Bougainvillea

Tell how you bought a California beach house and had nervous breakdowns.[Hugh] We were living on Ludlow and Canal. [Sharon] This great 1,000-square-foot loft. Everybody said, It's just like a movie set. [Hugh] I was a graduate student and we had just been there six months when I got this really good academic job in Santa Cruz. What can you do? [Sharon] I said, There are only two places I'd be willing to live—New York or the Bay Area. [Hugh] Now, don't be mean about Santa Cruz. [Sharon] We're there for about two weeks. [Hugh] Paradise. [Sharon] Sea lions. [Hugh] Pelicans. [Sharon] People lovely all the time. [Hugh] Genuinely lovely, though Sharon hasn't been there for a while. [Sharon] I've only lived in cities, as has Hugh. [Hugh] Sharon grew up in the middle of Belfast. I grew up in London. [Sharon] We met when we were 20—25 years ago, University of Warwick in England.

[Hugh] We were earning way more money than ever before. [Sharon] Way more. [Hugh] The rental market is really expensive. Santa Cruz prices are comparable to New York's. [Sharon] That was '99. We did what everybody does—try to make sure you're OK when you're old. [Hugh] People said the only security you could get was to buy somewhere. The university gave really good mortgages. [Sharon] We're horrible brats because we had all these advantages there. The whole looking for a house! First of all, we're not even American. We had no idea of what middle-class Americans live in. We'd always lived in New York, 10 years. [Hugh] Our realtor [he makes quotation marks in the air]—that's a real California thing—Bernice. [Sharon] Poor Bernice.

[Hugh] She'd pick us up in her Mercedes. [Sharon] We'd walk in these houses—huge rooms, high ceilings. We're used to tiny apartments. [Hugh] We got agoraphobic. Bernice said, You like it? [Sharon] I said, Are you serious? We're not going to live in this! [Hugh] Eventually we found a house. It was going to be $300,000. The idea of owing somebody this much money . . . [Sharon] We're not credit-card-debt people. [Hugh] We had to put down $10,000. [Sharon] Fifteen thousand. [Hugh] Because Steve lent us . . . [Sharon] . . . our best friend . . . [Hugh] It was like emptying our shoe boxes to get this. I just cannot understand how with $15,000 you can buy a house for $300,000. This is supposed to be a good thing. There's something really fucked up about that. Everyone says it's all about the tax break. [Sharon] We're puritans about that. If you earn a lot, you should pay a lot of tax, subsidize people who don't earn a lot. [Hugh] If you can afford to buy a house, why should you pay a lot less tax than people who can't? Where is the logic in that?

The moral is never leave Manhattan: Simpson and Raffles on the Upper West Side
photo: Brian Kennedy
The moral is never leave Manhattan: Simpson and Raffles on the Upper West Side

Details

Location Upper West Side
Rent $1,800 (market)
Square Feet 525 (one-bedroom apartment in walk-up)
Occupants Sharon Simpson (writer-producer); Hugh Raffles (anthropologist, UC Santa Cruz)

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[Hugh] We find the house. [Sharon] And we love it. [Hugh] It looked like an apartment. [Sharon] New Yorkers would say it's just perfect. [Hugh] Bougainvillea. [Sharon] Roses. [Hugh] Five blocks from the Pacific. [Sharon] Hummingbirds. [Hugh] Snails. [Sharon] Hugh used to rescue them in the morning in a bucket and set them free in the ocean. [Hugh] There are a lot of murders there. People smash snails against the walls. [Sharon] We're vegetarians. [Hugh] The day we moved in, our realtor came over with the keys. Bernice said, You have such a beautiful garden. [Sharon] I thought she meant in the back. On the corner, we had the whole of the street, with these little dwarf maples. [Hugh] Two magnolias. [Sharon] Bernice said, That's going to be a lot of work. I said, Hang on a minute. We didn't buy the street in front of the house. [Hugh] What about the city? Doesn't the city do this? [Sharon] The moral is never leave Manhattan. Our friend Greg said, You need a Weedwacker. [Hugh] The fights. [Sharon] Our fights were so public. We'd throw the Weedwacker at each other. You take the fucking Weedwacker. Every Sunday morning, we'd be so resentful. We just wanted to read a book. [Hugh] Sharon left. [To be continued.]


schlesinger@villagevoice.com

 
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