Tuesday, January 04, 2005

And an update:

Most likely, we will be leasing a townhouse that's a 5-minute drive from my new workplace. Its one drawback: It was fairly recently painted, which makes it very pretty, but isn't great for Rick's allergies. However, we're optimistic, because the maintenance people are going to crank up the heat and ventilation to see if they can speed the curing of the paint, and they're going to do this, and present the place for my further inspection, before we sign a lease application. Also, I'm probably going to be moving to Rochester one to two months before Rick does, which gives me some time to absorb the monomers myself. So, watch this space.

We actually did look at a double that came close to being a Quaint Old House but not close enough to give me the vapors. (It was actually a really beautiful place, although some of my old-house neurosis was lapping at my ankles if not actually biting my toes.) The main problem there was that the vapors gave Rick the vapors -- not only was the paint even fresher than that in the townhouse, but the floor had been freshly coated with urethane. The secondary problem was that the current tenant leases both sides of the garage. Winter in western New York is not the time to learn to deal with alternate-side-of-the-street parking for two vehicles. (And, nope, we won't be able to cut down to one right now.)

Interesting psychological breakthrough: We talked a bit last night about my squirreliness in old houses. I remembered that when we stayed for a week and a half in an old, woody Queenslander in suburban Brisbane, I loved the place and wasn't weirded out at all. It might have been the fact that I was so happy to be in Australia, among old and new friends; it might also have something to do with the uniqueness of Australian home architecture. (Queensland houses do not look at all like northeastern U.S. houses.) It bodes well for our someday being able to spend extended periods of time overseas, as well as supporting my current explanation for the mind weirdies. It's also very strange since I don't seem to have problems while visiting my mother in the ancestral Bug House. I just don't want to live there.

Offbeat aside: You know you're back in the Northeast when the bakery section of Perkins sells cannoli.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Bear with me on this one, because it's more than a little strange, and probably borderline tasteless right now. There are certainly many millions of people around the planet, and certainly several million on the Indian Ocean rim right now, who would be ecstatic to have a real place to live. I'm sure that if I'd been living under extreme hardship for months or years, I'd have no complaints about any place that had walls and a roof. So, this post is going to be utterly frivolous and self-indulgent, but it's a confession so odd that it has to come out somehow.

I can't stand quaint old houses.

Doesn't matter whether they're urban or rural, in poor or rich neighborhoods, large or small, expensive or cheap, battered or fixed up. I walk into a place with a history, with hardwood floors and ornate woodwork and big windows and the kind of charm that drags yuppies out of the ether with renovation lust in their eyes, and it sucks the air out of my lungs. I can get depressed from looking at a picture of the inside of an old house. The sensation is swift, sure, and utterly visceral.

I think it probably comes from having grown up in an ugly old house that was utterly devoid of charm and constantly used as a battleground by squabbling adults. It's interesting that I don't generally think of most old or working-class neighborhoods as dangerous. My childhood neighborhood had almost no crime to speak of, or at least not any crime that was perpetrated among strangers. But I never remember liking it, and, predictably, I loved living in a college dorm. I'd live in a dorm again if I could. I've told friends, and been told by friends, that I'd be a perfect resident of a space station.

When I moved out of the MIT dorms, I lived for a while in a nice old duplex in a well-kept working-class neighborhood in Malden, Massachusetts. It wasn't palatial, but it was in better shape than my childhood home. And, in the six months I lived there, I carefully avoided doing much but sleeping in that house. I was finishing up some coursework, so I'd take an hour-long morning train and subway ride to campus, stay there all day, and manage not to come home until 11 PM. I'd walk a mile in the dark in the winter to avoid being at my house. And, perversely, when I finally moved out, I picked an apartment in another old building, this time an old brick Cambridge home that had been chopped up into small units. The less said about that experience, the better, except that I was fortunate to have a good roommate who kept me from going insane.

Years later, after my marriage, we moved out of a nondescript apartment building (which, of course, I loved) into what I'm sure was an attractive duplex in a residential neighborhood. You guessed it -- a quaint old house. I've honestly blocked big chunks of the following two years out of my conscious memory. If we hadn't moved out of the Boston area and into a modern home not long afterwards, I suspect that the depression of those years would have ended my marriage.

So, it's really strange to be hunting for a rental again, and struggling with the desire to scream when I walk into what would be a desirable place for 95% of the population. I definitely have a crunchy side. I try to patronize local businesses when I can, rather than chain stores and fast-food places. I'm all for people taking charge of their own neighborhoods, and preserving old buildings rather than committing random acts of sprawl. But there will always be something about planned, canned apartment life that makes me feel utterly comfortable. Like I've arrived. Like I'm home. Like I never have to go back to the old neighborhood again.