East Hampton Neon Slapstick, or How the Weird Can Break Your Ass.
In high school, a friend who was both embarrassed by his father's wealth and frustrated with its post-divorce evaporation would sneer at the showiness of the rich any chance he had. He would roll his eyes as he described summers spent in "the Hommmptons," drawing out the first syllable in the style of Thurston Howell III.
If you're from my part of Jersey, you say "Hamptons" like it's an off-brand of deli meat. North Jersey accents can make anything sound unappetizing.
Add to this the tendency to use words like "classy" or "ritzy" to describe anything surpassing the upper reaches of middle class, and the Hamptons, like Cape Cod, became another fabled land of leisure resting beyond the pale of my pale.
Nonetheless, my sister and I were driving from Brooklyn to the North Fork of Long Island for the weekend to visit family friends and manage a last desperate grasp at a summer shoreline, and we made a bizarre pitstop along the way.
A friend of my sister's visiting from Amsterdam invited us for a brief, private foray into the House Bioscleave of East Hampton, NY. A flurry of email exchanges with links to articles, photos, and liability waivers (wait...) still didn't prepare me fully for the weirdness that is this home.
The House Bioscleave was built by an eccentric (ahem) architect couple who believed that the asymmetrical and disorienting layout of their home required an ongoing physical and mental agility that could indefinitely prolong life.
The house remains, though in varying degrees of repair.
Vivid colors on every surface sear the eye long enough to dangerously distract visitors from the rolling floors, which are dotted with grapefruit-sized bumps meant to constantly challenge your sense of balance.
The main room. The only room.
The kitchen and eating area are sunken in below the floor, making climbing in a more viable option than taking the single staircase, depending on where you're standing in the house.
None of the bedrooms -- or the bathroom, for that matter -- have doors. It is a completely open living space punctuated with soaring metal poles, ready to catch an inevitable stumble before it becomes more than an exasperated giggle.
Carnival windows and a propeller-like fan.
Despite the multitudinal and dissonant design quirks meant to set the house apart, its most glaring peculiarity is its location.
The house sits high enough above the street to be largely unnoticeable as you drive by (as evidenced by our driving by it to begin with). Its lot is surrounded by humdrum homes not much older than me, a perpetual grey-green-beige landscape that belies the abnormality looming among the pines.
Side view, or rear view?
Stranger still, the landmark weirdness of the house is hidden behind the street-facing facade, a late-twentieth century "modern lodge"-style space with cathedral ceilings, exposed beams, and heavy sliding doors. It was as if someone had tacked Pee-Wee's Playhouse onto the back of an aging uncle's embarrassingly outdated bachelor pad.
The discreet location and unassuming entryway force the house into a state of undeserved latency: what should be immediately jarring and jaw-dropping is tucked away behind layers of monotonous and monochromous surroundings.
Imagine one of Claes Oldenburg's humongous sculptures perched sedately behind a split-level in Yorkshire. You get the idea.
Rear view, or side view?
I won't say I was disappointed with House Bioscleave. I admired the partnership and tenacity of a couple who completely embraced their uncommon vision and ideals. I left the house feeling comforted by how capable and fulfilled we can be when we stop doubting ourselves and wondering what people will think of the risks we take.
Or, as I like it to say, "Sometimes, you gotta chuck it in the fuck-it bucket."
The rest of the Hommmptons-and-vicinity trip -- the beaches, the seaside towns, the fun ferry rides to and from Shelter Island -- was pleasant, mild, and satisfying, like a bowl of oatmeal at a Brooklyn brunchery: the basic concept is simple and ages-old, but has been improved upon to the point of absurd extravagance at the insistence of those who can afford it.
Bioscleave may not belong in East Hampton. Hell, it may not belong on Earth. And in this way it felt kindred: a shiny alarm clock placed in a $16 bowl of oatmeal, lacquer-bright and incongruous and blaring too loud to hear the grumbles of the unimaginative.
Let's turn the weird up to 11 and yank off the dial.