I live in Los Angeles and there’s something under my house.
Don’t freak out.
It’s just a crawl space.
But this dirty, cobwebbed, not even two-feet high den of darkness is disconcerting. Especially for a person who grew up in Washington, D.C., where we had basements. In places with cold winters, basements have to be built below the frost line – otherwise soils can heave and push foundation walls in and there goes your house. Extremely cold places like New Hampshire even have signs warning drivers about buckled asphalt:
When I first house-sat for an exec in Los Angeles, I opened a lot of closet and bathroom doors while hunting for the non-existent basement. (Don’t judge – if you grew up in a family like mine, you’d always want to know where all the exits were, too.)
After house sitting gig #3, I finally figured out that houses in sunny southern California don’t need basements. Instead, a vented crawl space between the dirt (or slab) and the floorboards of the house allows ocean breezes to circulate and cool the air under the house in warm weather. The ventilation reduces the potential for mold, too.
Even better, the crawl space allows access to the plumbing, cable, and electrical systems without tearing up the floors.
You just have to pay someone to brave the cave.
My husband grew up in Hawaii. He’s used to the crawl space. He’s also cheap. Andy had no problem belly crawling under our new home himself when he wanted to install surround sound. All I had to do was grab cables and pound on the floor to direct him to the correct spots.
Andy eventually emerged, dirty and cobwebbed, but victorious.
I asked, “So, um, you didn’t see anything down there, did you?”
“Like mice. Rats. Cannibalistic human under dwellers.”
“Hey, it’s not like the crawl space is secure! There’s just a cheap screen in a wooden frame to keep creatures out.”
“It took me a day to make that!”
“Yes, you’re very talented. But a weak human or a strong raccoon could pry that screen off and lurk below us and we’d never know it.”
Andy rolled his eyes at me. “We might not, but the dog sure would. And he’d want to go get it.”
“Only to play with it. He’d be easy prey.”
“He’s ninety pounds and he’d alert us. Stop freaking out. There’s nothing there.”
Apparently in vain. Woofie disappeared from the backyard that very afternoon. Andy grabbed one leash, I grabbed another, and we split up to case the neighborhood for our Houdini dog. Usually, we found Woofie within minutes, either in science class at the local middle school, or joyfully leaping around any dog and owner walking around our block. I once found Woofie trying to play with an irate cyclist.
But not that day. We walked for miles. We knocked on doors. No one had seen Woofie.
Despondent, we went home to make “Lost Dog” flyers.
As the printer roared to life, I heard scratching. Under my desk. No, under the flooring under my desk. Followed by moaning.
“I told you!” I shrieked. “I told you there was something under the house!”
“There’s nothing under the house!” Andy argued. Then, in unison, as the light bulb went off over our heads –
We ran outside. Sure enough, Andy had forgotten to replace the screen for the crawl space. He crawled back under the house. After a few minutes of scuffling, Andy dragged out our dirt-coated and utterly unrepentant mutt.
“He was belly up and having a ball,” Andy reported. “Kicking his legs in the air and doing that growly-moan thing he does when he’s wiggling on dirt and rocks to scratch his back.”
I sighed. “His claws must’ve scratched the floorboards. God, dog, that’s twice today you’ve scared me to death.”
As I retaliated by giving Woofie a bath, Andy asked, “Now that Woofie’s investigated, will you just admit I’m right?”
It took an effort, but, yes, I admitted that my husband was right. There was nothing under our house.