Sunday, September 20, 2009


By Felix Carroll

If you’re ever looking for something super fun and neat to do with your family, put your house on the market during a recession.

It’s awesome!

While cynics may point out the potential for explosive, eyebrow-singeing discord, phooey to that, I say!

Here at 111 Front Street (3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, mountain views, good schools, you should buy it) we smile.

We’ve been smiling for eight weeks now, ever since that kindly, well-scrubbed real estate agent opened her hatchback, pulled out a For Sale sign and plugged it into our front lawn while smiling at us.

My wife noted at the time that our agent’s smile seemed as hard as glass, and I just looked at my wife and I smiled at her, and then she smiled back at me. She and I are now capable of carrying on quite emotionally demanding conversations while maintaining full smiles – like the ventriloquists do.

In the mornings, we sit on the front porch. The neighbors go by and nod, but they have long stopped asking “Any hits yet on the house?” because they sense quite palpably that my wife may suddenly charge after them and head-butt them. As we smile and as we wave, my wife, her lips not moving, will say something to me like, “Why are we selling this house again?”

And, smiling, I’ll say something like, “Because we signed a contract to buy a much cheaper house up the hill that has all that beautiful land. And we cannot back out of it now because we’d lose every penny we own.”

And she’ll say something like, “How did you talk me into this again?”

And I’ll say something like, “Quiet, the boy is watching.”

Indeed, the boy has been watching us very closely these days. He looks at one of us, then at the other, then back to the other. That’s because he’s concerned his mommy and his daddy have gone completely insane.

But he’s been doing a lot of smiling, too. And that’s because instead of getting to spend about 45 minutes each morning playing with his Star Wars figures, he gets to spend about 45 minutes each morning cleaning his room. And that’s because every single day there’s roughly a 3.75 percent chance that kindly woman who carries signs in her hatchback may visit his room joined by total strangers who seek safe passage around bunk beds.

He’s a very lucky child. He doesn’t realize there was a time only a few years ago when families, sadly, didn’t get the full, complete experience of trying to sell a house together as if their life depended on it. That’s because back then, if you put your house on the market, it would sell in about 32 seconds for about 500 percent more than what you purchased it.

He doesn’t understand there was a time – what I would call a “very, very boring time” -- when you could literally stand on your front lawn in boxer shorts, scratch your belly, and discharge firearms if you felt like it as prospective home buyers pulled up the driveway. You could even get into a shouting match with your neighbor over the meth lab he's running from his potting shed. And still, prospective home buyers would step around the dog poo and inquire of you whether you wouldn't mind if they gave you $8,000 more than your asking price.

But nowadays, oh, yes nowadays, we home sellers live in what I would call "fun houses" because we get to live in these houses for so much longer than home sellers of a few years ago. Fun because when we sleep, we sleep on the floor because we don't want to muss up the beds. When we eat, we try not to dirty any dishes, so we take turns thrusting Taco Bell burritos down our throats while leaning over the kitchen sink.

Fun, because for the first time since we bought this place we've hung pictures on the walls and stuffed books in the bookshelf and painted the bathroom an eye-fetching shade of brown and because everything looks so suddenly nice, so photo-spread gorgeous, that it makes us think really funny thoughts like, "Wow, maybe we should buy this place!" which is really funny when you think about it.

Fun, because when the phone rings and it's our real estate agent and she wants to show the house in T-minus-60 minutes, we get to stuff our bologna sandwiches into our pockets and mobilize like special ops, cleaning toilets, vacuuming staircases, throwing Legos into the freezer, shoving dirty coffee mugs into pillow cases, turning it all into museum-quality clean, then shoe-horning the cat, dog, kid, dirty laundry and spare pieces of lumber into the car and drive around the block for 20 to 35 minutes, smiling at our neighbors.

And I've got more good news!

Our smiles lately have found what I would call "new vigor." That's due to the realization that my wife and I wouldn't even be able to stop smiling now if we wanted to, and that's because we're both high as a kite from all the Clorox.

My main point is this: It's a really nice house, and you might want to buy it. Call me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Help Wanted

By Felix Carroll

You must be able to tell time. You must be able to alphabetize. You mustn’t have plans to move to a foreign country soon. And if you have psycho friends, forget it.

Also, for good measure, if, in retrospect, you believe the larger step for mankind wasn’t Neil Armstrong’s Tellatubie-like tread on the moon in 1969, but Elvis Presley’s pelvic toddle on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, then you could very well be a prime candidate for the coolest part-time job in Great Barrington.

Yep, Ron White is hiring.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Winging it with the early birds

By Felix Carroll

Memory is a tricky thing, but I seem to recall they came in a cloud of morning breath, and they were waving hayforks and flails, ready to sake and pummel. At a standstill, they revved their engines then let them die down to an eerie, ominous, feral-like purr.

Then, one of them — maybe their chief — a big, tall stranger, stepped out, walked up to my house and peered through our side door window. It was 7 a.m. He looked like the spooky Robert Mitchum character in the original “Cape Fear,” with a long-distance, hard-miles-logged trench coat, his face scarred deeply with perpetual insolence, his brow crossed like a shotgun scope.