Woodstock area house hunting
Tuesday, August 27 2002
Today Gretchen, Gretchen's visiting brother Brian, and I borrowed Anna's car and drove up to Woodstock to look at real estate. Actually, our initial destination was the larger, less economically healthy town of Kingston, the base of operations for Larry, our real estate agent. The part of Kingston near his office doesn't look especially shabby; there even seems to be some effort afoot to spruce up the place and make it attractive and vibrant. It's no Austin, Athens, or Charlottesville, but it's better than similar efforts I've seen in, say, Ypsilanti. The great thing about Kingston is that there is still room in their downtown renaissance for such places as Dot's Diner, the highly authentic Holstein-themed restaurant where we grabbed a quick lunch of veggie burgers and fries. There was an overweight woman at a table nearby whose skin was covered with hundreds of benign tumors, a condition Brian immediately diagnosed as Neurofibromatosis, a not terribly uncommon and completely untreatable genetic condition. It was a good subject not to think about as I ate my food. The veggie burger was so good I joked that it must have a little beef in it. Periodically we'd hear fries being lowered into the deep fryer and it would make the sound of a boiling witch's cauldron.
It didn't take very sensitive gaydar to detect Larry's style of life, though for some reason Brian didn't pick up on this at all until after Gretchen pointed it out. As he drove us out to see our first house, Larry was telling us cryptically about his writing career and a nascent non-fiction book whose subject he wouldn't reveal.
That first house was a rambling riot of mismatched styles and different levels, like the architectural embodiment of a schizophrenic's mind. It had been built and added to over the course of many years by one particular extended family. In a way it was great and had real promise for anyone willing to rip out the dreary slate-grey wood paneling. But it was much too far away from any sort of town for us to consider it. There was a guy living there with a paint-spattered clothes who took us all around the grounds and up into the woods without ever putting on shoes. His feet looked the way mine used to look back on the farm.
The next place we saw was a huge rambling log cabin with many odd-shaped bedrooms and several bathrooms. It was more than big enough for our needs, but it was kind of hard to get a sense of the place because of the ugliness of its furniture and decorations. Being a log cabin, there was plenty of unrelieved raw wood, but in one half of the house there were inexplicable expanses of floral-wallpaper-decorated drywall. "It isn't that these people have bad taste," Larry observed, "It's that they have no taste." Aside from the oppressive log cabinness of the place, the property was a really rather pleasant piece of real estate. It was set way back from the road and featured a good mix of sunny lawn and rocky forest. But the one thing that killed it for us was the school taxes, which came to $6000/year. That's a lot to pay when you're never going to have any kids. Sure, it makes sense for childless couples to contribute to schools if only for the fact that educated kids are less likely to break into your house and steal your television. But that sort of benefit isn't worth $500/month.
We saw two more places that looked good on paper but proved downright depressing on the ground. It's amazing how easy it is to disguise in photography such important parameters as the distance back from the road and the composition of the clapboards. And anything called a "Victorian" really shouldn't have vinyl or aluminum siding. We didn't bother going inside the first of these, but we did check out the interior of the second. It provided yet more evidence of the consequences of having no taste. The damage transcended the merely superficial. In the "hot tub room," the principle feature sat in the dead center of the room at floor level, surrounded on two sides by dreary brownish-grey wall to wall carpet, the kind found covering the floor of your typical dotcom. Numerous narrow windows had been installed all the way around without rhyme or reason, as if simply to eliminate privacy. "They have the design sense of a pound of liver," Larry observed. Moments earlier he'd been heard to say, "it's not exactly my cup of hemlock."
Knowing its kitchen was a little too small, Larry didn't even want to show us the last place on the list. But Gretchen insisted she wanted to see it anyway.
This last place was on a wooded hillside along a dead-end lane called, encouragingly enough, Muse Road. Just outside of Woodstock in the neighboring town of Hurley, it was perfectly located for rapid access to the Thruway and downtown Woodstock. It featured many artist-owner enhancements, including private outdoor patios and a large indoor artist's studio. The major downside was the awkward layout of the rooms, the lack of closet space, and the relatively modest amount of indoor space, roughly the same amount as my old two bedroom/three bathroom condo in Los Angeles. Still, the place caught our attention and immediately set us to thinking how we might modify the place to make it conform to the house of our dreams. This would involve me spending many hours with a power saw.
