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Zillowing Out

A $300,000 House With Underground Terrors

Chris Thompson/Defector

Talent can be divinely and unevenly given. Most artists believe in prodigies, in the lucky few whom some god deigned to bless and send here to ruin all of our lives. We don't want to believe they exist. No matter the medium, it's difficult to confront the idea that some people are just good naturally at the thing other people work hard to be good at. In the fine arts, there is always one kid that can draw immediately and better than everyone else. There is always one kid hearing divine whispers and chiseling out of stone something no one knew could be there.

I remember vividly the first time I saw a Bernini sculpture in real life. I am prone to tears, but I wept, big terrible tears plopping on the beautiful marble floor of the Roman museum. Loud. Intrusive. American. It is almost impossible for me to explain what a rare talent Bernini is. To see a Bernini in person is the closest I have ever come as an adult to believing in a God. There is a sculpture, The Rape of Prosperina, where Bernini has carved into marble not only a hand grasping the fleshy upper thigh of a woman but the indents that hand causes. The skin ripples around the fingers, the thigh is dented in. Her hamstring is defined all the way down to her knee. The whole thing is made of marble, carved from a single stone, chipped away bit by bit, until that hand emerged.

Michelangelo used to say that God told him what was inside the block of marble and it was his job to reveal it. That's why the David's head is flat on the top. He just fit. If Bernini said that he was God, I would believe him. The ability of those sculptures can't be trained. There's something else there. Something innate. Some blessing or curse. Some ability to drive with your eyes closed and never hit a thing. It is terrifying and beautiful to see in person, something so rare and so beyond the realm of normal people. It is as jarring as it is inspiring.

The most terrifying thing about believing that some part of talent is innate is that you didn't cultivate that. God giveth. God can taketh away.

I used to have nightmares that I woke up and couldn't write anymore, that I woke up and forgot how to construct sentences. It's how I imagine high school athletes feel about the possibility of a big injury, but 100 percent much more irrational. It's a fear you have to bury deep down within you in order to continue your day. But it is a fear based in reality because sometimes, when you least expect it, it is much harder to write than it was before.

For the first time in two weeks, my brain feels clear. I have been able to return to my projects dumped on the side of my desk. I have been able to write again. My ability is returning. Bernini giveth again. I am burying the fear again underneath me and I will try to forget it is there, but you can't really. You never forget something with the ability to jar you.

I imagine that this awareness of my brush with lack, of my recent inability to write at all, of my reminder of how fear sits right behind your breastbone and eats your air, is how it would feel to live in this week's house.

Today's house was sent in by reader Chris, who sent it with the email subject line: "This house is going to keep me awake tonight. Maybe forever." The time the email was sent? 1:29 a.m.


He ended his email saying: "I’m sorry for the shouting. Whatever you do, don’t look at this before bed. I did and it is going to keep me awake for a very long time." Nothing can scare me more than my brush with lost literacy, but I guess let's take a gander.

Today's house is in Marietta, Penn., between Philadelphia and Baltimore. It is three-bedroom, two-bath, and 2,178 sq/ft. It is listed for a mere $297,000. Don't see houses at that price very often anymore!

Let's get into it, shall we?

Screenshot: ZIllow

Ah, yes. Starting off strong (awful). Here we have what appears to be a very short driveway to a regular sized house. The house has three (3) different kinds of outdoor walls. We have a first floor of stucco, a second story of wood, and also one wall that looks almost completely vertical but is shingled for some reason. I do not like this at all.

Another thing I dislike is this fence. Listen, I believe in privacy. I think you should get the thickest curtains you want. I think Ring cameras are inexcusably unethical. I think you shouldn't ever post videos or photos of strangers without their permission. But I do NOT think it is a good idea to put a fence around your front yard. Nothing says you're hiding shit like a hidden front yard.

I guess let's go in anyway.

Screenshot: Zillow

OK, uh. Here we are. We have some white-washed floors. We have some big ole crossbeams on the ceiling. We have stairs that are made of a much prettier red wood. We have railings and lamps that look like a pottery barn catalog. We have this big couch and we have two doors. It is hard to know how big either of these doors are. The one in the corner looks tiny but the one shaped like a coffin for the Kool-Aid Man looks way too big.

Let's just go ahead and move on.

