Unfortunately for me and my wife, Elissa, a subject arose that impelled Rock to hold forth. Rock was married to Elissa’s long-time friend, Ruby, and seeing and hearing Rock had become part of remaining friends with Ruby. We’d recently moved into a new house, and the empty lot next door had come up for sale. We’d considered buying it to preserve a view of some trees from our screen porch, but the seller’s asking price was far too high.
Ruby and Rock had dropped by to see how our place looked now that we’d settled in, our pictures hung and our furniture in place. Elissa had mentioned the lot to Ruby in a phone conversation, and as we toured the house Ruby looked out the French doors at the open space and asked us if we’d been able to make a deal. Elissa said we’d soured on it due to the price. Ruby argued we should give thought to paying more than the lot was worth so we could keep the view and preserve peace of mind for years to come. We couldn’t know who’d move in next door and how long the construction noise would last during the build. I replied that it would weaken our negotiating position if we thought we had to get what we wanted no matter the cost. Elissa said we’d discussed asking the couple on the other side of the lot to go in with us as partners, but we feared they might later decide they wanted to build on it or sell it, and for that reason and others we preferred to own it outright. The idea of creating the partnership appealed to Rock. You’d only have to pay half the agreed-upon price, he said, and you’d gain control of the property. Ruby, sensing a fixed idea coming on, told Rock it was up to us to determine if we’d be happy with a partnership and paying half price was only one piece of a bigger picture.
Ruby knew that once Rock got going we’d lack sufficient force to turn him back. He’d insisted on naming their son Tombstone, for example. In his opinion, the name went well with Rock. After weeks of heated discussion during her pregnancy, Ruby caved and agreed to the name Tombstone, but only if they called him Stone, which she contended fit better with Rock and Ruby. Calling him Tombstone or Tomb was out of the question. Rock reluctantly accepted the Stone compromise, though he complained he couldn’t understand why she’d turned the issue into an argument. He did not seem to care what name she would have chosen, Ruby had confided to Elissa, and in this case he did not heed her request to abandon advising us on the lot.
I see nothing wrong with forming a partnership with your neighbors, he began. Do you ever see them working in their yard or do you have their email address, maybe in a neighborhood directory? Do you know them at all? Have you spoken to them? They probably want to prevent someone from building next door, just as you do. It doesn’t have to be an argument with them. You’re not selling anything, you’d just be making sure they’ve weighed the advantages of keeping other people from buying the lot. There could be issues to work out if they viewed the purchase as an investment, and I agree you wouldn’t want them pestering you to sell it. These details would have to be worked out. If you think you don’t want a partnership I’d say you should examine your own thinking. You have no ownership of the lot now, and that’s not your goal. You might find the idea of working through these details daunting, but that’s no reason to reject possibilities that could work to your benefit and theirs. From the look of their place they have money, so paying half would likely not be a stretch for them. If they’re older than you are, they could decide to downsize and move out of their house, which could cause them to lose interest in the lot. You’d have to talk to them about future intentions, but that would be better than assuming you don’t have compatibility with them. It wouldn’t need to be anything more than a discussion at first, not an argument. You may think of it as an argument. I wouldn’t be afraid to talk to them about it, if I were you. In fact, I’d be willing to talk to them about it myself, if you wanted me to. I could get them to tell me, I think, how much they’d be willing to invest. Not really invest, since we aren’t looking at this as an investment, only a way of getting control of the property. You could plant a garden or trees, come to some decision with them about how it could be handled to your mutual benefit. And with partners, you’d share the taxes and maintenance, another advantage. There’s nothing wrong with a bargain, is there? Why wouldn’t they see it the same way, as a savings? I’m not arguing with you, just expressing an opinion you should put on one side of the scales before someone comes along who’ll pay the seller’s price. I don’t see why you should be afraid to push forward because the seller might get the better of you. It often happens that people think they’re getting the better of someone in a deal when the people on the other end are getting exactly what they want too, and what’s so bad about that? Stone knows a guy who’s a lawyer and a tough negotiator, and the interesting thing is you’d never know by his manner how powerful he is. I could ask Stone to contact this friend, and you could meet him and see what you think. I can call Stone right now if you’re interested. We talk to each other all the time so don’t worry we might be disturbing him. I won’t have to talk him into talking with me. He likes to talk to me. I can hardly get him off the phone sometimes due to the rapport we’ve always had.
I prayed his phone would ring then. When his phone rang he’d always take the call, interrupting whatever the four of us were talking about. He’d speak in a loud voice to the caller for several minutes, oblivious that he was making our ears hurt and that we didn’t care to hear his half of the conversation. After hanging up, he’d tell us who’d called, usually someone we didn’t know, and recount the whole dialogue with us, repeating the parts we’d already heard. By then, he’d sometimes forgotten what he’d been saying before, giving one of us the opportunity to change the subject, preferably to something that wouldn’t interest him. But no call came in, and we told him we would rather he didn’t contact Stone about his lawyer friend and added that we still didn’t want a partner in buying the lot.
Why not? he asked. Do we have to go over the whole thing again? Don’t you get what I’ve been telling you? I’m not arguing with you and don’t think I am. I’m just trying to help you see the benefits of locking up this deal. Sure it’s a bunch of money, but what do you want to do with your money that has greater advantages to you than preserving the emptiness of this property? Don’t get me wrong, I’m just asking, though I’m asking for a reason that goes to what’s best for you. Take my words in the spirit they’re given, not as me telling you what to do or selling you something you don’t want. You do want this, don’t you? You have a legitimate interest here, don’t you? And is it happening the way you want it to happen with your current viewpoint? Not from what I’m hearing. You’re on the road to giving up on the idea. Can you live with the prospect of making a huge mistake you’ll later regret?
Ruby broke in, telling him to get off our backs.
This isn’t an argument, he answered. Why are you arguing with me when I have no intent to argue? Do you have something against them buying this lot? Wouldn’t you too be happy if they were able to make the deal? Why not get it done through a cooperative effort, the help of their neighbors? I’m sure they’d like to know their neighbors better. I’m just proposing what I think is a reasonable and positive approach, not arguing, as you seem to think. I’m not afraid to express my opinions. Does anyone know who you are if you don’t express yourself? How could they? And it would be my fault if I didn’t express myself on this topic, an important decision in their lives. Why can’t you see that? I don’t want to cause disagreement. It’s the opposite. I want to bring about an agreement that will be a win-win for all parties. I don’t see why they should put themselves in the position of accepting defeat and then looking backward and forward at years of regret. Why would you want that for them? You can help them right now, and is that what you’re doing?
Ruby began to walk toward our front door, apologizing for leaving so abruptly. Rock followed, walking slowly, his voice still after us. Elissa and I were relieved to open the door and breathe some fresh air. Ruby hurried down the steps as Rock passed through the doorway, thanking us for the tour. When Rock reached the sidewalk near his enormous SUV, which he’d bought because he liked to be up high, he turned and peered at the lot.
That piece of property, he said, may have greater value to you than to anyone else. Let me know if I should call Stone and ask him to contact his friend. I might say a word to him anyway, just to get the ball rolling.
I was tempted to tell him again not to, but I knew he wouldn’t yield. He’d come back at me to justify my request and try to persuade me.
Ruby climbed into the SUV. Rock waved at us, and we waved back as we stepped into our house and shut the door.