The View From Away: There's no place like a home next to Tony and Becky

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When we decided to put our house on the market, we thought the hard part would be figuring out what to do next. “It’s a great house at a great price, the market has more or less hit bottom, it shouldn’t take long and then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do.”


The market had hit bottom more or less. More for some houses, less for others, like houses at our “price point,” as our agent put it, I suspect in an attempt to depersonalize a deeply personal transaction. It becomes more personal as time goes by without much “market activity,” speaking of depersonalizing.

You can’t help but take it personally, though. No matter how well your brain understands the vagaries of a difficult economy, your heart just can’t understand why nobody seems to want something you liked so much you were willing to make it your biggest single purchase.

The longer the process goes on, the harder it is to take. And our process went on, and on. You know your house has been on the market a long time when the “For Sale” sign starts to tilt. It’s not surprising. It wasn’t meant to be a permanent fixture. Nevertheless, it’s depressing to see the smiling faces of your Realtors slowly start to lean until they resemble an election poster glued to the Tower of Pisa. By the way, if this ever happens to you, God forbid, don’t try to fix it; you’ll just make it worse. Not that my wife warned me and turned out to be right.

What really gets to you when it takes a long time to sell is how much time you have to realize what you’re giving up. We really do have a great house in a great neighborhood, and it’s going to be hard to leave. We moved to the East Coast to be near our son while he was in prep school, but we fell in love with Portland, and our street, and our neighbors. We live near the airport. In return for hearing maybe two planes a week, we have a two-minute drive whenever we have to fly, plus we get to be on the part of the power grid that gets restored first after an outage.

And it’s a cul de sac, so traffic is something that happens to other people. We have a block party every summer, where we get to experience how warm and funny our neighbors are. Maine has a reputation for a reserve that borders on standoffishness, but you couldn’t prove it by the people on our block. They’ve been great. They all deserve special mention. I hope they’ll understand that when I talk about our next-door neighbors, I’m talking about them as well.

Tony and Becky are people who see what needs to be done and do it. They mow the grass and landscape the middle of the cul de sac. After the first big snow in our first winter, while I was laying in bed paralyzed by flashbacks of shoveling miles of driveway in Michigan, I heard a rumbling outside my window. Tony and his snow blower were digging us out. He seemed embarrassed when I went out to thank him.

“Well, I had to do my driveway anyway, so … .” Yeah, Tony. You had to get up, put on a ton of uncomfortable clothes, go out into the freezing cold to do a lot of work anyway, so why not do twice as much? He may believe I would do the same for him. I’d like to think so, but I wouldn’t want to test the hypothesis. Of course, this was not an isolated incident.

Even more heroically, they are unfailingly gracious about our two miniature dachshunds, Ruby and Blackie, 20 pounds (combined) of atavistic canine fury who seem to live for the sole purpose of terrorizing Tony’s beautiful, friendly golden retriever. According to our dogs, Brady is not only not allowed in our yard, he’s not allowed in his yard when Blackie or Ruby are in our yard. They are not above taking a nip to enforce their will.

Despite this shabby treatment, Becky and Tony have said things like, “Brady knows he’s not supposed to be over here,” or “You’d think he would have figured out by now that Blackie and Ruby don’t want to play with him.” Or that they’re borderline psychotics about their territory. OK, dogs probably don’t psychoanalyze other dogs. My point is that Tony and Becky handle an awkward situation gracefully.

You don’t want to give up being surrounded by people like that, and when the house doesn’t sell, you kind of fool yourself into thinking maybe you won’t have to. Then a few weeks ago the house went under contract. Moving became real again.

Last weekend a nonprofit that owns and operates group homes for special needs adults, Port Resources, came to collect some furniture we were donating. Three of the movers: Tony and his sons. They happened to be home, they wanted to help out, and, oh yeah, Tony is on their board.

We’re excited about our move, but we’re also sad. We’ll find other neighbors, just not better ones.

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Portland resident Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at