Monday, November 27, 2006

Honey, I'm home

I've been doing some preliminary work on a memoir I'm going to write in 2007, things such as going through old musty boxes and trying to sort out timelines for the New York bar review course I did and jobs I've had since coming to the United States and where I've lived, etc. Though it's been fourteen years since I came to the States from London, it's astonishing how much one forgets--how I was once attacked (and shrieked in a highly undignified manner) by a large, bad tempered Amazon parrot belonging to Larry's ex at a dinner party in New Jersey, for example--and how one loses touch with people one meets on the journey such as a centenarian who was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

One thing I'd definitely forgotten was my extreme surprise at the flimsiness of contemporary American home construction, especially the condominiums and tract housing (MacMansions is the term for such houses) that's mushroomed in the towns and cities in the past fifteen to twenty years. I remember moving into a condo unit in Long Island, rapping my bedroom walls with my knuckles, and thinking when I heard how hollow it sounded that we wouldn't even make the walls of a kennel with that kind of sheetrock in England or Ireland. Nor did it help matters any when I could hear my landlord's every word and lovemaking in the bedfoom next door--very unnerving, very disturbing, very public.

Nor is the use of this 1/2", 3/4" or max 1" wide sheetrock restricted to cheap housing. Nowadays, multi-million dollar houses are constructed with the same inferior and unsuitable, yes 'inferior and unsuitable' are the only appropriate words, product. I asked Larry about this (he builds French Country homes and should know) and he said it would not be cost-effective to employ old-fashioned plasterers. They're now categorized as artisans and, therefore, their labor is very, very expensive. In his last house, Larry contracted with chaps from Ireland to have the house facade done in stucco and it was hugely expensive. (The Celtic Tiger was also at its peak and two were going back permanently to Ireland because they could make more money.)

Admittedly, the fact that the frames of houses in the US are constructed of wood and not cinder blocks (or its new cement equivalent) adds to the hollowness and ability of noise to travel unfettered through modern homes. The other night at a dinner party in someone's home, I needed to use the loo and didn't miss any dinner table conversation in the dining room because I could hear clearly; of course, that inhibited my pee stream because I feared they could also hear me.

It amazes me that Americans, who are so picky about their cell phones, computers and cars--although here, too, there is room for debate when it's an American car they buy--will accept such substandard products. I cannot believe they gave up their domestic privacy without complaint.

I believe Americans should insist that gypsum manufacturers make a better product and/or townships and cities should amend their building codes to insist privacy is as important as the breath of stairs and height of treads, fire walls and installation of electrical circuit breakers and demand products taht cut down on the hollowness and flimsiness of interior walls. Either that, or just bring back good old fashioned plaster walls such as are found in old farm and townhouses.

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Dorothea said...

Hi Damian,

Are you still working on the novel set in Bucks County?

Damian McNicholl said...

Yes Dorothea, I'm still working on the novel but want to delve into creative nonfiction.