The House of Dreams: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

The "House of Dreams": the Dubner farm in upstate New York, circa 1960.

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “The House of Dreams.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) 

In this episode, Stephen Dubner returns to his childhood home in Quaker Street, N.Y. It’s a drafty farmhouse on thirty-six acres where his parents, a pair of Brooklyn-born Jews who converted to Catholicism, raised eight devout children. The house, Dubner says, felt like the eleventh member of the family. Which is why his family took it so hard after his mother finally sold the house and the very bad thing happened to it. A while back, Dubner wrote a New York Times essay about this terrible turn of events. But now, as the podcast explains, there’s been a new development — a “boomerang story,” if you will.

(Some of) the Dubner family, clockwise from left: Stephen on Mona's lap, Ann, Marthe, Gary, Dad, Peter, Patty, Joe, Beth.

As a teenager, Dubner stocked shelves at Wolfe’s Market, and in this episode he calls up Chris Wolfe, still a family friend, to talk about the moment he found out what had happened to the house: 

DUBNER: I came into the store, and I said, “Hey Chris.” We were catching up, and I think I just said something like, you know, “How’s the house?” And you said, “You don’t know?” And I said, “Know what?” And you’re like, “Oh boy.” 

You’ll also hear from Dubner’s oldest sister, Mona DeMay, and from Quaker Street residents Aaron Yerdon (check out Yerdon’s symphonic metal band here) and Danica Linn about “The House of Dreams” and what it has become.  

Audio Transcript

[MUSIC: Nicholas Tremulis; “Juju’s Farewell” (from Little Big Songs)]

Stephen J. DUBNER: You know what I love? I love a good boomerang story. What’s a boomerang story, you say? All right, here, I’ll tell you one; this one’s about the price of horse manure. So, back in the 19th century, when cities around the world began to grow like crazy, they were mostly powered by horse, more than 200,000 horses in New York City alone. Now, all those horses produced about five tons of manure a day. When the cities were smaller, there had been a healthy market for manure, because farmers from the surrounding area would buy it as fertilizer. But as cities grew, and took on more and more horses, there came to be a manure glut. The price of manure fell from strong positive to zero and then to negative —you actually had to pay somebody to get rid of the manure. Now, not surprisingly, most people weren’t willing to pay to have their manure taken away, so it piled up on the streets. It was a nightmare, in every way: it was a health hazard, it stank, it made it hard to get around. Thankfully, the automobile and the electric streetcar came along and replaced the horse as the engine of cities. Decades passed. The horse population declined. So therefore did the supply of horse manure. What rose, however, was a boom in home gardening, and, among a certain type of connoisseur, a demand for primo fertilizer. Like horse manure. So, today, a twenty-five-pound bag of manure mulch can sell for about fifteen dollars. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a boomerang story. Something that starts out in one place, and then goes far away, and then ends up right back where it began. 

On today’s show, another boomerang story. This one is about a house. My house. The House of Dreams.

[THEME]

ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is Freakonomics Radio, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

[MUSIC: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics; “Looking For A Better Thing” (from It’s About Time)]

DUBNER: So I grew up in an old farmhouse in upstate New York, outside of Albany, in the back of beyond. The nearest town was called Quaker Street. There was one stoplight, a general store, a diner. There were eight kids in my family: four girls, four boys. I was the youngest, so, even Stephen. I loved my family and I loved my house. So years later, after I’d gone off to college, and my mom sold the house, when the terrible thing happened to it, I took it hard. I asked my oldest sister, whose name is Mona, to help me tell the story.

DUBNER: Hey Mona, are you there?

DEMAY: Yes.

DUBNER: Hey, it’s Stephen. How’s it going?

DEMAY: Stephen, great. How are you doing?

DUBNER: I’m good. Um— family okay?

DEMAY: All real good. How about yours?

DUBNER: Good. Everybody’s good. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

DEMAY: Yeah, same here.

DUBNER: So, as you know, I’m thinking about doing a radio show on our house.  

DEMAY: “The House.”

DUBNER: “The House.” I always think of the house as, like, the eleventh member of the family, I don’t know about you?

DEMAY: I think of it as “The House.”

DUBNER: Capital T, capital H.

DEMAY: Yes, yes.

DUBNER: It was a big, drafty white farmhouse, tin roof, asbestos shingles, everything falling apart a little bit, sitting on thirty-six acres of not-very-arable land. We were a big, rambunctious family, lots of kids, lots of animals, lot of activity. I think we all have our favorite memories, our favorite room in the house. Here’s how my sister Mona remembers it.

DEMAY: The kitchen because that’s where I remember, besides having to eat liver and onions and stuff like that, I remember our family dinners, our family meals. Sunday breakfast after church, mom making waffles. And all of us kids would sit around the table. I remember dad putting ketchup on his steak. It was a family time there. You know, us feeding the dogs under the table some of the food we didn’t really like. But it was family time, and I think I’ve always, always valued, and I know I’ve always loved the family. The other favorite spot was the Other Side, where our big old piano was. And mom and dad would encourage us to play our clarinets, and play the piano, and sing. So again, it was togetherness. Plus, that room held the TV which we could watch Sunday night Ed Sullivan, that type of thing.

