Sunday, June 24, 2007

Houses and Horses

Every house in my neighborhood has changed hands at least once since I moved here—one of only a few homes at the time.

Some moved to opportunities elsewhere. One lady bought a new, overpriced house and sold it two months later because she didn’t find it social enough (we live WAY out in the country). A few other people never talked to anyone, so who knows. Another, apparently, lost his house to the government when he tried to supplement his income with cocaine he brought up from Florida. But most people lost their homes to the bank (or in anticipation of same).

Why? Lots of reasons—the economy, changing business in the area, for example—but the main reason, frankly, is people over-reaching their means. This pattern exists throughout the community—and it continues.

“My electric bill is $545!” complains my next-door neighbor, saddled with past due amounts, unable to pay it, just as the last neighbor started—one of those homes that sat vacant for a year or two. I can certainly understand financial hardship, but what I can’t understand is this: she bought a horse.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing, except that she only has a few acres, hardly enough, and the horse has only a small tree for shade or shelter. No barn. Ninety degree weather? Lightning storm? The horse is outside, exposed.

WHY does she have a horse? It’s what you do in the country. Half of my neighbors, even those living in trailers, have horses (with equally small yards). None of them ride, other than once in a great while, and then only around the fenced pasture. None of them have horse trailers either, so they certainly aren’t going to take them for an outing on the nearby state lands or horse trails. My next-door neighbor has daughters, tweens, so maybe she figured this would be good for them? If so, the plan isn’t working—feeling a bit like Alice Walker in “Am I Blue?”, I offer our equine friend an apple or carrot periodically. As their horse trotted over to get his carrot, I asked the girls, “Would you like to give it to him? I’ll show you how” (you want to feed a horse with a flat palm, so you aren’t unintentionally bit). “Um…you do it…” the girls answered, nervously.

Horses are expensive. They’re expensive to feed. The veterinary care is expensive (Against the odds, I’m hoping these horses get that care). Why have one, just to have? People do the same with dogs—chain it to a doghouse and forget about it. Why? And why for such expensive, unused livestock, especially when money is so obviously tight?

The phenomenon doesn’t stop at horses and houses. You’d think such struggling families would drive jalopies, right? No. Virtually every home features a late model pickup. Some of these are the size of houseboats. Certainly I can see times when I could use a truck, but not for what it would cost. When I bought my 2007 manual transmission Toyota Yaris, at a cost of $12,500 (my Toyota Echo threw a rod at 199, 974 miles), the dealer offered financing up to 96 months. I thought he was joking at first. Finance a car for eight years? That’s no loan—that’s a mini-mortgage, and the car will shortly be worth less than the value of the loan. Bruce Williams, in his long-running radio show, often claimed, “If you’re buying a car you have to finance more than three years, you’re buying a car you can ill afford.” He’s right. Yes, the new cars are more expensive—that doesn’t make them suddenly affordable.

In addition to looking only at the monthly payment instead of the true financial impact, people clearly aren’t taking mileage seriously. I literally get twice the mileage as my truckin’ neighbors. That trip that costs me $3.24 (and nine tenths) costs a pickup driver $6.49 (and eight tenths). And the truck certainly isn’t to pull the non-existent horse trailer. Maybe they plan to get one. Why that needs a late model truck, though, I can’t imagine.

I am, of course, the community oddball, if one settled here long enough to be seen as benign. You’d have to drive quite a ways to find another Yaris. People only gradually appreciated my insanity for planting a few thousand trees on my 3 ½ acres, now that my land looks like a park, that the trees significantly curtail the area of grass I have to cut, that those evergreens slow wind and snow, that blistering summer heat is mitigated. Those trees also shield from critical eyes my modest home—the one I could afford, pay for and hang on to for twenty years. (Imagine—NO mortgage payment! None!) Those trees also shield from critical eyes the large sheds I built on opposite sides of my home that cut my annual fuel oil by 800 gallons and my electric bill by half (not to mention that now I can work outside even in February).

The horse is getting his barn—going up as I write this. I tipped off my neighbor that people were talking about turning her into animal cruelty (for no shelter). “Oh no,” she replied, “I’ve already ordered the wood. It’ll be up soon.” Maybe. I doubt it, but that’s not important anymore—her ex-husband is out there sweating his ass off while the horse in question watches with curiosity as his new home arises.

Honestly, I think people just believe in financial magic. Every week customers at the local store dump $20-50 into lottery tickets while the rest of us wait in line behind them. If they took that same money and put it in an index fund over, say, 30 thirty years, assuming just historical average market returns—it would, in the end, be like winning four times their money each week (I just ran the math). Instead, the odds dictate they’ll lose at least half of their “investment,” funding a variety of state initiatives at the same time they complain about high taxes.

Waiting for their horse to come in, I suppose.



Two Write Hands said...

'A lottery is a tax on people who don't understand math.' --Jamy Ian Swiss

One of the biggest thrills of my life was feeding a horse an apple when I was 7.

Carol Webb said...

Evocative writing, I feel for that horse!
I like the sound of your shelter though:-)

Terri Pray said...

Nicely written piece, shows the lack of basic common sense that appears to be a plague that has swept the country.