Sunday, March 13 2005
There's a piece of land adjacent to our property in the back that has been for sale since the fall. I didn't know much about it except that its only possible building site is directly behind the house of one of our uphill neighbors, let's call them the Greenhouses. These neighbors are understandably worried about the prospect of someone buying the property and deciding to plop down a trailer and set up a target range. This worry intensified when it was learned that a prospective buyer was indeed planning on building "a small house." But recently that deal has fallen through, based partly on the fact that the only access to the parcel is through the Greenhouses' property, and they did everything they could to scuttle the sale. Since the access road isn't public land and nobody owns any easements to it, establishing right of way for any prospective owner would require an expensive court case, which takes away substantially from the parcel's only winning trait: cheapness. Though it's a generous fourteen acres in size, it's on the market for only $25,000. That might sound like a steal, but most of the land is rocky, rugged, and riven by ravines. Only about an acre of it is suitable for building a house (assuming that somehow a septic system would also fit and meet regulations).
Today I went with the Greenhouses to the offices of the Win Morrison realty company in Kingston so I could look at maps and help them decide what course of action to take. Gretchen couldn't come because she had some Catskill Animal Sanctuary business to attend to.
On the drive into town I asked the Greenhouses a bunch of questions about our southern Dug Hill Road neighborhood because I figured they'd know as much as anybody. They've been living in their house since the Eisenhower administration.
The first story they told me was about realtors and how they're not always dishonest, pushy people. It seems that when their realtor was showing them the place that would eventually be their house he actually tried to convince them not to buy it. "Are you sure you want to live way out here?" he kept asking them. Back in the fifties, when cars were less reliable and Dug Hill Road a bit more rustic, the notion of living in the forest five miles from the nearest regional city was considered eccentric.
In those days there weren't quite as many houses in our neighborhood, but even back then when one drove up Dug Hill Road, one emerged from a dense finger of Catskill State Park forest into a surprisingly well-settled area atop Hurley Mountain. For awhile the Greenhouses felt a little like foreigners because they were the only people in the neighborhood who hadn't recently emigrated from Germany. (It bears noting that this was soon after the end of World War II.)
I also wanted to know more about the abandoned go cart track in a field about a half mile behind the Greenhouses. When had that been operational? What road had people used to go there? Mrs. Greenhouse was unequivocal about that abomination, recalling the many Sunday afternoons spoiled by the distant squawk of a public address system urging people to buy hot dogs. The go cart track had been in operation in the 60s and 70s and it had used the same access road across the Greenhouse's land that prospective buyers of the parcel in question today will have to use. There had once been an attempt to enlarge the road for the benefit of go cart fans, something Mr. Greenhouse stood in front of a bulldozer, Tiananmen Square stylee, to prevent. (When I later told Gretchen this story, she once again made the following proclamation, "We have the coolest neighbors!")
When we arrived at the real estate office, we were immediately greeted by Kate, the realtor for the parcel in question. Not that it had any bearing on her abilities as a real estate agent, but her body type was that of a smallish snowman.
In a meeting room we finally got a chance to look at a tax map showing all the local property boundaries, including those for the parcel we'd come to inquire about. I could immediately see why the property was on the market for only $25,000. Not only was it "landlocked," it had a most unusual shape. It was rectangular or nearly so, measuring 160 feet wide and four thousand feet long. On the map it looked like an unsharpened pencil. Given the mandatory fifty-foot setbacks in the Hurley township, this parcel doesn't have a whole lot of land where one could build anything. Yet the realtor was putting on the pressure, talking about how the buyer for whom the deal had fallen through had been interested in somehow "putting in two houses."
After talking somewhat unhelpfully with the real estate agent, she left us alone to discuss the property among ourselves. Since the Greenhouses would be the people most affected by activities on the parcel's most desirable uphill end, they're the ones most interested in buying it. Other neighbors have expressed interest in contributing funds for its purchase, but what does all this mean? Who ends up with the title to the property? Mrs. Greenhouse suggested giving us "right of first refusal" regarding things that might happen to her property after she dies, but what does that really mean? Would that be on a paper? Would that be a formal easement? And if the property were to be divided between us, we'd have to end up with the lion's share of the land, since only topmost end of it is adjacent to the Greenhouses and we're the next people downhill. We only vaguely touched on these issues, and of course all I could do was say I'd have to talk things over with Gretchen. To my way of thinking, though, the parcel was so marginal that it made little sense to act in haste.
But haste was exactly what the realtor tried to scare up. In hopes of getting us acting in a more hasty manner, she waved a couple emails at us when she returned, saying they were from yet more people writing to ask about the property. But neither I nor the Greenhouses reacted with anything that could have been construed as haste.
