Thursday, March 27, 2008

Arrest this Development

They’re planning a housing development up this way…two, in fact. One of them—the one I'm going to talk about—is along a woodland road bounded by old stone walls, steep hills and rushing streams. It's a place where you can drive a little faster, if that’s your thing, or look off into the trees and see the places where the rocks are exposed and the land slants upward rapidly into these human-scale heights that beckon the hiker or picnicker. Deer, of course, abound. This road often serves cyclists and runners, although it’s too rich for my blood with an extended climb that’s got to be a mile long.

So they want to build on it, 300 or so houses, McMansions, of course, because that’s what builders build when they build new. An ignorant newspaper editor around these parts recently praised the sketches intended for the other development because each one was different! And had lots of windows!

Anyway, here’s my point. My point is, if you’ve got to build it, build it compactly. Build it around the intersection at the heart of this proposed development, and make half of it town houses, insert a few true mansions among them, limit the number of large single-lot homes, put in a green, leave a median strip between the homes and the main road, have multiple access points to it, and add a convenience store and a post office relay station and a place where the library can park a book mobile once a week, and sidewalks, trails into the woods, a traffic light at the intersection, designate a small daycare facility, and save the entire area another headache that none of us need. From every perspective—environmental to taxational to educational to aesthetic—this is the better way.

Advantages of building the way I’ve described:
  • School buses can pick up multiple children at fewer stops, thus saving gas, increasing public safety, reducing traffic delays (thus saving even more gas), and requiring fewer buses which will get less wear and tear.
  • Police and fire coverage will not need to be as dispersed.
  • Garbage pickup will be more consolidated.
  • The woodland character can be largely preserved, thus improving the value of the homes.
  • A convenience store will require fewer car trips to the nearest grocery store for essentials, thus saving gas, time, and traffic and allowing single-car families to move in.
  • Pedestrian traffic along the main road would be reduced, thus preserving public safety.
  • Kids could have a safe place to play within sight of homes and businesses.
  • The rural/recreational advantages of the area would be retained, even improved.
  • Stream runoff will be less impacted by the forced runoff from lawns and pavement, thus preserving biodiversity in regional waterways.
  • Public transportation (bus) becomes a viable option to serve the development, connecting it to regional rail and commuter bus lines.
  • The bonds of community will remain stronger than in developments with large homes separated by daunting swaths of non-native plantings.
  • Retaining trees means cooler, cleaner air.

Those pestilential McMansion developments exist in the region, of course, in a sort of rough ring around our semi-protected little swath, and those woods are one of the buffers. Coming north you pass out of a large commercial zone, past a few developments built up against sensitive habitat, then enter a long cool green corridor, where some conscientious prankster, alarmed at the speeding traffic, has pasted pairs of deer-eye-sized reflectors in the trees to encourage people to slow down at night. The stone walls. The thick trunks fading back into the darkness of hillsides, then a rushing torrent pouring down from the east. This, a developer wants to ruin, making it house after house after house after house, replacing forest with lawn, replacing native stone walls with imported, pasting up the shitty architecture of least common denominator over triple garage doors, the whole thing taking up the whole space.

To the developer who thinks there’s no market for such an idyllic development as the one I've described, I say: look at the towns nearby. They were built the same way, 150 years ago, and they're fully occupied with homes that retain their value even in real estate downturns. Imagine if the closely-built, walkable, traditional homes in this area were brand new? Demand would soar.

To the local governments who claim that they have no power in the face of such developers and can’t rezone the area for adjoined housing or redraw the property lines, I say, you’re just not using your imagination. Considering that housing prices would be more stable, if not higher, if you build the way I suggest, and that the community would benefit, it seems that developer and town could easily reach agreement on the particulars.

For the record, I'm not against growth per se (although my preference would be to see density increase in established zones before we rip out more woodland). I wouldn't be surprised to know that the developer has been here longer than I have. No, my take on development is not "last one in lock the door." Rather, it's more like "next one in, don’t fuck the place up."

Anyone who knows anything about how to accomplish such feats of exurbitude, please comment below.

De Lauf der Dinge (Ad hoc off-the-cuff outtake)

The kid's like, totally into cause and effect. So's the cat, apparently.

video

The original is partially viewable here. And the Honda commercial it spawned. ("Honda? *call me* ")

Thursday, March 20, 2008

3/21/98


Gold is a soft metal, but it can take a few scrapes and look good. That thin band with the milled edge isn’t quite the same one she placed on my finger ten years ago—you can see where it’s been dinged a few times, and it’s now attached to the silver engagement ring she also gave me.

