I went today to a sheriff’s auction. The house was on a street I passed often with Robert on our way to the park, so I thought I might as well go and see how these things are done, because auctions are usually where you pick up bargains. I was going for an educational excursion, I did not want to buy the house which was clearly beyond my means. I was not prepared however for the emotional aspect of watching this happen.
First I was surprised to recognize the place, because I often looked at it with envy I am ashamed to say. The outside renovation preserved so much of the character of this old building, then I went inside and I was struck by how much of a building site the place was. There was a living room at the front of the house which looked disorganized then a hall with nothing but cans of paint. The kitchen was a dark place with merely a fridge, bare counters and boarded up windows. There were exposed pipes and wiring, floors that still required tiling and naked roof rafters. The upstairs is where those people probably spent most of their time, and here you stumble on their personal lives. There were three bedrooms with books, computers, and study desks. I saw posters, and personal items. One of the beds had a small aquarium with tiny goldfish right next to the bed. It felt so wrong to be tramping around people’s belongings, as they were about to lose the roof over their heads.
I spoke to the owner briefly. He was taking it very graciously but his pain and regret was palpable. He is an architect, who overextended himself loving and preserving what he thought would be his permanent home. He said that the hardest part was telling his children that the bank has foreclosed on their home, because they lived with them in this mess for two year, I could relate to his pain. I briefly experienced living in a renovation site while I lived with my ex husband in Gonubie, and the situation was a threat to sanity.
The owner said that he spent so much time an effort recycling the old brick and trying to preserve whatever he could of the character of the old home, he was not doing it for comercial purposes he was doing it in pride of ownership, and Ironically this was what brought on his downfall. On one kitchen wall he taped the architectural drawings and concept of the house, which he could not finish. Now all his and his wife’s efforts are going to become some investor’s gain. I never saw the wife, but I could imagine her, as her husband told me, scraping away 12 coats of paints from the wooden steps.
There were more than twenty people like me tramping around the old house, but when the auction started only four or five where active bidder in addition to the bank. In the end the bank representative ( a woman and apparently they are always women) told the last remaining bidder that the bank would buy unless they got a certain price, and the bidder met the required price. There was handclapping and the auction was over, a family lost their home, just like that. Everyone went on to congratulate the new owner. There were insensitive comments like : Ah, you can knock the whole place down and sell the empty lot, and you can get your money back. I thought of how the owner may feel hearing these jibes. I left with a heavy heart, wondering whether I really had the stomach for auctions, perhaps they are the domain of hardcore investors only. All the way home I kept thinking of the man and his two teenage boys who still do not know where they are going next, I was grateful to have my own roof, even a rented one.
The gray cloud of sadness did not lift when I came back home to examine again a package I received from my mother. I collected it earlier today at the post office and discarded its empty box, noting with disinterest the post office tape which said it was found open and secured by postal workers. The package contained the items I expected and some additional ones, so I was happy. Only much later I discovered my mother’s little note where she said that she had included a packet of wine gums (gummy Bären) which was not in the box. The realization left me bitterly disappointed. The sweets are perhaps the least valuable item in the package but they were still sent with love from my mom to her grandson and the fact that some crook in the post office had actually taken them out makes me feel betrayed. It is such an effort to send things halfway across the world like this. The postage is frequently more expensive than the item itself, and I am definitely going to complain at the post office. Mostly I will be wary, and I will ask whoever sends me stuff to give me a listing of the items sent, so that I can at least confront the post office right away. Now I will have to complain without valuable pieces of evidence, like the box I threw carelessly away.