Talk of the Town - A moving tribute August 14 2003

Stop me before I pack again

I don't know when man and woman first jointly occupied a cave, but it wasn't long before someone said, "We have to move."

"Whaddaya mean?" said primo cave guy, picking on a mastodon rib while sprawled in his wooly-mammoth-upholstered easy chair.

"Og Junior needs his own sub-cave. And if you're going to hunt pterodactyls, I can't prepare a 27-foot-wingspan bird in a 10-by-12 kitchen."

"It's not a bird, it's a flying reptile."

"Well, it's not dinner unless I get more space."

As regards my spouse, the desire for change is a genetic trait. When she was but a tot, she had three pieces of furniture: a bed, a chair and a desk. Every weekend, she moved them around.

Me? Once I got out of the crib and in my own room, everything stayed put until the day I left for college. Since then, single and married, I've moved four times — always under protest. I loathe everything about moving: the echo of empty rooms; the outline of packed-away picture frames on abandoned walls; seeing the contents of my entire life loaded onto a tiny truck piloted by two 5-o'clock-shadowed guys whose next stop involves a six-pack.

Plus, you have to get used to a new place. I know every creak, nail pop and weird sound effect in my house, and I accept them the way one would an eccentric great-aunt. If I move into another abode, my nerves will be flayed by a whole new clutch of oddities.

And you'll never find out about them before you buy — because purchasing a house is like dating. When we first meet, the prospective new domicile is on its best behavior. The yard's been de-mushroomed, a fresh gown of Sherwin-Williams shimmers in the dew. Everything smells good and looks good. The psychotic aspects of the home's personality only emerge after you're involved.

When I die, I've left explicit instructions that a large concrete mixer is to pull up to the house and entomb me in situ, preferably in front of the tube, my hands clenched in fists of rage (thanks, Don McLean) at the latest season of lousy programming. At least I won't have to move that very last time.

But meanwhile, after 10 years in the same cave, distaff wanderlust calls. I knew we were in trouble when she started watching a show called "House Hunters."

In this weekly saga, couples plod from home to home in search of new digs. The women always look hopeful, the men as if they've been bitten by a tsetse fly. My life partner finds this more dramatic than Sands of Iwo Jima playing on an adjacent network.

It didn't take long. In exchange for restored access to the History Channel, I would agree to "look" at new houses. Not "buy." She knows better. That word would send me fleeing into the piney woods like an escapee from a Georgia chain gang. Male fear of commitment has a real problem with real estate.

Even mere house gazing is educational. During the decade elapsed since we first bought a home, many innovations have been wrought in residential building: 1) roof and trim materials are more durable; 2) construction techniques are more energy efficient; and 3) new houses are twice the price and half the size of the one we have.

Plus, there's no outdoors. "Zero lot lines" have perfected the demise of the yard, enabling builders to cram as many houses as possible into a subdivision. If you want to plant a flower, buy a flowerpot.

The building boom that continues to devour the great outdoors is fueled, in part, by what realtors call "executive homes." An executive home is something some rootless family is going to exist in for two years, tops, before they go on to the next job-transfer/ slice-of-Velveeta-life.

And the great thing about executive homes is that you can build them anywhere. Executive homes are found overhanging highways, clinging to silt-strewn hillsides, nestled against sewage treatment plants. Executive cave dwellers don't care where they live because they don't live anyplace longer than a fruit fly.

Of course, you can go too far the other way, too. We looked at one sub-D with the breathtaking vista of a rolling hills horse farm right across the road. A pair of colts gamboled along a long white fence, casting playful shadows in the late afternoon sun. If Seabiscuit died and went to horsie heaven, this was it.

"It's too good," I told the realtor.


"A horse farm? This is a Wal-Mart in two years. If you look up 'horse farm' in the

dictionary it reads: "A place, formerly home to horses, which is now a future site of another strip mall."

Wait a minute. Equine animals in search of a new home? A series idea is born: "Horse Hunters."

Brought to you by Quaker Oats.


Glen Slattery is priced to move in Alpharetta.