Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Little House in the Wilderness

I love the little house in the wilderness, the one tiny house which has withstood all efforts of the Big Insurance Company to buy it. The B.I.C. owns everything else on that block, with the hopes of someday building another tower or a parking lot there...but that plucky little house has stood its ground and -- if Ian has anything to do with it -- it will be there for a long time.

Ian owns the house. Today he caught me snooping around and we started talking. I'd assumed that the house was deserted -- most of its windows are painted over and its wall of two-storey bushes form an impenetrable shell around it -- but no, Ian still lives there. He's an imposing middle-aged guy in green mechanic's coveralls, his face is huge, he is enthusiastically anti-establishment. I found him yanking out the four-foot high thistles, part of the foliage that he correctly calls his "naturalization." It would seem, however, that the B.I.C. doesn't like those thistles.

The 1861 farmhouse has been in Ian's family for a long time, and he says that if anything happens to him it will be inherited by his equally imposing cousin. Ian is friendly and gregarious, a brilliant talker. He calls the B.I.C. tower "Big Brother" and the rising loft tower on the other side is "Big Sister." He shares my amusement that a newly-constructed apartment complex can be called a "loft." As a child in that house he remembers seeing the factory which used to be there belch huge clots of fabric out of its smokestacks.

Ian says, referring to the B.I.C., "They hate my entire G.I. tract."

We talked until the big storm came down and hammered us, when Ian gathered up his electric clippers and disappeared back into his tiny patch of wilderness. It thrills me that he lives in there, happily isolated, a pain in the ass.

9 comments:

Jenn said...

ooh, that sounds like a house that I'd want to photograph.

(Speaking of, yours are done. I'll drop them off tomorrow on the way to the vet.)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

That was one reason I was scouting it out, but it would be very difficult to get a picture of the outside...the trees and shrubs are huge and there is no real way to get between them and the house.

But if you ask nicely, I bet the owner would let you go to a better vantage point!

Gary said...

I'm not really sure where this is happening - but it sounds like a now-apocryphal story here in New York City. Years ago, when builders were putting up 747 Third Avenue, an Italian restaurant in a brick building refused to sell out to the developer. So, the story goes, the developer built the skyscraper around the restaurant.

I remember seeing the building, as I worked part-time on the same block when I attended college. It looked more as if the restaurant chose a brick façade that was not in keeping with the office building’s character. But for those who knew the real story (my father worked for the architect), it was about the “little guy” not being bulldozed (literally!).

I hope that the same fate doesn’t await Ian.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I hope it doesn't happen to him either...it's a neat little house.

I think most people love hearing these stories. The desires of a corporation seem awfully impersonal and inhuman next to the desires of a homeowner or small businessperson.

Plus, little homes and restaurants are much nicer than parking lots and skyscrapers!

Eli McIlveen said...

Yeah, I can't help but love the holdouts. Reminds me of a house I saw in Hamilton that's surrounded on all three sides by a vast parking lot belonging to the nearby strip mall. They have a sign saying "Forget the dog... beware of owner."

But the ultimate must be this one in China - though sadly, it's not actually occupied.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Oh, wonderful! I personally like the literal translation of "slug house." I don't know why they call it that but it sounds great.

Funny, in the William T. Vollmann "Poor People" book I read a few months ago, he talked to many Chinese homeowners who had been forced to sell their homes -- for inadequate compensation -- as part of enormous rebuilding projects.

This certainly can happen in any country but I wonder if it's particularly rampant in China at the moment; displacing the poorer people to accomodate the recently rich and the western business concerns.

Gary said...

Nothing new about displacement for the "betterment" of the community.

The undisputed master of this may have been Robert Moses, who uprooted block after block (if not whole communities) in order to build his projects.

Famously, it was Jane Jacobs (The Life and Death of Great American Cities) who stopped his plan to build a highway through Greenwich Village.

In another episode, then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller had 98 square blocks of downtown Albany razed for the Empire State Plaza.

The same kind of thing was reported when Lincoln Center was built (in the neighborhood where "West Side Story" was set).

These days, some abuses occur when eminent domain is used for private projects that are supposed to improve a community. It's a gray area.

But that China photo - now that's something else!

Kimber said...

Hey, is that the little grey-ish white house on the corner behind B.I.C.? Across from the psychotherapist's office? If so, I've often wondered who owned it and whether anyone lived there. Thanks for solving the mystery!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

That's the one, Kimber! Ian apparently owns the house and then quite a bit of yard behind it, which is equally overgrown (and has the usual "Beware of Dog" sign).