Building Tunnels Under the Sand

Monday, August 23, 2004

I’ve discovered that vacationing is not conducive to writing. I spoke about using all this free time to write. I spoke about how productive I was going to be during my month off. I spoke about how I would use this time to discover myself and review my past three years. What have I learned? I talk a lot. But here I am, with a week of time left to finish up a few writing projects. This is my introductory writing assignment and you should grade it on a curve because it is Monday after all.

As you may have figured out from my last posting, I entered into a contract to buy a house in Seattle. When I first decided to buy a house, more than a month ago, Doolies (with only a little help from me) started looking through the MLS listings for houses in areas suggested by people who know the area. If you haven’t looked for a house recently, all houses are listed on the internet using a Multiple Listing Service, a computer database of properties for sale maintained by a local real estate board. They are searchable by area and price range and websites using the MLS provide pictures and a summary for each property.

We fell in love with a listing I will call the castle, which was one of the first houses we found--something that, if you ask anyone who knows anything about purchasing real estate, is a bad thing because it’s difficult to negotiate when you really, really want something. The castle is located in Seward Park, an area in Seattle near Lake Washington (which I guess isn’t saying much, because most areas are near Lake Washington). Besides the castle, Doolies and I identified about twenty or so interesting properties in various areas, including Seward Park. Except for the castle, all of the properties were gone within ten days of listing on MLS. We clicked on the website every day (okay, twice a day), checking to see if someone made an offer on the castle, but it remained, as Doolies likes to say, fated to wait until we arrived and purchased it.

After arriving in Seattle two Thursdays ago, Doolies and I drove from the airport to meet our real estate agent, Mary Ann Beck from John L. Scott real estate, a wonderful and honest woman, who probably had her easiest sale ever, as you will see. After picking up my cousin Nancy, she drove us around the different areas in Seattle. Doolies and I tried to pay attention, but we just wanted to see the castle. Mary Ann had planned to give us a tour of the neighborhoods and then show us the castle. After spending the last three weeks looking at photographs of the castle and trying to figure out which rooms the photographs depicted, we finally arrived at the castle to see it for ourselves.

As you can tell by the photographs (I’ll post more pictures once I settle in and have access to my own server again), the castle is unique. It’s not a Tudor, Spanish, or ranch style home. It defies classification, falling, perhaps somewhat broadly, in the modern category. The current owner built it on an empty lot in 1986; he planned every detail, from the garden to the two entrances and three skylights on the third floor, and did a wonderful job. When you walk up the wooden stairs leading to the house you find a peaceful, Japanese-style garden (the current owner, a former military and NTSB employee, used an Asian theme throughout the house, which was a strange choice since he’s not Asian and only visited an Asian country once). The garden, with a pebble pond and river cutting across it, is transporting. The pictures do not convey how peaceful and beautiful it is.

Once you pass the through the front door, you are greeted by a bright and open living room. The ceiling soars two stories to allow light to enter through the ten or so windows spaced throughout the two floors. A fireplace in the corner dominates the room; it’s chimney pipe rises three floors to the roof. When you close the door, an incredible silence descends over the house, broken only by the classical music that is pumped throughout the house, which is wired for multiple speakers in every room.

The castle consists of three floors, on the bottom floor is the living room, second bedroom, and second bathroom; on the second floor is the dining area, the kitchen, a small office, and a large porch; and on the third floor is the master bedroom, an office, the master bedroom, and another large porch with a Jacuzzi hanging off it. All the porches and most of the windows have views of Lake Washington. The castle is built on top of a hill, the highest point looking down on the lake.

But enough description: Most of you who read this will hopefully visit the castle and see it for yourself. Suffice to say, it’s one of the coolest houses I’ve ever seen. While some of the rooms are smaller and strangely shaped, and there is no covered garage, the views and peaceful feeling overcomes any deficiency.

Getting back to the story, after Mary Ann showed us the castle, we spent so much time looking at it that we didn’t have time (or, actually, want) to see other properties. After leaving the castle, we drove around for a bit while Mary Ann showed us different neighborhoods, and then went back to her office. We drew up offer papers that evening, but waited until the next day to put in an offer. The next morning, Mary Ann drove us around to a few more properties, but it was academic. Early that evening we put in an offer. After much pressure by the brokers, the seller accepted, we inspected, and negotiated, and all that’s left is the closing, which will be on 14 September 2004. Doolies and I are terribly excited. The house is about eight blocks away from Scott’s house, and only a few miles away from Nancy’s house. Talk about cool neighbors.

After our successful house-hunting trip in Seattle, Doolies and I spent last week relaxing and enjoying our respective vacations. We took a trip down to San Diego, bought a really cool Tim Cantor painting from his wife in their San Diego gallery. We plan to hang the painting and its corresponding poem on a wonderfully illuminated wall on the second floor in the dining room. On Friday, we enjoyed Balboa park and its museums. While I was a little sick during our trip, except for the drive back, everything was great. As I like to tell Doolies, I’m like a wind-up toy that needs a little push to do anything. Once I’m marching along, I have a great time. But sometimes it takes a little shove to convince me to do something fun.

I’m sure you’re wondering what the musing title, “Building Tunnels Under the Sand” is all about. Before receiving an offer for the Seattle job (a job that was on the top of my list of most wanted jobs since I left school), I began formulating plans for escaping Houston. Plan B was my bum plan. I would leave my Houston job and become a bum. This was the all-else-fails plan and I spent considerate amount of effort planning for this outcome. I would live off the benevolent charity of Doolies in Newport Beach. During the day, when I was not writing my best selling novel, I would dig tunnels under the beach to live in. Who needs a house when you can build tunnels, especially when we discovered that the houses near the beach went for somewhere between $1.5 and 2.5 million. This was a rude awakening when I contemplated taking a job in Southern California and commuting to Newport Beach.

I am a little disappointed that I didn’t get the opportunity to implement Plan B. I had already picked out the perfect green pail and shovel to start digging. Thankfully, there still are many toys and gadgets that I will buy for the castle.