Later in New Paltz, we met our old Oberlin College chum Kristen Ma$$on at the Mainstreet Bistro, but for some inexplicable reason it was closed. So we went to Bacchus (a favorite New Paltz bar) instead. We made the mistake of going upstairs to the overpriced dining room instead of eating downstairs in the bar area. The dining room features a dismal little salad bar, a full Mexican-Italian-American menu, and free corn chips and salsa. But soft drink refills, Kristen learned, aren't free. I ordered the chili that comes in a hollowed-out globe of bread, and it contained more beef than a quarter pound Burger King Whopper. While Gretchen and Brian were off at the salad bar, Kristen was telling me that she'd heard somewhere that a really good sandwich combination consisted of a veggie burger crowned with bacon. In other Kristen news, she's involved with a drummer from Senegal, and her car is perpetually full of African drums, precisely as she used to repeatedly predict would happen should she ever get involved with an African drummer.
On the way back to Brooklyn, we stopped on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at Mary Purdy's apartment, where she was having something of a house re-warming party to celebrate a fresh coat of paint. It was a relatively small gathering comprised of the Oregon boys (Jason and Mary's on-again-off-again boyfriend John), an old Oberlin alum, and a couple people somehow related to the acting scene, including one guy who might have actually been a George W. Bush supporter.
As usual for such parties, things were light and comic at first. But then somehow the conversation took a turn for the deep as Jason explored Gretchen's reasoning for not wanting to procreate. This reasoning is rooted in Gretchen's belief that by and large the world is more about suffering than it is about happiness and that it's a safer bet for a creature never to come into being. In addition to obvious overpopulation concerns, she doesn't want to have children because she doesn't want to take credit for their suffering.
For my part, I agree that we shouldn't procreate, but it's more because I don't want the burden of raising children and I don't want to add additional hungry mouths to the world. Mind you, on balance I like being alive and feel lucky for being here, but I also feel like I don't owe any unknown children tickets out of their states of non-existence. I've come to view procreation as a selfish, anachronistic act by people who are too uncreative to figure out another, more reliable method for spreading their information. Come on people, at least since Gutenberg we've had much cooler forms of data propagation than DNA.
As I was thinking about it tonight, it seemed that the core reason for Gretchen's desire not to have children, that they would be born into a world filled more with pain than happiness, was entirely related to her set-point sub-average level of joy. If she somehow became slightly happier and felt that the world was by and large a happy place, maybe she'd feel that having kids was mostly doing them a favor. (This wouldn't, of course, change her view that children, even happy ones, impose additional burdens on the planet.)
Gretchen's dark view of life, and its integral role in her desire not to have children, is, she admits, a very unusual one. It's not a view she articulates very often, mostly because ours is such an obscenely pro-procreation world. But when questioned directly about it, she's willing to defend her viewpoint vigorously. Jason, who has expressed his intentions to father children in the past, was clearly amazed by Gretchen's world view. He'd never heard anything like it in his life. In a way he was appalled (he asked Gretchen if she was ever suicidal), but he was also clearly intrigued.
Later in the party I was talking with Brian and the possible George W. Bush supporter about various medical subjects, and the subject of the placebo effect came up. "I read that the placebo effect isn't quite as strong as it was once thought," I said. "It's funny," Brian agreed, "It varies for different illnesses." I immediately thought of one where the placebo effect probably wasn't too helpful, "Yeah, like a gunshot wound to the head."
When we got out to our illegally-parked car, it had picked up a $55 parking ticket. A little piece of folded paper I'd put in the door crack hadn't looked enough like a ticket to fool a cop.
Looking northwest down Flatbush from Park Slope towards the Whilliamsburgh Clocktower.
A random guy along Flatbush.
The Empire State Building as viewed from downtown Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Bridge viewed from beneath it on the Manhattan side.
Brian in Dot's Restaurant, Kingston NY.
Gretchen in Dot's Restaurant, Kingston NY.
Me in Dot's Restaurant, Kingston NY.
Kristen in New Paltz.
Graffiti in New Paltz, NY. "Retard Riot" was nearly as funny as the idea Johnny
(one of Kristen's friends) had for band name: Quaker Rage.
The George Washington Bridge at night, with an unsteady hand.
Jason at Mary Purdy's party, Upper West Side, Manhattan.
John (Mary's on-again-off-again-boyfriend)
at Mary Purdy's party, Upper West Side, Manhattan.
Me at Mary Purdy's party, Upper West Side, Manhattan.
Mary Purdy cuts a fruit dessert.
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