Creators Syndicate - On New Year's Eve this year, instead of going out for an expensive night on the town, my wife and I went to a "progressive" dinner party in our neighborhood, one of those parties where you start at one house for appetizers, another for soup, another for an entree. I hated it.
Don't get me wrong. The food was great, the people were great, and the champagne was, as champagne always is, great. The bad part was slowly touring, one by one, all these houses that were, in so many different and significant ways, better than ours.
If I had gone alone, without my wife, there would have been no problem. I could walk right into one wing of a palatial mansion straight through to the other without feeling a single tinge of house envy. I like my own house, but it's as much a burden as a pleasure. Every time a sink clogs or a light snaps off unexpectedly, I sigh, knowing I'll spend the next hour just looking for the proper tools. At the pitter-patter of rain on our roof I immediately eye the ceilings, on guard for leaks. To me, more house means more problems.
My wife and I had spent most of that last day of 2007, in fact, talking about our own house. I put in our old kitchen myself eight years ago, and while everything still works OK, it's starting to show its age. The cabinets I built don't stay closed anymore unless you wrap a rubber band around the knobs, and the floor has started to buckle from water damage. The knickknack drawer got painted shut three years ago, forever sealing up all our junk like a really, really disappointing time capsule. I had agreed, reluctantly, that maybe we could put down a new floor and maybe reface our cabinets, using professional (not me) labor this time — if we set a budget and stuck to it. I'd even consider countertops — if we didn't get too crazy about it.
As we toured these beautiful homes on New Year's Eve, though, I could see our budget flying out the window. Each house, to my wife, presented something we didn't have: a huge fireplace … exotic wood floors … working windows. As we looked at a Jacuzzi tub in one house, my wife suddenly started babbling like a crazy person about redoing our own bathroom. I could feel my Home Depot credit card in my back pocket begin to overheat with anticipation every time my wife spied a feature she liked.
As a couple, we're not alone. A recent survey found that 91 percent of American wives want to undertake some sort of major house renovation in the coming year, and 86 percent of American husbands wonder how they're going to pay for it without raiding the kids' college funds. (Truthfully, there was no actual study per se, but had there been, I'm pretty confident those would be the results, give or take a couple of percentage points.)
One house on the tour featured an entire addition nearly as big as the original house. The addition had taken years to complete and, when done, almost doubled the size of the house, adding a kitchen, a new master bedroom and a huge beautiful family room.
As we entered this house I heard one of the husbands behind me groan.
"No, no, no," he said, in the kind of tone men usually only use when they're either being dragged into a Jane Austen movie, or maybe when the doctor looks at the chart, nods solemnly and says it's about time for a prostate exam.
"You OK?" I said.
"This is not good," he muttered. "We've been talking about an addition to our house for four years, and so far I've been able to keep it just talk. Look at that arched ceiling! I'm toast!"
I left this poor son of a gun to fend for himself. I had to find a way to distract my wife before she noticed the kitchen, with its granite-topped island and glass-fronted cabinets.
I won't get the bill for months to come, but I'm pretty sure this will turn out to be the most expensive New Year's Eve we've ever spent.
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