When Palm Springs' summer temperatures topped 110 degrees, it took me about three seconds to accept my friend Bob's invitation to join him in Boston for a few weeks. At the end of my six-hour flight, I find myself sitting on his balcony overlooking the Charles River, luxuriating in blue skies and the gentle breezes of July. But in summer, Bostonians head for the cape where they can languish on beaches in willful denial of the cold winter months to come. If you plan to sell a city property, this is probably not the best time to hit the market. But my friend Bob has stepped into the breach.
"I'm over this place. I just want out of here," he declares without a trace of remorse.
A retired physician, Dr. Bob is giving up the Back Bay condo he has owned for 23 years in favor of a permanent move to California. His two-story unit in an 1880s brownstone is next door to Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen's building. But since his condo went on the market three weeks ago - at just under $2 million - there have been no takers.
As Bob's temporary house guest, I'm prepared to serve as hand-holder, counselor, and escort. I've been a licensed California real estate broker for over 20 years, but I'm unfamiliar with the Boston market. I am, however, well aware that sellers are always jiggling pots, just ready to boil over into a hot mess. Bob is no exception. Luckily, I know when to step up, and when to step back.
We spend our time dining, going to films, and occasionally venturing out into the harbor - taking the ferry to Provincetown or going boating in Newburyport. The best and most diverting times are spent with Bob's friends and family. They establish their intelligence and sympathy one night over dinner, when Bob grouses, "It's summer. I should have listed last March when it would have sold immediately."
His sister Julie encourages Bob to be patient, while her BFF Susan agrees with his assessment.
"Nobody wants to look at real estate when it's this beautiful outside. Everyone is on vacation or spending weekends on the cape."
Without skipping a beat, Susan helpfully suggests, "Why don't you try burying St. Joseph?"
"Oh...," Bob sighs. "I forgot about that."
I am now swimming in uncharted waters. The intricacies of Catholic sainthood are a mystery to me. My early Protestant upbringing came with an understanding that Catholic sainthood was some form of in-house mumbo jumbo. It was essentially Santeria with better wardrobe, or something akin to The Book of Mormon - the play, not the text. Over the years, as new saints kept showing up, I came to see sainthood as the Catholic equivalent of the Oscars' Lifetime Achievement Award. But that Oscar goes to the almost dead; for Catholic sainthood there has to be a body. Habeas corpus Sanctus.
On the drive home from dinner, Bob insists we get up early the next day and forage through the urban jungle to acquire a statue of St. Joseph. Then bury it. Stat.
Has he lost his mind? Since I'm riding shotgun, I pull out my smart phone and Google "bury St. Joseph to sell house." The answer pops up faster than Ron Jeremy at the AVNs. And the instructions on the website www.stjosephstatue.com are specific.
"Bury the statue in the yard in the front of the house. Favorable spots are either close to the "For Sale" sign or close to the road. Pray to St. Joseph when you are burying him and keep praying until the house is sold."
Ancillary data on the site clarifies that, "St. Joseph is most commonly buried upside down facing the house. Some say that this tradition goes back from what is called the 'degradation of the saints.' At that time the tradition was that you threatened the saints by burying them, and with that saying to the saints, 'I will keep you with your head down in the dirt until you sell my house for me.'"
Damn. That's harsh. In a who-would-you-rather challenge, I'd have to pick Stalin.
The next morning Bob and I head for the St. Francis Chapel on Boylston Street in the Prudential Center. The center is an urban mall of glass and marble, nestled amid high-rises. But St. Francis Chapel's gleaming little retail outlet, near the Forever 21 store, has no St. Joseph. It's time to bring out the big guns. Bob and I head downtown to the Liturgical Center on West Street, one-half block south of the Boston Common.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" I inquire, as we trundle up the subway stairs leading to the street.
"Because," Dr. Bob explains, "there's a showing this afternoon and we have to get him buried before the buyer arrives."
At this point, I make a mental note to heavily scrutinize any future instructions coming from my primary care physician.
