Tuesday, November 18, 2014

*Little House Of Horrors

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 20, 2014] © 2014 

This time of year, we start hearing a rat family scurrying around our attic crawl space searching for warmth as San Diego’s version of winter begins. Honestly, these rats are such wusses. It’s San Diego you guys. It’s 60 degrees. They’d never make it as Detroit rats, let me tell you. Unfortunately, our wood shake roof is basically defenseless against them. All we can do is lob packets of rat poison up there and hope they don’t die in our walls on their thirsty way out.

But as we recently discovered, we’ve got way worse things to worry about. At least the rats have the good manners to stay in the attic. We had no idea we’d been sleeping in our own little house of horrors.
In 1955, the owners of our home incomprehensibly ignored the nice big lot and decided to convert the two car garage into a wood paneled laundry room, master bedroom, and bath. (Who panels a laundry room???) I realize that wood paneling was the hot new thing in 1955, now regularly disparaged on HG-TV shows. And with good reason: it gives rooms the charm of a root cellar.

While the rest of our house has been beautifully upgraded over the years, we never did much with the master bedroom other than skylights, shutters, and several replacements of carpeting over the cement slab. We just couldn’t see spending a lot of money on what was basically a garage room since any sane person would put a second story on the house and re-convert the room to a garage. Somehow, we were never those sane people.
Frankly, I had always craved a bedroom oasis. But I feared that no matter what I did to this  room, it was still always going to exude “garage.”  Besides the dark paneling, it was north facing which meant it got sunlight like never.

While we were away a few months ago, our son and daughter-in-law stayed in our bedroom when they came down with the kids one weekend. Afterwards, my daughter-in-law suggested our bedroom was such a depressing cave that a bear faced with wintering there might elect not to hibernate.
It had been Olof’s and my observation that if  we left the paneling long enough, it might go away on its own. That’s because our wood-walled bedroom is the termite version of the 72 virgins. Some nights I could swear I heard gnawing. We’ve tented the house but think our termites have developed a mutational fondness for poison gas.

But given our son and daughter-in-law’s vicious assessment of our sleeping quarters, we decided after three decades to paint the wood paneling a nice creamy white.
“Don’t rush into anything,” my son cautioned drily. 

As everything was moved out of the bedroom, bath, and laundry room, there were only more surprises of the really bad kind. Although our house is regularly cleaned, a hefty case of mildew covered the walls behind the heavy bookcases (bolted to the wall so they won’t crush us in an earthquake) while the termites had pretty much devoured the baseboards back there in their own happily secluded arthropodal Xanadu. A creepy netherworld of spider webs resided behind the armoire.
This is, I have to say, the downside of living in the same place for decades. Maybe everyone should be required to move at least every ten years if for no other reason than to find out what’s living behind your furniture.

In our defense, everything had been moved 12 years before when we’d replaced the bedroom carpeting. Maybe we need to start scheduling pre-emptive pestilence services every six.
The mildew (the peril of living 260 steps from the Pacific) was bleached into oblivion, while the termites (and any residual arachnids) were dispatched in heartlessly cruel ways. Painting was the easy part. Of course, that might be because we didn’t do it ourselves.

Home improvement projects are nothing if not a case of dominoes. Not to mention that everything you improve makes something else look suddenly shabby.
And that’s exactly what happened with our lovely white shutters, probably one of the few charming features of our bedroom. Was it my imagination or did they suddenly look yellowish next to the off-white paint? But they don’t call Olof and me the Bobbsey Twins of Collective Denial for nothing. “Do the shutters look yellow to you?” I queried Olof. “Nope!” he replied, knowing where this conversation was going. “Me neither!” I said. Anyone who could live with gnawing for three decades could probably live with yellowish shutters.

And so it is finally done. Oasis? Probably not. But no longer a Little House of Horrors either. All three rooms are exponentially lighter. Our bedroom is probably the most termite- and mold-free room in San Diego at the moment. Except for rats, mold, and termites (and maybe earthquakes and fires), San Diego really IS paradise.
And as for the rats: you’re next.


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