Fat guys in Speedos
August 9, 2006
Is there really anything absolutely inherently evil about big houses?I mean, OK, I’m as willing as anyone to be bitter and jealous and downright nasty about rich folks – if for no other reason than the fact that, you know, they’re rich and I’m not.That’s cool. Up against the wall and all that.But now that Pitkin County has saved us from the scourge of huge houses by banning anything over 15,000 square feet, I can’t help wondering if we really needed to be saved. (I know, it’s a little like the rescued princess saying to the knight in shining armor, “Gee, that dragon was really kind of cute … before you went and slayed it.”)Don’t get me wrong. I think those jumbo mansions in town are really quite nasty. Swollen beasts that fill their lots and elbow their equally swollen neighbors for breathing room, they destroy the once charming character of the neighborhood.They’re monuments to the fact that hating tasteless rich folks really can be a rewarding hobby.And those enormous houses up on Red Mountain – well, we should just regard those with amusement. They’re like a beauty pageant for fat men in Speedos. We stare and snigger and wonder where they got the nerve to appear in public looking like that.So the huge houses in town destroy the neighborhood and the monsters up on Red Mountain destroy the view – but that doesn’t mean that all big houses are automatically evil.Really.Let’s start with the idea that a house could be built on a lot that’s large enough or private enough that no one will be offended by the size of the house. (Or, for that matter, the design of the house – many of these houses are not just huge, they’re hugely ugly.)Prince Bandar’s house, to use the prime local example, is enormous, but its visual impact is just about zero. Most of us never get to see it. (And I believe that if you do see it without authorization, your eyes are put out with a red-hot poker. Security up there is tough.)Now, since we’re off in fantasy land, let’s also assume that this house will have virtually no environmental impact. Ridiculous? Maybe. But if you’re going to build this remote palace, money’s no object. So we’ll figure on vast solar arrays generating electricity and hot water galore. Maybe a windmill or a hydroelectric plant.I bet we can make our house self-sustaining.So, then, how about the flocks of servants a house this big requires?The simplest answer is that we’ll provide housing for all of them on site. That’s really the tradition of mansions, isn’t it? You could consider it a return to the feudal system, where the peasants live around the castle and serve their lord and master. Or the stately English manor, where servants live somewhere down in the basement.Or, this being the Wild West (well, you know, sort of), consider it a ranch, with the cowpokes living in the bunkhouse. And Old Cookie rustling up some chow at the chuck wagon … um, make that “rustling up a mess of fennel-dusted wild salmon with pickled chanterelle purée.”And, by the way, I do wonder whether reducing house size does really reduce the number of servants required to maintain the lifestyle of the Lord and Lady of the Manor. Prince Charles (Prince of Wales, that one) has a servant who puts the toothpaste on his toothbrush for him (really). He would still have that servant even if he moved out of the 600-room Buckingham Palace into some tiny little shack the size of … oh, the White House. The man needs his servants.Anyway … voilà! Or, to stick with that Wild West theme, yee-ha! We’ve got an enormous house with virtually no impact.My point? Yes, I do have one: The problem isn’t the houses. It’s the people who live in them.Or, if you’d rather: The evil is not in our houses. It is in ourselves.Or, finally: Throwing rocks at rich people is fun, but there are better ways to save the planet.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.