Eagle's Nest historian
Tuesday, June 15 2004
This evening I was over at Larry's house on Eagle's Nest Road again, continuing with my cowboy electrician work. The job I'm doing, in concert with the work of the other contractors, feels a lot like the gilding of a turd. The grounds aren't bad, but the buildings standing on them are worthless accretions, the architectural analogues of malignant tumours.
I was given more insight on this issue when one of Larry's new neighbors randomly dropped by. He was an older black man whose accent suggested he might have been born in the deep South. But it was hard to tell, since his pronunciation was strongly affected by a seeming absence of top front teeth. Meanwhile his lower gums were home to a thicket of haphazardly-distributed incisors, many of them darkened by years of the sort of dental hygiene not recommended by four out of five dentists. His name was Charlie and he knew a lot about the history and goings on of Eagle's Nest Road. He knew, for example, that the kitchen in Larry's house had, back in the 1960s, been an attached garage. More recently, perhaps 12 years ago, Charlie himself had lived in this house, and he'd made a number of improvements, including the replacement of a section of rotten framing in the house's front wall.
We walked through the house and Charlie pointed out various idiosyncracies. He stood in the middle of the living room at one point and told me that a beam would have to be replaced in the basement, that it was single pine log essential to the integrity of the floor and "he's about to go." he pointed to the hydronic heating radiators and a pile of shiny new copper pipes in the process of being installed and launched into a story. Three years ago some guy who was staying in the house while the crazy Japanese woman who owned it was back in Tokyo. The guy stripped everything of any value out of the house and then abandoned it in a way that made it look as though someone had broken in. Charlie remembers driving past the house and seeing the doors open wide to the winter chill. "You can't do that in the winter, not around here," he said. The boiler was ruined, as was much of the plumbing.
As the house convulsed through various owners, Charlie stood by like a concerned parent, doing his part by mowing the grass during the months between sets of occupants. He told me about a long standing agreement he's had with the various tenants allowing him to store stuff in the sheds in exchange for free lawn maintenance.
Out at the pool Charlie told me the that all that would have to be done to clean it up would be to run the pump and get some chlorine in there. "They'll leave," he said of the pollywogs, "they don't like that chlorine." As we stood there, he noticed piles of a sawdust-like material accumulating on the deck beneath the clapboards of the house's newest extension, probably built in the 1970s. "That ain't good," he sighed. From the tone of his voice I got the feeling he'd had this problem before.
Over on the uphill side of the house its peculiar design made it appear as if it had been half-swallowed by a mudflow that had gone on to become the new surface of the lawn. Charlie wasn't pleased with the lawn's slope, which hadn't been arranged correctly for proper drainage. Now a side road was funneling the several hundred acres of uphill drainage into the base of the kitchen wall. Nearly everything about the house is like this - done by contractors with no personal stake who had vanished immediately after completing their work.
Charlie also told me about the funky sociology of Eagle's Nest Road, a place where people have a history of living "hand to mouth" and never really doing things in the way they're supposed to be done. Houses have been built on land whose ownership was unknown or unclear. Our friends further up Eagle's Nest (whom I've referred to as "Mr. and Mrs. Eagles Nest") told me the other day about a weird little "town" at the very top of Eagle's Nest - apparently its a mestizo community founded by Native Americans and Blacks who had once been Hudson Valley slaves (1640-1799). Charlie didn't say much about them specifically, but he did say they "they're getting old and dying off." Yet they've been doing that for generations, and for some reason they're still there, and they've managed to maintain their insularity and peculiar racial identity.
It was interesting to learn the peculiarities of Eagle's Nest Road, but Charlie was the kind of guy who will continue with his monologues until you say you have to go. Once he'd arrived, I found it impossible to work. But the thing that eventually forced me to leave was the arrival of the evening's blood-sucking insects.
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