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30 March 2014 @ 06:11 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "On The Move"  
On The Move
lj idol season nine | week three | 1500 words
In another castle


We lived in five different houses in four cities by the time I left for college, and my dad didn't even have the excuse of being in the military. Sometimes we moved because he ran from his problems rather than facing them, but usually, it had to do with his unerring tendency to buy the "albatross" house.

You're probably wondering exactly what that term means. Say that someone tries to sell their house and a year or two later, there are still no takers. If you were to go look at the house, you might find a room or a feature that was utterly weird. My father would look at that same house and not notice the weird thing until after buying it and living in it for a few years. Once he did notice it, the house would then become completely unlivable and he would have to sell it, but he would never see the problem early enough to avoid getting caught up the whole mess.

I don't know what our first home was originally like inside. Outside, it was a nice-looking, white two-story house that burned to the ground before I was born. My father rebuilt it as a black, ranch-style house that seemed normal enough apart from the birch-forest wallpaper in the living room, and his having cannibalized one of the four bedrooms to turn it into a library with built-in shelves (this last part would become a recurring theme in all his houses). The original garage remained, though. It was wholly unusable for cars because the previous owner had run his dental practice from it, and it was full of patient chairs and the strange machines he'd left behind. When Dad sold the place (because my mother finally decided she'd had enough of working full time, raising two small children, and trying to maintain a 72-acre farm), I think the dental equipment was still there.

The next house was a Spanish-style mini-mansion (fairly unusual in northern Oregon), in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. It sat diagonally from a Holiday Inn motel, and despite its size had only three bedrooms (not quite enough for our family, which numbered seven during the Christmas and summer breaks). It had a full basement, which flooded every year during heavy rain, and the first night we discovered something else:

It was situated right above a set of train tracks.

The warning horn woke everyone up, and the sound of the chugging wheels convinced us all that we were going to die. The next morning, we explored the area around the property a little more. Ah, those days before widespread full-disclosure laws... they were really something.

We moved to Portland two years later to help my mother launch her new career as a psychiatrist (she'd gone back into residency and changed her medical expertise). Northwest Portland had lots of houses, including in the school district my parents had already selected. But instead of any one of those fine places, Dad picked an almost entirely isolated house on top of a small, artificial hill. The closest neighborhood (associated with a different school district) was three blocks down a busy road that had no sidewalks. One block in the other direction was a very large cemetery. What a location!

It was a lousy choice for kids (especially for those of us who were still pretty young), but that had never mattered to my dad—and after the farm house and the out-of-school-district Spanish house, it was hard to be surprised. The house did have five bedrooms, though he immediately destroyed one to make a library. Two of the bedrooms were connected by a wall that mysteriously ended about 15 inches from the ceiling. One of those rooms was mine.

The back of the house was flanked on both sides by raised garden "courtyards," in addition to the regular yard. On one side, a door from the laundry room led out and there were stairs down to the main driveway at the far end. On the other side, there was a door from my bedroom leading out, and a three-foot drop. No stairs. The only other way to get there was to scale the rock wall from the driveway (and of course, being kids, we often did).

I don't know what the original owner was thinking, either with the missing stairs or the incomplete wall. The house was otherwise in decent shape, though as kids we spent whole summers following my Dad's directive to beat the forest back down the hill… until he finally realized that the weeds were what kept the dirt from eroding.

A couple of years before we moved again, Dad inflicted his own an albatrossian insult upon that house. He decided that the downstairs rec room needed a fireplace, but because one wall was all windows and the other was behind the dirt barrier of the elevated garden… clearly, the only possible solution was to put the fireplace flue up through the second floor and then out through the roof.

That was how my bedroom came to have an uninsulated two-foot-diameter pipe coming up through the floor, in addition to the door to nowhere. I have no idea how the next set of owners coped with that.

We then moved to Eugene, and lived in a duplex while my parents looked for a house. The duplex was utterly normal, and even the house they bought was normal at first. Once Dad turned the fourth bedroom into a library, walled-in the front porch to make a woodshed (blocking off a couple of windows), and plastered over the used-brick fireplace inside the house, it was less so. Cutting open part of the garage wall to make a dog-door for a Great Dane and painting the house a unique neonesque color somewhere between "school bus" and French's mustard finished the job.