DUBNER: I always think, whenever I drive by, I think of how in the summers sometimes Mom and Dad would all round us up to all recite the Rosary in the afternoon on the lawn there.

DEMAY: Kneeling in the grass, right. That image is imprinted in my brain too.

DUBNER: Yeah, yeah.

[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass; “Film Noir” (from Fodakis)]

DUBNER: We were a very, very Catholic family. Now, my parents were both born as Jews, in Brooklyn, but before they met each other they each converted to Catholicism. And, like a lot of converts, whether it’s religion or politics or a former smoker who used to smoke three packs a day, they were extremely devout about their new faith. And so we were too. So, I, like my brothers before me, was an altar boy from about the age of four. We prayed a lot, we obeyed the teachings of the Catholic Church (for the most part, at least). And holidays, like Christmas, they weren’t just holidays, they were Holy Days, celebrated in the religious spirit. So the house itself, or “The House,” as my sister Mona calls it, it felt kind of consecrated. That’s why it was so strange, so unsettling, when we learned that something profane happened there, after we moved. I talked to Chris Wolfe, an old family friend, who still runs the local general store:

DUBNER: Now, so, we should just say, I used to work for you back in my early teens at your general store, Wolfe’s Market, Quaker Street, New York. I stocked shelves, and I mopped floors, I mowed the lawn. I don’t think I was a very good employee, honestly.

WOLFE: Well, you were on time. And you were clean. And you did your job. And you never gave me any trouble.

DUBNER: That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but that’s all right. I’ll take it. I’ll take it.

WOLFE: That’s a good endorsement! And you were good to the people. You know, everybody liked you.

[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass; “Film Noir” (from Fodakis)]

DUBNER: So Quaker Street is a small town, obviously, and Chris Wolfe eventually hears about just about anything that’s going on there, including what happened to my house.

WOLFE: Well, when we first heard about your mom selling the house, you know, after your dad had passed away, and she was there for a while and then she sold it. And then this couple took it over. And then it wasn’t for a little while that they were there that we found out that through the grapevine around here as small towns have grapevines that it was being turned into an adult swinging house.

DUBNER: Oh god.

[MUSIC: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics; “It’s About Time” (from It’s About Time)]

DUBNER: Yep, that’s right: my house, my very proper house with my very Catholic family, was sold off to a couple who turned it into a swingers’ house. A sex club. A sex farm. They called it The House of Dreams.

Coming up on Freakonomics Radio: things get worse at The House of Dreams before they get better:

DEMAY: You could write your fantasy, your sexual fantasy and send it in with a deposit or a big check, and then they would accommodate your fantasy.

[UNDERWRITING]

ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is Freakonomics Radio. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

[MUSIC: Cuchata; “Nueva” (from Sangre Mixto)]

DUBNER: So I’ve known Chris Wolfe since I was a kid. I used to work at the general store she ran, and still runs, with her husband, Denny. Chris was the one who first told me about my family’s old house:

DUBNER: So, Chris, I remember how I first found out that my beloved old house had been turned into a sex club, do you remember...Which was several years after it had been going, do you remember?

WOLFE: Yeah, you were really upset.

DUBNER: So do you remember that day that I came back home?

WOLFE: Yes I do.

DUBNER: And I came into the store, and I said, “Hey Chris.” We were catching up, and I think I just said something like, you know, “How’s the house?” You know, it’s this house I’d lived in forever. And you said, “You don’t know”? And I said, “Know what?” And you’re like, “Oh boy.”

DUBNER: At one point, Chris told me, she got hold of an application for The House of Dreams. I asked her what kind of information they wanted.

WOLFE: Well of course, you know, your name, your address, well they didn’t want to know your social security number, that’s for sure. So then they said they wanted to know what your preferences were.

DUBNER: Your sexual preferences, right?

WOLFE: Yeah, sexual preferences. Your race.

DUBNER: Okay.

WOLFE: How much you made.

DUBNER: Yeah, were you supposed to…

WOLFE: Where you live.

DUBNER: Were you supposed to attach a picture?

WOLFE: A picture. Yeah, and some of these people who came in, some of these guys come in used to have their hair slicked back with that greasy stuff, and used to have like striped shirts and plaid pants. I mean, it’s a riot. I mean…

DUBNER: So they stuck out a little bit in little old Quaker Street.

WOLFE: Kind of, yeah. But it was kind of...and, you know, a lot of people around here tried to close it down, but…And I know the cops went up there, you know, some of the BCI boys went up there. And they’d come down, and they’d talk to us, and I’d say well what are you going to do about that? They’d say there’s nothing we can do about it because it’s consenting adults.

DEMAY: You really want to know the details I found out?

DUBNER: That’s my sister Mona again.

DEMAY: A couple years before mom died, you told me about it, so I started researching it, and what I remember is this is what you could do. You could write your fantasy, your sexual fantasy and send it in with a deposit or a big check, and then they would accommodate your fantasy. That’s all I remember from researching it. I’ve probably blocked other stuff out. And then I remember thinking I’m just going to kill them. Our bedroom, the girls’ bedroom is involved in this? We were the most pure girls in the area. We were raised strictly and morally, and you know, nothing like that ever went on in the house when we lived there. And now it was like a desecration and a huge slap in the face to our family and to the house. I was upset for the house, strange as that might sound.

