Sunday, June 22, 2008

Avoiding sheds

I’m on my way home from Jones Island. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s a very small island in Highland Lake, which is a fairly small lake in New Hampshire (large by my standards, but small if you compare it to Lake Michigan or even Lake Winnipesaukee). Jones Island has only two buildings on it and is linked to the mainland by a pedestrian bridge, accessible only by foot in the summer months when the center portion of the bridge is in place. At all times of the year, the island can be reached by water and, during the winter, a snowmobile or skis would be an option.

The smaller of the two buildings is a shed that houses an old bed frame, some tools, and a couple of brooms and ropes. The shed smells like a shed. When you pry open the door, your nostrils fill with an expected damp mustiness.

The shed is one of those buildings that qualifies as a #3 building. A #3 building is a building you don’t really want to go inside. The experience of being inside is far less satisfying than the experience of being outside, and in almost any situation, when faced with a choice between being outside the shed or being inside the shed, even in a rain shower, the preferred option is to be outside the shed. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the shed is surrounded by blueberry bushes, and the shore of the lake is about three feet away, making the experience of being outside the shed even better than it would be if you were outside a shed in the middle of the desert or in a city or just a parking lot. Other buildings that would qualify as a #3 building include a rusty automobile service station, a decayed farm, or an old slaughterhouse. I tend to stay away from #3 buildings if I can. I think #3 buildings are responsible for environmental illnesses and phobias and stillbirths.

The other building on Jones Island is a #2 building. A #2 building is one that attracts you with its charm, usually from the outside, but makes you wish for more comforts when you’re on the inside. For example, an old farmhouse may be very beautiful, and you’re perfectly comfortable spending time there, but if you had the choice of leaving to go to an old mill out back selling hand-painted pieces of wood or a Wal-Mart Supercenter, you would probably opt to head for the jumbo parking lot so you could get inside and look at all the goodies Sam Walton pulled together for you: brightly wrapped plastic toys and appliances, an abundance of food and DVD choices. A #2 building is a nice place to be if you can be in the mood for it, but usually, people who spend too much time in a #2 building crave the experience of being inside of a #1.

The #2 building on Jones Island is a beautiful old turn-of-the-century (the 20th) two-story lake cottage. A non-functioning well in the kitchen, the neighboring tiny bedroom has a set of rusted bunk beds. Upstairs four twin beds fill the space of the shabby, but charming, sleeping room. A small parlor on the first floor is home to family memorabilia and antique furniture. Without running water, the cottage has a small room with a compost-generating mulbank, installed in the 1970s as an alternative to an outhouse.

The best part of the #2 building is the wrap-around porch, screened against the mosquitoes, but still offering its guests a peaceful view of the lake shore on all sides of the cabin.

Across from Jones Island, on the mainland, is another #2 house, this one with running water and arguably improved furnishings. I must confess I lied at the beginning of this entry. I didn’t actually stay on Jones Island: I stayed in the other #2 house because I value running water. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t stay on Jones Island next time I’m there, as I did last year when I was there, but this time I needed some modern convenience. Forced to choose between the Wal-Mart and the hand painted wood shop, I chose the Wal-Mart of the two #2 buildings (considering there weren’t really any #1 buildings around). You see, I’m living in a #2 building right now.

A #1 building is a building you really want to be in. Sure, it’s a Wal-Mart or a Bloomingdales, or a Red Lobster or French Laundry. It’s a building that’s well maintained where most of us want to spend most of our time. In a rainstorm, I’m perfectly at ease in a #1 house, whereas I might opt to get wet if my only option is a #3 shed (or #3 outhouse). When I need rustic relaxation, a #2 house is perfectly fine once I realize I can handle a daily Claritin to deal with the mold, paired with a set of Sudafed to unblock my ears that are left clogged even while the Claritin is at work. As long as I know it’s not a long-term stay, a #2 house is perfectly fine.

My previous house was a #1 building. It was very comfortable, quiet, mold-free, structurally sound, had a kitchen stocked with European appliances, and featured forced-air heat. It was clean and polished.

My new house is the opposite of my former home. Although it is cozy, it is not quiet when the windows are open, seems to incubate some spores (must have something to do with water running under the house), leans a bit and has very wobbly rear staircases, has no-name Chinese appliances in the kitchen ("Modern Kitchen" brand?), a small gas leak, and no heat. Ugly wallpaper in the living room and poor lighting do little to mask the other features of the home.

So why would someone trade “up” from a fully outfitted #1 flat to a million-dollar #2 fixer upper? A little bit of insanity perhaps? Yes, perhaps.

“Good bones,” people have said.

“Great views. It’s all about the views,” say others, trying to muster their best compliment.

The most positive has come from my friend Mike: “It’s so cozy.”

My #2 house is charming. It offers a splendid and sunny vista, drops us into a great neighborhood, affords three spaces for parking. It also has that magical word: p-o-t-e-n-t-i-a-l.

“It’s wonderful that the two of you can see the potential in this place,” is the comment that seems to make its way out of most people’s mouths, in one form or another.

Unfortunately, to reach the potential requires a lot of money. The plans have been drawn by our esteemed architect, Mark Reilly, and they’re nothing shy of brilliant. The structural engineer has sent something for me to sign, which I will do later today. The outcome of their efforts, not to mention a contractor, lots of subcontractors, and Brad and me, will be a #1 building. It will feature all of the charms that make it a pleasing #2, but with the added bonus of being comfortable, quiet, mold-free, structurally sound, and with a kitchen stocked with European appliances. Yes: forced-air heat, non-wobbling stairs.

But for now, the house is not so different from the #2 building on Jones Island. The best seat in the house is on the deck. The mold, leaks and creaks, and catawampus floors, suggest to me I have a figurative extended stay on Jones Island over the next year. I will just need to learn to expand my tolerance for #2 buildings, and head to Wal-Mart for a supply of Claritin and Sudafed when I need a #1 building experience.
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