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big and cheap

A new family moved in around the corner from us around a year ago; maybe a little more. They're far enough away that we haven't met them properly, only heard about them from another neighbor who lives about halfway in between. The rumor was they were looking to get a horse—to stable a horse on their property, we understood—and certainly this spring they brought in chain saws and big trucks and took down some dozens of the big white pines that are apparently the climax vegetation here in our sandy bottomland. Tree removal is all the rage for new property owners, I guess. Some time later a foundation was dug and poured: was it to be a beautiful big horse barn?! No, I don't think any barn would have a footprint that irregular.

And indeed, once the prefab pieces showed up it became abundantly clear that, rather than an agricultural structure, what was rising behind the perfectly satisfactory dormered and additioned cape that fit so nicely on the lot was a new, giant, modular home. With bay windows and multiple modular dormers and, coming soon, a considerable porch in front. The siding is yellow and the shutters green, which is apparently the default offering around here (n=2).

As I said, the existing house was perfectly nice. But I'm sure the new owners had good reason to replace it; maybe it was rotting from within or something. That being said, I question the decision to go with a modular home. Not because I think there's anything necessarily wrong with building parts of a house off-site—if it speeds things up, so much the better! No, the problem is with modern house construction in general, whether the house is modular or custom built: cheap parts. Particle board walls, fiberglass siding, things like that. New big houses, if they're going to be at all affordable, need to be as economical on the outside as they are luxuriously decorated with oversized furniture from Jordans Furniture on the inside.

But really, why do folks need so much space?! Our neighbors have two kids; unless they're planning to keep the prospective horse inside I can't imagine what they're going to do with all those new rooms. And cleaning it all! When you have spaces in your house that you only use once a week (we could never entertain without our formal dining room!) it's too big. If you ask me.

I will now make a rhetorical leap and connect this tendency towards large homes with wider trends in American culture. Americans value quantity. When we go to the movies we want the big big sodas, to make sure we're getting our money's worth. And a good Italian place is one that knows how to pile on the pasta. Who cares if it's a little overcooked or if the soda is mostly ice (and also is just, you know... soda)! Similarly in housing. Big houses are good; they are fancy and respectable and let family members interact as little as possible. If some corners need to be cut quality-wise to make those square feet possible, so be it.

You can tell that I don't like it. Me, I can't live without beauty—or at least personality. Those fancy restaurants where they give you a tiny little portion of exquisite food? I'd eat there all the time if I could afford it. And I'd take a one-room cabin if it featured exquisite woodworking and real genuine muntins in the windows (and maybe a loft for the kids too). Failing that (since as you well know I can't afford it) I'll rejoice in the solid wood doors and hand-laid pine floorboard of our little old house. Also when we eat I'll serve small portions, thought I reserve the right to take seconds.

I'm happy when I see people getting excited about local produce because it's another way to reject what's cheap and abundant and barely acceptable and replace it with something that may be more expensive, but which is undeniably better. I'm not the only one who'd rather, for a certain sum of money, eat some really good tomatoes once and a while rather than industrial agriculture tennis balls. Maybe we're getting there. But in the meantime I still have to look at this ugly house going up every time that I walk around the corner.


still, I'm happy we're not moving into a new phase of our life where Rascal turns a corner in the woods and comes face to face with a horse. The stress of that possibility was eating me away inside for a long time...

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