[MUSIC: The Wintermarket; “Thank You There Will Be No Encore” (from The Ballad of Artie Funken)]

DUBNER: I didn’t think that sounded strange at all. I was upset for the house too, and for us and for my mom especially. We weren’t sure what to tell her, if anything. We debated whether we should keep it secret but I decided it was wrong somehow to hold out this info that she might hear from someone else. And the amazing thing is, when we did tell her, she handled it better than any of us. She said, “You know, it’s just a house. The house wasn’t us, wasn’t the family. We were the family. The house was just sticks and stones.” Now I want to believe this, that a house has no allegiance to the people who live in it. But I couldn’t quite get there. It still hurt. My sister Mona felt pretty much the same way.

DUBNER: So this is, you know, we’re just two people in the world who don’t amount to a hill of beans or anything, but I still maintain that this was at one point the saddest story in the world.

DEMAY: I totally agree with you.

DUBNER: I was, it really was our house, “The House” as you call it, the eleventh member of the family. And if it were to end here, the story would be the dang saddest story ever.

DEMAY: Yeah, and I’d still be very, very angry. Although, you know, I’ve learned to let go of that.

DUBNER: You have not. You so have not, but that’s okay, you fake it well.

DEMAY: I’ve learned how to deal with it. Thanks, okay.

DUBNER: But that’s not the end of the story, right?

DEMAY: No. Right. What a lovely surprise.

DUBNER: It turns out that, just recently, “The House” got back to being a home.

LINN: You can go first, babe.

YERDON: I’m Aaron Yerdon. I work for the distribution center at Walmart, and play in a rock band...I guess that pretty much sums me up.

DUBNER: Hang on, you’re not only a proud homeowner, but you’re also a home renovator.

YERDON: Absolutely.

LINN: Yes, a very good one.

DUBNER: Yeah, unbelievably good. Okay Danica, your turn.

LINN: My name is Danica Linn, I work for the New York State tax department. And as you know, in my spare time I love to renovate homes. And I like to paint, and do stained glass, and mosaics.

[MUSIC: Madrona Music; “Cafe Window”]

DUBNER: This past summer, I was upstate with my wife and kids, visiting Mona and her family, and we decided to take a drive, out to Quaker Street. We wanted to visit the cemetery where my parents are buried, stop in at Wolfe’s Market, maybe even drive by “The House.” Now, I’d tried this once before, with my kids a few years ago. The guy who answered the door was “The Sex Club Guy,” and even though I played dumb, just told him I grew up there and only wanted my kids to see the house, he shooed me away. So this time we planned just to drive past it. But my son Solomon, when he saw the house, he really, really, really wanted to knock on the door, meet the people who live there, maybe take a look around. Mona and my wife and I are all looking at each other: no, bad idea. But Solomon was insistent. It was a Sunday morning, about eleven o’clock. I figured, what the hell. So we parked in the driveway—there was only one car there, a good sign, no sex party going on—and gave a knock, expecting, of course, “The Sex Club Guy” again. But it wasn’t him. It was this nice young couple, Aaron and Danica.

DEMAY: You turned around. Someone opened the door and you turned around—and I wish I had recorded what you said, it was so cute—you said something like come on in they’re friendly here. Or something like that. Do you remember what you said?

DUBNER: What I think I said was, “Hey, it’s new owners and they’re not jerks.”

[MUSIC: Jessie Torrisi and the Please Please Me; “Breeze in Carolina” (from Brûler Brûler)]

DUBNER: The new owners, Danica and Aaron, are very much not jerks. They’re nice and talented people who, it turns out, love old houses, especially our old house. They’re renovating it, beautifully.

YERDON: And we jumped right over all the things that we thought we had to do right away and we dived right into opening archways up and ripping floors up and our most recent project is that porch, where the Jacuzzi was at one point. That room is going to be an actual living room soon. We’ve reframed walls, redone the entire floor, we actually removed the two sliding doors that were kind of dilapidated, and put in a single French door for our back entrance.

LINN: When you walk in through the French doors it just has that just openness, you know, and it’s like a breath of fresh air!

DUBNER: As happy as we were to know that our house was in good hands, Danica and Aaron were happy to know that a nice family used to live here, before it was a sex club. They wanted to hear our stories about the game closet, and the hallway where my sisters talked on the phone to their boyfriends and about the upstairs bathroom that my brother Peter turned into a darkroom. And, us being us, not exactly a shy family, we told them everything.

DEMAY: I was ecstatic with this young couple. What they were doing to “The House” was gorgeous and it was wiping out any remnants of the sex club. But it was really —they were restoring this house to, say, a former glory or a current glory that our family couldn’t do because of lack of finances, and time, and talent maybe.

DUBNER: And having eight kids running around.

DEMAY: Well yeah.

DUBNER: I mean they were just everything they could do to keep everything together.

