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Tuesday October 15, 2002 - The Return Flight

I arise at 3:30 am, after less than an hour of fitful sleep.

"Hic, Hyuk, Hock!1"

The phrase has been spinning through my brain like a bad dream for hours -- something I picked up from a child's recording as kid, and mercifully, have not had to deal with until now.

My soul mate has been up and pacing from 2:30 am on, unable to breathe due to the humidity. We pick up our camping bed from the living room where ventilation was better and move it back into the bedroom, dress, and are out of the house by 4:54 am.

From the house it takes only 8 minutes to PCA airport parking. We rush through security and 9/11 procedures, then begin the long wait at the gate. There are two MacDonald's restaurants in the airport -- one in the outer un-secure area that is closed until 6:00 am, and the other in B Concourse, a secure area, that is closed until 7:30 am. Naturally, our flight leaves at 6:58 am, so we are compelled to go through security twice in order to get breakfast.

When it's finally time for the random check at the gate, I am selected. I am always selected for the "random" airport security check; don't ask me why. He puts on a rubber glove and asks me to unbuckle my belt. Damn! It looks like he's going to give me a rectal examination.

Instead, he dumps the contents of my laptop and carry-on bags onto a table, then summarily scrapes the jumbled mess back into the two bags approximately evenly, without regard to what went where.

All in all, I think I'd rather have had a rectal exam. Hic, Hyuk, Hock!

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Monday October 14, 2002 - Welcome to Memphis

My wife's breathing problems have reduced her to jelly, and the house problems combined with our scheduled leave on Tuesday morning have reduced our joint temperament to something between dark and evil. Tired of being walked over all night by cockroaches the size of rats, we call our credit union and put a stop on the deposit check, which apparently has not been received yet.

Next, we call the realtor and tell him that he has serious problems with the house and we have a medical emergency with my wife's breathing, and we won't know if we're going to have to return to Phoenix permanently until after we return from the emergency room. Meanwhile, I suggest that he do what he can to fix the house problems.

We spend the next four hours in the emergency room and find that my wife is suffering from an infection that is common to Memphians in the wintertime. Armed with prescriptions and a shot, we return to the house. The realtor is there and is anxious to show us that everything is now working, all apparently fixed via hocus-pocus.

The landlord arrives with a pest professional, and I step outside with the realtor to meet him while my wife stays inside.

We shake hands and he asks, "Have you suffered culture shock yet?"

"What the hell is it with you guys?" I want to ask; but instead I respond, "No, can't say as we have."

He's not as polished as the realtor -- I can see it on his face; but he, too, gets past initial introductions and holds his poise.

We watch the meager regimen the roach "professional" is handing out to rid the house of roaches. At least they're trying. Over the next few months we observe that all such house improvements are conducted in the same manner. He may not be a slumlord, but he knows how to do the minimum to get by, frequently leaving the job half done and the tools lying where he last used them. We also find, however, that the realtor is willing to hire professionals if the landlord doesn't satisfactorily fix a problem. We are instructed to let him know if any more spraying is necessary and they will cheerfully comply.

We accept the house in its newly enhanced state and prepare for an early morning departure to retrieve our household goods from Phoenix. This includes some additional shopping. When we return to the house around 10:00 pm, we find the toilet clogged. We haven't used it since early morning, when it was working fine. We have no plunger; thanks, guys!

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Saturday October 12, 2002 - Slumlord

So now we have a landlord, the first we've had in a good many years; and it doesn't feel good very long. Within 24 hours the house is inundated by cockroaches, the big sewer kind in Phoenix terms, about three inches long -- five with feelers. And there are other problems. One of the window refrigeration units is apparently inoperative and the other won't switch from "blow outside air" to "blow cold air" below 75 degrees. This may seem marginally appropriate to a Phoenix veteran, but in Memphis it is essential to be able to drop the humidity by running the temperature down to 60o. In addition, one of the two furnaces which were stated to be operational by the landlord (although not by the realtor) appears inoperative as well.

