Van Chronicles – Chapter 11 (continued)

Imagine Cinderella walking into the prince’s palace. No matter how much she liked her old digs, this place was a huge improvement – everything was more. More rooms, more space in each room, a two-car garage, a family room the size of a small restaurant, and three, count ’em, three bathrooms – it was like the Ritz. And it was ours for a pittance in rent for as long as it didn’t sell.

But that, of course, was the point of our being there…to make it look lived in so it would sell. And that was the downside. If it sold, we’d have to pack up and move to the next show home, to do it all over again. We’d heard stories of people like us moving into a home and, literally, before they’d unpacked the good china, the house had sold and they’d had to pack it all up again. The other downside to Cinderella’s new palace is she was in charge of keeping it clean. No, not clean. Spotless. No newspapers on the kitchen table, no toys on the floor, no coffee cups in the sink. A real fairy tale come true, complete with unannounced visits from the Show Homes people to make sure we were living up to our part of the bargain.

A week after we’d moved in we had our first spot check. And we failed miserably. Well, the human part of the we didn’t – it was the furniture that flunked. The woman stood there, looking first at our furniture, then at the photos we’d sent, then back at the furniture and back to the photos.

“Where’s all your furniture?”
“This is it – you’re looking at it.”
“It seemed so much…so much…more in the pictures.”
“Yes, trick photography. My husband’s specialty.”

She walked from room to room, trailing a black cloud that grew bigger with every door she opened. The woman was all business, the furniture business.

“What would really help here is an armoire, and one of those floor plants for over there; a writing desk would look nice over in that corner; and get yourself a loveseat and a couple of chairs; in fact, a whole new living room is what you need. Let’s move on to the dining room.” I could hardly wait till we got to the family room that was currently furnished with a couch and a chair and fifty boxes of books lined up against the wall with no bookshelves in sight. I trailed behind her, hoping to catch her when she fainted.

“This just won’t do. I have no idea how you made it into the program. There’s going to have to be some serious changes made. And quick. Get yourself some furniture. I’ll be back in a week.”

My first shopping spree. Historically speaking, shopping and I do not get along, so buying a house full of furniture presented something of a challenge. But off the kids and I went to one of those six-acre furniture warehouse places and while they bounced from couch to couch, I bought one of everything, the predominant theme of most items being that they came in boxes that specified “some assembly required.”

And so we assembled. And assembled some more. We had it all done by the time the woman returned for her inspection. The books were in the assembled bookshelves and if coffee cups had been allowed out, they could have sat on the assembled coffee table in front of the assembled couch beside two assembled end tables. The big plant over in the corner was real, though – a nice homey touch I thought.

The main thing is that it passed muster. We could stay. Better yet, it turned out we were in like Flint. All because of a peculiar feature that came with the house. Apparently the previous owner was something of a sports enthusiast, and off behind the garage he had built at his expense a half court so he could play basketball to his heart’s content. It was the talk of the neighborhood, and while an interesting topic of conversation, it just wasn’t the kind of thing most people were looking for as a bonus feature in a prospective home. Absolutely nobody wanted to buy this house, and who could blame them? It didn’t much matter how lived in the house looked with its prefabricated furniture and plant in the corner; once they got a view of the behemoth basketball court from the balcony off the family room, they were out the door. It takes a certain kind of person to see the value in a cement gymnasium out their back door.

We stayed there the full year without a nibble until the very end. I think it sold to a fellow who wanted to put in a sound studio. That must have been some studio. Somewhere along the line I heard that the guy who had built the basketball court, when he moved to Kalamazoo, the first thing he did was build another one in his new home. My guess is GE asked him to stay put.

Chapter 12

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