DEMAY: It was a trip down memory lane painted with a modern brush. It’s hard to explain because the rooms were all still there. Here’s Joe’s room, here’s the girl’s room, Stephen, here’s the alcove where you were. Oh look, the upstairs bathroom works now, wow. It was amazing, and I think gave all of us that day, especially you and I, a sense of real happiness over this house.

[MUSIC: Jonathan Clay; “Close To You” (from Everything She Wants)]

DUBNER: So that’s my boomerang story. I know it’s not as dramatic as the horse manure story, but I hope you find it instructive, the tale of my old house becoming an orgy castle. If nothing else, it tweaks the old conventional wisdom, you know, Thomas Wolfe, no relation to Wolfe’s Market, by the way, writing, “You can’t go home again.” Actually, you can go home again.  Sometimes you just have to wait a while.

[CREDITS]

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COMMENTS: 56


  1. MsLeading says:

    I was fairly surprised and disappointed at the judgmental, derogatory, sex-panicked tone of this story. Underlying the whole theme of the house (sorry, The House) being “perverted” was an implication that consenting adults congregating at a private venue for sexual purposes is the most morally corrupt thing imaginable, as though being used to house a sex club was just as bad as the house being used to cook meth or traffic child slaves. The obsession with purity, with the right kind of people vs the wrong kind of people… how grossly sanctimonious! Professional sex workers and facilities can provide valuable and necessary services for some people. Sure, they can be seedy and disgusting just like any industry, but the assumption here was that kinky sex – I’ll say it again, by consenting adults – is necessarily a perverse, shameful state of affairs whose very existence is so offensive that Dubner & family are actively angry at its presence in their lives. For a show that so often looks at controversial issues from a sane and rational perspective, I was very disappointed in the knee-jerk sex-negativity in this story.

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    • Molly says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Kevin Shmevin says:

        “…but I do believe that casual sex with random people to be immoral”

        Why?

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  2. Seminymous Coward says:

    That was a rather odd look into what pretty much amounts to puritanical fun-hating and bizarrely assumed malice.

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  3. Blaise Pascal says:

    I think MsLeading said what I was thinking. Would it have bothered you as much if the house had been turned into some other legal small business that was distasteful to you but not sexual? If your old bedroom housed the small offset presses used to print a white supremacist/anti-semitic newsletter?

    It seemed to me that it would have been in keeping with the nature of the program for you to have tried to interview the owners of the sex club, to air their view on the matter. I would have liked to hear why they chose that house, and why they decided to leave it.

    At best, you said you went there, did not mention that you were a journalist, but rather a previous inhabitant, and got blown off.

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  4. James says:

    I likewise don’t see anything wrong with the sex club. Far worse things could have happened. At least the place is still a house, isn’t it, and not a suburban development or strip mall?

    But I do have to argue a bit on one point, where you say “So, today, a twenty-five-pound bag of manure mulch can sell for about fifteen dollars.” Now that’s strictly true. My yuppie neighbors in the McMansion down the road (yeah, suburban blight is stretching out its ugly tentacles) probably buy the stuff, just as they carefully rake up fallen leaves, stuff them into plastic trash bags (about 40 of them) and leave them out for the trash* pickup, instead of making a compost pile. Which just proves the old adage about fools and their money, because there are about a dozen horse owners within say half a mile, who would gladly give them manure by the pickup load.

    *The trash company, though, has rules about how much trash they will take each week, so the pile of bags has been there for a couple of months, decreasing by two or three bags a week.

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  5. Dennis says:

    This was possibly the most pointless Freakanomics story ever. First, there’s nothing interesting that happened. Second, there was nothing to be learned from this story.

    That aside, I don’t see how its any business of yours what legal activity is going on in a house that you don’t own and I’m appalled at Stephen’s puritanical attitude.

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  6. kommunic8 says:

    I found this episode of Freakonomics preposterous, petty and verging on bigotry. Your podcast is one of my favourite, this is what makes the story of your house particularly difficult to listen to. With so many people sleeping on the street, people who do not have a house nor a country they can call home, your lament about the destination of use of what used to be your house seems obscene, to say the least. If you wanted to keep your house so badly, you shouldn’t have sold it. And I really don’t understand the problem you seem to have with consenting adults paying to have sex. Get over it. Probably you did, I don’t know because I just couldn’t bring myself to listen to the end.

    I am really looking forward to listening to your next podcast. I love you work, love the stories you tell, the angle you choose. I’ll forget about this last one.

    Have a great break,

    Cristina

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  7. Stephen says:

    Did I really just hear this podcast, or was it all a bad dream? Either way it was awful. By that I mean truly, remarkably awful. Here’s my synopsis: I used to live in a nice house. Then it became a sex club. Now it’s a nice house again. The end.

    But the broadcast would have simply been an innocent misfire if it wasn’t for Dubner and his sister’s intolerance. That took it from dull to downright obnoxious.

    Let those people do what they want with the house. It’s theirs, after all. You have no right to approve or disapprove of their decisions.

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  8. Chuck says:

    Agreed. The sex-negativity is appalling. It’s nothing whatever to do withi economics, everything to Puritan sexual ideals. I wish Stephen and his sister the best with their blindly simplistic and narrow view of sexuality, conflating “purity” with the absence of sex.

