Everyone thought he was a real estate agent. As far back as I can recall I’ve seen his name and a headshot on those signs that are embedded in people’s yards announcing their availability for looting by lookie loos, and for trying to make the seller cry by underbidding. Mitchell Z was a former resident of the community; back in the days when the HOA board majority consisted of the wicked witch of the west and the two old guys who paid themselves to do all the common area maintenance.

But they’re all gone now, dead, moved, or maybe even laying in the back bedroom of one of those vacant houses. No one is buying right now, the signs are beginning to list to starboard, and the little foam core rectangles with his dignified portrait have been blowing in the wind, and often down the street.
When I’m feeling generous, I’ve reattached them

A miniature printed version of the sign serves as his business card, stapled or attached to postcards, or an “at-a-glance” annual calendar hung on my front gate, along with seasonal e-cards- are the only sign that he is still with us. He is an expert on the homes in our community, and has been in almost every single one over the years. This is all heresy of course, HOA myth probably.

I wonder if anyone has actually checked to see if he is licensed, now or ever. We all know him, but has he ever sold a house? I’ve never heard anyone discuss this, and I’ve lived here over a decade.

My neighbor Robert stopped me on my way out today, said the guy died suddenly, said he had been living in his car- and showering at 24 hour fitness, or the Grand Pacific Resort above the flower fields. All of us old timers knew, he said, everyone knew that he’d lost it all years ago when his wife drowned in the community pool- an accident. Everyone felt sorry for him so they let him hang his signs in their yards for a couple of months, knowing he wouldn’t, or couldn’t actually sell it, but just to make him smile, to have a reason to hang around what to most of us seemed like the gravesite of his late spouse.

The signs are always present, the same photo, although the agencies he seemed to represent did seem to change every once in a while. They are always in different yards- but you’ll see several of them artfully arranged at one time, on one side, on the same street. I wonder if he only has a certain number of them. I’ve always thought to myself- since I’m a marketing type- what a very creative way to keep his name out there.

Turns out he wasn’t a real estate agent at all, never had been. Rumor had it he was an electrician who’d experienced one too many shocks - and his life was like a scratch on a vinyl record album- he kept going round and round, but never moved on.

Mitchell Z the signs said. A handsome man in his 50s with tinges of grey around the ears, starched shirts with cufflinks and a sports coat. Simple, distinguished, elegant.

Wow, I said to Robert. I never got close enough to his car to see the sleeping bag, the damp towels – the evidence of habitation. He was always so fastidious, his words sparse, and measured, but cultured, intelligent.

As I turned to walk away, I realized that my impression of Mitchell was a visual one more than anything else. When I saw the signs, it was almost like we’d run into each other somewhere, when I actually hadn’t seen him for years.

Why didn’t anyone say anything to me? I asked, when I thought I’d hired him to put my house on the market, when I spent how many hours keeping it immaculate just in case he bought a buyer through.

I’m going to have to pull out all those papers he had me sign and actually read them. I could’ve lost everything if he was just a con man. What an idiot I’ve been. Robert shook his head and rolled his eyes at me, and went back into the house.

I stood there, a sunny day, and gazed up the street. Today there were six of Mitchell’s signs waving at me. End of an era.


Ruth Newell Jan. 8, 2012 @ 2:52 p.m.

"his life was like a scratch on a vinyl record album"--great line, TS. This is a touching well written essay. Going to go read your other one now:) On a roll this morning, eh?


nan shartel Jan. 8, 2012 @ 3:26 p.m.

it's just 2 scary how times have changed and how deep the corruption of mediocrity and greed goes

even honest hard working people find themselves in the toilet without any paper to wipe on :(

the gray landscape u outline here is one playing itself out all over this city TS

u handled it with care...great blog!!


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