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Zillowing Out

A $459,000 House To Love And Let Go

Chris Thompson/Defector|

Edited in Prisma app with Mononoke

Last April, in those dark dreary days, I made a decision. I would take a calculated risk. I could no longer sit in my apartment and walk the dog and talk to my friends on little screens where my slow-as-hell internet often blurred their faces into ghost versions of themselves. I needed to see my friends in their physical forms, to prove to myself that they are real. And so I decided that probably it was okay to go on a masked walk with my friend Hannah through the really big park by our apartments. I showed her where I was scavenging scallions from the public park (it is scallion season again by the way!) and she taught me some history. Hannah is getting her PhD and knows so much about the First World War and therefore also knew some shit about the 1919 pandemic. I don’t remember most of what she tells me because she is very smart and my mind is like a colander, but I do remember that on that first freeing friendship walk she told me the suburbs were going to boom just as they had in the past. People who could afford it, she said, were going to flee. 

I believed her but I didn’t really realize how many people I knew would buy houses and move to places with fenced-in yards and extra bedrooms. I can’t blame them. It has been so claustrophobic in the city this past year. My Zillow favorites show the extent of it. Where they were once full of townhomes and apartments with balconies, I have begun collecting houses in towns I have never been to. Houses where maybe it would have been a little nicer to ride out a terrible year. Houses where my pals could come and stay with me. I’m not buying them, to be clear, but I’m looking at them. 

All of this is to say that I will not be writing this week about the goth home in Maryland. I am grateful to have experienced it with all of you, but sadly it arrived in our public awareness with bad timing for this column and now everyone has seen it and there is nothing left to say. A tragedy, but one we will survive together. Plus, that house has a vibe that puts me in a really bad mood. Something about the performative cemetery feels really false and upsetting to me. If you’re going to have a goth house, at least get one with cobwebs! Anyway, I cannot be upset this week because on Tuesday I got the vaccine and even though it absolutely wrecked me and left me shivering in bed for 48 hours, now I am invincible and feel great and I am carrying this good vibe into today’s house which absolutely rules. 

Today’s home is in Philipsburg, Montana. I asked Montana home owner and my co-worker Jasper Wang about what’s up with Philipsburg, and he had no idea, but he did say he doesn't “believe he’s ever heard of anyone going to Philipsburg for pleasure or work,” which is perfect because we are looking for a house away from it all. We are looking for good vibes: a beautiful house to drool over. We are looking to just enjoy something! We want to CELEBRATE!

Screenshot: Zillow

Okay, so let’s look! Here we have a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, almost 2,000-square foot house. It is $459,000. It was built in 1890 which is the absolute best decade for houses I will certainly fall in love with. It is made of brick, which is nice, and it has GIANT bay windows on two floors which will give us lots of light. There is even a nice porch that looks out at what appears to be just acres and acres of beautiful Montana land. Wouldn’t it be so nice to just stay out here and have a little coffee and let our dog lay in that really soft looking grass? It would, but we should probably go inside. 

Screenshot: Zillow

Here we are inside and there is marvelous wood everywhere!!!!!! New houses are designed so that if you have absolutely no taste, you can buy a bunch of bland-as-hell furniture and have your house look completely empty and pretend this is modernism. That’s a great excuse for homebuilders to stop doing beautiful things and I hate it. What we have here is the real shit. Look at this banister. Look how there are weird little pieces in it like the tops of dining room chairs. That’s beauty, baby! Look how thick the trim is. It’s got grooves thick enough that you could get your fingers stuck in there. It’s got carpet on the stairs, but that’s fine. We can rip that out. 

Screenshot: Zillow

In the next room we have a dining room where the current owners have put a table that is at least three times too small. There is really nice light in here, and there’s also a door with stained glass!!! You can replace furniture, but it is very hard to replace boring, cheap, doors with beauties like this. They are special. And the other doors in this room are pocket doors which are exciting and also mean that the walls are very thick. I like a thick wall because Trey and I have very different tastes in music, so I imagine it would be nice to have our own little offices where we couldn’t hear each other. 

And boy are these rooms behind the pocket doors cool. In one of them, we have the big front windows with some more stained glass, and a wood pellet stove which I don’t know how to use, but I could learn. In the other we have a nice big office with a tiny half bath off of it. I must, yet again, draw your attention to the window frames, which are so beautiful I could cry. All of this lush, shiny wood. My envy for it is immense. 