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  9. Chris Hubbard says:

    I normally love this podcast. Today I’m super disappointed and no longer quite the fan I used to be. I’m almost tempted to just delete it. I’m offended and bummed out….

    Some people bought “your” house and did something that agree with your moral standard, and suddenly their “Jerks” What the hell man.

    I can understand the surprise, ok. I would be too if I found this out about an old home of mine. But the judgmental tone in this story is pretty strong for me. I don’t listen to the podcast because I want to know your personal values, and opinions of other peoples choice of lifestyle. I’m not a swinger myself, but who cares?

    Hope you address this publicly and clear up any misunderstandings we might have now….

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  10. Michael says:

    Perhaps my reaction is partly due to listening to ‘House of Dreams” immediately after Dan Savage’s podcast, but I must say I was quite put off by what I felt was a smug and judgmental tone throughout.

    So your childhood house was sold and turned into a sex club for consenting adults. And… why is this a problem? One allows for a certain nostalgia about a beloved home, and I might have been sympathetic if a terrible crime had taken place. But you seem to be bemoaning the fact that people had SEX there. The sort of sex which you do not approve of. Horror of horrors!

    Besides the fact that it’s none of your business and shamefully sex-negative, one wonders about your reaction for two reasons. First, having come from a large family it seems close to certain that SOMEONE was having sex in your house, albeit not the kind that gives you the vapors. Second, what exactly does this have to do with economics? If there was a larger point to the story, other than your gloating about the sex club’s departure, it has escaped me. As a “boomerang story” I feel certain there are just as many examples to be had of the “bad guys” winning in the end.

    I usually find Freakonomics interesting and challenging. Your shrewd analyses of value and incentive are typically quite engaging. But this value judgement on the personal lives of others makes you come off as some sort of Victorian prude.

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  11. Katiekat says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  12. ActiveAdult says:

    This episode was disappointing. With ownership comes the freedom to have the culture you want in your home. Sexuality is legal and fun. There are risks but they are manageable. Different people have different preferences. Some are common, some less so. This story was no more than finger pointing at people who are different.

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  13. TonyG says:

    I pretty much agree with the majority opinion in these comments – the show was jarring, judgmental, unpleasant, and pretty far afield from the usual subject matter of the show.

    I totally get & understand the longing to revisit one’s childhood home; mine, too, was sold 23 years ago and I’ve not been inside those walls since. I dream about it regularly, as it was obviously a terribly important place to me. I miss it, and I am a bit resentful that I can’t revisit it. So in that sense, I understand Stephen’s longing and sense of ownership and nostalgia.

    As a recovering Catholic and a gay man, the part of Stephen’s story that was, I think, intended to show the house as idyllic and full of love actually made me cringe. Prayer sessions on the front lawn – if I was driving by and saw that, I’d think THAT was strange. All a matter of different perspectives.

    Which is what made the sex-phobic (and I use the word thoughtfully) aspect of the story so jarring. I would likely never visit a sex club like the house became, but I have no issues with such a place – it’s just not for me. Other people like it, it’s legal, so they can have at it. Also, was Stephen really surprised when the sex club owner refused to let the kids inside? I’d consider him a RESPONSIBLE adult since he was keeping the kids from seeing things they shouldn’t.

    In sum, I think I had the exact opposite reaction than what seemed to be intended – I was ambivalent about the sex club and cringed during the description of the “idyllic” childhood. Just my reaction, but I see others felt similarly regarding the sex-phobia. And, as someone else here commented, delving into the sex club aspect – the business, the location, the decision to move, etc – would have been much more in keeping with Freakonomics subject matter.

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  14. Steve says:

    I’ve lived in Quaker Street for about 16 years, and remember the gossip about that house. Most of the folks I knew were mostly bemused by it, but it was certainly deemed a scandal in the mostly conservative community. I was in the Quaker Street Volunteer Fire Department when we did a controlled burn of the dangerously dilapidated barn (just out of the photo on the left). The police couldn’t shut the operation down, but the building code enforcement people did force the removal of the barn (it was genuinely unsafe). I have no idea which fantasies, if any, were staged in the barn. The fire chief was clearly delighted to see it go, though.

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  15. David says:

    This is not an economics article – its a personal religious essay in which the Dubner family express their sexual phobia. Aside from its inappropriateness as a Freakanomics podcast , it’s offensive in its presumption that all listeners have (or should have) the same anti-sex attitude. It’s clear that their livid anger and personal affront is due solely to their sexually repressed attitudes. Such outrage would not have resulted from the house being converted to an antiques shop.

    It’s great the Dubners have fond memories of their family home, and it would be interesting to hear their personal beliefs if they were relevant to an article about economics. But I do not subscribe to an economics podcast to be instructed in appropriate sexual mores. This article’s censure of adult sexual behavior as being de facto anti-family and desecrating to home life is myopic and offensive.

    The insertion of moral essay into this stream is inappropriate – and that would be true even if I personally were not offended by the content. I would suggest that Stephen Dubner start a separate blog for his family stories and personal moral beliefs.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 6
  16. Aaron says:

    I was very disappointed with this episode. It wasn’t a story about economics; instead it was a bunch of prudish moralizing about how the previous owners of a property can somehow feel personally insulted by the perfectly legal business run in said property by its later owners.

