Monday, October 27, 2008

Back to the Old House

Last night I was editing a story about the economic challenges of today's Internet startups and it mentioned layoffs at a number of them, including the real estate site As is customary, I verified the URLs in the story and while on Zillow I decided to plug in the address of my childhood home on Dobson Ranch back in Mesa, Arizona. What happened next I was completely unprepared for. The house happens to be currently for sale, and within seconds -- and without warning -- an avalanche of high-tech bells and whistles popped up on my screen -- and I was suddenly on a virtual tour of the place I had once called home but hadn't set foot in for over 18 years. My childhood flashed before me, "walking" into my old kitchen (where I ate nothing but microwaved bacon for an entire year in junior high), bedroom (where I spent hours behind closed doors listening to my record collection), bathroom (where I dyed my hair just like Limahl's for the Pretenders concert) and living room (where my stepfather asked me if I was a "homosexual" on my 16th birthday). (I'd have preferred a car). Then down the hall into my parents' master suite (where I was interrogated by my mom about my role as the ringleader of a prank-phone-call syndicate), little sister's room (where her friend Shala lived in the closet for a month without our parents noticing) and through the family room into the backyard by the swimming pool and the slide (where I chipped my front tooth on my sister's head). I can only compare it to the feeling you get when you run into an ex-longtime love (think Katie and Hubbell in "The Way We Were"): part excitement, part anxiousness and part melancholy (cue The Smiths). I swear I had butterflies just looking at all the things that the new owners had changed -- and felt even sicker by the things that had remained the same.

I have to admit, the place in my heart for that house on West Kiva Avenue is rather large. Having lived in two modest dwellings in the suburbs of Detroit through age 11, moving into this funky new Southwest-style home -- with its vaulted ceilings, two-way fireplace, built-in wet bar(!), conversation pit(!!), spiral staircase, loft (that later became an "exercise" room), swimming pool and hot tub, and garage large enough to house the cars and the ping-pong table from our old basement, plus membership in the association with access to dozens of tennis courts within walking distance -- was all pretty exciting for this gay boy from Madison Heights. It may still have been tract housing, but from ages 11 to 22, it sure seemed like the coolest house in the world. So after college when my parents up and sold it just weeks after I'd moved to Los Angeles I was really devastated that I never got to "go home" ever again. Leave it to the World Wide Web to heal that wound, sort of. Who says you can never really go home again?

Then and now:

1979: Feeling like a Little Rockefeller with our built-in ice and water dispenser
1979: Doing my best Jayne Mansfield in my imitation Fila tennis shirt and Daisy Dukes (my parents hadn't even gotten dining room furniture yet!)
1980: The long entryway to the front door. That's my brother Bill and his friend Paul (visiting from Madison Heights) along with my other brother (Terence) behind them, me and my sister, Jenn, and her friend Lori (whose dad was Charlie Keating's private pilot and would lose everything in the savings and loan scandal nine years later)
1983: My third and final bedroom, where I plastered the walls with pics of my favorite new wave bands
1983: The day the pool was finished in 1979, I swam for hours as the water filled it up. By the time I left in 1990, I don't think I'd set foot in it for two years!
1985: A family photo minus brother Bill, who had already bought his first house1986: Dressing up for a night on the town when my friend Nina visited from Detroit (drinking and vomiting were merely a few hours away)
1986: One day I came home from school and my mom was (literally) ripping the conversation pit out with her bare hands ("Tina -- bring me the AX!!!") -- and a hammer. She replaced it with a parquet floor (where we would set up the Christmas tree every year and keep a chess/backgammon table the rest of the time) and painted all the wrought iron white
1989: At the kitchen bar with my friend Greg (right) and Keith, who was in town from Indiana for my December college graduation
2004: Just popping by to have a look on a visit home
2008: The backyard looks exactly the same today as it did 18 years ago -- once the pool was in!

  • Click HERE for a touching update.

    Richard Wall said...

    Fascinating tale of house history. I have recently had the same experience. You really should write a book, honey.

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for sharing, made me sad (in a good way).

    Anonymous said...

    Really awesome! I wish I had pics of my old home of 17 years, before I moved to NC in 1990 to be an "adult." Now all that's left there is a catalpa tree I planted @ 1987.

    Anonymous said...

    The best part is where you say, "I'd have preferred a car."

    Travis said...

    wow those are some high shorts!!!

    Anonymous said...

    I remember your place in Arizona like it was yesterday. I thought you were so cool because you drove a covertble, had such a modern house, and a swimming pool. Now I know better :-)

    Anonymous said...

    Wow, love the then and now pics.

    dawn nielson said...

    Oh wait...that wasn't my house in the background. That was Jackie's across the side street. They moved the slide!