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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Illinois: Get Out

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Illinois: Get Out

I liked to run around outside sometimes. On my first night there was a thick fog, so I ran out and sat by a tree looking out to the lake and just soaked in the otherworldliness of it all.

One day I came in from wandering around outside, and my grandfather was on the phone with his real estate agent. Someone was interested in the house, and would come by to check it out the next day. We needed to be gone when they came, and the house needed to look empty.

The kitchen was small and cramped. When we sat down at the table, facing the wall, there wasn't quite enough room for all three of us to sit comfortably. There was a skylight on the ceiling that I'd never even noticed until it was pointed out, but which had been adding light in the daytime. The walls were hand-painted with orange stone shapes, which had a lot of texture to them and actually stuck out from the wall a little. That must have taken forever to do.

In the time I'd been there, I'd gotten my room quite messy. That's how a room ought to be. A plain white piece of paper isn't complete. It needs to be scribbled on, or there was never a reason for that paper to exist. A messy and imperfect room feels alive, in a way that a clean and orderly room doesn't. It only took me a minute to make my room look like no one had been there so that the prospective buyers could walk through.

The den was many shades of brown (in mahogany panels) with a bit of white, and it had brown and blue furniture. The hallway was off-white in painted stripe patterns. The mirror bathroom's mirrors had a slightly greenish tint. The bedroom I stayed in had beige wood panels. The bedroom next to it was a deep brown, with little bits of blue all over. The living room was painted light blue. The dining room was yellow. The bathroom next to my bedroom was pink and blue and gray.

I said to my grandfather it didn't make any sense to me that someone else would be showing their house to people. What could a real estate agent know about the house? My grandfather could show all the ingenious little modifications he'd made to the house over the years. He could explain how he's wired the whole house up so that speakers in every room can connect to the stereo. He could show them the hidden drawers he put in and the shelf hanging from the ceiling for the microwave and all that. But he'd never even meet these people, it would all get done through the real estate agent. He wouldn't even know whether the new people appreciate this house at all. And that drove me crazy. "Don't you want to meet them? Don't you want to know what happens to the house after you sell it?" Ever the pragmatist, my grandfather replied: "What difference does it make to me what happens after I've sold it? What practical use does that information have?" And we went back and forth, with me insisting that he must be at least curious who these people are, and him insisting that there's no logical reason why he should be curious.

The house was built in 1955, designed by an architect named Mandel. It wasn't a perfect house. It was a lovingly-designed house, whose every room had lots of character. It was once affordable; now it was being sold for several million dollars. But that price was more for the property than for the house.

We left the house without anywhere pressing to be. We settled on the library, and stayed there for two hours.

Along with the house, whoever bought the property would also get the design for a new house, designed for the property by a reputable architect named Pickell. My grandfather specifically hired a real estate agent who'd worked with this architect (and his team), to add a greater incentive for the buyer (who would know this architect's reputation). So whoever decided to pay the multimillion dollar price could then pay millions more to tear down the house and build this new one. As my grandfather sees it: "I tell you, if you're paying that kind of money, you can do whatever you want with the house." I looked up this architect's work on the internet. His rooms are all white and empty and so perfect that you'd feel bad moving a single chair by an inch for fear of messing up the balance of the room. His design is bigger than the house now, with everything more precisely calculated for optimal efficiency in living. He's really good. But he's no Mandel.

As we were gone, a family checked out the house and were apparently willing to buy. They especially expressed an interest in the Pickell design. There was also another couple interested in buying, who hadn't said what their intentions were. It would all come down to money in the end, and then whoever got the house would do whatever they liked.

My grandfather tried to explain why he doesn't personally like Pickell's work: "To me, there's a difference between a house and a home."

I'm not sure if I agree with that. My grandparent's house was never my home, but it was never just a house to me.



Here ends the nine-part Illinois series. There are photos here:

I started reading this post and it's hard for me to continue because it's making me cry because it's so beautiful and I miss it. I'm going to read the whole thing and I'm so happy you decribed everything that's there, becasue I like having it written, and I wouldn't have been able to write it as well as you did.



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