City Mouse–Country House!

Written By: Martin Levinson

Last June, my wife said to me that after living together for thirty-eight years in apartments it was time for a garden. “We need to get out of Queens and into a house with a yard on the East End.”

My arguments that we were city people who like doing city things and that when you own a house you can’t call the super to make repairs didn’t sway her in the least bit. Neither did my offer to go on a European vacation instead. So, after six months of looking at houses and Kathy agreeing that we could keep our apartment in case things didn’t pan out, we bought a two-bedroom manufactured home that backed a nature preserve in a plus fifty-five senior community in the town of Southampton.

We hadn’t hired an inspector before we closed on the deal because it was an “as is” sale and the sellers were looking to get out fast. We worried that if we hesitated someone else would scoop the house up (the sales price was a good one and included all the furniture). We also wanted to enjoy summer on the Island as soon as possible.

After the closing, we dined at a fine local restaurant and drove back to Queens for the weekend to gather assorted incidentals to take to our East End Shangri-La. When we returned to it the following week a neighbor asked us, “Who’s putting the new roof on your garage?” When I told him we had no plans for a new garage roof he replied, “I’d make plans if I were you because it’s about ready to cave in, and the walls too. Didn’t the former owner tell you?” The former owner had not.

Determined to make lemons into lemonade, my wife opined, “Since we have to put a new roof on the garage and change out the walls, why don’t we convert the space into a garage/artist’s studio. Then I’ll have a nice place to work on my photographs. Don’t worry about the costs. I’ll keep them down.” “All right,” I said, trying not to worry about the costs, “you’ve waited a long time for a decent workspace. Go ahead and build your studio.”

We hired a fellow who was recommended to us by another neighbor to do the garage conversion project. Sadly, to save time, he built a new garage wall on top of a rotting wood sill. When I told him that three other contractors said the decaying wood made the garage susceptible to rain seepage and that the work should be redone he said they were entitled to their opinions but he was satisfied with his labor. Long story short, we hired a new contractor to do the job over again correctly.

The new guy said that to properly set up the garage/studio we would need to pour a new concrete floor, put in a new electrical system with town permits, install a new garage door, replace the windows, and add a couple of skylights. The cost for all this far exceeded what we had budgeted for renovations. But I looked at my wife’s face, beaming in anticipation of her new garage/studio, and I couldn’t say no—no one could have.

On her part, Kathy labored diligently to spruce up the interior of our new habitat, scrubbing clean years of dirt and grime from the inside of cabinets, cupboards, and other concealed areas where muck had accumulated. While cleaning, Kathy noticed that the air return in the hallway floor was loose and said we should step around it until we found a replacement. Alas, she did not practice what she preached and while chasing our two cats around the house one of her legs went through the return. “I can’t believe the pain,” she cried. “Call 911!”

Kathy was taken by ambulance to Peconic Bay Medical Center where the diagnosis was “Nothing broken, just a very bad bone bruise.” The following day we went back to Queens to relax and take care of a little business.

When we revisited our house a week later we detected a bad smell coming from below the master bedroom. We figured maybe an animal had died under the house. No such luck. A leak under the bathroom sink had become so severe it traveled to our bedroom, seeping under the very thick carpeting and literally flooding the padding and sub-floor beneath. When the Sears carpet man arrived he showed us moldy wood tack strips along the four bedroom walls, which meant there was a long history of pipe leaking.

Enter the plumber: “I crawled under your house, folks. The piping is no good. It all has to be replaced if you don’t want to get more leaks.” We didn’t want to get more leaks so we told him to put in new pipes. Soon thereafter we got leaks from the ceiling. The entire roof had to be rebuilt.

Enter the neighbors: Our house was quite close to another house and unfortunately for us its occupants liked to walk around their yard speaking loudly into cellphones. Our requests to them to keep it down or stay inside to make calls did not have much effect so we decided to plant trees between the two dwellings to give us more privacy and block out some of the noise. Nine months later, after spending countless hours going back and forth to the homeowners association to approve the planting of sixteen trees and numerous hours at the nursery to choose the right kind of trees, the foliage was in place and with it less racket in our lives.

Next year we are planning to put in ten new windows, paint the kitchen, and refurbish one of the bathrooms. I’ve upped the insurance on our home to double what it initially cost us. And I’m preparing to reflux over expected and unanticipated expenditures.

But here’s the kicker. Despite suffering the trials and tribulations of home ownership I find I like living in a house. Sure, things have gone wrong but multiple things have gone right. Things like sitting in the yard on a sunny day reading the newspaper and watching all the woodland creatures at play; popping up the little red flag on our mailbox and having the mailperson whisk our correspondence away; enjoying a kitchen bigger than a closet, where Kathy and I can satisfy our culinary interests without heavy-duty skirmishes; and listening to the birds chirp happily from three bird houses that my wife also managed to renovate.

And the lagniappe is living on the East End. That means a short drive to Briermere Farms for fresh vegetables and homemade pies, long lazy walks at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, meandering on the horseshoe beach at Indian Island County Park, hearing famous authors speak at Fridays at Five at the Bridgehampton Library, and heading up to the Sound to watch the sun set and then down to the ocean to watch the moon rise.

I thought I’d never say this but I’m seriously considering giving up our small city apartment and moving full time to our woodland nirvana altogether sooner rather than later. And I’ve started to read Better Homes and Gardens. You just never know how events will turn out in life.