Oh, This Old House, All Anyone Would Ever Want

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His dream home: Hanging baskets, a crooked doorbell and a spoiled rotten dog.

First published in the May 5 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.

I like a house where the trees lean in a little, where the landscaping hugs the front door, where the willow rakes the gabled roof.
When I was in architecture school (Editor’s note: He was never in architecture school), we spent an entire hour just talking about the role of landscaping in residential homes. My takeaway, it’s very important. It gives the home a sense of place, a cozy vibe. Good landscaping warms a home in winter and shades it in the dog days of August.
Because of my architecture training (Editor: Again, he never went to architecture school????), I’m probably a little more tuned in to the role of landscaping in a home. I admire other architects when they have to wiggle a home in among the elms and oaks, which takes more time and effort than just leveling out the lot.
Meanwhile — you mighta missed it, maybe not — a super-stupid L.A. mansion just sold for $126 million. Inset into the hill, this place looks like it was built by gophers. Sparing nothing, the developers included a nightclub, a candy room and a bowling alley with neon balls. Your pick: the nuclear red one, or the green one that looks like snot.
This bold home was a steal really, well below the $300 million asking price. Realtors said it would’ve sold for more, but the Russian oligarchs are otherwise occupied. They are usually the go-to buyers for gross-out real estate and the kinds of yachts you’d like to blow up at midnight when no one is aboard.
Brand-new, this hilltop mansion is devoid of memories, of pencil marks on the kitchen door indicating the children’s heights or a gash in the floor where Dad always put the Christmas tree.
Here’s to all the people in the cozy little houses, like ours. Where you bump butts in the kitchen and you could use another closet or two. But the memories are roomy. You go to bed each night hoping the plumbing holds, and that you can get 12 years out of the 10-year roof.
I sound like such a Bolshevik here, and I’m not, I promise you, I’m not. I’m a beefy capitalist with shallow pockets. I traffic in infinite jest. They used to say Thornton Wilder could “conjure worlds out of clouds.” I conjure them out of wine corks. You know what that pays? Almost nothing.

His dream home: Hanging baskets, a crooked doorbell and a spoiled rotten dog.

So, who am I to judge? I’m a big jelly donut of a man. My nose is like a work boot. My dog is half camel. I’m hardly the epitome of refined good taste.
Yet, I’m still sort of stunned that this mega-mansion atop the hill was someone’s idea of a dream house. Makes me wonder: What’s the American Dream these days?
Do we have better dreams than we used to, amid the pandemics and the wars? Do troubles humble us, make us less likely to build these repulsive spaceships atop glorious hills — these gross disfigurements, these scars?
I have this year-old grandbaby — “the future in a basket,” as one friend dubbed her. She’s pretty cute. Eyes like poker chips.
When she’s 65, as I am now, what will those eyes see? Will her TV work better or worse? Will she struggle with five remotes? Twenty-five? Fifty? Will the sprinkler system require a Ph.D., as mine does now?
What kind of world will my grandbaby inherit? Will mundane tasks — making a doctor’s appointment, boarding a plane — get harder and harder?
Meanwhile, my own mega-mansion is pretty simple: three bedrooms, couple of baths, pencil marks on the kitchen door.
Oh, this old house. A good place to peel potatoes or butter a turkey. If the water is running, you can’t hear the TV. Run the dishwasher, you ruin the movie.
When we bought it, I asked the real estate agent: “Where would we put the Christmas tree? Is there room for a spoiled rotten dog?
“What do Saturday mornings look like here? Is there a small cafe where the windows steam? Do the folks on this street hang holiday lights?
“Does this cul-de-sac ever do block parties? If you’re caught in traffic, will someone find the key and walk the dog for you?”
Because, aside from bowling alleys, candy rooms and 10-car garages, those are all the amenities I need.
The agent said “yes.”
To this day, I think she was lying. But it’s worked out pretty well.
Anyway, that’s my dream house — the little place with the chunky yard, the hanging baskets, the crooked doorbell, the good neighbors and a kitchen that always smells of soup.
That’s my silly dream. What’s yours?

Maybe Mom can use a laugh? For books and other possible Mother’s Day gifts, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com.