It’s Sunday morning and I’m at the office, trying to organise some thoughts on a couple of new listings we have coming this week (and clearly also avoiding that work for a few minutes).
But truth is, I like writing about houses and feel a genuine enthusiasm for the work - there’s a good angle from which to view every property, that’s how I feel. You just need to walk round a while and talk to people. It’s not like running into an agent you find difficult to work with and can’t think of a good thing to say about. Houses are never assholes. They might have been lavished with the wrong sort of attention, sure, or allowed to slump into rot and disrepair, but they’re blameless throughout. It’s never personal with a house.
I do feel lucky to be in this business, unexpected a career though it may be. Good people call us regularly, often with interesting properties they want to pass along to new buyers.
We’ve had a mixed use space in Newburgh up for a little while, for instance, and while it’s a complicated prospect, it’s also beautiful, and bracing, and has not once bored anyone, not since the limestone was gathered at the site a good century and a half ago. Here's its story.
Or the little house on Markland that we sold just this week (it’s right here). There's work to do there, and plenty of it, but the seller loves that house dearly, and the buyer (it sold immediately), is an artist from the neighbourhood who already feels some of the same sort of excitement. In my book, that's a happy ending.
I also like very much the idea that we are for a while merely guardians of a house, and that these piles of rock and stone and wood will outlive most of us. I’m good with that. Treated well they become modest markers of who we were. It sounds a little morbid as I write it down, sure, but the biography of a house is something I’ll alway be interested in, every bit as much as that of the guy walking down Queen St right now outside my window, with his floppy hat and ridiculous grin, marvelous though his story may be.
Speaking of rocks, there’s a small pile of flint on the windowsill beside me, gathered from the beach in Brighton, England a few weeks back. I picked up a couple of these myself, and the rest were presented to me on my birthday by my kids. They knew I’d like them and that simple fact means the world to me. I study one or another of those stones regularly. Some have the flint at their centre, all encased in white chalk; they look like the bones of some extinct seabird. Others are more chiselled, as if they might have been tools once, for hammering or cutting, and in my most fanciful moments I swear I see fossil fragments in one of them, the partial ribcage of an ancient lizard.
That those particular nine rocks are the ones to cross the Atlantic with me, out of the billions to wash up and tumble-dry on that stretch of south-coast beach, is interesting to me. They are no different than the vast majority left behind, after all. My gaze falling on them doesn’t change them in any way. The only change is that I have now attached sentimental value to them. They become important because I have held them, and because my kids gave them to me.
It’s all so damned random, that’s what I’m getting at - some rocks on a stone beach other side of the world becoming more important than others. Connected to this is that I was looking yesterday at a picture of a stretch of existing wall between the United States and Mexico. A French street artist, JR, has installed a massive photograph of a child on the Mexican side. It looks as if the kid is peering helplessly (enviously? curiously?) over the wall. I read that the kid does actually live in a house along that stretch. It’s a wonderful work, in part because it seems sympathetic to a notion that’s always seemed so glaringly obvious to me: the circumstance, the longitude and latitude of someone’s birth, should not in any political way determine the shape of that person’s future. It should not condemn one to grinding poverty any more than it should endow one with unlimited good fortune. These borders we’ve made and increasingly fortified should not prevent the reasonably free movement of people seeking a better life. What’s mine is mostly mine because I happened to be born in the right place at the right time. That makes me lucky but it sure as hell doesn’t make me any more entitled to those relative riches than the kid peering over the fence from next door.
I’ve been at this piece a while now, much longer than I expected. But the website needs regular updating, it’s part of the job, that’s my excuse, though this doesn’t feel much like work.
I’ve been listening to the new National album while I’ve been hammering away at my misfiring Mac keyboard. I like it very much, as I’ve liked all their albums.They impress me, and comfort me, provide solace when the world feels like it’s going to shit. There is, though, a part of me that also wants to be more excited, and The National doesn’t do that for me much any more. I’m conflicted, then, and slightly sad. An old friend has arrived again with some good new stories, and that’s wonderful. Come on in. I’ll get you something to drink. But they do sound an awful lot like the old stories, don’t they? Here's a link to The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness.
The new LCD Soundsystem is completely different (here's Tonite) and I probably won’t listen to it nearly as much, but it’s definitely more exciting. I’m hearing Talking Heads in there, and New Order and Public Image, and lots of Bowie, all the bands I turn to when it’s too early to turn to red wine. This guy has spent some serious time listening to my music, I think, and he’s worked wonders with that exposure. I’m grateful to whoever bought him his first stereo system, and put him on the road that finally led him to make the record that pours right now into this nice-enough real estate office on the edge of a Great Lake, with its Brighton rocks in front of its big windows, and with a realtor hunched over his desk next to the filing cabinet, hell-bent on avoiding the coming week’s nitty gritty.
* The image of JR's work is from his Twitter account.