On the drive home we had a good chuckle about how transparent that email stunt had been. Maybe such things work on people who were, say, born yesterday. But even if those emails had been legitimate inquiries, waving them at us was bad form. What would she have done if, in similar form, we'd demanded to see those emails (or ripped them from her hands)?
Today was Indian Buffet Sunday in Red Hook, and again we ate at the Curry House with our friends from Lapla Road, "the Laplas." After starting our dinner conversation with the topic of today's real estate investigation (Mr. Lapla thought we'd be safe not worrying about it) we somehow moved on to the topic of spirituality. Gretchen and I are unusual in that neither of us is the slightest bit spirtual. We do not belive things "happen for a reason" or we get any sort of reward or punishment once we are dead. It's atheism in its purist form, because we're not "involved" in being atheists; it's not a big deal and we don't hang out in atheist chat rooms. We just don't believe gods and supernatural forces provide any explanation for the phenomena we observe in the world. This doesn't mean we aren't impressed and enchanted by nature and all its complexity. Mind you, we differ in our approach to the world. Unlike me, Gretchen doesn't need an explanation for the things she sees; she can accept things like "awareness" and "love" as irreducibly complicated. For me, of course, we're all robots and can theoretically be emulated on computers. And love is nothing more than a set of beneficial social urges (that in many people are weaker than the one that makes them want to smoke a cigarette). That isn't intended to take anything away from how sublime it feels when experienced.
As I said, though, this type of absolute spirtualessness is rare. Most of the people we know, all of them educated and liberal, are "spirtual" even if they're not religious. They may sneer at "organized religion," and may insist that faith is yet another inherently personal thing that our mass market culture has seized upon to homogenize, but a little poking around reveals that their thinking is based on a lot more than sober empiricalism. And so it is with the Laplas, who immediately launched into a discussion of what Ms. Lapla referred to as "the science of astrology." "Pseudoscience," I corrected her. But no, she would not be corrected.
As with all pseudoscience, the supporting evidence the Laplas had was entirely anectdotal. "Until you've had a good astrological reading, you can't have an opinion on it," Mr. Lapla said. He said that he goes to his astrologer whenever he's feeling a little out of sorts and that she has uncovered all sorts of interesting things. "It sounds a lot like therapy," said Gretchen.
This is where I came in with what I call my Theory of Idiomatic Value. This theory says that any framework for discussing anything (in this case psychology) is a useful one, so long as the parties understand the language. To my way of thinking, astrology is an arbitrary framework that completely describes the range of human personality. An astrologer reading someone's chart is really just using the "idioms" of astrology to talk about personality issues everyone has. The fact that everybody has traces of every kind of personality is a little like the fact that if you take into account obscure enough heavenly bodies, you'll find one in every house and every sign of anyone's birth chart. And even if you don't, aspects of one sign or house can be found in another (ie Capricorn is similar to Virgo and Aquarius is a little like Libra). Since the astrologer pores over each chart in detail and asks lots of questions and gets lots of feedback, an astrological session is indistinguishable from a therapy session with a psychoanalyst; astrology can be thought of as just another school of that profession.
It's important to remember here that it's the talking that counts; the "facts" of the astrological chart are irrelevant. If you got a reading from an astrologer looking at someone else's chart, it would be every bit as valuable as the one you'd get from reading your chart. This is a double-blind study waiting to happen, assuming real scientists (the only people who seem to care about rigorous scientific studies) need convincing.
Surprisingly, the notion that astrology might be useful even if it was founded on nonsense seemed to intrigue Mr. Lapla. Furthermore, my articulation of precisely why I'd once been interested in astrology, that it was a language that I had to learn in order to understand my new astrology-minded friends, made sense to Gretchen as well. She'd incorrectly assumed that the reason I'd been so interested in astrology was that I'd believed it had some basis in fact.
After dinner, we convoyed with the Laplas to Mr. Laplas' new sculpture studio in Port Ewen. It's in an old concrete block auto body repair place with a good view of 9W. He's only been in it since summer, but already it has a functional showroom and a big studio space. A huge spider and an elegant three foot tall song bird, both made of brass, are the only completed works for the time being. But the it's hard to imagine the Laplas having had any time for art with so much work to do getting the studio in order.
The most amusing things in the studio were a set of crudely-welded hammers and cartoonish swords brought in as an examples by a kid who wants to be an apprentice.
This evening I bought a bulk order of five wireless routers because I never seem to stock enough for my clients who need them. When I was filling out the ecommerce web forms, I was presented with a text area for typing in additional comments for the order. What I usually type into such boxes is something like what I typed today, which was:
Props to the homies in shipping. Remember to respect 4:20 when it comes around. For real. Peace out ya'all.
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