East End Shangri-La

Written By: Martin Levinson

“For thirty-eight years, our entire married life, we’ve lived in apartments. I want a garden! We’re getting out of Queens and into a house with a yard on the East End.”

“But Kathy,” I pleaded, “you can’t call the super to fix things that go wrong in a house. We’re city people. We love culture and convenience. You really want to give that up and move way out on the Island? How about we take a nice vacation, instead. Paris pour deux, mon chéri?”

She didn’t buy that idea. What she and I bought was a manufactured home in a fifty-five plus community in the town of Southampton that backed a nature preserve, with the comings and goings of deer and wild turkey for entertainment. Kathy said our manufactured home would be “training wheels” for a “real” home if we decided we liked living in a house. She agreed we could keep our Queens apartment as a backup in case our foray into the world of home ownership didn’t pan out.

The manufactured home had a spacious yard, an attractive interior with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and even came with a connected garage. However, it turned out to be much more of a fixer-upper than we originally thought.

We hadn’t hired an inspector before we closed the deal since it was an “as is” sale and the seller was looking to get out fast. We were concerned if we tarried someone else would scoop the place up. We also wanted to enjoy summer on the Island ASAP. But the biggest selling point for me was getting the house completely furnished. That meant I would not have to run around with my wife searching for stuff, a huge lagniappe, as shopping is a bête noire.

After the closing we dined at a fine local restaurant and motored back to Queens for the weekend to gather various incidentals to take back to our East End abode. 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 some 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 repair the old rotting walls and non-functioning windows, 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 costs, “you’ve waited a long time for a decent workspace. Go ahead and build your studio.”

Kathy hired a fellow who was recommended to us by another neighbor to do the garage conversion job. Problem was, to save time he built a new garage wall on top of a rotting wood sill. When I told him three other contractors said the job would have to be redone he said he thought his work was adequate and would have to charge us if we wanted a redo. We did want a redo but not by a swindler.

The new guy said to properly set up the garage/studio we would have to pour a new concrete floor, put in a new electrical system with town permits, install a new garage door, replace all the windows, and add some skylights. Sadly, the price for all this far exceeded our original budget. 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 our new habitat, scrubbing clean years of dirt and grime from the insides of cabinets, cupboards, and other cloistered venues where muck had accumulated. Midst sprucing, she noticed the large air return on the hallway floor was loose and insisted we step around it until we located a new one. Alas, my better half did not practice what she preached and while chasing our two cats about the house her left leg fell 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 take care of some business and unwind from cleaning and construction.

When we returned to our manufactured home a week later, we detected a terrible smell emanating from below the master bedroom. We figured maybe an animal had died under the house. No such luck. A leak below the bathroom sink had become so severe it traveled to our bedroom, seeping beneath the very thick carpeting and literally flooding the padding and subordinate subfloor. When the Sears carpet-cleaning man arrived he found moldy wood tack strips über alles, which meant there was a very long history of pipe leaking.

Enter the plumber: “I crawled under your house, folks, and 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 Okayed the job. Soon thereafter we got a leak from the ceiling, which necessitated replacing the entire roof.

With the inside of our home righted, Kathy turned her attention to The View. From our living room window you could see an adjacent house, a sight I had no problem with. The previous owners of our manufactured home had also been content with that vista, as they done nothing to alter it. But Kathy wanted to plant some arborvitaes between the two houses to give us more privacy and a “prettier panorama.” Twenty-eight trees and a bushel load of dollars later, we had a lovely natural separation between our neighbors and ourselves.

Next year, we are planning to change out the old 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 sundry trials and tribulations of home ownership, I find I enjoy living in a house. Sure, things have gone wrong but many things have gone right. Things like lazing in the yard on a sunny day, reading the newspaper, and watching woodland creatures at play; popping up the little red flag on our mailbox and having the mailperson whisk our correspondence away; savoring a kitchen larger than a closet where Kathy and I can indulge our culinary interests without heavy-duty skirmishes, and listening to the birds chirp merrily from bird houses that my wife also managed to renovate. And the icing on the cake is not having to park the car on the street where other cars can hit it. I now pull into our own newly asphalted driveway.

Furthermore, I’m living on the west end of the east end of Long Island. That means a short drive to Briermere Farms for fresh vegetables, raisin scones, and homemade pies; long languid strolls at the Quogue Wildlife Preserve and the sandy horseshoe beach at Indian Island County Park, seeing plays performed by the Hampton Theater Company, and heading up to the Sound to watch the sun set and then down to the ocean to watch the moon rise.

Dare I say it? City mouse likes his country house and its surroundings. And I’m seriously thinking about giving up our Queens apartment altogether sooner rather than later. You just never know in life.