It's not about the house.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Home, And Away

I tried to find something else to write about today – really I did. I’m on vacation in northern California and I wanted to talk about houses without basements or weather without rain or life without the AssVac. Nothing leapt immediately to mind, however, so I went and bought three newspapers to see if they could help me think of anything to say. I bought the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle and, just in case those others came up snake eyes, I tossed the Grey Lady in there, too.

There was nothing in the Bee except twelve articles about those two poor whales who came in to the delta to lick their wounds in peace and quiet and now are getting shot at and hollered at and chased around by well-meaning rubber-neckers, and speculation about why it might be the two of them are starting to look a little stressed…

I thought there was going to be nothing in the Chronicle, either, but on the next-to-last page I found it. It turns out to have been reprinted from the Times, however, so oh well. I guess even on vacation it’s the same-old, same-old gripes for me – even if I do try to broaden my horizons. (I ate white corn, though, instead of the butter-and-sugar variety I get at home, and I think that counts for something. It wasn’t any good – tasted like cow corn – but I’m willing to blame that on the season and not the region. Ain’t I swell?).

So anyway this article I found in the Times by way of the Chronicle is headlined “The tyranny of the second home” (the Chronicle actually only capitalized the first letter of the title so I am, too – it seems to be the San Francisco style, even on the front page. I think that’s odd. I’m going to have to assume the Lady would have capitalized every word, but the article isn't in today’s edition so I can’t check to be sure. Anyway…)

Now, except for that little modifier in the title (“second” homes), I started out all sympathetic. I mean, it must be nice to have a pied-à-terre in Manhattan with which to split your time and all, but house woes are house woes and my natural inclination in such matters is to lean mostly towards compassion. Plus, since these people are only in these houses part time, they have to deal with everything we deal with every day, only they have to do it all only weekends, when they – like the rest of us – really want to be relaxing. So okay. Poor them.

But then (and of course there’s going to be a but-then) there’s this:

First Man complains that the contractors “saw him coming” because the brand-new house he decided to build (on a farm that, by the way, already had a farmhouse) – the brand-new house he decided to design himself even though he’s not (as best I can figure) actually an architect – the brand-new house he went through seventeen drafts of the plans for – complains that the contractors “saw him coming” because they said they couldn’t build this brand-new house for $200,000 like he hoped. For shame, those contractors!

The article doesn’t say anything about the actual design of the house, but First Guy does mention a wife and children, and I’m assuming he wasn’t going to ask his however-many children to share a bedroom, or ask his wife to share a bathroom with them, or ask his guests to sleep on the couch. Maybe in New York City you can build four beds, two-and-a-half baths and a professional quality kitchen (well, we hardly think he’s going to settle for formica, do we?) all for under $200K – but not in the Berkshires, baby!

He goes on to say that the contractors “wanted three times that … which [he] felt he had to pay.” Um, Buddy? I can’t help but think here of something I know to be true: sometimes contractors quote what’s called an “asshole” price – they don’t want to do the job, for whatever reason, so they quote a price so high you’d have to be an asshole to say yes. If you're dumb enough to say yes, then they're smart enough to take the money. So, while I doubt $200K was a reasonable estimation, it is just possible that the 600 was your own asshole fault…

And the Second Guy – well, let’s just introduce Second Guy the same way the Lady does:

“Then there are the really big issues that lend anxiety…”

Ooh, ooh, we’re getting into the meaty stuff here, now. What are we talking about? Exploding furnaces? Collapsed roofs? Neighbors pricing out your furniture when you’re not around? Bears hibernating in your basement? “Big issues that lend anxiety” – like what?

“ the threat of giant towers in the view.”

Oh jesus.

Not even stupid cell phone towers but “a threatened power plant.” Ooh, please, not…power! Unless it’s the kind you can throw around, apparently. Second Guy actually fought against those towers and sort of won (they were built, but shorter). But then the bastards wanted to build another factory, to - I don’t know - make shit to build houses with or give some jobs to locals folks or some such crap like that, and so Second Guy sold the house and got away. Phew. There but for the grace of God, you know? That was a close one. Second Guy says he’s thinking about buying another second house somewhere else (presumably somewhere they wouldn’t have pesky local industry to worry their heads about) but what with the kid’s tennis and fencing lessons and all the traveling they do, well, he says: “I’d feel awful spending all that money and we’d never be there.”


Imagine what it’s like for those of us who never leave.

So I have an idea.

Someone should build a community on a couple thousand acres – in the Finger Lakes region, or the Catskills, or somewhere. It could probably even, if you planned it right, work like a combination planned-community/nature reserve – like Disney’s Celebration meets Mohonk Preserve. A bunch of extravagant (but not too extravagant) houses, built far enough away from one another so you’d never have to see your pesky neighbors, with a complete staff of gardeners and handymen and such-type local folks (who you’d also never have to see) to turn the water on and off and chase the bears away.

They could even sell the houses on the old assisted-living model: you “buy” it, but it’s only yours until you die. You don’t get to sell it or pass it on. When you’re gone, it goes back to The Reserve, and they turn around and sell it all over again to someone else. It could become a super-status symbol, because it would show that, not only do you have all this cash to throw around on a house outside the city, but that you also couldn't give a hoot about return on your investment… You’re just giving back to nature, getting a little something-something in return – with the added bonys that you don’t have to spend sleepless nights on the French Riviera worrying about who’ll cut the stalks off the perennials.

Maybe, for an extra fee, they could even get someone to write your blog for you when you go on vacation!

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