What Lies Below (#187)

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 what?”

“Like mice. Rats. Cannibalistic human under dwellers.”

“Funny, honey.”

“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.”

Andy had a point. Woofie was absurdly social and an “only dog” at the time. He lived to escape in search of new playmates. We’d just replaced our third gate in the hopes of curtailing his escapades.

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.

That time.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

24 thoughts on “What Lies Below (#187)”

  1. This is so interesting. Before this I never understood why South African houses don’t have basements! And we don’t often have crawl spaces, either.

    1. It might have something to do with the soil, too, or just the cost. Or maybe the wildlife — not sure you want crawl spaces in places with lots of poisonous snakes, perhaps?

  2. I didn’t realize the rational for basements. I always thought places with a high water table didn’t have basements because…well… water! Woofie is special. Do you still have him? Dogs like that don’t grow on trees. Happiness in absolutely anything.

    1. I always thought of myself as a cat person, but Woofie’s joy in everything (except baths) and everyone is contagious.

      The water table might have something to do with it also. And I’ve heard that it’s very hard to heat a house without a basement, too.

  3. That time sounds a bit ominous, haha. Love these posts, thanks for helping me understand my new Chinese family over the last few years.

    1. Oh, you are very welcome! Though I bet the struggles with each family are different. As some of my commenters from China and Hong Kong have noted, the preference for male children is disappearing in China, thanks to the glut of boys.

  4. The crawl space certainly sounds kind of scary. I don’t know how I would feel with such under the house 😮
    Thinking about it now I just realized that our cottage is also build in such way! So strange that I never really thought about it. Here in Germany nearly all houses have a basement or are build on a solid fundament

  5. The crawl space in so many homes in America (that’s the impression I got from TV and the movies) fascinate me. Never have I lived in a house like that, and never seen many of them in Asia. I don’t think they are that popular here in Australia too. The thought of something, anything, living underneath the floorboards is beyond me – very, very unsettling. Thieves could even hide underneath there. Someone could even sleep there overnight. Growing up in a Chinese family household, our ‘basement’ was always the spare room beside the laundry room.

    I wonder what Woofie found next underneath the house.

      1. Yeah. Most homes here are on a slab or stuck solid on the ground. Poisonous beings are pretty keen on sliding through the windows or left open doors…no need to hide, just come in, inviting themselves in.

  6. It’s indeed kind of scary, anything or anyone could get in there! In China and in Spain there are basements, and under it a thick layer of concrete I guess.

  7. OMG. Bring this back for Halloween 😛 then you got yourself the stuff of imaginary nightmares! I feel a prank coming on! Hahahahhaa.

    “strong raccoons” – I like that.

  8. All I have to say is: Andy. Is. Brave. I could never crawl under that thing! I remember I had a friend who was paranoid she had a homeless person living in her crawl space (it was a bit larger than the typical California one, but not necessarily a basement). I think making the wooden gate is definitely helpful!

    And yes, basements are a must in Utah too 🙂

  9. Even up here in rainy Washington State we have crawl spaces. They may even be more common that basements. I have a basement now, but most of the houses I lived in growing up had crawl spaces. (A wooden floor is so much cozier than a concrete slab.) I never worried about what was under the house. It’s not like we were ever going to run into each other.

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