Monday, August 27, 2007

Upwardly Mobile

Here's a first. I recently experienced my first mobile home. And it was not the kind of mobile home you see in Dwell magazine. It was a trailer, fair and square. And it was not Aaron-of-Crabcorner-Cowboy- Compound's trailer. It belonged to a friend of the Crabtot. She and I attended a birthday party in there.

When we first moved to Crabtown we did not realize the cost of crappy rental apartments. We did not realize we had moved to the remote mountain west, only to find ourselves in New York. Luckily this wasn't a serious issue as we found a reasonable apartment. Except for the fact that the walls were new-construction-thin, and the man to our left had some sort of sleep apnea mixed with a serial killer past. I mean, he would shriek and yell and fall off his bed regularly as one being murdered (or, more likely [since he was still very much alive] reliving a murder he had committed).

Then there was the local actors' troupe who had digs to our right. The lead actor, who played the part of some hearty olde cowboye of days yon and had a big shaggy beard, would sing loudly at the top of his lungs every day. His name was Cash. Cash had a wise and twinkly face and made fortunes doing Santa throughout the west in December. Summer saw him in Crabtown playing nightly at the streetcorner where they enact an old west gunfight every night at 6 pm. It's free. An old western shootout, right across from the Gap! (Actually that Gap just closed. Couldn't afford the rent.)

Below us, the newlyweds. Let's leave it there.

Diagonally across, a lady who reported back to us on Crabtot's every whimper ("sounded like teething last night" or "does she have a cold?"). She might have seemed sensible enough were it not for the fact that she took her cat for walks in a baby stroller.

This wasn't enough to make us move. But when the apartment got sold out from under us, we had no choice. Back to the real estate listings we went. I brought them to Crabhub after work and we would pore over them, trying to find that magical 2-bedroom apartment that we could afford. Through a realtor friend, I got a tip on a listing and printed out the image on the url. It was an image of a floorplan . It looked fine, sort of shotgun style. It was big.

"It's a mobile home," said Crabhusband. As an architect, he knows these things. That doesn't stop me from arguing. "Nonsense." "Yes it is." "How can you tell?" I wanted to know. The answer: "I just can."

When Crabtot and I received directions to the tot birthday party, we were told "it's a trailer" and "you'll see a double-wide on the right." A double-wide. Such technical trailer terminology never made it into my personal lexicon. But I didn't want to seem square, so I said "Oh, right" as though I knew the diffs between the "double-wide" and the "single." As though we were talking about espresso shots.

I was slightly excited to visit my very first real undisputed trailer and truth be told it made me feel adventurous and democratic. I'd like to say that we walked in and it was all quite lovely and attractive. That would make for a nice irony. But it's not true. It was an old trailer and had bizarre faux-wood panelling inside and unspeakable trailer-y mess spilling out in every direction. It had low ceilings and ancient Napoleon-Dynamite sort of carpet. It was, to be frank, quite a horrifying sort of place to live. Mind you, it's worth at the very least $500K. For it is a historic trailer on a historic patch of weeds right in the center of town. It is a plot of weeds that has been in the trailer-owner's family for a very long time. For they are an historic Crabtown family and even have a street named after them. Mind you, anything in Crabtown is worth $500K at the absolute bottom. A piece of land no bigger than .16 of an acre starts there. Much less one with an actual trailer on it. That's what realtors call a "charming historic bungalow" out here.

Back to last summer's move: once we had ascertained that, indeed, the plans of the house I had found denoted a trailer home, the following comment just shot right out of my mouth: "I can't live in a trailer. I went to graduate school."

How exactly I came to associate "trailer" and "grad school" as antonyms I am not sure, but somehow to me in that moment, graduate school had everything to do with who I was and where I should not live. A ghastly railroad apartment in New York with a hole in the bathroom ceiling and a mobster Albanian landlord with a mail-order bride was fine for a graduate of graduate school. A minuscule hovel with roaches everywhere and where the bed touched the dining table was fine for a graduate of graduate school (heck, I'm talking about my actual NYC graduate housing!). But a trailer. No can do. Never mind how big or how fairly priced (not that cheap, though, I might add. A trailer is expensive here!). A trailer for all I knew might be perfectly nice. But as a graduate of grad school, it was out of the question.

Luckily for us, we got a proper lead on a darling bungalow with a reasonable rent. The owner was out of town so all we could do was drive by it. It was perfect. Blue metal roof, cheery yellow wood siding, a lovely little freestanding house and on desirable Crabcorner no less! Crabhub told me to go for it and make sure we got that house. He claimed he could tell just from looking at the outside that it was a good bet. It had a new foundation. It would be solid and decently insulated, unlike the vintage log cabins festooning this town, which in frigid 9-month winter would be a problem to live in.

When the owner of this cabin came back to town, he offered to show us the next door house (which he also owned) because he didn't want his tenants to know he would be kicking them out for us. The next door house, he said, "is identical." So we went to that house and I liked it immediately. High ceilings, wood floors, clean white walls. Perfecto! Crabhusband was dead silent. When the owner asked us if we wanted it, Crabhub said yes. We handed him a check and got into our car.

"Don't you love it"" I asked Crabhub.

"Well," he replied. "It's a prefab. A modular home."

"Modular?" The grad school part of me did a little backflip. "What do you mean? How can you tell?"

"I just can," he said. So much for being able to spot a good thing from the outside. As with so many things in life, it's what's inside that apparently counts the most. "It's a house that comes in a box," Crabhub elaborated. "That's why the one next door is exactly like it."

We then debated the relative merits and drawbacks of living inside a house that came in a box. What is the line between redneck-prefab and cool-prefab, between modular and trailer, between That Which is Appropriate to Grad School Graduates and That Which is Simply Not?

I don't have a clear answer but I can say I know what I like and I know that we didn't like anything else we saw out there. I can say we are happy here even though the bathroom walls are made of cardboard and when I'm in the kitchen, I sometimes feel I am demo'ing in a model kitchen. Like one set up in an IKEA habitat. Only not quite as cool, I'm afraid, thanks to the dodgy rock-bottom cabinetry and nubby plastic walls. Yes, living in a house-out-of-a-box can feel a little bit "not real."

On the other hand, the birthday party double-wide trailer felt extremely real. It had at least 40 years of history in it and it showed in the dust layers on the plastic plants. But the party was fun! The homemade macaroni-and-cheese was delicious. And evidently one can still make excellent chocolate cake in a trailer.

Evidently one can still have a great time in a trailer and a kid can have the best third birthday of her life in there. And, so I have learned, even a graduate of grad school can enjoy herself in a trailer and admire its assets.

It certainly was spacious.

After all, we're talking about a double wide.


Leann I Am said...

It's so funny how our outlook on things can adjust to a new environment! And I would refer to the cabinets as 'Motorhome Oak!' That's what we call it here!

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute - you ate the food!? You had me until you ate the food!


Jane, P&B Girls

Amanda said...

Motorhome Oak! That's exactly what it was! Jane, of course I noshed. It was all delicious. A lovely party.

Anonymous said...

oops I just keep on doing that, don't I? Logging in as someone called "amanda" when I mean to be myself, Crabmommy.

Daisy said...

Grad school and housing have to match, right? You can always say, "I just know. I just do." :)

Anonymous said...

Ha! This is one of the funniest posts I've read in a long time...thanks.