Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
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Like my brownhouse:
   dream house in Hurley
Monday, September 9 2002

setting: between Woodstock and Kingston, New York

Katie dropped us off at the Kingston bus station this morning and we bought tickets for our return to New York City. From there we walked to our real estate agent's office and he took us on another house hunting expedition.
The first place we went was an oversized modern house overlooking distant Catskill ridges through a few tall spindly white pines remaining from what had once been a dense grove. The house provided yet another example of the truly horrifying decor that can result in a taste vacuum. Everywhere we looked were mismatched floral wallpapers, appalling wall-to-wall carpets, and cheap fixtures. As usual for large rambling houses, most of the decisions made regarding the arrangements and decorations had clearly been done with a view toward maximizing the safety of children.
The house itself, however, had much promise. The living room had high, cathedral ceilings and the kitchen was well-lit and spacious. Most of the bedrooms were downstairs in the basement in a vast suite of small rooms that would have to be completely refloored and painted. But then there was the attic, a still-unfinished space with its own set of towering ceilings. In this house, with these owners, having so much left to do was actually a plus. No one would ever have to peel off wallpaper or dig up carpets up here.
Everything about the house, aside from a superficial layer of ill-chosen decor, was perfect. It was even set back a distance from the road on its four acre lot. And the road itself was a small, inoffensive country lane going to the place where the county keeps its snow plows, ensuring that this would be the first road plowed in the winter. We lingered for a long time, checking out all the outside decks, the two-car garage, and all 4500 square feet of space. The guy living there happened to be a real estate agent and he was actually representing himself in its sale. His assistant was a big friendly golden retriever who followed us around throughout.
We looked at a number of other places throughout the rest of the day, but none of them were as good as that first one and all of them were more expensive. One was a nice old farmhouse crowded a little too much by neighbors. Another was an ugly suburban home owned by a celebrity writer who had somehow managed to make the inside reasonably attractive. Yet another was a ho-hum house with a commanding view of Mount Tobias (one of the Catskill's high peaks).
But the most ridiculous of all was an ugly little brick ranch house, the memory of whose appalling decorations provided us entertainment long after we'd seen it. In the wood-paneled basement we found an installation of perhaps the ugliest bar in America. The bar itself was made of curving orange formica and a kitschy sign overhead read "Martinis spoken here." The tackiness of the place was partially a function of the politics of the occupants, judging from the huge American flag flying on a dedicated flagpole in the yard and the military portraits and decorative antique guns hanging on the wall. When you "really love" your country, in that unthinking insubstantial but very public way typical of SUV drivers with dual flapping window flags, taste is simply not a consideration. Back when I was a kid and didn't know any better, I'd visit the homes of friends and naturally assume that mismatched (but well-dusted) folksiness was the proper way truly-functional families decorated their homes. I always knew there was something pathological about the cluttered bookshelves and narrow paths between stacks of dusty magazines at my house.
If you'll forgive me, I'd like to dwell for a moment on the subject of upstate patriotism. Judging by the sheer number of flags, I'm forced to conclude that patriotism is far more fervent than it is in the City. You'll typically see four or five houses in a row, all of them flying identical flags at identical angles. But then, pointedly, you'll notice the absence of a flag, like a missing tooth in an otherwise perfect mouth. Sometimes you'll find entire streets that aren't flying a single flag. I was wondering about the social dynamics driving the decision of whether or not to fly a flag. I get the feeling that it's gradually become acceptable to not fly flags, and that the decision to fly one contains more of a political message than it used to. Ten months ago, flying a flag meant, "I'm in solidarity with the victims of 9-11." Now it means "I support our president." I've even seen a bumpersticker reading, "I'm proud of George W. Bush," and it actually made me happy because it indicated that, after Enron, Ashcroft, Adelphia, and the escape of Osama, those assholes are on the defensive.
It's the truly irreversible patriotic statements that seem the most defensive of all. In Woodstock, for example, I saw that someone actually had an American flag professionally painted on his garage door. How could he not know that he was dragging down the property values of everyone in his neighborhood? I have no idea what the owner's politics are, but if ever there was a case of protesting too much, this would be it.
At the end of the day, Gretchen and I decided we should make an offer on that first house. It seemed unlikely that we'd be finding another place of that quality at such a good price. So, back at the real estate office, we began the process of signing papers. The dynamics of this transaction will be considerably different from those which resulted in my having a condo in Los Angeles. All of the money for this place will come from the sale of Gretchen's brownstone apartment, so, in a very real sense, she will be the real owner. And we won't be paying any mortgage.
We rode back to New York City on an Adirondack Trailways bus, which is a much more pleasant experience than, say, going Greyhound. As we approached the city, I saw that we were on New Jersey route 17, a weird hybrid between a freeway and a commercial highway, the kind you might find passing through any small town's "motor mile" and "fast food district." Like a freeway, there were no intersections, lights, or stop signs of any sort. But all the businesses on either side had direct street-front access. In order to make a U-turn on this highway, one had to exit onto a cross street, cross an overpass, and head back the other way. New Jersey is an odd state. Things are always done in a completely different way there than they are in the rest of the country. If it wasn't so damn ugly and carcinogenic it might actually be cool.
Back at the house, our realtor called us and told us that he'd already negotiated the price on the place we'd made an offer on, stopping at the exact place where our highest possible offer matched the seller's lowest. Now we have to wait 48 hours to give another pending buyer a chance to match our offer and come up with the money.

The first house we saw on today's house hunt. We bid $270,000 on it
and had negotiated a price of $285,000 by the end of the day.

Gretchen on the phone at the realtor's office in Kingston,
telling her father about the house we're making an offer on.

The distinctive New Paltz backdrop, Mohonk Mountain, viewed from an Adirondacks Trailways bus.

Midtown Manhattan, viewed from New Jersey in an Adirondacks Trailways bus.

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