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Zillowing Out

A $300,000 New Hampshire Tunnel Home Full Of Dead Ends

Illustration: Chris Thompson/Defector

As far as luck in media goes, mine hasn't been great. I was hired for a fellowship at a new website out of college, but it only paid $30,000 a year and required me to move to Washington, D.C. Having no family money made this, uh, extremely unsustainable, so when I received a counter offer from yet another new media startup, I asked the first company to match. They refused, so off I went. I was at the second site for a little over a year and a half before they pivoted to politics coverage and laid off me and my whole team. Then I was freelance for many years, which was fine. Except that it is almost impossible to get assignments and get paid. All of this is to say that I was surprisingly optimistic when I was hired at Deadspin at the beginning of summer 2019. I was optimistic enough to feel stupid when it all fell apart in late October.

I don't really know how to describe the kind of floundering I felt in early 2020, before things even got really all that bad. I didn't sleep well. I didn't really eat well. I was constantly looking at my computer but never typing any sentences that made sense. I was always looking at my phone to see jokes in a slack that was filled with a kind of ominous terror built from the common knowledge that we had all blown up our lives for what we believe. I felt, I guess, like I was, after a very rigorous obstacle course, standing in front of a brick wall. A dead end.

I hate dead ends because I hate having to turn around. Maybe it's because I have a very good sense of direction, or maybe it's just because I'm a Virgo and want to be as efficient in my movement as possible, but I hate having to backtrack. I want the hiking trail to be a loop. I want to do my errands in a strategic order so I never have to walk the same street again. This isn't a great trait to have. It's limiting, and it keeps me from being spontaneous. I've spent years trying to improve this aspect of my personality, but the impulse is still there, and so, in mid-2020, I realized that I was either going to have to turn around, to backtrack in my career to work as a freelancer or go back to a staff job that would inevitably be worse than the one I just had. Instead of doing either of those things, I just kind of sat down in front of that brick wall for a little while.

Dead ends are uncomfortable. They require a kind of patience and self-forgiveness I have no chance of attaining. Which is why this week's house is it's own special level of hell to me.

This week's house is located in Hopkinton, N.H. and is listed for $299,000. It was sent to me by readers Sam and Caitlin. Caitlin found this house because she has a new baby (congrats!) and when the baby is sleeping she often scrolls through Zillow listings for entertainment. Same, Caitlin! She found this dreaded house early last week, but didn't tell her husband Sam about it. She forgot, she said, because she's busy! But last weekend, she remembered! "Oh my god, I saw the craziest fucking listing last week. I think it was on Realtor. You have to find it," she told him. "It's the sort of house that you might see on that blog." Caitlin, thank you so much.

There was a problem though, they couldn't find it. Sam had to go through her browser history to find this listing so that he could email it to me, which honestly is so sweet it would make me cry if I thought about it for another two seconds. I will not because I am already EMOTIONAL this week, and we need to get to the house.

"It’s one of the strangest houses I’ve ever seen (and this is coming from someone who grew up off the grid, in the middle of the woods, in a house powered by a gravity-fed pelton wheel)," Sam wrote. "I’m not going to try to describe it because I can’t do it any better justice than the description in the listing." I had many questions about the gravity-fed pelton wheel, but that's not important right now. What is important is that Sam and Caitlin were absolutely right. This house is so strange. Here is the outside:

Screenshot: Zillow

Immediately this is concerning. These arches are strange and I don't like them. Before we go any further, we should probably try and get some more information. Usually, I do not force us to read the entire description of the house, but... well, we need to today. Here it is:

"Known by may names: The Starfish House, The Marshmallow House, The Pod House,The Tunnel House and the Space Station. This home has a layout like no other-definitely not you cookie cutter home. With 4 bedrooms and lots of living space, this house has room for everyone in the family. If you have a vision and do to (sic) mind rolling up your sleeves to do some work, this home can be magnificent again. May not pass for FHA/VA or USDA financing due to repairs this home needs. Being sold "as is".

Starfish. Marshmallow. Pod. Tunnel. Space. None of these are words I like. Let's stay outside for a minute to try and get our bearings.

Screenshot: Zillow

I just. What? How? I showed this house to my colleague Barry to try and answer an important question Sam had: "What is the house even made out of? Wood? Plaster? Aluminum? Did someone design it that way? Or did it just sort of grow organically as needs must like some strange architectural amoeba?" Awful to think about. I hate this so much. Barry pointed me to Quonset huts, which were a pre-fabricated WWII steel structure. These are not Quonset huts because they are too small and also because the shape of them is wrong. The shape of the huts is a half-circle. This, upsettingly, is kind of like a lipstick tube? A hoof print?

I want to admit that when I first opened this link, I saw the outside of the house and clicked away. It's so stressful. The floor-plan of it is incomprehensible. But for you, my dear readers, I will be brave. We will go inside.

