Piles of shoes sat outside the houses on view at the Alternative Parade of Homes.
Giving strangers money to enter their homes usually supplies the entrant with a red or blue plastic cup and the opportunity to catch an STD. The Alternative Parade of Homes organized by Historic Madison Inc. provides a chance to walk through historical residences without heavy bass or stumbling drunkards distracting from the beauty of a cantilevered arch.
The first joint I cased in the Vilas neighborhood left me unimpressed, but when I stepped out the door I realized why -- it felt like home. No, not my home, but the homes of my formative youth. Suddenly, I was excited by my lack of enthusiasm. When I first moved to Madison, my friend drove me around outlying areas, dotted with new subdivisions and cookie-cutter condos. It always reminded me of the houses in Edward Scissorhands. But the Vilas neighborhood proved that Madison could keep it real the old-money way.
Most of the houses had similar structural facets that included high, beamed ceilings and moldings, oversized windows and/or small panes with detailed partitions and glass-front cabinetry. They also held oglers milling about, lending their two cents.
I feel sort of bad even attempting to comment on these homes. "Your home was the best!" "Your home looks ridiculous!" I mean, people do live inside. A woman spying a humongous television in a viewing room exclaimed, "Now who needs that?" Just a guess, but the owners, perhaps? It's not like we were standing in Circuit City....
Walking through these homes is very different than walking through a museum. You make snap judgments about people by their possessions, or lack thereof. Homes with tons of old, sepia-toned photographs got whispers about inheritance. Children's rooms with instruments, strange decor or incredibly smaller quarters compared to the master suites all received raised eyebrows. People passed liquor cases with sideways glances, taking time to measure the amount left in each bottle.
And then rose the questions: What does the husband do? How old are the owners? How long did it take to clean? Where did they hide the sex toys? The trashy magazines? The cocaine? Aside from the structural beauty, the theorized money it took to redesign/redecorate and the choice furnishings, the real pull for many was being in a stranger's home.
Hooray, legal voyeurism!