“You’ve got a problem,” she said.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it a PROBLEM so much as a hobby,” I said.
“I see,” she said. “It looks like your hobby has taken over your house.”
True, but she had issues of her own. I was used to a steady diet of “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood,” and “Six Feet Under.” While she grew to love all of those shows, she introduced me — in the spirit of compromise — to the shows she loved: “Dr. Phil” and a bunch of shows on what I affectionately referred to as “the real estate channel.”
I began spending hours each week watching shifty-eyed, controlling men trying to learn how to be more trusting husbands and renegade teenagers learning the value of respecting their elders, all under Dr. Phil’s watchful and judgmental eye. Then I started talking like him.
“Honey, do you have time to teach me how to program this remote control?” Tammy would say.
“Babe, coaching your spouse to program a remote control is like singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in a monsoon. Your heart’s in the right place, but your rear-end’s still stuck out in the storm. In the end, everybody gets wet.”
She got tired of that in a few months, and Dr. Phil and his gallery of dysfunctional weepers went away. But the real estate shows never went away, and we watched them all. One of her favorites was House Hunters, in which earnest couples from one place went to another place in search of a house in various price ranges. We liked guessing which house they would choose, and why. Tammy was always commenting on things I would barely notice — the backsplash in the kitchen, the crown molding in the bedroom, the dated fixtures in the bathroom, the lack of natural light.
She told me all the things that would need to be done if we were the couple moving into the house, and what those updates would probably cost.
“Of course,” she would always add. “We could do a bunch of that stuff ourselves. Rip up that awful carpet, replace the faded tile in that upstairs bathroom, pull out that 1980s dishwasher...”
“Sweetie, I failed shop class in eighth grade,” I said. “The teacher said my lamp was a fire hazard. I’m afraid you’ve chosen a ‘call the man’ kind of husband.”
“Or call the woman,” she said.
“Yes, yes, please call the woman,” I said. “Call anybody that can actually fix stuff. It’s not gender specific. It’s ‘me’ specific.”
We also watched “Love it or List It,” “Property Brothers,” “Flip or Flop,” “Trading Spaces,” and “Fixer Upper,” among others. She especially loved “Fixer Upper,” explaining which house she would choose and talking about its “upside,” as well as how much money there was to be made in such endeavors. From where I was sitting, she might as well have been talking about space flight or teaching dogs how to play tennis, but for her, it was as real and solid as an oak table.
A few years later, when we decided to sell our house in town and move out a few miles into a home with more space, inside and outside, as well as a home with more than one small bathroom (hallelujah!), it was clear that she had missed her calling. We spent months and months looking at literally dozens of homes, and she picked them apart like Tom Brady dissecting a weak secondary. She liked this, she didn’t like that, she LOVED this, but just despised that. I could see the scenarios in her head projected on the living room wall: the upgrades and the downgrades, walls that would have to be knocked out, countertops that would have to be replaced. I could already hear the cacophony of hammering and drilling and sawing, and I could already smell the sawdust and fresh paint.
We finally bought a place, immediately replacing the bathtub with a jacuzzi and putting down new flooring downstairs. Within a year, every bit of carpet in the house was gone. She was always working on projects during the daylight hours, and then planning new projects at night while we watched the real estate channel.
One night, I finally said, “Why don’t you just do it?”
“What else? Get into the business. Become a real estate agent. Sell houses. Buy houses. Flip houses. All of it.”
“You’ve gone crazy,” she said.
“I’ve been watching real estate shows every night for 15 years. I may be clinically insane. But you need to get your license and follow your calling.”
Finally, last October, she did. She signed up for classes every weekend for seven weeks, took two tests, passed them both, got her license, left a good, stable job, and got herself a job as a real estate agent with one of the biggest real estate companies around. The whole thing was a blur, like a carousel going way too fast.
I think she’s going to a natural, and that makes me happy. It also makes me happy to think that maybe, just maybe, we’ll scale back on the real estate shows a bit.
As Dr. Phil might say, “If you can’t watch what you do, then doggone it, you might as well go ahead and do what you watch.”