U.S. Capitol Building

We Used To Live In The Steinberg House

Jamison KoehlerMiscellaneous

Having sold our house in Virginia, we are now renting it back from the new owners. We will do this until we move to Baltimore in July.

No longer an owner of this house, I step out of the shower this morning to find a tree guy poking around in our back yard. I stick my head out the back door to see what he is up to. Are you the owner, he asks me?  It feels strange to tell him I am just a tenant. Major decisions about this house will now be made by someone else.

* * * * *

The poison ivy has taken over our back yard. The tree guy tells me he has never seen so much of it.

Although there is a nice patio on one side of the house, my wife and I never go in the back yard. In fact, in the four years we have lived at this house, I don’t think I have ever seen my wife back there.  Which, as it turns out, is a good thing given all that poison ivy.

The back yard is still wooded, given over to neglect. We are busy with other things. This is something we hope to change when we move to Baltimore.

* * * * *

The new owners are a nice young couple who are planning to have children soon. Adam, the husband, shows up just as I am about to leave for court. We plan to take down some trees, he tells me.  Although the trees are beautiful, he says, there is nothing more dangerous than a big tree crashing down on a house.

I tell him about the big tree on the other side of the house that fell into our neighbor’s yard during Hurricane Sandy, taking one of the neighbor’s trees with it.

But I resist the urge to tell him about one of my favorite movie scenes of all time.  This was from the movie of The World According to Garp:  Robin Williams and his wife are house-hunting with a realtor and are admiring a prospective house when a small prop plane sputters and then crashes into the house before their very eyes. We’ll take it, Williams says. It has been pre-disastered. We will be safe here.

I also should have told Adam about the drunk driver who crashed into our front yard one night a couple of years ago.  We live on a quiet street.  What are the odds of something like that happening twice at the same address?  The house has been pre-disastered.  It’s good to know that Adam and his family will be safe here.

* * * * *

We lived in the Steinberg house for seven years in Philadelphia. The Steinbergs had been in the house for 25 years, raising both of their girls. Although there was another set of owners between my family and the Steinbergs, everyone in the neighborhood still referred to 3815 The Oak Road as “the Steinberg house.”

Mr. Steinberg showed up one day with his daughters and their families. The daughters wanted to show their children the house they had grown up in. One of the daughters had gotten married in the side yard.  Mr. Steinberg even had pictures.

Another day I saw Mrs. Steinberg walking by on our street and I invited her in.  But she declined.  I think it might be too painful for me, she said.

* * * * *

Nobody is ever going to refer to the house we just sold as the Burke/Koehler house. We were there for only four years.  We knew when we moved in that we were going to be short-timers, waiting only for our last child to graduate from high school.

We didn’t meet some of our neighbors until the earthquake forced my son and me out of the house and into the street. An FBI investigator doing a background check on a neighbor down the street couldn’t believe I had no clue who the person was. Our next-door neighbor Bill tells us that everyone else in the neighborhood has always suspected that we are really in the witness protection program.

* * * * *

If my favorite address from all the houses we have ever lived in was the Vacation Lane house in Arlington (I never got tired of the jokes about that on the phone), my least favorite has to be “The Oak Road” from our house in Philadelphia.  Although you had to include the article to distinguish it from the other six Oak Roads, this didn’t translate well over the phone. No matter how carefully you tried to enunciate the first word, people always needed you to repeat it and then to spell it.  They got cranky the moment they realized you were spelling the word “the.”  It made them feel stupid.  No, no, you assure them.  Believe me, it happens all the time.

* * * * *

The Rakofsky lawsuit held up the financing on our new house.  It also doesn’t help that my wife and I are both self-employed and that my wife is keen on taking on unwinnable civil and human rights cases.

Assuming our financing goes through, our new house will be on Park Avenue.  That’s one of the things I love about Baltimore.  For every major street, bridge, monument or site in Baltimore, there is something by the same name in another city that is more famous.  It is not just Park Avenue. There is also Penn Station. And the Washington Monument. And Key Bridge, even though Baltimore has much more claim to Francis Scott Key than Washington D.C.

* * * * *

Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald was named after Francis Scott Key?  And that he also lived for a time in Baltimore?  We visited his house there in Bolton Hill.  In fact, we even submitted an offer on it.

The realtor couldn’t tell us which of the rooms Fitzgerald used to write in but I figured it out the moment we toured the house.  There is a big room on the second floor at the front of the house with a big fireplace.  I fancied myself using the same room for my home study.   Then someone else snatched up the house with an all-cash offer.

The house we are trying to buy is also on Park Avenue, just down the street from the F. Scott Fitzgerald house. The new house is also next door to the house they used for Kevin Spacey’s house in House of Cards. And because the Spacey house has the exact same layout and dimensions as the house we are trying to buy, watching the show has given us lots of ideas for decorating.

* * * * *

We used to rent out our house on The Oak Road for T.V. shows and commercials. This was before we had the yard redone, so we didn’t care about the trucks and tables and people all over the lawn, and our neighbors were very gracious about having the whole street shut down for a day or two. We would go to bed at night while they were still shooting downstairs. When we woke up the next morning, everything was put back exactly in place.  And they always fed our kids.

The last commercial shot there was the “Comcast dream house” commercial that ran nationally.  The commercial gave us tremendous leverage whenever we had to deal with Comcast. What do you mean you can’t have someone out here until next week?  Have you seen the Comcast dream house commercial?  How would it look if the Comcast dream house left Comcast?  The woman laughed as if I were kidding.  But she did have someone out there the very next day.

* * * * *

Standing in the driveway of our former house in Arlington with Adam and the tree guy, I realize that, because two of our children never even lived in this house, there won’t be that much to miss about it.  There were no first steps taken in this house; no children’s heights marked in closets ready to be painted over. Never again, if given the chance, will I put our initials into the cement of a home-made patio in the back of our house. I have learned from Mrs. Steinburg to respect my threshold for pain. It will just be my wife and me for this next go-round, presumably our last house in a string of houses.

My father once wrote of a game of croquet, the grass not quite the perfect lawn we planned and balls on thin soil rolling too far.  Old malice may have chipped the wood, balls out of round and colors that do not match. We alibi our game and our temper when in truth there is more than color faded.  Leave the wickets up when the game is over to stand or fall.  And in the autumn let the winter come, with summer just as short as spring.

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