There was an intermediate house while I was living in Illinois post-college (someone once joked that being my dad's realtor would be a full-time job). Then my parents moved to a house across the street from the duplex we'd first lived in. That was actually the third time my dad had lived on that same hill in Eugene. He had once owned most of it, decades and many houses earlier.

The new hill-house had a nice view, and a cozy front room. Dad built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in there after also doing the same in the house's second bedroom. Theoretically, there was a third bedroom downstairs, but the builders had not insulated the lower floor of the house, and it was miserably cold down there except during the summer. My father left that house for someplace with more gardening space (during the years of flip-flopping between not-enough-yard and too-much-yard). Enter the Contractor's Special.

The contractor's house was in a nice little valley, and the original owner had probably built it over years of weekends. The thing was, he had used the shoddiest of materials in creating it. It had thin, cheap walls, and ultra-hollow doors. The whole interior had the look of a run-down Motel-6. Instead of appropriating a bedroom, my dad used a weird little room off the kitchen as the library, and actually improved it. But the house's only really good feature was a hexagonal living room with high, beamed ceilings. At some point, Dad decided it was too dark in there, and instead of opening the drapes or changing over the heavy walnut furniture or moss-green sofas… he painted the non-beamed part of the ceiling white, thus ruining it forever.

He and my Mom have since moved to a retirement community, owing to his health and the need for a smaller yard. He recently put skylight windows in the living room ceiling rather than open the drapes against the murkiness there, and he still has the same walnut and dark–green furniture. The third bedroom was cannibalized for a library again, in addition to built-in shelving in the living room. Dad once told me he'd never had a library card in his life—as if that were a good thing. It sure explains why he has moved that huge book and VHS collection from house-to-house, all these years.

In case you think my father is the only person drawn to buying or creating albatross houses, I offer this specimen in Sacramento. It was on the market for more than two years (priced at more than $1 million), and then withdrawn. The outside has Mediterranean tile, rustic brown river-rock, and wrought-iron multicolored grillwork. The detail around the perimeter includes Statue-of-Liberty lamp-posts, but if you look at the photo array, the inside is actually even more horrifying:

(A realtor's website presentation, with detailed photos of doooom)

Now really… who wouldn't buy a house like that? Thank goodness my father is happily settled up in Oregon, and not in the mood for a new home. But I think even he would balk at that one!

If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

similiesslipsimiliesslip on March 31st, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
By the time I left for college, I had lived in 9 different houses (which were in four different countries, 3 different continents, and of the ones in the US, I lived in 4 different states.)

The places we lived were odd partly as I don't think my parents really had a lot of choices. They had to use what was available. The last 2 in the states were kind of different, but my dad likes to fix things himself so he admitted he deliberately looks for places that "if I change anything, it won't bring the value down."

All this to say, I can identify a lot with your entry. My parents DO use the library but they have....so, so, so, so many bookcases. More than 10? Maybe less than 20. But this also is something they have in common with your dad.

I enjoyed learning more about you through this entry. Thanks for sharing :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 01:35 am (UTC)
I'm glad you can relate to this, though also sorry, in a way!

There were a lot of things I didn't include here, because it was long enough already, but one of them-- which I think you also share-- is that it is really hard on shy kids when parents move them around a lot. The move from Portland... I've still never really forgiven. I'd finally found friends I felt settled with, and a future I could glimpse, and then whammo!
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on March 31st, 2014 01:47 am (UTC)
Wow, and it's horribly dark, and then they decorated it in yellow and such heavy fabrics -- the only room that doesn't look oppressive is the pink one. And the leopard-print tub! That made me double-take.

Perhaps he's worried about privacy? My mom threw fits because I insisted on having the window in my room open as often as possible, and it was on the side of the house towards the road.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 02:12 am (UTC)
Isn't that house something? I think its estimated value has fallen to something closer to our smaller, ungrand house-- because potential buyers look at it and wonder how much time and money it would cost to de-uglify the thing. :O

My dad does have issues about the people across the back fence at the current house. The house before that was on an acre, and still...

