So as some of you know, recently I got a movie option on one of my books. And, after rather a long wrangling, they paid me.
This was not a life-changing sum of money, sad to say (although if they actually made the movie, it would be!) but it was money that I hadn't already earmarked to go somewhere. I hadn't ever counted on getting it because Hollywood is fickle. It was kind of like getting a tax return, except that as a freelancer, I haven't seen a tax return since approximately 2004, so I'm not actually sure what that's like.
So they paid me and I paid off my credit card and gave some money to charity and paid the taxes on it and then I stared at what was left for awhile, and thought "I should do something with this. If I just sit on it, I'll eventually fritter it away on car repairs and vet bills and whatnot. I should do...something."
The problem here is that I have basically everything I want. I have cheap needs. Two hundred bucks for a ton of fieldstone will keep me occupied for weeks. I have video games I haven't beat and books I haven't read. The truck is in good shape. Now that Gir has passed this mortal coil, my monthly vet bills have plummeted. (The vet claims that now that his records are out of the system, their computer runs faster, too.)
I am a nervous soul when it comes to money. My financial advisor at the bank had to forbid me from putting all my money in my sock and shoving it under the bed. Stocks are Right Out. But oh god, what if there's hyper inflation and suddenly my money is worth nothing? THE SOCK CANNOT SAVE ME THEN. What can I do that won't just go away if there's a recession?
And very, very belatedly, it occurred to me that I could maybe buy a piece of land. Not a house! I don't want a house! Houses mean renters and other people and foolishness. But I live in the country. And I live in a county where dirt is, frankly, dirt cheap. And people sell chunks of it sometimes. And then you have dirt with an address.
I thought "Can I do this? Am I allowed? Can I just buy a piece of land and it just...sits there? And maybe someday twenty years from now when I can't handle stairs and a big house anymore, I put a doublewide on it? Is that a thing real people do?"
I asked Kevin. He confirmed this was a thing that real people did and was not a completely batshit use of a windfall. He added that I could also potentially sell that land in twenty years and make a profit. I had to go lay down for a few minutes with a cold cloth over my eyes.
I selected a realtor by virtue of driving down the street and finding one with an open sign and went in. The pleasant older woman there, who looked more like a children's author than I ever will, listened to me blurt out my thoughts.
"Is this a thing people do?" I asked her at the end. "Is this nuts?"
"No," she said. "I mean, it's not nuts. Yes, people do this."
I stared at her, probably much like Ernie the hound when he is faced with something outside his experience.
"It's fine," she added. "Let's look at some listings."
And that is how we wound up tromping through the woods this morning, looking at a multi-acre lot so cheap that I assumed it would be on fire while I was looking at it. There is a house from 1900 that will require the services of a man with a bulldozer and perhaps a priest. The lot would need a well dug, and if I wanted to actually live there, it would need various other things done, but none of them are urgent. It could just...sit there.
"Why is it so cheap?" I said, baffled. "And why has it been on the market so long?" I was assuming that the house was probably made of asbestos held together with lead paint, with a meth lab in the basement, but up close, no self-respecting meth maker would have set up shop there. There was a toilet and a privet tree on the front deck. Nevertheless, even with having to save for house demolition and lead paint disposal, I could probably make it work without breaking the bank. The bank might even help.
The realtor explained that it was not the best neighborhood. I looked at the neighborhood somewhat blankly. There was an abandoned house on one side, a couple of ramshackle farmhouses on the others, and a pasture full of goats. Was it the goats?
The realtor said it was not the goats.
It occurred to me, after some delicate hinting, followed by indelicate hinting, followed by pointing, that perhaps my notion of what a low-income rural area looks like has been colored by living, in the past, in low-income rural areas. People paying top dollar for lots in my county are usually going into a subdivision. We're a bedroom community for the Research Triangle. These people don't go out to a goat pasture with a ruined trailer on its side and say "AHHH, COUNTRY LIFE!"
"But once the trees leaf out, you can't even see the goats," I said. "Or the trailer."
The realtor gazed briefly at the sky.
"And I could--Oooohh! A dog skull!"
"You see," said the realtor, as I flicked pine needles of my new skull, "the things you want are...unusual."
"I shall name you Skull-Bob," I said to the skull.
"Annnnnway," said the realtor, "I'll talk to the selling agent and see if I can find anything more out about it. But I think this might actually be a good fit for you, since you're looking long-term and not to move right away."
"And this isn't nuts? I'm not missing huge red flags?"
"No, for the price and the neighborhood and the fact somebody probably subdivided out a family plot, this is actually all pretty normal."
"...Do I get to keep the skull?"
"You get to keep the skull," she said.
And now of course I am seized with doubt and wondering if this is all utterly mad and a horrible waste of unexpected money, but our area is on course to gentrify with the new development that went in and I have no illusions about saving the house or anything and...still, I'm thinking, am I allowed to do this? Do real people buy land? Real people who aren't, like, rich people?
Is this okay?