He was willing to sell. Then he wasn’t. Now he was again. So with an envelope of cash, I set off to the east side to meet a man named Tony to right a wrong.
Well, sort of. The “wrong” was one of the two major wounds inflicted on the historical quality of the Sullivan House before I bought it. One was the floor joists in the carriage house being cut. More on that in a minute. The other: its missing stained glass window. I’d tracked it down and thought I had arranged to buy it, but Tony’s sentimentality for the window made him back out. Some unexpected bills brought him back to the table.
So I drove to his antique store on the other side of the city to meet the Sullivan House’s previous owner for a second time, two years and one week since we met at the closing table for the deed. But this time it wasn’t all pleasantries and business. I’d taken the afternoon off, and it was a slow day in the shop. And so we prepared the window for transport, and the conversation meandered.
He asked about the chimney and if I’d ever figured out what was wrong with it (missing cap). He brought out the large painting that had adorned it, masking the damage until it was far progressed, its back covered in familiar mold.
He expressed anger equal to mine over what had been done to the floor joists in the carriage house. Evidently, the contractor had done it without asking and unnecessarily – they needed a small notch, not a long cut. They were also responsible for the terrible wiring job out there, and then had the gall to shake him down for more money than what was agreed on thru intimidation. He found out years later that same contractor was killed in a car accident. Tony believes in karma (not that either of us thought that was a balanced outcome). Nothing defuses anger quite like finding out the perpetrator is dead.
He apologized for the amount of junk he’d left behind, which amused me. He had trouble even finding a reputable moving company to remove his furniture. “A house like that lets you get a little eccentric in what you keep,” he said. No doubt.
We nattered on about neighbors and Woodbridge, what’s changed in the last two years and what hasn’t. He mentioned Woodbridge had around 600 homes at its peak and was down to around 300 now, which sounds right. The block of the Sullivan House is one of the few with every single lot occupied by a house.
I told him my heating bill last month was $440. “Wow!” he said, “Was the heat turned way down or something?” I laughed and thanked my lucky stars I chose to replace the boiler with a more efficient one.
We talked about the damage done to the house while it was unoccupied, and the things stolen. The copper pipes had all been installed by Tony himself. One thief was so bold as to schedule a tour thru the real estate company, and then parked her pickup in the carriage house to load up. She was caught in the act, but it sounded like she’d talked her way out of it and probably got away with more.
His eyes lit up a bit when I told him Miss Hummin’ Helen still adorned our vestibule. “Wow that was 30 years ago,” he said. He mentioned a few of the other portraits he left behind, all of which were stolen.
I showed him some pictures of the new paint job which he loved and said the neighbors probably did too. He is such a Woodbridger, and he said outright how much he missed the neighborhood and disliked where he’d moved to, further north. We talked about our respective adopted families. And I got the feeling Tony would’ve been a great neighbor to have, and the neighborhood was a bit poorer for having lost him.
He told me there was indeed a second interested buyer in the Sullivan House whom I narrowly beat in submitting my offer. A Chinese investor, who Tony says clapped him on the back and said, “You take your clothes, and leave everything else,” meaning all the furniture still in the house. He was happy to sell it to me instead.
The drive home was nerve racking. I audibly yelped after I hit a large pot hole. The roads were snowy, and the sun was in my eyes. The sidewalk and steps to the front door were all covered in snow, and I had to carry the large window alone inside. I felt completely exhausted by the time both pieces were safe in the dining room. Finally, the missing pieces were home. I’d done it.
From the stories he told, it sounded like Tony never had much luck with the Sullivan House. I’m grateful she changed her tune for me and that the world pushed me to find her.