Succumbing to Mid-Century Modern

A Socratic Dialogue, I Think (Philosophy Majors Do Not Interact)

My house: I am an circa-1899 former furniture warehouse made from brick and old growth Douglas fir beams. When they converted me into condos in 2007, they left both of these features exposed.

Me: Oh, that’s cute!

My house: My bricks are 122 years old.

Me: Yep! It’s so aesthetically interesting!

My house: You aren’t hearing me, Julian.

Me: Oh, no? I’m sorry, I’m not good at picking up on things that are insinuated politely. You can be frank with me! We live together, after all. What is it that you’re trying to tell me about your bricks?

My house: My bricks are old.

Me: Yes.

My house: And they have a lot of holes in them, actually.

Me: Right.

My house: The grout is decaying from moisture infiltration which turns it to a terrible white dust, in a process called efflorescence. Since they are exposed, it’s all over the inside of me constantly, where you are breathing and doing stuff, and also these exterior and load-bearing walls made from these bricks could fail, and also meanwhile the heat and cooling is not efficient.

Me: Oh. Okay. That’s pretty serious.

My house: It is, yes. Thank you for hearing me and understanding.

Me: Of course, of course... Can the building association do something about this?

My house: You don’t technically own the bricks, which are considered common property, but you are responsible for them and cannot let them deteriorate. To let them fall further into disrepair would count as a violation of the association rules against depreciating the collective property value through negligence.

Me: So, what I’m hearing here is that the building association can in theory but will not in practice do something about it unless or until it means, like, suing or evicting me or something.

My house: Kind of, yeah. I mean, they won’t, though. Everyone is having the same issue and the management is this one guy who really does not have the time. Regardless, right now, this one is on you. I need you. You are my only hope, I—

Me: Okay, okay! I get it. Just to be crystal clear, I love you and I’m here for you in any way I can be. Can I hire a mason? Would a mason fix it?

My house: For somewhere between $6,000 and $22,000 depending on how thorough you want them to be, yes. :)

Me: I… see… Well. You are a charming old industrial building. Maybe I can cheat a little. I will lean hard into the vintage industrial aesthetic— you know, enameled sconces and cast iron legs and brassy fixtures and oiled butcher block surfaces and shit.

My house: Oh?

Me: Yeah! I’m talking patina up the ass and around the corner here.

My house: What about the structural problems?

Me: We’ll get there! Eventually! I just need time to think. Style will help me stall so I can just think this through more.

My house: What are you trying to think though, exactly? That would be the masonry project manager’s job, wouldn’t it?

Me: Right, but I need to do some planning before I can hire a masonry project manager.

My house: What kind of planning?

Me: I was thinking maybe a bank robbery.

My house: There is another issue with your plan.

Me: Look. Crime isn’t real, and the financial industry—

My house: No, no, that wasn’t my concern, actually. I’m pro bank robbing.

Me: Oh, right on.

My house: It’s about the stout little legless bases of all of these vintage industrial furniture pieces.

Me: Oh no, but I love those stout little legless pieces! They are are, like, sooo sturdy cause they were made to hold machines and stuff!

My house: Yes, but when they converted me into condos in 2007, they put extremely tall baseboard trim around every wall where it meets the floor.

Me: Like wainscoting? Adorable, functional beadboard?

My house: No, just absurdly high baseboard trim. It’s very plain and cheap and a little warped, but the point is that absolutely nothing you own will go flush against the wall.

Me: But the style! My style! So stout and legless! If it can’t go flush against the wall, it will make the uneven floors even more apparent, and everything I own will have a weird leaning gap behind it, and things will fall down and vibrate all the time and I won’t be able to even use those anti-tip fasteners because they won’t reach the walls!

My house: Yes. All of this is true.

Me: But what can I do? Is there a style of furniture with absurdly high legs that will clear the baseboard and also aesthetically cooperate with your active decay?

My house: There is one…

Me: (following a long pause and a resigned sigh) I suppose.

My house: Should I say it, or do you want to say it?

Me: You can say it.

My house: Mid-cent—

Me: (interrupting) Wait. Let’s say it together?

My house: Why?

Me: It just. It helps. It helps me.

My house: Okay.

My house and myself, in unison: Mid-Century Modern.

Me: (breaking internally, then sobbing for an extended beat)

My house: There there, it’s not so bad. It’s quite trendy right now! That just makes it easier to find some decent middle-tier stuff within a reasonable budget!

Me: (through snot-ridden heaves) I know! I know. But it’s… it’s like… Post-war nostalgia for intellectuals. And I just feel like it’s back for fashy reasons!

My house: Oh, and there was nothing weird or imperialist about your whole industrial thing.

Me: I was just trying to harmonize with your—! You know! Your material reality!

My house: Don’t “material reality” me, Julian. Do you know where this town got the money to industrialize in the first place? Hm? Do you know what chain of prosperity lead to my initial construction? To the businesses that thrived here in the 19th century?

Me: I do, though!

My house: It was shipping. Tall sailing ships full of “luxury goods,” also known as participating in the ol’ triangle trade of human suffering and exploitation, something all of Massachusetts doesn’t seem to acknowledge they were a part of, even though there were so many of these ships coming in and out of this town alone that this town’s custom’s house provided— what was it?— like a tenth of the national budget at one point? Also, semi-related, this is why all those dead famous local authors had bureaucratic clerk jobs. Those were the cushy desk jobs of the day around here.

Me: I know all this!

My house: I know you do. I know that you know enough about all of this that you should also know better.

Me: Ughhhhh. You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m getting really into my feelings but it’s not about me at all except for the part where I have to personally finance $6,000 to $22,000 worth of repairs.

My house: It’s okay. I mean, it’s not, but meanwhile if you’re committed to stalling with style, we should get this part over with fast. Just decide while it’s still fresh in your mind: hairpin or tapered McCobb?

Me: (a deep breath)

My house: Well?

Me: McCo…

My house: This time you do have to say it on your own. You have to do that work alone. Okay? We all have to do that work alone sometimes.

Me: (a howling ululation exactly how Captain Kirk yells Khan’s name, you know the one) MccccCooooooooobbbbbbbb-b-b-b-bbbblublublublublu!