Harlan: Marking time with the new house

For my family, 2013 will be remembered as the year the new house was built.

Literally, The New House, a precision-built, pre-fabricated home created by RSI Development, is being assembled nextdoor as I write this. Poof! — as RSI's marketing campaign touts — an instant home.

Only two-and-a-half months into the process, following a two-day demolition of the existing 1950s structure, and the house is framed, drywalled, stuccoed and roofed. Our neighbors, a couple with young children who have lived here more than a decade, realized they needed more space and this quick and simple solution perfectly met their needs.

And for us, it's been relatively painless and, admittedly, fun to watch. My youngest daughter, who has an up-close perspective from her bedroom window, regularly observes the workers starting each morning before school and checks their progress at the end of the day. I've enjoyed explaining the construction process to her and was amused when she confided that she wants to be a homebuilder (and a mom and a chef and a teacher, of course).

This is certainly a momentous occasion for my neighbors. By early spring they will be enjoying a brand new and spacious house, one that their kids will fondly remember as their family home.

On our block, the construction represents not just something new, but also a point in time. This is the first instance a home has been completely demolished and replaced. For me, though, I view this event not for its unique construction, but as a marker to help me remember things in the future.

I've realized that, aside from life's typically major milestones, I need new events to structure my history. I graduated law school at 27, was married at 30, had kids at 32 and 35, and since then it's been more difficult to pinpoint important occasions. Most parents will attest that having children changes not only your daily schedule, but your life's calendar, too. Time becomes blurry, and remembering all of the details becomes more challenging.

But if I hear a song from the 1980s, you can bet I not only know the artist and title, but also when the song came out on the radio. I have vivid memories of the tunes that marked my junior and high school years, and sometimes can recall the play list of certain mix tapes in my collection. I can still remember listening to Richard Blade on KROQ, going to Licorice Pizza to pick up U2's latest album (on cassette, of course), and waiting in line overnight to buy concert tickets. When you're a teenager, music defines your mood, your style and your memory.

Marking time is different today. We are accustomed to regularly recording events on TV, syncing our calendars electronically and texting appointments. I had to laugh when my kids asked me to "rewind" the radio in the car the other day because they missed hearing something about one of their favorite bands.

And while our daily lives may seem to move rapidly, I appreciate that our frames of reference change, too. My kids' understanding of U.S. presidents, for example, begins with Barack Obama. To them, having an African American serve as our commander in chief is not overly significant, despite my attempt to explain its historic importance. They will experience a different world, to be sure, and mark their time accordingly.

Before too long, our neighbor's house will be completed and the newness of it all will become a faint memory for most. I, however, will have a new personal and historical marker. Time to find a Walkman, pop in a cassette, and enjoy the memory.

JEFFREY HARLAN is an urban planner who lives on the Eastside of Costa Mesa.

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