All I Want For New Year Is A House

The online diary that would have made the most interesting reading this past year is the one I chose to keep private. As some of you may know, and others may well have struggled to follow, we sold our house in Brooklyn in September 2005 and moved temporarily into our Catskills “weekend” place in Hunter; we then rented a small cottage in Phoenicia so as to have a home in the school district, a base in the community and an office for me. However, after nine months of looking for our own house to purchase, with steadily diminishing returns, then at some point round my birthday last April, my wife Posie and I found ourselves doing what we had absolutely, positively vowed all along not to do: we bought land and decided to build a home instead.

It’s funny how these things happen. No, maybe ‘funny’ is not the right word. It’s interesting how you can talk yourself into something you really would sooner not do. In our case, the nine months of relatively fruitless house-hunting had also given us a rapid education in building styles, inflated costs and a clear sense both of what we wanted from our home and, especially, where we wanted it to be, given that we live in a school district some 300 square miles large but that our friends are closely grouped together.

So when we were shown a beautiful piece of land up high on a mountain near Phoenicia last spring, we found ourselves bidding for it even as we weren’t certain we knew how to get a house built on it. There was a serendipitous set of circumstances surrounding this initial decision-making process that would have made a great starting point for a blog, a blog that I am sure could have become a world-wide ‘must-read’ for its classic soap-opera mix of comedy, farce, tragedy, drama, nail-biting, check-writing, screaming and crying – interspersed, thankfully, with enthusiastic comments from contractors and friends who saw the site or our plans and gushed how beautiful it looked, and how, in a few years, all the hard work would be behind us and we’d be so glad we’d decided to build.

The nature of this piece dictates that it’s short of photographic evidence. Suffice to say we’ve chosen to live somewhere on the back of the mountain in the front of this picture!

Well, we’re not there yet, but after a major hitch that put a pretty serious crimp in our Christmas celebrations, our house is “set” and, to our surprise as a couple who have doubted themselves as much as they’ve believed in themselves these past few months, it looks pretty damn good. The builders have begun the “finishing” process, and we have started deciding what stove-top we want, what colors to paint the walls, whether we can still afford non-synthetic countertops and, most importantly of all, where to put the Hammond B3 that I was kindly bequeathed by my father-in-law but which has been in storage since we left Brooklyn. We hope to move in before my birthday, in which case we’ll have gone from looking at land to living on it within a year. Given the glacial speed at which the house-building process can move in the countryside, here in the mountains, with all the bureaucracy, topographical and weather concerns at hand, then that will certainly be further cause for serious celebration.

Could we have found somewhere to buy in the meantime? In theory, yes of course, and we could possibly have been living there a few months already without the sleepless nights that marked much of 2006. In reality, the answer is no: we’ve continued looking at the local listings all along, and nothing has come on the market that would have served us any better, certainly not at the price for which we’ve been able to build. That price, not so coincidentally, has grown ever greater the longer the project has proceeded, which we should have expected but which has nonetheless only added to the stress. But then, just before Christmas, I was back in Brooklyn, gazing nonchalantly at a realtor’s window display, when I realized that we were building an ideal home for less than the price of a two-room condo in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I remind myself of that now every time I find myself writing yet another unexpected check to yet another unfamiliar contractor. And it does bring comfort. I don’t want to live in a 2-bedroom condo in Bed-Stuy. I do want to live in a house of our own designs in the Catskills. (Note: Posie drew all the plans herself, saving a fortune on architects’ fees.) I should be, and therefore I am, happy with our lot.

Still, not a single day has passed since we saw the land last spring that has not involved some drama or another. Much of it has been amusing… in the same, can-barely-near-to-watch way that some people find The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm amusing. Similarly, rarely a night has passed that my wife and I haven’t sought reassurance from each other that we’re doing the right thing – or, failing each other, from watching The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm for the reminder that there’s always someone else capable of digging themselves a deeper hole.

Damn, but all this would have made a great blog. There are three reasons, however, that I haven’t written one, despite knowing a good story when I’m sitting on it:

Number 1, there simply hasn’t been the time. Largely because of taking on the house project, I’ve struggled to keep up with the web site and my other writing this past year as is; I could not afford to start a whole other blog just to extract sympathy from strangers.

Number 2, I couldn’t have gotten away with it. To really let readers into the story, I would have had to, at various times, wax wittily, cynically or plain angrily at just about everybody within the project’s orbit. And even written anonymously, with no reference to the specific site, I’m sure my usual tactic of typing first and thinking through the consequences later would have created a pretty good embarrassment for myself. (We return again to our previously-viewed programmes: think of Larry David or David Brent trying to extricate themselves from their latest faux-pas.) I may decide to share the experience once it’s all completed, especially as just about everyone that I would have waxed wittily, cynically or plain angrily about has in fact turned out to be good people; by the same token, I may just take the opportunity to breathe a huge sigh of relief and get on with living. Which leads to…

Number 3, it’s private. I know that the average iJamming! reader must think there’s nothing in my life I’m incapable of making public, but in this case, I’m going to surprise you. We lived in the thick of things in Brooklyn (and before that, in Manhattan and London), and through the web, I’m all too easy to find at the other end of an e-mail. The house we’ve almost finished building (or, to be precise, in case you picture me with hammer and saw, the house we are having built), is on the side of a mountain, on a private road, and you can’t get there from here. I’m sure that once we’re settled in, my wife will continue to be the same sociable host as in our previous homes. But I don’t plan on posting pictures and I’m not looking for a profile in any magazine or newspaper, local or otherwise. There is a story to tell here, one about moving out of the city with a dream of living larger and better and happier, of house-hunting with increasing frustration, and of then biting the bullet and attempting instead to build the house of your dreams on a realistic (but inevitably elastic) budget. But for now, this is as much as you’re getting.

And this picture already made it to the site when we moved 18 months ago. Main Street, Phoenicia on a busy September morning.

There’s no intent here to tease or boast, nor to vent, and certainly not to complain about something that was always our choice and which I will probably come to view as my wife does childbirth – an enormous pain at the time but one quickly forgotten over subsequent years of pride and joy. What I did want to share in print, on this occasion, was the moment of relief when we actually saw the structure completed, knowing that the windows and doors were in the right places, the walls were straight, and that the house looked at least something like what we had envisaged on paper. That moment did not come in time for Christmas, but it did arrive, by mere hours, in time for New Year. Ironically, my wife and I had to view the finished structure separately and then spend the night apart: finding a sitter and heading out to the Mercury Lounge for a few hours is harder for Posie now that she lives 125 miles away from Manhattan as opposed to 2.5 miles away. But it’s okay: we plan to spend the best rest years of our lives living there. So, it’s a happy new year indeed. Bring on the B3.

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