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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Seven Years

Buon Giorno.

I've done construction of one sort or another at a lot of houses. I've seen good, bad, indifferent, and superb architecture. I've worked on brand new stuff, as well as houses where people hid during King Philip's War to avoid a severe haircut, and everything in between. And I've seen the march of events in housing, framed with the perspective that comes with experience with what came before. And I have a library card.

Anyway, I think America has the best housing in the world. In almost any category you wish to measure, we live in the most comfortable and spacious digs on the planet. The average person in America has better and more reliable services to support that house to boot. Potable water comes out of the tap. Losses of electricity are rare, and usually of a short duration. When you flush the toilet, it goes somewhere. The phone always works. And we take these things for granted, and woe be to anybody who lets that reliability slip. A California governor tried an experiment a few years ago in intermittent electricity, and he's standing by the side of the road now holding a sign that says: "Will Run A State for Food"

The way Americans seamlessly integrate the manifold blessings of the world's factories and laboratories into their lives exceeds even the Victorians. Computers, voice mail, cable television, satellite television, satellite radio, game consoles, e-commerce, e-mail, flat screen monitors, i-pods, compact disks, DVDs, and on and on. People find useful things, well, useful, and, well, use them, and don't give them much thought. Things are not the same everywhere.

When I visited Italy six years ago, we visited some long lost Italian relatives, who were considered very middle class by Italian standards, had no where near the creature comforts we enjoy here in the States. They had one little 21 inch television. He drove what was considered a big car in Italy, a four door Peugot that I could put in the back of my truck. My Italian cousin's teenage boy coveted a cell phone, and peppered me with questions about how much a cell phone cost in America. Now, something may have been lost between my pidgen Italian, and his third language English, but the gist of the conversation was that a cell phone cost a fortune in Italy, and there was an involved procedure to get one. I explained to him that not only was the cell phone I had free, but the person who gave it to me for signing up for a monthly pittance of a service delivered it himself, to my home, for free, the day after I ordered it.

He looked at me like I was Baron Munchausen, telling tales. I think they counted the spoons when we left.

I invited my relatives to visit us in America, to try to reciprocate for their hospitality to us, but they weren't interested, and seemed to have the impression that America was something along the lines of the Wild West, and was too scary somehow. Not violent scary exactly, although there was a hint of that too, just too rollicking, or fast, or big or something.

Yes, yes we are.

How fast do things move along here? Here's some perspective:

Seven years ago I worked on a new big house near here. It had about 15,000 square feet of living area. That's big, isn't it? And it wasn't just a big old plastery space inside either; it was elaborately appointed as well. The owners were people I had worked for many times over the years, and are terrific people, generous and pleasant, and were raising a big crop of delightful children. The father of the brood had made a pile for himself by excelling in his field, and they decided to build a big old house with all the bells and whistles. It was pretty opulent.

The wife supervised the day to day activities as the house took shape, and we'd see the husband from time to time when he arrived home from work and looked in. One day, when the house was nearing completion, he visited the site, looked over the progress and the bills for that progress, and joked to us: "I gave my wife an unlimited budget for this place, and somehow she exceeded it." We all laughed, and he did too. Such is construction, no matter how much you're spending.

I never saw him really irate about any aspect of the proceedings, except once. The kitchen cabinetry was being installed. It was extremely well designed and made, and won't be out of style or worn out anytime soon. The kitchen featured everything kitchens in a house that elaborate always had: Granite counters, Jenn-Air grill, SubZero refrigerators- two, side by side; trash compactor, two dishwashers, big stainless range; in short, the high end of the spectrum, and lots of it.

The architect was there. He and the wife were planning on a location to add a wine refrigerator. The husband became perturbed, and then visibly and audibly angry. He considered a wine refrigerator an expensive and superfluous item. He said it was extravagant, and he had ten thousand dollars of refrigeration available already, and his wine could go in there. The house had a mahogany paneled dining room, a library, a conservatory, and murals on the ceilings, but it wasn't going to have an extravagance like a wine refrigerator. And so it was excised from the plans.

I was in Home Depot the other day, and I noticed a pile of wine refrigerators stacked to the ceiling. They were having a special on them. They cost well under $200.00. Here's a link to Price Grabber.com; they have one for $99.00. I am beginning to see them in two bedroom ranches now.

Seven years.

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