I thought I’d made peace with the freaky-assed crawl space below our house in Los Angeles. It’s not a nice, solid basement, but makes sense to have easy access to plumbing and the electrical lines for our drip system. And after multiple years, the only scary thing lurking under our house had turned out to be our own mischievous dog.
When you grow up with a lot of siblings and a father with a temper, you grow up wary. You never know which sibling might find your stash of food or diary. You learn to make yourself scarce when your father starts swearing at the dryer. You grow invisible antennae, alert for the slightest disturbance.
My husband didn’t grow up like that. Andy wasn’t spoiled, but he was the #1 Son of Chinese-American immigrants, rather than the middle child of 8-12 children. As such, he didn’t have to compete for food or attention.
Andy doesn’t notice things that aren’t quite right. Kind of like he doesn’t notice dirt. I’ll ask him if he noticed any ants in the pantry, for example. He’ll breezily assure me there are no ants in the pantry and head off to work.
Twenty minutes later, I will find an entire colony of ants building a bloody palisade around the jar of honey. In the pantry.
You will be shocked to learn that I was the first one to notice our dog sniffing around the exterior vents to the crawl space.
I immediately asked my husband, “Honey, you think there’s something in the crawl space?” Crawlspace, sprinklers, and all things electronic fall under the husband’s purview. But that doesn’t mean Andy wants to don his coveralls and actually go under the house.
“It’s nothing,” Andy responded. “He’s just sniffing. Probably a possum rubbed up on it.”
Andy said the same thing when the cat sniffed at the vents, too.
He ignored me when I hinted that there could be a potential murderer living under our house.
He refused to even consider zombies and told me I was banned from watching The Walking Dead forever more.
“Can’t you just look under the house?” I begged.
He was too busy. It was too late. He was too tired.
I was tired, too, after sleepless nights, waking at the slightest noise, and wondering if it was The Thing Under the House.
The next day, I opened up the crawl space, took a deep breath…
…and sent in the cat.
What? Cats are fast and amazing survivors. If there was a small rodent, she’d get it. If it was a bigger predator/zombie, she could turn around and run way faster than I could.
The cat walked through one spider web, pawed at her face, and promptly exited the crawl space. She spent the next thirty minutes cleaning her face and glaring at me.
When I told Andy about our sad excuse for a predator, he said, “See? There’s nothing under there. You’re just imagining things.”
The following night, the dog sniffed frantically at the floor in my office. I called Andy in. “Do you see that?! There is definitely something down there!”
“There isn’t,” Andy argued. “There’s no way a rat or a possum could have gotten in. There’s no holes in the vents, and nothing has pried open the wooden frame and slipped in.”
“Maybe it’s not a rat or a possum,” I argued. “Maybe its something with hands that could pull the entrance shut behind it.”
“Honey. There is nothing down there!”
The dog tried to dig up the hardwood floor.
As Andy dragged the dog away, he finally muttered, “Fine. I’ll go under the house on Saturday.”
“That’s two days away! We could be murdered!”
“If it’s anything, it’s a rodent,” Andy insisted. “If you want to go look before Saturday, feel free. I’ve got some traps you can set.”
There was no way in hell I was going into the crawl space of doom. Andy knew it. I chewed my nails and waited.
Saturday afternoon, Andy donned his protective coveralls.
I waved the phone as he headed into the backyard. “Scream loud and I’ll call the cops right away, okay?”
Andy rolled his eyes at me and went around to the side of the house.
A minute passed. I imagined a zombie raccoon creeping up on Andy.
Another minute passed. I heard a thump. I planned out Andy’s funeral.
Almost under my feet I heard, “AHHHHH! Crap!”
“WHAT?!” I yelled. “WHAT IS IT DO I CALL THE COPS?!”
“No! It’s not a thing. It’s water! Goddamnit, the pipe that drains from the bathtub broke. All the bath water has been collecting under the house. There’s puddles. I just crawled through one. Now I’m coming out.”
I met a muddy, grumpy Andy as he emerged from the crawl space and peppered him with questions: “How much water was there? Do you think it’s screwed up the foundation?”
“No idea,” Andy said as he pulled himself out and upright. His muddy shoulder glittered in the sun.
“Since last month,” I told him, pointing to his glistening coveralls. “That’s when I used the glittery pink bath bomb.”
Andy scowled as he realized he was covered in glitter mud. Then he shrugged and said, “At least it wasn’t the drain for the toilet.”
Because Andy had put off his crawl space investigation until the weekend, we had to pay weekend prices for an emergency plumber to replace and repair our pipes. Instead of a few hundred dollars, it was a few thousand.
When the plumber finished, I sent Andy back under the house with rat traps.
“But I didn’t see any rats!” he protested.
“Oh, please. The animals know the rats are down there. I know the rats are down there. Just put down the traps, okay?”
Andy did. The next day, we had one dead rat in a trap. We also had one rat-sized hole in a vent screen, probably from the surviving rat chewing its way out in a panic.
Andy replaced the broken vent immediately. He baited and put down new rat traps. He didn’t even complain when I sent him under the house a few months later to make sure it was dry and rat-free. (It was.)
Yes, your wife might be paranoid.
That doesn’t mean she’s wrong.*
*Okay, she’s probably wrong about the zombies.