Monday, March 03, 2008

Hovels I've called Home

While digging, pulling gigantic weeds, and amending some seriously tight clay soil, I began reminiscing about The Shack. I doubt any of you know what The Shack is, so I'll tell you all about it. It's very amusing now that we are years removed from it and I'm fairly sure Don is dead.

After Dan graduated from college, we lived with my parents in Chino for a time. Dan got a job in Irvine, so he entered the great IE to OC commuter stream. It was horrible having a zombie husband (left at 7 am, got home past 7 pm, watched TV because he was exhausted, slept, repeated. Blech. So we decided that we had to move to Orange County, because that was where the jobs were. The painful part was the rents were astronomical compared to what we were used to! We despaired that we would ever find a cheap rental that wasn't riddled with bullet holes.

Dan worked with a guy (hi Andrew & Laurel!) who lived up in Silverado Canyon, and one night we met him, his wife, and some other co-workers for dinner at the Silverado Cafe. Afterward we drove up the canyon, just to check it out, and decided we liked it. Andrew told us rent was pretty cheap up there, since it was kind of the backwater of OC, so we started looking for a rental there. Eventually I spotted a crude handwritten ad for a 1 bedroom place that rented for $725 a month. Because we are fatally cheap we checked it out. the landlord, an elderly man named Don, seemed a little eccentric but $725 a month for 700 square feet was a pretty compelling reason to overlook that. So we paid the deposit and moved in Thanksgiving weekend. This promising little cottage soon became The Shack.

At first, Don kept to himself. He lived right next door, but we had been in that situation before and it had worked out well. Then, slowly, the real Don began to reveal himself. We weren't allowed to plant anything - it might erode the soil. His other tenants planted some flowers under the window and he dug them all out (they moved out not long after). He wasn't pleased with how we parked the cars (in the driveway, where else?). I didn't rake the leaves well enough. We also discovered that Don was paranoid. Very, very paranoid. He had motion detectors rigged up around his house because then-Sheriff Mike Carona (that's right, America's Sheriff!) and the FBI were plotting to kill him. At one point he made me promise that i would tell him if i saw any suspicious people sneaking around his house.

The Shack itself was.. well, we named it The Shack for a reason. In winter, we soon discovered, one of the exterior doors would swell with moisture and be un-openable for a few months. The other exterior doors were a shabby old set of french doors that really couldn't be properly locked, so we had to kind of sort of trick them into locking when we left the house. The walls were literally studs with tounge & groove paneling nailed over them, with no insulation at all. Some tarpaper would have been an improvement. The oven was more of a kiln - set it to 250 and you were just as likely to get 800 - but Don explained that ovens were built like that in the old days (apparently he meant the 1970's, from whence the oven dated). It was also about 5 feet from Silverado Canyon Road, which we soon discovered is a VERY popular Sunday morning drive for both motorcycle caravans and car clubs.

BUT the canyon was beautiful, and work was close by, and the rent was cheap and we had some pretty cool neighbors. When we ignored crazy Don and his crazy son (who moved in when the other tenants left after the flower debacle) and the fact that The Shack was freezing cold (by CA semi-mountainous standards) all winter long, it was a great place to live. We had some great times there, freezing our rumps off all winter and leaving the windows open all night in summer. We had two kittens, which were promptly eaten by coyotes, but then a tougher cat moved in and adopted us. I grew tomatoes in pots in the yard and all was good.

Then i got pregnant. And it seemed like Don got crazier & crazier. He said we'd have to get rid of the cat, because he blamed it for setting off his motion detectors all night (i think the raccoons, possums, and coyotes may have also been to blame). He told me that the latest government attempt on his life had been an ingenious one - they had removed all the screws from his favorite chair, and when he sat in it it collapsed and almost killed him. The man was a full-blown mentally ill paranoiac and we were still paying him $725 a month. He left crazy notes stuck in our door at least once a week. At least his schizophrenic son (that's what Don told us was wrong with him) kept to himself - he wouldn't even make eye contact.

We finally moved out at the beginning of April 2002, when we bought our nice little townhouse. Don deducted money from our deposit for damage that was already there when we moved in. Maybe a year or so ago we were driving through the canyon and noticed that Don's place was up for sale. Since there was no way that crazy old buzzard would have left on his own, I assume the FBI succeeded in their long campaign to kill my ex-landlord. I wonder whatever happened to his poor son. Don, I hope you've found peace.


Beulahboy1 said...

i absolutely loved The Shack and remember the crazy stories about Don. What a great little place. i cannot believe that it has been nearly 6 years since you lived there. Wow! it doesn't seem possible that that much time has passed.

On a side note, I am glad that I am not the only one so exhausted by a commute (mine from Ontario to Burbank or West LA nearly 7 days a week)that i eat, watch tv and then fall asleep only to wake up the next day and repeat it. i thought maybe something was wrong with me.

Susan M said...

I can relate. We once moved into a rental house that was rented as a "fixer." Cheap rent, but we had to clean it up. Aside from the used syringe and dirty spoon it wasn't too bad.

Stephanie said...

You make me laugh. Ha!

cyn the win said...

You have no idea how hard I am laughing at the screw-removal-from-his-favorite-chair attempt on his life. Thanks for making me laugh so hard my kids stared at me. I think I may have to write a blog on our first hell hole.