Housing Bubble

March 28, 2014

Before I took the plunge building a home under the sea seemed like a good idea. I’ve always loved the ocean, and especially being in the ocean, in that mysterious underwater world. And before I sold it and moved out I’d filled my above-ground house with aquaria, so I’d never feel far away from the water. It had never occurred to me that, after a while, the aquaria became just background, that I hardly even looked at them except when they needed cleaning. How often do you really look at your furniture? Although you can leave a chair when you go on vacation without having to worry about feeding it, and fish aren’t the sort of pet you can take with you.

And all the cleaning really got to be a pain. They say watching fish in an aquarium will lower your blood pressure. You need it, because the upkeep, not to mention watching a forty-five dollar goby go belly-up two days after you’ve brought it home, will raise your blood pressure. It was almost a relief when I lost my five-thousand dollar reef aquarium during a blackout. At least I didn’t have to worry about testing the salinity every twelve hours anymore.

So living underwater seemed like it would be better. It’s an old idea from science fiction, which always made it sound easy, even romantic. I thought I’d be like Captain Nemo, minus the eco-terrorism.What could possibly be wrong? I thought the biggest problem would be the engineering, but, after I won the lottery, that turned out to be the easy part. It’s amazing how many obstacles money can clear. It turns out embedding a giant bubble in the sea floor sixty feet down just a quarter of a mile offshore isn’t that hard when you hire engineers with decades of experience in deep-sea oil drilling. What I forgot is the three most important things in real estate: location, location, location. The public outcry when I picked my ideal spot caused the Australian parliament to cave, with several members saying publicly there wasn’t enough money in the world to allow a private home in the Great Barrier Reef. Other parts of the South Pacific turned out to be just as problematic, as did the Caribbean and Hawaii, plus I didn’t want to get too far away from my friends and family, so I finally settled on a nice spot off the Gulf Coast. Well, the beaches are nice. The water’s kind of green and cloudy, and there’s not that much happening. I used to think the worst that could happen would be a glass-bottomed tour boat going by while I was in the shower, but even if there were any going by they’d be lucky to see me. There’s not a lot of scuba diving in this area either, so at least I’ve been able to save a fortune on curtains.

Then there’s the design. I never realized before that people on land could live in domes. They just don’t want to. I’ve learned to live with not being able to run upstairs when the phone is ringing because they can always call back, and I don’t want to get the bends. I’ve even learned to drink flat soda, since the pressure takes out all the carbonation. It’s having the rooms get smaller as I go up. When I lived on land having a cramped attic didn’t bother me, but I guess it would have if that had also been where my front door was.

The thing that makes me feel really stupid is thinking that at least it would be easier than cleaning all my aquaria. It’s worse. There’s all the usual cleaning I still have to do, although I have to be a bit of a neat freak because, hey, it’s not like I can just throw those watermelon rinds in the backyard. I have to go up a floor, wait ten minutes, go up another floor, wait another ten minutes. At least there are a few fish that are grateful for my leftovers. And I can only do that with food. You never think about how much real trash you really accumulate until you have to live with it, even if the trash barge comes once a week. And that’s just the inside cleaning. Every other day I have to clean the outside if I don’t want to lose what little view I have. So I have to suit up, dive, and then tether myself to the series of hooks placed at regular intervals so I don’t get swept away by the current while I’m scraping algae and barnacles off my walls.

Did I mention that the wifi is spotty even on good days? Sinking cables didn’t work, and stringing them out this far was out of the question, so for most of my communication with the outside world has to be wireless. I didn’t realize how completely cut off from the world I would feel sometimes, when all the communications are down. I’ve given up trying to watch the televised news. What’s the point when the only way I can get it is when it’s been recorded and is usually a week late? And forget going out to a movie. Even the simplest trip to land requires days of planning. I never thought how difficult it would be to get visitors. Friends have come and stayed, though, and from them I get reminded of what a truly amazing experience this can be. I just wish they’d quit saying "It’s nice but I wouldn’t want to live here."

Still there are benefits. The solitude can be extraordinarily peaceful. I’ve learned to appreciate the night, a time that’s so much more active than the day. Curious fish nose around the exterior lights, and there’s enough ambient glow that, now that I’ve learned to pause and let my eyes adjust, I no longer worry about tripping over a bulkhead of walking into my couch in the dark.

Is that enough? I don’t know. I don’t know if it matters. Would I be happier somewhere else? That’s a moot question now that I’ve sunk so much into this project there’s no other place I could live. Maybe I’m just compensating, but I think there’s been some benefit in having given up things I used to take for granted, like driving and sushi. I’ve learned to take pleasure in little things. This venture has been so expensive I chuckle every time I hear someone talk about offshore investing like it’s a good thing, or when it’s time for a mortgage payment and I wonder if I need another reminder that my home is underwater. Then it’s cleaning time again, and I’ll see a school of bat rays glide by, or even get a glimpse of a dolphin. I’ll find boat snails, and reflect that we’re both scraping algae, or tiny nudibranchs with caramel bodies and azure gills. If I nudge them they gyrate and float upward, into the sun refracted into a big glowing urchin. None of this is mine, and yet it all is.

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