The silver ring—it came from the Museum Company store—is scratched in places, the design worn and weathered on the bottom. Although it’s a circle, it does have a bottom: I always wear it with the “vous” uppermost, partly because that's the first word of the sentence that runs around the band, but also because I had two metal bits soldered to the opposite side of the inside rim so that it would fit when I lost all that weight, and they nestle properly in the inside bend of my knuckle. Around that same time I had the two rings welded together—they were too loose, rattling around up and down my suddenly-slenderer finger, and the wedding band seemed lonesome and thin by contrast with the other when they were apart.

We resisted marrying near her parents’ house at first, then later bought the house from them and lived in it, then moved someplace else. Now we drive past the country club where our ceremony took place, several times a week, never having dreamed that it would be part of our landscape. A close friend of ours drew the place eight years before we married and gave us the drawing a couple of years ago. We hung it up near the foot of the stairs.

The guy we bought the wedding band from—Ben Moses was his name, on 47th Street—made a big deal out of the “milled edge,” like grinding a pattern into a thin 14-karat ring should add some kind of premium to it. I haggled a little, I won’t lie, it seemed like the right thing to do, especially after he tried to engage me in sports talk. He played along. It was nice. Ben Moses’ handshake was firm and lasted and he looked me in the eye, then turned to speak about me to my then-fiancĂ© without letting go. If I wanted to buy something like that again, I’d go to him.

My left ring finger is thinner now, and the ring’s occasionally run into some things hard enough to scratch it, but the scratches catch the light. On the inside of the ring, the part that touches my skin, the weld is not decorative. The metal lumps soldered in there are crude-looking, too. But it has never fit better. And both it and I are stronger than when she married me.

Vous et nul autre, my love. Happy anniversary.


Monday, March 17, 2008

If anyone's looking for me, I'll be doing yoga in my gravity boots

(Important backstory: The author has been six feet and a half inch tall since he was eighteen years old.)

I've peaked.

Alarmed that I hadn't gone to the doctor in three years or so, I made an appointment with a new one. I got on the scale and she slapped the metal ruler onto my head.

"Five-eleven and a quarter," she told me.

"Wha?" I said. "Surely you mean six feet and a half an inch."

"Stand up as tall and as straight as you can," she said. I did. "Ah, yes, right, you're not five-eleven and a quarter. You're five-eleven and a half."

The doctor tells me that as we AGE, our discs "lose their moisture." Oh, please. That's right out of a Gilbert Gottfried bit he used to do about drying out a pet turtle.

She didn't understand. I had gone from Lumberjack to Regular, from CEO-height to grunt, from Heroic Warrior to Hobbit. Five-foot-wha!? ME? There had to be some other explanation besides the loss of a little disc-water. Finally, I made her give it to me straight. Like most parents, I'm shrinking Because Of The Children.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Why New Yorkers Are Pissed



(Hi Jessica Hagy)



Spitzer's Law, Eliot Spitzer, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Bill Clinton, Henry Hyde, Rush Limbaugh, Strom Thurmond, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Bill Bennett, hypocrisy, the appearance of moral rectitude/stridency of opinion regarding "immorality", likelihood that the reality is the opposite.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Options

So the feller came over and he had the slick binder I mentioned earlier, with the pics of the scary damage to the house and all, and he recommended perimeters dug all around the crawl spaces and sorta fake footers put in under the foundation walls and this patented membrane laid down and the pipes and the gravel and all, and that would be $24,000 thank you very much.

So we said sure sure we’ll let you know thanks and they called back and said well maybe we could do it cheaper and we’ll send the other guy out to take a quick look and let you know and I said yeah sure why not but then I was exhausted next day and canceled.

So the fellow from this other place, an outside place, came out to the house in the pouring rain and he went downstairs and looked and said hmm, and then we went outside in our rain gear and he stood in one of my favorite spots, and he described an arc—my favorite arc—and said something like we’d dig a curtain drain here, route it all around the house and down the driveway. I’ll come back with a laser to measure, but I think we can tilt everything appropriately. That’ll catch the water before it even gets to your cellar. I sure liked the sound of that and only moaned softly when he said, making sure I understood, of course you’re into an expensive job, more than ten, probably closer to twenty.

So the other other place, another one of these inside places, called and maybe they’ll come around Thursday and offer some wisdom and a five-figure estimate, but the funny thing about it all is that they all each have their prescribed method, their product.

In my line of work we call these “solutions,” but it seems that businesses basically put their service offerings into pre-cast products, and they’ll say that a product fits your need no matter your need. I could see, as a marketing guy, that the slick binder could be used to convince any homeowner that they needed whatever product these guys had on offer, and if the price for the product seemed too high they could just come back with another allegedly customized solution that was actually just, for them, the Regular instead of the De-luxe.