Screenshot: Zillow

This part is actually pretty nice. I really like these angled windows, and bet they let in so much light! I like the built in bench in the corner, and what I really like is the shape of this kitchen. I love that you have a nice kind of triangle shaped space between the sink, the stove, and the work spaces. The yellow sink is kind of fun, and I like how many drawers there are. This is pretty nice, but it is a false front. The rest of the house is a nightmare. Don't let your guard down.

Screenshot: Zillow

Here is a, uh, central room? I'm not sure. It is very cavernous and all of the ceilings are sloped. There are a lot of plaster markings in the middle of the ceiling where all of these strange hallways combine, which makes me feel like this house is really haunted by water damage. It also seems like instead of having any doors, this house has mostly angles? But what is that in the center of the ceiling? It's a hole? Where is it going? Is there supposed to be a light there? Let's carefully walk around the outside of it and into one of these strange hallway spaces.

Screenshot: Zillow

OK, this is just kind of a pantry. Hm. Dead end. Let's go back to the center room and try again.

Screenshot: Zillow

Oh god. OK, this is a bedroom, I guess? The window at the end is very nice, but look at the ceiling. Look how it's buckling!!! Look how it is probably filed with terrible brown water that at any moment could open and dump right onto you head. No. This is bad too. why is this chair here? And again, we are at a dead end. Turn around we go! I hate this so much.

Screenshot: Zillow

OK, this room is a little nicer. It looks kind of like one of those renovated Airstream trailers to me. I like the wood on the ceiling, but do NOT like this spooky mirror. It is so dirty and so green it looks like it will certainly show you something that shouldn't be there. This room is also TINY. I think (based on proportions) that this is a full sized bed, which means that all of these tunnels are pretty small and it's feeling a little claustrophobic in here. I guess we will turn around again. We have no choice.

Screenshot: Zillow

Here is a bathroom, and it too is filled with the same cramped feeling as the other terrible tunnels. The ceiling angles in here are especially upsetting. Where is this? Is it in its own wing of the house like everything else seems to be? Is it in one of the wings with a bedroom? Is that door in the wooden wall a secret passageway out of this land of dead ends? It is not, but we need to find one. I do not like the vibes in here.

Screenshot: Zillow

Ah ha! There's an exit, I think? I'm pretty sure. This is really enough. It is time to leave. Out we go through the door. No more weird tubular house. No more dead ends.

Screenshot: Zillow

What's incredible is that the reason Sam and Caitlin had a hard time finding this listing is because it already has an offer in. Someone is going to buy this weird little guy. That's kind of nice, isn't it? So many of the houses we've looked at that have seemed too strange or too haunted or too needy have turned out to be just right for someone.

There's something kind of nice about closing out the first year of this column with another circular house in need of a lot of love. This is Defector's one year anniversary. It is the 26th home we've looked at together. We've seen so much. The dome home. The haunted Maine house. The Colorado commune. The little earth-sheltered home. The house for vampires. And who could forget the terrible wires in the church? I feel so lucky to not be sitting in front of that brick wall anymore: to be looking forward to this next year of houses together, to seeing what fresh horrors this year will bring.

I was thinking this week, as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of this site, about a conversation I had with Trey the week we signed the operating agreement. This was it, I told him. This was my last try. Working in media had discouraged me so greatly and made me feel so bad about myself and my work over my mere six years of experience, that I didn't want to do it anymore. I didn't want to work for a company that didn't respect me or my colleagues. I didn't want to hustle anymore to write one article for a company that cared so little about me they would need four follow-up emails to pay me. I didn't want to support an industry that has chewed up and spit out some of the most talented reporters and writers I've ever known so that a few private equity assholes can make a different million than the one their daddy gave them. I was tired, and, honestly, I was scared. I didn't want to stop blogging. I love to blog. But I just looked up at the brick wall in front of me and the path behind me, and there didn't seem like there was space for the kind of work I wanted to do anywhere.

When I signed the operating agreement, I promised that it was now or never. If this hadn't worked, I don't know what I was going to do. But I didn't have to find out. We blew a hole in the dead end in front of us and we built something that I'm so proud of. This is a site where the editors care more about the stories being good than they do about traffic generation. A site where the writers think more about readers and how we can serve them than we ever do about advertisers or investors. A site where freelancers are treated like a real people. A site where I have felt for the first time like everyone on staff really just wants everyone else to feel good and do work they're proud of.

It's a site that only exists because of you. Thank you for subscribing. Thank you for getting up every other Saturday morning and logging on to read these often strange and demented blogs. Thank you for talking to each other and to me in the comments with kindness and generosity and love. Thank you for making me feel like the work I do isn't screaming into the wind. Thank you for helping me blow up the dead end, for helping us make a space we are all proud of. Happy anniversary. May there be many more.

This week’s house has been listed on Zillow for 9 days. It is currently listed at $299,000, and has a pending offer already. If you buy this week’s house, I hope you learn to navigate the dead ends. I will not be visiting to try myself.

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