Screenshot: Zillow

Fine, I will admit that the kitchen is not good. The kitchen needs work. But yet again, these are design issues! There is a brick wall and a little nook for a table that would be perfect to build in a booth, and there are so many windows. The counters and cabinets, though, have to go. There are two offenses against God and Man that I cannot abide in this kitchen. The first is that someone evil has painted the trim and doors. Awful. Death by fire. I do believe we can save it, though. The second is that the current design of the kitchen has all of the appliances in a straight line, which is both miserable and impossible to work in. Anyone who actually uses their stove knows that there should be a counter of space between each appliance. This is the one bad room, so let’s go. 

Screenshot: Zillow

Here is another beautiful stained glass door with a little flower in the middle of it.

Screenshot: Zillow

Let’s go upstairs and ah, this is the dream. When I clicked into this room for the first time a few days ago, I gasped. The windows are so big and so high and the view looks fake it is so beautiful. There is so much sky on the plains. There is so much land. It is all blue and green and everything is gleaming in the sunlight. There is also a tiny room off of this room that seems impractical, but also has really nice windows. 

In the next bedroom someone has committed a crime again (painted the trim), but we will work on this. The light is again incredible. Imagine waking up because the sun was on your face. That’s the dream right there. 

Screenshot: Zillow

The bathroom up here is very exciting, if a little strange. It has adorable tiles, and the toilet is so small. This toilet will not fit my fancy Japanese bidet. It will have to go, but I do appreciate it for being cute and small. We cannot really see what is going on with the shower, but it seems to be in a little house. What! Why! One thing I really like about this bathroom is how many little surfaces there are for the large collection of skincare products I have acquired in my immense boredom the last year. There is a full medicine cabinet instead of a little dinky one behind the mirror and the shower house has shelves. Even the sink has a shelf. This is good. 

Let’s go into the basement. This is not a basement that most of you will enjoy as there are no ghosts, mannequins, or death traps here. There are only a lot of shelves and drawers and plenty of storage for all of the beautiful things we would certainly have if we lived in this beautiful house. There is a washer and dryer with a little sink down here, which is true luxury to me. I have not had a washer and dryer in the space where I live in so long that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to just run a load really quick. Okay, back to ground level we go. Let’s go outside. Let’s see the real treat: the backyard. 

Screenshot: Zillow

This is a great backyard. First there is a little stone patio in the middle, which seems perfect for installing my favorite rich person luxury: A FIRE PIT. I’m not sure what the orb is in this photo, but imagine if it contained fire. Imagine if we could all hang out here and have a nice beer in the chilly Montana evening around the fiery orb. Above our little patio is a bunch of string that I think are for hanging laundry? I’m not sure. This is too nice for me to imagine. 

The backyard also has a greenhouse, a shed, and a bunch of little gardening beds covered with tents. It’s so idyllic. It can’t be real, can it? Can it really be that nice that all the grass is green and all the trees are in bloom and all the light looks like it comes straight from heaven: gold and clean and full of hope. It could be a small life, but it could be ours, couldn’t it? 

I understand why some people are fleeing cities. Really, I do. I see the appeal of this beautiful house, this space, this knowledge that if all of this happens again you would have a little more space and a little more room to breathe and a little more tranquility. I found this poem written by Richard Hugo in 1984 called “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg.” It starts off by saying “you might come here Sunday on a whim,” and goes on to describe the town. But later it gets to this: 

“Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss

still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat

so accurate, the church bell simply seems

a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?

Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium   

and scorn sufficient to support a town,   

not just Philipsburg, but towns

of towering blondes, good jazz and booze   

the world will never let you have

until the town you came from dies inside?”

I don’t know much about poetry, but I found this very beautiful, and also just a reminder that almost everywhere (on a Sunday, on a whim) feels new and exciting to where you are now. Don’t even empty houses ring? Are we not all looking for somewhere in our desperation to drown out the town we came from? 

I will still bully the mayor online for her terrible job distributing the vaccine, but this week, I love it here. I am vaccinated now. The city is blooming with flowers. Everyone is outside in the park. This week’s house is nice, but it’s not a neighbor saying hi. It’s just something beautiful. Just a dream. But there is beauty right here if we look for it.

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