One of the realities about my dad is that he will rarely find the simplest solution to a problem!
(no subject) - jem0000000 on April 1st, 2014 07:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on April 1st, 2014 04:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
solstice_singer on March 31st, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
Hmmm. Your father definitely had interesting taste in houses, and some unusual ideas for redecorating.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 02:34 am (UTC)
The paint on that one house... I'd be out working in the yard, and people would walk by and say, "I HATE the color of your house." And all I could say was, "I know..."

It was frightening.
penpusherpenpusher on March 31st, 2014 02:51 am (UTC)
Wow! some really grate stories! Oh and thanks for including the visual aids at the end. I would say your family was lucky to survive some of those happy homes!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 06:31 am (UTC)
Thank you! My dad's constant moving was frustrating to me (I was a shy kid), but the things he would do to houses was even more baffling. Some of the things he thought about but didn't do... cross over into pure wackiness.

I'm glad you liked the visual aids. Isn't that house something? It shows the danger of building what to you is a custom, luxury home and to others is a complete eyesore. I don't know if the owners will ever unload that thing.
cindy: fallingwater googletsuki_no_bara on March 31st, 2014 03:15 am (UTC)
your dad sounds like a realtor's nightmare, at least when he moved out and left the albatross behind to be sold. how did you survive all those ridiculous houses?

that house you linked to is horrifyingly ugly. just... what were the owners thinking? and it has the most boring back yard! holy crap.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 06:36 am (UTC)
your dad sounds like a realtor's nightmare, at least when he moved out and left the albatross behind to be sold.
I'm kind of wondering if he always sold at a loss, or what exactly. When most people move out, they leave things that need updating or that perhaps you might want painted a different color. But not chimney pipes up through the floor of a bedroom!

just... what were the owners thinking?
I believe the owners were Arabic, and that part of the problem was in not realizing that they were mixing Western elements that do not go together (rustic OR Italianate OR southern, but not all at once). It would be like an American mixing Chinese and Japanese aspects in the same house, not seeing that those are two distinct things.

But overall... for me, that house is just too much in so many different ways, and it has entirely too much texture. I never thought I'd use that to describe architecture, but it's true!
tatdatcmtatdatcm on March 31st, 2014 03:24 am (UTC)
I was lucky enough to live in one house from the age of 5 through 17, so I can't really relate. Except for the do-it-yourself projects. My dad was a do-it-yourselfer.

I kind of liked the bar-b-que area of that Sacramento house. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 06:39 am (UTC)
My dad actually lived in the same house from birth to age 17 (when he joined the Navy)-- and he valued having friends he'd known all his life. But ultimately, he makes decisions based on what he wants to do with insufficient thought about how they affect other people. He'll imagine he's hearing their input and weighing the options, but he almost always winds up doing what he originally wanted to anyway.

The BBQ area and the daughter's room were the most normal parts of that house! Though I don't like the rustic rock at all, not the brittle bricking in the front of the house nor the slabs near the BBQ. Part of it is that I don't like tan or brown, and in California, river rock is always a shade of brown. Up in the Pacific Northwest (West of the Cascades, at least) it's silver/gray/pink.
Trigger Warning: Lifematchboximpala on March 31st, 2014 03:34 am (UTC)
Great story, but I am glad I didn't have to live it!

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 06:39 am (UTC)
Hahahaha-- I wish I could say the same!
basricbasric on March 31st, 2014 05:37 am (UTC)
I sympathize with you having to move, mine was from being an Air Force brat. No albatrosses for us thank goodness. At least it was an adventure you can look back and maybe laugh. I looked at the million dollar house and they WAY overpriced it. LOL
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 06:41 am (UTC)
Moving just sucks, as a kid, though if you're really outgoing you'll survive it better. I definitely was not.