The West Street Liturgical Center turns out to be a double storefront in an older building. One glance confirms we've hit the mother lode. A gaggle of religious statuary stands in the display window to the right of the entry door. Hand-painted saints congregate, in small, medium, and large sizes, on a field of green Astroturf. The largest - a Madonna and child - stands next to a decorative Bell jar filled with plastic sunflowers and reeds. The entire assembly simultaneously recalls Sylvia Plath, Provence, and Jennifer Jones - who became the apotheosis of mortal and saint when she scored an Oscar for her Song of Bernadette.
Wandering among a cornucopia of Catholic books, videos, CDs, vestments, trinkets, and icons we are soon approached by a sales clerk who appears to be a volunteer from the local senior center.
"I'm looking for a statue of St. Joseph," Dr. Bob explains.
"Oh," the clerk calmly replies, "you must be selling a house. I have two you can choose from."
Bob opts for the deluxe $7.50 model which comes in its own box and contains a set of instructions. The side of the box proclaims, "Saint Joseph, home seller and friend of the family. Saint Joseph, patron of a happy home, knew all about selling and buying homes. He protected and provided for Mary and Jesus, and will help you as well!"
I confess I did not know that Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, was a Realtor. But old Joe couldn't have been a top producer or that woman wouldn't have been forced to drop that baby in a barn. I'm not being sacrilegious, I'm just sayin'....
We take our little saint in a box over to the Liturgical Center's elderly cashier, Sister Mary Elizabeth, a sweet pudding-faced nun, tricked out in a Wedgewood blue habit and matching wimple. Support hose and black orthopedic lace-ups complete the ensemble. If Mary Elizabeth ever smacked anyone's wrist with a ruler, I'm sure she has since repented. But her register skills are somewhat lacking. She is unable to ring up the sale or get the cash drawer to open.
"Oh my," she proclaims in frustration. "I'm new here and I'm not used to this set up."
Evidently the registers at Abercrombie were different.
Mary Elizabeth fumbles and dodders until I volunteer the suggestion that the store needs a bar code reader.
"We have one," she explains. "But this box doesn't have a bar code."
Eventually Mary Elizabeth triumphs over the register and Bob and I cart off St. Joseph to his new home: the small garden in front of a 19th Century Beacon Street brownstone.
While Bob searches his storage space for a garden trowel, I open the box and remove the saint. He's packed in a little Styrofoam coffin sealed with a band of Scotch tape. The molded-plastic St. Joseph is about 4 inches tall; he sports a floor-length green tunic with a Nantucket red shawl above sporty sandals. Our St. Joseph stands on a small pedestal, and a gold sticker on the bottom of the pedestal proclaims: Made in China. Just to make sure the Higher Powers don't get their signals crossed, I peel off the sticker and discard it before the interment begins.
Bob returns, trowel in hand, and we march down the front stairs to the garden. I refuse to engage in a debate on placement and, left to his own devices, Bob digs a hole beside a tree. In a bizarre and silent ceremony, St. Joe goes in head first, facing the building. Bob scoops the excavated dirt back into the hole, and then pats down the plot with the toe of his Puma sneakers while I nervously scan the sidewalk for approaching pedestrians. How would we explain these activities to a passing beat cop? The whole episode is more Hick Finn than holy ritual and, of course, nothing will come of it. After the burial, we take Bob's French Bulldog for a walk and vacate the condo for the anticipated buyer showing.
Two days later, Bob accepts the buyer's all-cash offer.
Now I'm not suggesting there is anything to this Catholic hocus pocus - that there could be any cause and effect relationship between the saintly burial and the offer. There was, after all, that $150,000 price reduction two days before the interment. But Dr. Bob, who is now packing his belongings for the upcoming move, tells me he's going to follow the instructions that came with the statue.
"When your house sells, make sure to bring the statue with you to your new home and place it in a place of honor as a reminder to thank God."
That's His story, and He's stickin' to it.