This summer, we went house hunting. I would have rather climbed Mount Everest barefoot over shattered glass with no food and a big rock on my back.

Imagine the most unspeakable torture. Being thrown in solitary and forced to watch reruns of The Bachelor, say. Even if you have the best real estate agents in the world, and we did, buying a house is worse than even that.

The Bedouins had it right. Live in a tent. Permanent housing was, and remains, a bad idea.

But my wife and I are not Bedouins. We're idiots.

That's why we jabbered enthusiastically at first, like this: We'll get a house with a fireplace. Yeah, and a great big dining room for entertaining. Yeah, and a deck. And a finished basement we can use as a rec room. And a good kitchen with new appliances. And a nice backyard. And hardwood floors. And high ceilings. And good light, gotta have good light. Oh, and don't forget the neighborhood. Absolutely must have lots of trees, preferably maple for the autumn color. Yeah, and kids Sam's age. And, of course, at a price we can afford. You might say we suffered from irrational exuberance.

After six draining, nerve-wracking weeks, our conversations were reduced to long, cold silences interrupted by sniping asides.

In most areas of the country, the process is more or less sane. A seller expects a buyer to offer a little less than the asking price. The two dicker. They arrive at a sum, generally close to the initial asking price, and everybody goes home happy.

In Washington, D.C., they do things a little differently. Here, they hose down a field, throw a bunch of prospective buyers in it, shoot a gun in the air, then watch the buyers as they wrestle in the mud, gouging eyes, kicking groins, all the while being mindful to grovel at the feet of the seller. Whoever is most beat-up and appreciative, wins.

OK, I made that up. What actually happens is worse.