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Friday October 11, 2002 - Home

We wake up panicking. We don't feel any closer to finding a house than we were on Monday evening when we arrived, and we have only four days left; we have plane reservations for Tuesday, October 15 to return to Phoenix.

To make matters worse, my wife has not been getting much sleep due to the extreme humidity. It makes breathing almost impossible for her and she sits up pie-eyed all night, wheezing. To make matters worse yet it's still raining, and when it quits for a few minutes there is immediate and extreme fog. As the rain begins to dissipate over the next few days, fog is present more and more until finally we're left with fog most of the time, 99% humidity, and occasional drizzle.

To utilize our parent airline passes it is necessary to follow an iron-rigid dress code (after all, parents of employees must make a good impression upon paying guests). I have forgotten to pack an acceptable shirt, and to this end it will be necessary to buy a long-sleeved shirt with a collar. We make a list of other items we've forgotten, and go shopping for a shirt, umbrellas, towels and wash clothes -- which we'll need the minute we get into a house -- and take our washing with us.

We discuss the house situation over a Gridiron breakfast, and in our urgency decide to take the promising house we saw yesterday. We rush to complete the lease paperwork, accept the key, and get the utilities turned on as soon as possible. Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) is a single-stop utility company that takes less than a day to turn on all power and charges 30% less than the Phoenix power companies. By Saturday we're checking out of the motel.

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Wednesday October 9, 2002 - Culture Shock? The Gridiron Restaurant - Memphis, 2002

It occurs on us this morning before sunrise that we should have made most of our phone calls on prospective houses yesterday. For the second day in a row, we go to our favorite restaurant, the Gridiron on Elvis Presley Blvd near the Piggly-Wiggly supermarket, and eat breakfast while completing the calls. There are many smiling faces here -- they all recognize us from past visits and are pleased when we tell them we're here to stay.

Most of the calls require us to leave a message, and many of the messages don't get returned until the next day or thereafter. Some are never returned. Strange for someone renting a house. Of those who do return our calls, most tell us that the house isn't ready yet. Strange again. We spend the remainder of the day driving to houses and looking at them from the outside. There are many -- literally hundreds -- of vacant houses in the inner-city. Most are very old and some are in various states of disrepair. We continue the process on Thursday, and by the end of the day have seen the inside of only two or three houses.

One of the houses looks promising. It's cute, brick, and has wooden floors so we don't have to contend with dirty carpets. The realtor is there when we pull up at the curb. I get out of the car and follow him to the house ahead of my wife.

Not very observant, he asks, "Have you suffered culture shock yet?"

He's referring to the fact that Memphis is 52% Black, something like 20% Hispanic, and a weak 23% White. We already know this neighborhood in the inner city is 85% Black, and that is why we've chosen it.

"No, we haven't," I respond flatly.

He gains insight to my response the moment my wife gets out of the car, and to his credit he is careful not to make any more mistakes of the kind.

We finish our examination of the house. It dates to the thirties or forties, I'm guessing from the under-floor furnaces suspended in the living room and hallway between the bedrooms, and there are no three-prong outlets in the whole place -- in fact, they're so old that a two-pronged plug falls right out. Like most of the houses we look at, it's too small, but we knew the transition wouldn't be easy, and we did want to live in the inner city. Although this house is still not nearly as nice as we wanted, we see that it does meet all of our basic requirements.

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Tuesday October 8, 2002 - A Beginning

We get up late. Sunrise seems to have been about 9:00 am. It's another rainy day. Strangely, this is the first rain we've experienced in Memphis in all our years of visiting in the summer. Oh, well; being from Phoenix we like rain anyway.

We spend most of the day visiting my wife's mother and circling newspaper advertisements. Naturally, most of the ads are asking more monthly rent than we had hoped to spend. Despite this we have quite a list by the end of the day. Surprisingly, darkness seems to come upon us by about 4:00 pm. Some of this may be from the overcast and the number of tall trees; but even so, it seems like there has been little daylight.

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L. Fox



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1This phrase was used to command the opening of a door in a children's story on 78 rpm records in the early 1950's. If any reader knows the identity of the recording or the story, please let us know via our guest email address before I go crazy; we will be forever grateful.



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