Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Renting

I’ve been so excited by electronic books that I have both a Nook and an iPad.  Getting books on the iPad also allows me to read them on my iPhone.  I love that I can always have a book available.  The only problem is that when I fall in love with a book I want to loan it to others.  With ebooks I don’t end up with a physical paper copy of words.  I was bemoaning this to Elizabeth the other day and said I wished we could get books to read and then when we finished take them someplace where other people could read them.  She looked at me kind of funny for a long time then finally said, “Mom.  They already have that.  They’re called libraries."

Borrowing.  Renting.  They’re basically the same thing.  And it’s far more than books.  I've found that you can borrow an experience. Some experiences are for forever and some are only temporary-- testing out a part of your life to see if it fits and you want to keep it.  Some experiences you know from the start have a shelf life like beauty pageants and mountain climbing.  But some you’re not sure if you want to make room in your life for it so it would be good if we could just try them out before we committed to them.

About 15 years ago my car had reached its lifespan and it was time for a new one.  I had reached the age women achieve, if they are very lucky, where we know what we want and know we deserve it.  And I wanted a convertible.  Specifically, a red Mustang convertible.  In my dreams it was a ’65 model, mostly because I still consider that body style the perfection of car shapes.  1965 was also the year I graduated from high school.  That car would have been the car my Daddy got me as a graduation present if my Daddy had been Donald Trump, real estate mogul, instead of Sam Stuart, World War II veteran and depression survivor who did not believe in rewarding your child with an automobile simply because they managed to stumble through high school.  Instead, I bought a used Volkswagon with my own money after riding the bus to work for a year.

Whatever.  I still felt the universe owed me a red Mustang convertible.

Beaven patiently laid out ten or so reasons why I did not want to own a convertible:  they’re hot, noisy, inconvenient, and leaky when it rains.  They are an open door to theft.  They have a horrible re-sale value.  Yada, yada, yada. 

I was undeterred.  I had also reached that “time” of my life where a woman is a walking festival of emotions, opinions, and temperatures, and generally scare their men to death. Taking a step backwards, he was willing to hear me out.

“I just need to get it out of my system,” I told him.   That’s when Beaven came up with the perfect solution. “Rent one for a week and see how you feel.”  And so I did. I went to the airport and rented a red Mustang convertible for a week. 

It was all the things he had told me.  Noisy: you couldn’t carry on a conversation.  You had to turn the radio up so high that when you came to a stop light the sound blasted you out of your seat.  It was hot.  I sweat like a pig driving it.  I wore sunglasses not just to look cool but because the glare blinded me.  I ran red lights because I became entirely too bold driving that car. Whenever rain threatened I had to pull off the freeway and put the top back up.  Likewise, any stop at the grocery store—I couldn’t leave the car open and vulnerable.  I was constantly putting the top up and down. I couldn’t carry any loose papers because they would float away in the breeze. 

I still managed to fall in love with the car.  But after a week I understood what Beaven was saying.  I turned it back into the rental people and bought the conservative sedan he suggested.  I still held enough Change of Life Leverage that he agreed to get a red one and have a sunroof added to the car.

Renting that car saved us a lot of time, trouble and money. I know all the financial gurus say that renting things is expensive and ownership is the only way to go.  But sometimes renting allows you to get an experience out of your system and saves you money in the long run.

We raised our kids in a small house for about 20 years.  In those 20 years not only did the kids grow but our collection of things we consider valuable grew, too.  I kept muttering to myself that “if only this room had one more foot of space I could fit everything I wanted into it. One day I suggested to Beaven that we should both do a thorough cleaning and throw away a bunch of “stuff.”  I might as well have suggested he cut his arm off.  His answer was to get a bigger house.  And this time he didn’t suggest renting.

We built a custom home with three times the square footage as the home in which we raised two kids, two cats and a dog plus a neighborhood of their friends. It was our dream home, the biggest home either of us had ever lived in and we put only two quiet retirees in it. 

The first night in that house I sat in the bedroom which had a separate area for a TV and two chairs and looked around, expecting to feel a great sense of satisfaction.  I told Beaven, “This bedroom is bigger than an entire house in the La Lomita district in Guastatoya, Guatemala.” And immediately I realized what a mistake we had made.  I was never comfortable in that house.

We lasted two years.  Finally the solution came to us:  We moved out to the two bedroom weekend cabin we had in the woods, a house with almost no closet space and barely room for beds and couches.  In the most clever solution to any problem I’ve ever seen, we built a storage building that was twice the size as the house.  Now we had plenty of room for our “stuff.” We had easy access to it anytime we wanted it.  But we didn’t have to heat or cool it, didn’t have to bump into it, didn’t have to see it all the time.  We store a couple of chairs we can bring inside the house when we have company.  Most of our time is spent outside, anyway.  And for that we have 23 acres of room.

The two years in the Big House should have been a rental experience because we took a beating when we sold it.  All we had needed was to get the experience out of our system before we could settle down in the smaller house in contentment.

I’ve had similar experiences with other much smaller possessions.  I tried bread machines, rice cookers, ice cream makers, electric skillets, Fry Daddies, Foreman grills, and decided in the end to do without all of them.  I periodically go through the house and get rid of things I no longer use.  I consider their life with me as a rental experience.  I borrowed a food dehydrator from my neighbor a few months ago. I dehydrated everything in my house. I got it out of my system. Then returned the appliance, freeing up space in my house, and best of all-- without spending a dime.

As the ultimate rental experience, Beaven and I have each “tried out” the experience of widowhood. I was gone for months at a time when I managed a couple of volunteer village for the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance after Katrina.  He learned to cook for himself and do his own laundry.  Likewise, he still attends a Ham Radio convention in Ohio for a week every year and I live alone for that week, dealing with recalcitrant lawnmowers and car mysteries, comforted by the knowledge that he is coming home, that this is just a gentle test. We figure this puts us ahead of the game when the experience becomes permanent. We “rent” widowhood to see what it would look like then gladly give it back.

All this leads me to Stinky.

 
We seem to be renting a dog.  Stinky lives next door but loves to hang out at our house during the day.  We have deliberately avoided feeding him.  But he makes himself at home, anyway.  His name really should be Sneaky, not Stinky.  He knows how to dart inside the house between our feet without us knowing. We just look around and he’s here. He’s not any trouble at all.  He’s just looking for a quiet place to hang for a while.  He usually jumps up into Beaven’s chair and takes a nap.

Please don't think me goulish but in my vision of widowhood I keep picturing a small dog somewhat like Stinky.  I have never been one of those ladies who dotes on a small dog, having it groomed regularly, holding them constantly, letting them sleep in the bed.  I’ve never been one of those ladies but I wonder if it might be fun to become one someday. In other words, pouring out attention on a dog when there is no husband. Stinky is that sized dog. And the longer I “borrow” the neighbors’ dog the more convinced I am that it would be fun. Not now, mind you,--No, God forbid-- but later on.

I’m sure Beaven has similar plans, even if he doesn’t tell me. Within two hours of his mother’s death his father had already made three major decisions and he was clear:  He wanted to paint the living room a different color, he wanted to sell the horse and he intended to switch to real butter instead of margarine.  If Beaven were left alone, I have no doubts what this house would look like.  It would look just like my father-in-law’s house looked after Blanche went to the Beauty Shop in the Sky. 

You don’t want to know.

No comments: