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March 28th, 2017

The Village Idiot

Unreal estate

Jim Mullen

By Jim Mullen

Published October 15, 2014

Unreal estate
Byron plans to sell his cows soon and retire. He has his heart set on selling his farm for twice what it's worth to some rich city people, who will use it as a weekend house during the summer. Then he'll spend his golden years making lawn whirligigs in his workshop and drinking coffee down at the diner.

His farm won't be advertised for sale locally. No one around here can afford to pay Byron double what it's worth, which is what he's asking. Instead, he has his agent take out ads in the big city newspapers. "Martha Stewart starter kit," says the ad. "Only three hours from the city, this historic house could be yours. Come smell the roses."

"What's historic about it?" I asked him.

"The plumbing and the wiring," he said. "There's a sign on the fuse box that says 'Thomas Edison slept here.' Is that historical enough for you?"

The first city couple to see the place (he was a television producer, she was an conceptual artist) told Byron that they loved the house, that they loved the 400 acres, that they would would love to pay him twice what it was worth, but they couldn't buy it because its feng shui was all wrong.

Byron was puzzled. "My fung schwhat is wrong? I been around cows all my life, and if you think you can 'fung shway' them better than I can, have at it!" The couple couldn't climb back into their giant black SUV fast enough.

Byron's real estate agent tried to explain to Byron that feng shui was the ancient, and now very popular, Chinese theory of a house's energy. That the angles and doors and windows of his old farmhouse were in all the wrong places to trap all the good energy and keep out the bad.

"Your house is not on the dragon's back like it should be, Byron; it's sitting right on the dragon's left nostril."

"I'd like to ask you something, if you know so much about China," said Byron. "How do you say, 'what a load of hooey' in Chinese?"

The second couple (he, a musician; him, a plumbing supply salesman) weren't quite ready for the do-it-yourself rural lifestyle.

"Who's your cleaning person? What lawn care service do you use? We'd like to get a cook who can do vegetarian Thai-Japanese fusion cuisine. No lactose, no gluten. Who do you recommend?"


The third couple (she, an architect; he, a psychologist) absolutely loved the place. Well, she did. She told Byron it was absolutely perfect. She said she couldn't wait to tear the place down and build something nice, something more "site specific."

"I see a giant concrete living area," she said. "No windows, just a wall of industrial garage doors that will open up the whole space to the elements." The entire time she spoke, her hands would sweep and turn above her head, a walking exclamation point.

Her husband the psychologist wouldn't get out of the car. Something about snakes. The deal never went through.

It took a couple of months longer than he thought, but Byron finally did sell his farm for twice what it was worth to a city couple (she, an ER doctor; he, a Ph.D. in botany). They paid him cash for it. She grew up on a farm, and his specialty is native species and habitats. Already, they're out digging and planting and slowly meeting their neighbors.

Byron still comes by -- whenever he has a cold, or he's cut his hand at the workshop or his knee is bothering him. The Doc always listens to his complaints, always looks at his wounds. Byron always asks the same question: "What do you think, Doc?"

She always gives him the same answer: "I think you should have someone look at that."

She figures he can afford it.

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Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo."

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