    The anger and hurt the narrator and his sister somehow manage to feel are perfect examples of the ridiculous sex-negativity of American culture. If their house had instead become a crack den or an illegal gambling parlor, do you think they would have been so horribly scandalized? Would they have asked the police what can be “done about it”? Of course not. This kind of baseless moral outrage is reserved for victimless non-crimes such as operating a 100% legal sex club.

    If sex clubs aren’t your thing then fine, don’t go to one. But save the histrionics for something worthwhile.

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  17. samiam says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Kevin Shmevin says:

      I am not saying that they should never talk about anything but economics. I’m just saying that this episode was terrible, and it could have actually been good if they had focused on the economics of the situation instead of the morality.

      They did not, as you say, force us to “reexamine [our] own moral code[s].” That would have required philosophical arguments. This podcast made no moral arguments for why sex clubs are evil or why we should care that our childhood homes were turned in to sex clubs. It just took those ideas for granted and proceeded judgmentally.

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  18. Nick_Canada says:

    The judgemental attitude and discriminatory comments in this episode were quite uncharacteristic and very disappointing. This is one of my favourite podcasts this is my first time feeling utter disapproval bordering on outrage. Consenting adults engaging in legal activities…where is the problem here??? Poly-amory/non-monogamy/prostitution/swinging/swapping/fun parties: whatever was going at that house is likely to become more acceptable and more explicitly legal in the coming years and shame-ridden puritans are going to have to live with that.

    Rewind 30 years and the same story might have been told about a gay couple moving into someone’s childhood home. Jump back another 30 and perhaps it’s a black family moving into a good (white) town. The fact that Dubner and the producers of this podcast failed to see the bigotry and hatefulness here is shocking. Wake up, guys. Dubner, you are certainly entitled to your views and you can’t be blamed for your sex-negative Catholic indoctrination, but there was someone on your team should have vetted this better and squashed the story. The whole team bears responsibility for letting this go to air, and I believe you should apologize to your listeners for the blatant prejudice your program exhibited.

    There are still racists and homophopes among us, but at least today most of them know when to shut up. Dubner, take note.

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  19. opennhonest says:

    I always listen to Freakanomics podcast while i clean my home on Saturday. Today i found myself disturbed by the closed-minded comments of Dubner and his sister. I found myself agreeing with his mother. As a devote Catholic she spoke very rationally noting that the house was not their family, but brick and mortar. As an old farm house I’d presume they were not the first people to live there or the last. If vegetarians moved from a home and a butcher shop moved in, the vegetarians would not be just in petitioning for the butcher shop to be shut down. Once a property is sold, you no longer have control of it’s new character.

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  20. Gavin Sweeney says:

    Hi,
    Firstly, let me say that I love your podcast. I think it’s creative, thought-provoking and insightful. You and your team should be commended for the consistent high quality of your output. That being said, I have to agree with some of the comments above: this podcast was self-indulgent, judgmental and worst of all, pointless. Stephen, I’m not interested in the religious hang-ups of you and your family. I greatly admire you as a journalist but I think this podcast was a mistake. I look forward to the return to your exemplary reporting in the future.
    A fan,
    Gavin

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    • Nick_Canada says:

      Gavin, I already gave you a thumbs up but I wanted to emphasize my approval of this very eloquent and fair-minded comment. Well said!

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  21. Caleb B says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Gavin Sweeney says:

      To be honest Caleb, I’m not entirely sure what your point is here.

      I would imagine most people don’t find the idea of their mother engaging in sexually explicit acts particularly appealing; when you add the implicit infidelity it becomes particularly unappealing. However, any discomfort that might arise, I would think, would be derived from a desire not to sexualise your mother, rather than stemming from some trumped-up sense of morality and is not equivalent to what was described in this podcast.

      And as for becoming a “glory hole girl”, well I don’t think any such thing was mentioned in the podcast and perhaps the mind of an individual who could conjure such vivid imagery would feel more comfortable encased in such a house of depravity.

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    • Michael says:

      Caleb: For all I know, my mother was in such a sex club and it would be none of my business. I can’t get worked up about anyone’s consensual sex life besides my own. If you find that thought revolting, find a way to ignore and get over it. It’s called being a grown-up human…

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    • Nick_Canada says:

      Caleb, I was going to ignore your silly comment, but while others are piling on, why not join in the fun…

      Notwithstanding the obvious discomfort that might arise regarding any sexual activities undertaken by my mother (as described by Gavin), if she willingly chose to take on the role you described, as a grown-up human I would be happy that she is a) enjoying herself; or b) being well remunerated. And I’d give her a hug to let her know I love her and support her.

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  22. Ronald says:

    Next Dubner’s going to do a podcast about how marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman.

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  23. AH says:

    I’m not a racist nor am I trying to be a jerk but I’m sure commenters will think otherwise. The first thing that came to mind after listening to this episode was ” White People Problems.” Long time listener. Keep up the good work. (Minus this episode.)

