls the size of adult cocker spaniels, have been carefully wrapped in paper and put inside cardboard boxes that were taped securely shut by professional movers (motto: "Just Try To Find Your Remote Control!").

The one thing I can find is incomprehensible legal documents relating to the purchase of the house. We have bales of those. We don't have room to store them all. We're thinking of holding a yard sale with a sign that says: "Incomprehensible Legal Documents -- Never Read by Owners!"

We got these documents at the real-estate closing ceremony, where our lawyer and the seller's apparently had a side bet to see who could get his clients to sign their names the most times. I'm pretty sure that at one point in there we signed some kind of tariff agreement with Belgium.

It would not surprise me if, one of these days, large men appeared on my doorstep and said, "Mr. Barry, we have come to take you to the arena where, in accordance with the binding contract you signed when you purchased your house, you must fight Zomba the Death Snake."

We've actually been signing documents for a couple of months, dating back to when we made our first offer on the house, and our real-estate agent had us sign an official warning from the state of Florida informing us that, if we purchased this house, we should not eat the paint. Really. We also signed a document concerning radon gas, but I can't remember much about that one, except that radon gas is colorless and odorless and Florida wanted us, as home-buyers, to be nervous about it.

(For some reason, the state of Florida did not warn us that if we, as homeowners, step on the end of a rake, the handle might jump up and whack us in the eye. Presumably this oversight will be corrected in the next session of the Legislature.)

Because of the radon gas danger I'm trying not to breathe too much as I open boxes, hunting for food. I have no idea which of these boxes the food is in, and even if I find it, I'm sure each individual Triscuit will be wrapped by professional movers in a sheet of paper the size of a soccer field. If I don't find some food soon, I may eat a couple of roofing shingles. I figurethey must be safe, because otherwise the state of Florida would have warned us about them.

The reason I'm concerned about nourishment is that I want to be strong for when the workmen tell us how much they're going to charge us for crawling under the house. This is necessary because we bought a house constructed in the early 1900s, when electricity did not go as fast as it does today. Back in those days, the typical house required only about one electrical volt, which would mosey at a sedate pace from room to room on wires that were handmade out of beeswax.

So our electrical system needs to be upgraded, which means that workmen have to crawl under the house, which is something that I personally would not do for Bill Gates' entire net worth. This is South Florida, which proudly bills itself as "The Big Hairy Irate Spider Capital of the Nation." There are spider families that have been living under this house for many generations. I suspect that at various sites under the house there are large wads of spider webbing, shaped vaguely like workmen, left over from previous attempts to upgrade the electrical system.

On top of this, I have no idea how electricity works, or what it should cost to get more of it. The workmen can can say, "OK, Mr. Barry, to get the correct wattage so your house won't burn to the ground every time you use the toaster, we're going to have to replace your volt, plus we have to install a complete new set of amperes, plus you really should change the filter on your radon-gas generator, for a total of $2,973.64 for labor and parts, plus the standard $117 million for crawling under the house."

These figures of course do not include improvements to the plumbing system, which is also pretty old. So we could be writing a lot of checks, if we ever find our checkbook. But I can't look for it right now. Right now, according to the men at the door, I must, as a homeowner, fight Zomba.

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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