I find that troubling, because my house and my problems are unique, despite the Google hits that find my posts, despite the presence of companies conceived to make money off problems like mine, and I want the solution that involves both the standing out in the rain looking at the lay of the land AND the diagrams of how water interacts with a foundation and what kind of pump to get—and for the privilege of delivering a five figure estimate I want the thing drawn up special for my house with some kind of stamp on it and I want hefty guarantees.

And I suppose, if anyone's offering, that I want advice on how to refinance a mortgage and not get screwed there, either.



Saturday, March 8, 2008

Someone please write this up, film it, send link

I just had a thought that a funny skit or short film would be a fantasy setting with a typical group of adventurers on some kind of quest. The characters would have strange, major quirks, like one guy's inordinately proud of his ornate shield, one seems to be obviously planning to kill everyone else and steal their gold, but no one seems to mind particularly. They butcher everything that crosses their path, and they feel a great sense of accomplishment each time something dies by their swords. Everything they kill is carrying or guarding some gold coins, which they pick up and carry along, eventually staggering. Slowly anachronisms would be revealed, in speech, in events, in accoutrements. Maybe there's one female character, and they all keep making fun of her until she gets mad and stabs one of them, not fatally, at which point they become extremely contrite. And of course, haha, it's eventually revealed that they're D&D characters.

I had this idea because I used to play a Ranger who had a cloak lined with pockets in which he kept a variety of important things -- gunpowder, spices, tobacco, spell ingredients -- I had this list of fifty items. It was like a medieval fly-fishing vest. As I was reading about Gary Gygax, I thought of how this supposedly formidable, silent warrior, Rogan (who was named well before Rogaine, by the way) would look in real life, striding along, bulging pockets all over the place, his trousers sagging with all the things in his pockets, rattling, smelling funny.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sale Tactics: the Oil of the Snake

On hold, a man's smarm-filled voice will ooze "and when you visit our website, there's a link to a Hot Coupon you can use for even more savings during your Free Inspection." A [hot] coupon? For savings during my [free] inspection? They're getting ahead of themselves.

The Man will show up. He'll insist that both partners be present. Because one isn't home yet, he'll pretend to go across town to pick up a check from another satisfied customer.

He'll say "I'll skip the scare tactics," then flip to a page in his mylar-enveloped binder showing a kid with asthma and a house that has collapsed. No pictures of terrorists at flight schools or Rudy Giuliani, at least. [Note that all salesmen will signal what they're about to do by saying they're not going to do it. For instance: "Listen, I'm not going to bad-mouth the guys who put in that last system." Or "Hey, I'm not going to try to sell you something you don't need, because it's not worth it for my reputation." Or "Look, I'm not going to lie to you."]

The salesman will state your problem to you, often even claiming to have first-hand experience of same. "It's a helpless feeling, believe me, I know. You just want to make the water stop. Am I right?"

He will attempt to get you to repeat the word "yes" several times in a row. "Bottom line: you want this water out of your cellar, right?" "You want to preserve the value of your house, am I correct?" "Have you ever seen mold down there?" "Would you like to take care of that too?"

He will ask implication questions. "Would it help your allergies if that mold wasn't in the house?" "If I could fix the settling under the mudroom, that would let you get those cracks fixed, right?"

He will, in our case, repeat the sentence "I can solve. Your. Problem." several times, without really convincing you that he can.

He will put you on with his sales manager, or the Owner, who will cover some of the same ground. They will both allude to loftily-titled personnel within the company, such as Chief Inspector and Chief Engineer, all of whom are interested in your case.

Arrangements will be made to reduce the initial ridiculous price by dint of moving a few things around and/or sudden realization of a cancellation in your area. The sales manager will apparently be furious that his salesman is giving away so much profit. You will be filling the dishwasher while he continues to [possibly] talk to colleagues on the phone, occasionally relaying some of the witticisms tendered by those parties back to you.

He will come down further in price as you brush your teeth if you will agree to serve as a reference once the job is done. You will then look him in the eye and mention the other satisfied customer in town. He will go blank for about three Mississippis, then recover and say they live on another street. Then he'll go too far--whoops!--and name it. It will not exist. He will leave, promising to email you the estimate.

The next day, someone else with a lofty title will phone to tell you that they called an emergency meeting of the Top Guys to discuss your case, and he'll ask to send over someone else with an even loftier title, who can take a quick look and then offer you a cheaper option with the same warranty. You'll figure why not. Except that this tactic must work, or they wouldn't do it. You'll go to bed wondering just precisely how they're going to get you.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

This is what it's like

South of here last week there was little snow. And fewer, albeit still plentiful, deer.



Where I grew up, a deer sighting was about as likely as a polar bear. So you can imagine that I feel as though I've moved to the American Museum of Natural History and Yellowstone, while the lad will probably grow up to be a hunter.