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  24. Beth says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  25. Christian the Lion says:

    Inspired by the example set by Dubner and his sister, I’ve decided to follow up on the current residents of every apartment I ever rented to make sure I approve of the new residents’ lifestyle choices. If there’s anything going on in those apartments that I don’t like, I may be forced to publicly castigate the perpetrators.

    After that, I may also investigate the current owners of every car, bike, piece of furniture, and book I’ve ever sold. If I find out there are any womanizers, racists, or tax cheats among them, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. How dare anyone besmirch my former property with their disgusting conduct!

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    • kinematografi says:

      being a womanizer, racist or tax cheat are thing that are actually mildly reprehensible though. if you want to a more apt comparison, you should be making sure they aren’t atheists, gays or vegans.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  26. Kevin Shmevin says:

    I’m glad to hear everyone felt basically the same way as me about this, but I’m going to add my comment anyway because Freakonomics has been my favorite podcast for years, but this episode was the worst podcast episode I’ve ever listened to, and I want my favorite podcast back.

    I get that you don’t like the idea of your childhood house being used for a sex club. That seems like a weird thing to care about to me, but whatever. What’s not fine is that the entire story of this episode takes 3 seconds to tell: “The house I grew up in was turned in to a sex club for a while, but now a nice couple lives there.” The rest of the 22 minutes was just filled with judgement and indignation.

    Maybe you could have tried to get some different perspectives on the issue, or look in to the economics of it. (Why did they eventually sell the house? Were they losing money?) Anything other than “Ewww! Casual sex! Horrible!”

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1
    • Lou says:

      Kevin,
      I like keeping the focus on economics since that is the point of the show. The Dubner family sold the house voluntarily. They could have kept the right of approval for future use by taking a reduced price. Apparently they didn’t do that. That would have made a good story discussing what would have been a fair price. I would also like to know more about why the club sold the house. Was it economics or political pressure? Did they make money on their house transaction?

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
      • Kevin Shmevin says:

        Those are all good questions, and I would have enjoyed listening to an investigation in to them.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  27. Outraged Listener says:

    Forget the sex. Striped shirts with plaid pants! The horror!

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  28. G Marcus says:

    I stumbled across your show the other evening, on KVMR out of Nevada City, CA – it was about babies and what they know and included an interview with a French researcher. I was unable to listen to the entire show and want to do that. Is that possible? How? I also listened last night, and missed the end of that show (rural radio reception is not consistent during storms) which was also very interesting to me. I am a new convert to your obviously popular work.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2
  29. Moodylampy says:

    hmmm. disappointingly christian biased – which was a huge surprise given the previous output.

    yes, a sex club is perhaps immoral…
    but this was so christian right wing sounding i had to turn it off before half way.

    maybe it got better but i couldn’t bear to listen!

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  30. Morgan says:

    I agree, this was (unexpectedly, I’m a fan!) terrible. I only kept listening to hear what I supposed the ending to be – that in further researching the history you had discovered that the house was really first occupied as a bordello or the like and that you discovered that your puritanical thoughts about what is ‘nice’ and ‘not nice’ were the real issue, not that you pooh-pooh the (legal) activities of the next owners after your own family. Maybe the last 3 minutes of this story was cut off? Less of a ‘boomerang’ story, more of a ‘lead balloon’. Meh x infinity.

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  31. Nasty One says:

    Worst episode ever

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  32. TonyG says:

    We need some sort of reaction from Dubner – whatever it may be, I’d like to hear him react to these comments. Does he see no problem with how the story was received (here, at least)? Does he think we misinterpreted it? Does he defend it?

    I know it’s his show, and I realize it’s FREE to us, but I am curious to learn what he thinks about the reaction. HIS reaction will also inform my future listening – meaning, if I listen, I’ll know where he’s coming from a bit more. And that’s a good thing.

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  33. Doug DeVriesy says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  34. Lou says:

    It seems like the focus of all the other comments has been on the sex club aspect. The thing that struck me was in the begining of the episode with a pair of Brooklyn-born Jews who converted to Catholicism. Mr. Dubner was distraught about the conversion of his house to a sex based use even though it was done as part of a voluntary commercial transaction. Imagine how his Jewish ancestors through his grandparents would have reacted if they knew about his parents abandonment of the faith that many have been killed to defend. Dubner’s mother kept it in proper perspective by reminding that it was only a house. I would like to hear opinions including hers on the loss of heritage.

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  35. Noah says:

    I hope that Mr. Dubner takes this episode as a big wake-up call. I thought that this podcast promoted critical thinking. It’s clearly time to put the thinking cap on and question what religion has taught us about sex. It’s not a dirty or shameful thing, and I was completely taken aback to hear such knee-jerk, anti-sex views on such a prominent podcast.

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    • kommunic8 says:

      I agree. It is a bit disquieting, reading all the negative comments that pile up, all with in common the admiration for Mr. Dubner and for the podcastad and the disbelief for the strong judgmental tone. His voice is missing. I sincerely hope he’ll say something.

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  36. L. M. says:

    Tonight, I decided I would try something different. I got on Netflix and went in to romance, I chose the “steamy” sub-genre and tried to find something fun and racey. I wound up on a bad French film with a surprisingly good english dub.

