Thursday, August 26, 2010

People Who Build Glass Houses Shouldn't Live In Them

or, "How I Wound Up Reading About This Vacant Building On The Internet"

I’m not sure when it happened, but the internet pulled a fast one on me. I used to log on to my web-based email and read my email. But now instead of my inbox I find a “homepage” thing, which presents me with all manner of fluffy and alluring ersatz news items. (I think in the business that’s what they call “content.”) It’s a cornucopia sampler for the idle net surfer: a daily Tiger Woods Marital Update, a video of Wild And Wooly Weather Conditions Out West Somewhere, and usually at least one account of a guy rescued by a cat after 3 days of being trapped in his car in a dumpster in a ditch at the bottom of a ravine behind the Dairy Queen.

You know, stuff like this:

I was going to check if the bank had sent an email about the fraudulent charges on my account, but who can resist a story about pancakes!

Hidden in the periphery there's a single link to my inbox, but you'd never find it without first glancing over a list of 10 items that are currently “trending.” I have no idea what that means, but I assume it has something to do with 12 year olds and cell phones.

Recently I found myself squinting through glazed eyes at my computer screen—I assume I had intended to check my email, because how else would I end up staring at an article about a guy I’d never heard of who’d built himself a $35 million glass-walled house?

For a moment I found myself pleasantly enticed by this fantastic abode, but irritation quickly set in; to start, even though no one was actually living in the building, the article repeatedly referred to the place as a “home.”

“The 13,875-square-foot home features five bedrooms, five-and-a-half bathrooms, a kitchen with a wine room and an art gallery that displays the architect’s vintage car collection.”

Niggling questions precluded any chance of enjoying this fantasy domicile. Who needs more bathrooms than bedrooms? If a bunch of cars parked on a floor constitutes an art gallery, then why isn’t my local Toyota dealership considered a museum of contemporary art? (Answer: because they don’t cost enough.) And finally, is this a news item or a sales pitch?

I think the expectation is that people like me—people with moderate incomes, at best—will be excited by the idea of a $35 million dollar house—sorry, home—and will read about it and drool over it and forward it to their friends, rather than seeing it and saying, “who is this asshole who can build himself this ridiculous vanity house and then decide he’s not even going to live in it?”

Ahh, but let me not stoop to unfair class-prejudice. According to the article, his plans changed. One such change in his life was the birth of his now 10 month old daughter. Apparently this baby was an impediment to living in the 5 bedroom house that he’d been building for the last half-decade. Fair enough; I mean, as anyone who’s ever had a child knows, once you bring a baby into this world, you can’t keep living in the same crap-ass house. Right? For one thing, an infant entirely screws up the whole Feng Shui of your crib. Furthermore, if the home of the expanding Hermann family is going to retain a consistent square feet to human resident ratio, Steve will need to build a pad of like 20,000 square feet, with at least a couple more bedrooms, and anywhere from two to three and a half additional baths.

Along with the baby, there could be other life changes that convinced Mr. Hermann not to take up residence in his “opus.” Maybe upon actually spending one night in the place, his wife had the “life change” of recalling the opening scene of the movie Scream.

Now, there’s putting the cart before the horse, and then there’s being so enamored with an awesome gimmick that you undertake a multi-million dollar design and construction project, only to realize, after its completion, that living in the middle of the woods in a glass house is terrifying. It’s hard to watch TV after 8 pm—let alone sleep through the night—in your new place when you’re pretty sure that if you look up where the wall should be you’re instead going to see a dude in a flannel shirt/Sponge Bob mask ensemble holding a bone saw.

It’s easy to forget the awesome power of darkness to stir your imagination. But in the black of night you understand with terrible certainty that inbred maniacs are drawn to a glowing glass house in the woods like moths are drawn to a bug-zapper outside the Dairy Queen on the road from Bolton Landing to Lake George, NY. (Yes, the one with the hero cat.)

Lastly, if you’ve ever wondered what the word “crestfallen” means, just imagine yourself to be Steve Hermann on that fateful night. (In light of the locale, I think it proper to present this in screenplay format.)



STEVE HERMANN: Honey, what’s wrong?

MRS. HERMANN: I am not staying in this house.

STEVE: Don’t say that, baby. And don’t say house. It’s a home.

MRS.: I don’t care what it is, those woods are freaky as shit.

STEVE: But baby, I worked on this place for 6 years. The glass alone was like $14 million. This is my opus!

MRS.: This is me leaving.

STEVE: Shit!