That house would be worth well over $1 million in Sacramento's market if all of the luxury wasn't ugly. Damn. That is a lot of work and detail invested in something that is just appalling inside and out. :O

Edited at 2014-03-31 06:49 am (UTC)
adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on March 31st, 2014 01:48 pm (UTC)
Guess there was never a dull moment! I love Portland, though. I have two sisters there. My daughter is there this week on a biz trip. AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 04:43 pm (UTC)
I would have preferred to stay in Portland, even in that weird house! I was just about to start high school with people I'd known and liked for 5 years (our longest stretch during my school years). When we moved to Eugene, I wound in the last year of a Jr. High instead. Yuck!

Still hope to get back to Portland as a retirement plan. I have two sisters there, still!
oxymoron67oxymoron67 on March 31st, 2014 02:08 pm (UTC)
We moved when I was three, and my mom is still in that house.

My sister now owns what was my grandmother's house.

I've lived in NYC for a decade and have moved once.

I don't know how you moved so frequently. I hate it.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 04:49 pm (UTC)
I hate moving. I even hated it in college, where everything you owned had to fit in a car, so there was a lot less to move!

Socially, all that moving was really hard. I was kind of a shy kid. My younger sisters was very outgoing, so she had it easier-- but I don't know that she liked it.

Part of the issue is that my dad is a small-picture thinker, so he lets things like too-big-yard/too-small-yard just happen instead of saying, "What is a big enough but still manageable yard?" The other is that he is mildly manic-depressive, and has never medicated himself for it. That really leads to impulsive decisions and jumping around. Ugh.

We made sure our kids would be in a single school-distric/neighborhood all the way through high school. It has also been the same house, but if we ever ran into economic trouble we were prepared to rent something that would maintain that stability for them. It's the polar opposite of my own upbringing!
Jennkickthehobbit on March 31st, 2014 07:38 pm (UTC)
Your dad sounds like my dad. Love this. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, no-- your dad does this too? The moving, the buying-of-the-weird, or the creating-of-the-weird?

Or all of the above? :O
(no subject) - kickthehobbit on March 31st, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
bleodsweanbleodswean on March 31st, 2014 10:00 pm (UTC)
Wow! Your father! Your childhood homes! This is crazy. But at least you always had a library. ;)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 31st, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Sadly, it was mostly my dad's library! I re-read the Pogo and Charles Addams books often (my mother's), and the John Dickson Carr books (probably also my mother's). But a lot of it was not very appealing to a kid. Much like my parent's movie collection, even now-- they must still have at least 200 VHS films, and of those there were only ever about 10 I cared to watch.
rayasorayaso on March 31st, 2014 10:53 pm (UTC)
What a bizarre collection of houses! It also seems that he did not pay too much attention to what might make a good house/neighborhood for his children. Your father was a nomad. I loved this entry.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 1st, 2014 05:31 am (UTC)
My dad was primarily thinking about what he wanted to do, with minor lip-service toward the other people involved.

You've been to some of those houses. I don't suppose you remember the trip where he spent a week obsessing over where to put a random subwoofer unit he hadn't planned on receiving, during which he seriously considered cutting a hole in the living room wall?
(no subject) - rayaso on April 1st, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Dan: Peregrinemuchtooarrogant on April 1st, 2014 12:40 am (UTC)
I gotta tell ya, the bedroom with its own exit, stairs or no, sounds like a dream come true to me. Although I must admit, I wouldn't have cared for the fireplace pipe over much. :)

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 1st, 2014 05:33 am (UTC)
But where would you go, from that bedroom? Even if you scaled the rock wall down to the driveway, you'd still be out in the middle of freakin' nowhere! The only thing nearby was the creepy cemetery and a very busy road. The city itself was still 5 miles away. Argh.
(no subject) - muchtooarrogant on April 2nd, 2014 02:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
Vice Captain of the Universesweeny_todd on April 1st, 2014 04:45 am (UTC)
I grok this!

I did most of my moving in my late teens/20s, but moved a LOT. Not neccessarily far, either.

I have never heard the term 'albatross house' but it's a good one!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on April 1st, 2014 05:34 am (UTC)
It sure seemed like an apt description of why other people don't buy those houses, or why the ones my dad had reworked were hard to unload afterwards. Yikes!