[Part One: They leave New York for a great academic job, buy a Santa Cruz beach house, fight over the Weedwacker and then . . . ] [Hugh] We discovered why nobody else was fighting about cutting the grass. They’d hire workers. [Sharon] We just couldn’t do that. [Hugh] It would take us half a day. These guys could cut it in 30 minutes. [Sharon] In the end, we did that. [Hugh] I’d hide. I was so humiliated. [Sharon] We felt so guilty, we also gave them the same amount of money we were paying their boss. [Hugh] When you own a house, you make all these compromises. People would walk past. Their dog would pee. [Hugh wags his finger.] You turn into one of those suburban Republicans—complaining about property taxes, checking real estate prices. You become invested in this whole system that you really just hate. [Sharon] I’d tell you not to look at the prices. [Hugh] My fear was we wouldn’t be able to sell. We’d be trapped there forever.
[Hugh] Sharon left. It was that or our relationship. [Sharon] We came to New York for a vacation—May 2001. My friend Ellen was subletting her apartment. I said, Would you consider subletting to me? I hadn’t even talked to Hugh. [Hugh] We’d been living together 22 years. [Sharon] You were great. It took you an hour. We put the house on the market. I moved back to New York, September 9, 2001.
[Hugh] We had to sell the house. I would have died living there by myself. The drama—way more than buying. You audition realtors. It’s like the primaries—they tell you what they’re going to do for you. They just appeal to your greed. [Sharon] Remember the Palo Alto couple ? So much plastic surgery. [Hugh] And Justin Thyme from Thunderbird Realty.
We know what song they play when he comes in a room. [Hugh] It’s like this whole show. You feel bad but then they make $20,000 at a time. They come in, give you a really high price, justify it to make you feel good. [Sharon] They say, Oh, we looked at comparison prices, factored this in. You fall for the whole thing. [Hugh] Two weeks later, they come back all very serious. Like they’re in The War Room. [Sharon] It was happy, happy Judy [their realtor] in the beginning. But then it was, We have to talk to you guys. [Hugh] They say, What you’ve done is, you’ve gone in too high. We’ve tested the market and the market clearly, well, the market knows that we’re doing something wrong because no one has been [to see the house]. [Sharon] The market knows.
[Sharon] Judy’s doing this open house. [Hugh] There’s a big ink stain in the middle of our couch. She said, Oh, my pen leaked. We’d never spent real money for furniture before. She said, You can just wash it out. [Sharon] There’s still a big bleached spot. [Hugh] You sign this paper agreeing they’re your realtor. You have to. We were really, really desperate. [Sharon] We had to pay Steve back [he loaned the down payment money]. [Hugh] Judy starts slashing the price. Sharon’s gone by this point. Judy and I can’t stand each other. Then Judy says, I think this is what to do. I said, Judy, this is my money, not your money. [Sharon] It’s so out of character. He never says things like this to people.
[Hugh] Every time people came around, I was just like a performing monkey. Forget about integrity. You buy a house—it feels like the end. Yes, we sold it. Actually I sold it. Judy made loads of money. Yes, we made money on it. I almost think we’d feel better if we lost money. [Sharon] We did well and we hated that.
[Hugh] Now we have an apartment in Santa Cruz. I’m so happy. I also have an apartment in New Haven because I have a fellowship at Yale. [Sharon] Now we have three apartments. This year’s the anomaly. Now New Haven is . . . [Hugh] I completely disagree. New Haven is totally fine.
Hugh, you also lived in the Amazon, and . . .
“Bougainvillea, Part One” by Toni Schlesinger