Screenshot: ZIllow

This is a house that clearly fell victim to the open floorplan trend. What used to be clearly a separate dining room and kitchen are now strange open walkways that add nothing to the space. The kitchen is mostly fine. I do like the shape of these cabinets and the layout is very nice. The floors, though, do not work with anything in this house. They're both too modern and too barn-like at once. Either direction will work, but these owners have chosen neither.

As Chris told me, "I cannot make sense of the layout of this place. From the walled-off front patio (to be fair, a large bit of that wall opens), to the inscrutable flow of the interior. It’s fucking weird and uncomfortable. " I agree! This door in the kitchen seems to head back out to the front patio, but I don't want to go back out there, so I guess we will go upstairs.

Screenshot: Zillow

I cannot explain how much I hate this. First we have this entirely different floor that looks like it did highlights with that Sally's haircap with holes like a colander. Then we have the uneven everything. There are many different levels of landings and of ceilings. There is this weird '90s lamp. What are you supposed to do in this space!? This is why not everything needs to be open. Were this walled in, it could be a nice little library or study or cozy spot. Instead it is an offense against beauty.

Screenshot: Zillow

OK. Let me take a deep breath. Everyone listen to me.

I get it, I do. I like to do things myself. It is fun to have a little project, let it take over your life, run into a big problem, start over, and try again. But sometimes you need to admit that you are outside your skillset and you need to hire someone. There are lots of handymen you can hire for hourly rates who will come help you. They will keep you from adding wood siding that looks like a perspective shifted fence. They will keep you from ... installing half a wall of brick on top of regular drywall?

This may be outdated of me, but even an electric fireplace scares me with carpet. Why do you want your house to burn down? What is that secretive?

Also! Who puts a mirror directly in front of their desk. Maybe this is meant to be a kind of vanity space to get ready, but there is a normal bathroom mere steps away with a ring light mirror!

Ugh! Get me out of here.

Screenshot: Zillow

Next, we have this big room. It has a little balcony so that you can look out onto your fenced-in patio. It also has this giant gun safe. If you're going to have guns, you must have a safe, so I do appreciate this. But usually gun safes go in the closet. I went looking for the closets, but there are only strange narrow built-ins in this house and no closets. There's no way to really design with a gun safe. I guess you could put some magnetic poetry on it.

Here is what I think is the primary bathroom:

Screenshot: Zillow

This is a type of sink I have only ever seen in expensive and tiny New York City hotel rooms. They are awful. The minute you try to wash your face, you get water everywhere. Those waterfall sinks? They splatter. Why you would want this in a house of a normal size is beyond me.

Awful. Let's go see the backyard.

Screenshot: Zillow

Wow! Hell yeah! From how dull and gray the whole house is, I was expecting it to be only rocks out here, but look at this! Lush! I want to frolic here! Imagine if you made this a garden. You could grow all your own food! You could plant wild flowers and have free flowers for your table every week! What nice land.

We've seen everything about this house except that terrible coffin door. It is time. We must be brave.

Let's open the door.

Screenshot: Zillow

Oh NO! Oh no no no no no no no! Oh NO!

It's a CAVE!

Do we dare? I guess let's go in.

Screenshot: Zillow

Cannot explain how much I do not like this. It's a cave, sure. But it seems like ... a man-made cave. These are hand-built walls. Why? Who put in these handrails to make it safer? Why would anyone want to go down here.

OK so we go down all these stairs and onto ... is that a ramp?

The end of the house description on Zillow says this: "Oh yea, and I forgot to mention the actual cave in the basement! Bring your ideas, or fascination with history and come see this unique home!" Chris added: "WHAT HISTORY?! YOU CAN’T JUST PUT THAT OUT THERE!! AND WHY IS THERE A RAMP FROM A MOVING TRUCK ON THE STEPS?! WHAT WAS DOWN THERE!??!"


I guess here we go!

Screenshot: Zillow

All right. We have made it into the cave. It is awful and I hate it. What is this for? A wine cellar? Who has a wine cellar? I am really trying to be optimistic here, but I don't even have any idea what to do with this.

Except leave. What I want to do is leave. Let's get out of here.

Whew! That was a close one. Did you run up the ramp/stairs? I did. Felt safest to run up the stairs and slam the door behind us, just in case, didn't it? Well. We are out now. The cave will always exist. It will scare us. But for now, we are safe, out here in the sunlight.

This week's home has been listed on Zillow for $297,000 for 49 days. If you buy this week's house, please be careful in there.

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