    I recant this micro-story to preface my defense of this Freakonomics and hopefully provide some ethos to the statement: I am no prude. I don’t think i could even know how to be. I’m not religious, I never really had any outside morality placed on sexually. Why, I love sex and I would probably be delighted–just positively tickled–to find that my old childhood home had become a brothel or a swinger’s club or a seedy movie theater. Or burned down right after moving out in what looks like insurance fraud. (That one I’m convinced actually happened.–I just can’t prove it.)

    But I digress, and none of this stops me from understanding where Stephen is coming from. Perhaps in this podcast he did come across as supercilious or overly-righteous or prudish, but these are traits I think people are allowed to have. Even given that though, I wouldn’t apply these traits to Stephen. This was such a specific instance, and those are all such broad labels. I imagine that if these swingers had bought the place down the road and not his own house, Stephen and his sister would be laughing along with us. But it wasn’t the house down the road, it was his house. The house he grew up in, the house he lived in when he was truly innocent.

    Our pasts have a particular tint through which we view them, and I think Stephen just liked the way he saw his house. I don’t agree with him, but I don’t fault him for feeling that way. He never said or implied that these people shouldn’t be able to do whatever they like, he just didn’t want it getting in the way of how he remembered his old home.

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  37. Kent says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  38. Jack says:

    Frankly bizarre. Boomerang story? More ‘This American Life’ that Freakonomics.

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  39. Courtney says:

    I have to say that I agree with the majority of comments here. While I understand the nostalgia for your home, that doesn’t give you license to lecture a bunch of other adults on the morality of sex.

    You abused your position of power, as The Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics, to call out the people who once bought your home, to condemn their lifestyle and choices, and to lecture your listenership on the morals of sex as you see them. That, to me, is far more disturbing and disgusting than consenting adults doing whatever they want in a property that was legally purchased. You didn’t even have the guts to make it a fair fight, to track down those owners and ask them for their story.

    I’ve historically viewed you as, predominantly, a journalist. Journalists speak truth to power, and in so doing, limit the abuse of the powerful. Perhaps I was mistaken about what you are, if you’re willing to engage in that type of abuse of power as well.

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  40. David says:

    Guys, I thought this podcast was a bit too much human interest and a bit too little economics. Please refocus back onto the economics that makes this series such a great listen. This particular podcast was more like the Stephen Dubner roadshow.

    Regards

    David

    PS. How did Freakonomics get its name is along the same lines

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  41. Dane says:

    I was very disappointed at the sex-negative attitude of this story. Like the cops in the story said, it just sounds like a bunch of adults having consensual sex. It’s not like they were cooking meth or raping children or something.

    I hope it wasn’t your intention to come off as so derogatory and judgmental, and will consider making up for it somehow in a future show.

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  42. Adam says:

    I was listening to back-episodes today and am far less a fan of the show than I used to be. I am so glad to see that at the time of release there was a comment backlash against this awful, judgmental, sex-phobic, and arrogant story. The Dubners lost their rights to be offended by perfectly legal activities taking place in their home when they signed the closing paperwork to sell it. And not to be crude, but I have to assume sex happened in that very house while they lived in it since there were Dubner children in existence to be mortally offended by the particular kind of sex happening in their former home.

    What really galls me is that when Mr. Dubner and his sister pretend to be mortified while using the open ended information they have to titillate their listeners about what may have been going on in this house. It’s such a seventh grade move to condemn people out of one side of your mouth while you stir up the possibilities under the guise of “simply covering the story”, relying on how sex sells to get some more listeners only to bring it back around by the end to pure clean Wal-Mart loving monogamous 1950′s heaven for the closer. If you want a better example these are the same people who brought us a former prostitute with a very lovely voice to answer questions so long as by the end we remember that she’s given that all up and is living a clean life now. Nevermind! Your boners are now moot. Hope you enjoyed the show.

    Here’s the really crazy part. Swingers are real. They’re real people. They’re as diverse and different as any other group. Some are jerks. Some are really sweet. They don’t all look like the greasy haired fellas described in this episode with some shirt you don’t like. Matter of fact, you would never know most of them are swingers. They’re that sweet married couple with the nice blue house and have three kids two cats and a dog and a couple of professional jobs and they’re busy this weekend with some friends. Then Sunday they bake cookies and make lasagna. You probably know some and you don’t know you know them, like members of Fight Club. If it wasn’t a swinger club that moved into that house it might have been a swinger couple and no one would have ever known.

    To finish, I have absolutely no idea what people do in the house where I grew up, I’d be curious to go see it but I’m not going to act like because I consecrated the ground with my smaller footsteps that I have a right to say anything going on in that home should meet my moral approval. The only redeeming part of the story was when they said that the police couldn’t do anything about it because it all involved consenting adults. That’s damn right they can’t do anything about it. I don’t want to live in a country where they could have marched in there. Would you? Such a nice religious family with an intelligent radio host for a son should learn that “Love thy neighbor” always has the caveat that you don’t get to pick your neighbors. The challenge is that you’re supposed to love them anyway.

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