Dunga Brook Diary: April Fools

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April 2, 2018 · Posted in Commentary 



Vicki Whicker

Central New York, Mother’s Day, 2011.

We’re walking across the field from Jim’s farmhouse to my farmhouse. I’ve got butterflies. I’m about to ditch LA for this.

I’m about to pull a geographic— Palisades cottage to 1820s farmhouse. From the trendy West to the forgotten Northeast. From bone-dry to lush. Hip to hillbilly. Known to unknown.



Brave, some call my plan. Others call it crazy.

And, even though I don’t know much about this place, I’m all in.

We walk through long grass and pink clover. Bees buzz us. Barn swallows swirl and dip, eager to catch the tiny lace-winged things that drift into the air behind us.

There’s an abandoned trailer down the road, split in half by some long forgotten red-neck disaster. And there’s another trailer up the road, not split in half, but not far from it, with abandoned crap in the yard…twisted metal, rusted things, suspicious piles covered in weeds.

I know about these trailers because I’ve been “driving” this country road, obsessively, for weeks. Thanks to Google Street View.

“Who lives in the trailer down the road?” I ask, not really wanting to know, it’s just that I need to know. Because. Neighbors.

For example, my neighbor in the Palisades— He painted his house (during El Nino) from a tall ladder, in the middle of the night, while wearing a leather trench-coat. He aimed a shotgun over his mail-order-bride’s head and mumbled something about a break-in at the elementary school. He chainsawed a hole in his garage door (to get the kid’s toys out, they were whining, you know) instead of unlocking it and lifting the door. He asked me to take rides in his brand-new Camaro. In front of his wife.

Neighbors can be…tricky.

“Ha!” Jim chuckles, “Trailer guy? The one with the geese? You should get to know him, he’s real classy.”

I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I barely know you, Jim.

We met a few years ago, at Frank Apple’s “Method Writing” workshop. Back then, Jim was the New Yorker-trying-to-be-an-actor-hunk living in Silverlake…and I was the single-mom-fashion designer-career-woman living in the Palisades trying to be anything but me.

I love Frank’s “Method Writing” workshop. Thursday night’s, eight weeks, spendy but worth it.  You really get to know a lot about a person in Frank’s workshop. He gets writers to go deep. The writing coming out of that class is train-wreck fascinating and, more often than not, achingly beautiful. We all jockey for Frank’s praise, we all want the, “Wow. That was really very fucking good. Who else was right there with that piece?”

Basically, Jim and I are complete strangers who know way too much about each other.

I know that he is sexually twisted and hopelessly dark. He knows that I have had more than one tragically hot affair with more than one hot “poet” from the workshop.*

(*In my defense, I’ve been taking Frank’s workshop for years…so, not that many when you do the math.)

Jim ditched LA fairly quickly after writing, producing, and starring in an off-Santa Monica Boulevard BDSM themed play.

Shortly thereafter, he bought his farmhouse in central New York and last summer he certainly grew some mean vegetables. I saw them online— Buckets of tomatoes, king-sized broccoli crowns, kale by the kilo.

We’re Facebook Friends. And now we’re in front of my new/old house and she looks just like the photo he posted in March. The caption? “Who wants to be my neighbor?”

“I do!” I typed, so hastily it shocked me.

Who doesn’t dream of an 1820s farmhouse on an acre? I didn’t, until I saw her and before I could think, I snapped her up.


What potential!

“As soon as you move here in July, you’re gonna want to renovate a bedroom, a bathroom, and the kitchen…” Jim says as I stare at the house, “…the rest can wait for next year.”

“I’ll do the whole thing this summer,” I reply. “I know from renovations, thanks to the old farmhouse my family moved into when I was a kid. The dust, the plastic sheeting, the drafty rooms— We lived like that for months, during the coldest mid-west winter, ever. I can’t live like that, again.”

I was traumatized by the whole renovation thing. When my parents finally deemed the house “finished” …it really wasn’t. Except for their “Master” bedroom with the fancy white wood-paneling, baby blue carpeting, and swirly marble bathroom.

My bedroom got a wallpaper upgrade and a sink with a mirror. Who wants walls festooned with cartoon flowers that repeat in annoyingly bright primary colors? And a sink? Where was my bath?

My brothers got even less. Which was almost better.

I bought Dunga Brook, a month ago, from the Priggins family. We closed on April 1, 2011.

Before that, she was occupied by squatters (people who break into abandoned houses in order to live rent-free— sometimes stealing the property). The Priggins got them out by threatening to set the place on fire, with them in it, if they weren’t gone by April 1.



April Fools!

“It’s pretty bad inside, the squatters pulled the electrical panels out and ripped out the stairs. But it’s nothing that can’t be fixed and the foundation looks solid. And the frame is good. Her lines are straight.” Jim beams, proudly.

I scan the “improvements” that the family added over the decades. A gaudy bay window. A weird corner window. Satellite dishes hang off her side like cicada husks. Cheap vinyl siding that has gone gray with age.

Jim pulls the front door open and we step into a dark, cramped hallway. My eyes adjust to the gloom…and I make my first design decision.

The exterior of the house will revert to the clean lines and tall windows of an 1820s Federal, but the interior will be light and open, like an artist’s loft.

I am feeling very Georgia O’Keeffe in Lake George.

What could go wrong?

(To be continued…)


Vicki Whicker is an iphoneographer living near Cooperstown, New York. In 2011, after 25 years in LA, she quit her fashion job and decamped for the wilds of central New York. Without a job, not much forethought, and a vague plan to remodel an 1820’s farmhouse, she had no idea what was ahead. https://www.instagram. com/vicki_whicker/


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