They say the devil’s in the details. I understand this. When I do something, I like for it to be done well, and that rests largely on my ability to take all the little details and turn them into something that makes sense. For years, I couldn’t imagine how this could be a bad thing. Recently I learned that little details tend to make more details, and that can turn into a big-ass mess.
We lived twelve years in our cozy little tract house with nary a problem. Except for the time the puppies demolished the back yard. And that little incident of the trumpet vine that invaded the kitchen. The colony of lizards in the water meter doesn’t really count as a problem, does it? OK, so we lived there for twelve years with nary a BIG problem.
Then we started talking about moving. And the house heard us.
It started in early February of last year. One of the horses got sick, and I had to make three trips a day to the boarding barn in order to give him his medications. It also happened to be the week we had a blizzard, and the temperatures dropped into negative numbers for five days in a row.
Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to have the horses right there in the back yard again, where I could take care of them myself? Then I learned that the owner of the barn was planning to move out of state. I took it as a sign, and started looking up available horse properties on the internet, just for the hell of it.
When I got home from work next day, water was dribbling down one corner of the den. Paint was bubbling up and peeling off in soggy sheets. Apparently the snow had begun to melt on the roof, and the extreme temperatures had opened up a slow leak in the flashing.
“Help meeeeeee,” the house began to whine. “You can’t move now! I’m leeeeeaking!”
Just a little glitch, I thought. Just one of those devilish little details I’ll have to tend to if and when we put the house on the market. I printed out a list of more places to look at. I called a realtor.
Two closet doors fell off, one right after the other. Then a towel bar fell into the toilet. (You know what’s coming, don’t you? I didn’t. I mean, I spent an entire decade watching situation comedies in the 1980s, and I didn’t see this coming?)
We looked at some houses. We narrowed our search down to five or six, with our hearts set on one special place we really loved, but could not afford. The seller was motivated, said the realtor. We decided to watch and wait. I took pictures of each room in our house and e-mailed them to the realtor, just in case.
“Hisssssss,” said the house. “HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!”
What now? I went through the house, searching for the source of the sound. I didn’t have to look far. A puddle of water was spreading across the kitchen floor. The dogs were lapping it up and tracking it elsewhere. I opened the cupboard under the sink, and got a faceful of water.
The polybutylene water pipes had finally given up the ghost.* There would be five of these incidents before we finally had to repipe the whole place. We also reroofed. And recarpeted. And repainted. And replaced. The more “re” we did, the more details popped up that needed redoing before we could list the house for sale. Being a detail-oriented person, I carried around a yellow legal pad with a what-to-do-before-we-list list. The list contained three pages of devilish details. Single-spaced.
Our low-maintenance little house had become a full-blown Money Pit. It was money that had to be spent, however. It’s one thing to live in a Money Pit, but nobody wants to buy one on purpose, unless you’re Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, who are actors and were only pretending to be that crazy.
About halfway through the list, the house we loved dropped in price. A lot. It dropped below appraisal, and we bought it. We moved in. We were ecstatic. We’d finish The List From Hell while the house was vacant. Easy-peasy!
I really enjoyed going up to the Money Pit and working on the list. Painting is easy when you don’t have furniture to worry about. Without a house full of dogs and people, you can polish the floor and it stays polished. You can clean the bathroom and it stays clean. I happily carted my boombox and my favorite CDs up there after work every day and checked off each detail with a real sense of accomplishment.
The list was down to three items by the time the “for sale” sign went up in the yard. Piddly little stuff, like tightening door knobs and pulling some weeds. Easy-peasy, right?
Remember when I said details make other details? It’s true. The roofers had knocked the cap loose on the dryer vent, leaving a gap between the cap and the opening of the duct.
The roofers didn’t notice this little detail, but a squirrel did. For whatever reason, it thought coming down the ductwork into the laundry room would be a good idea.
It couldn’t get back up. It freaked out, or got pissed off, or maybe it asked its friends over and had a party. I don’t know. But whatever squirrels do in such situations, it did it, and it did it really thoroughly.
Well, we went up to the Money Pit as we usually do on the weekend to tend to details like watering the plants and making sure everything was still clean.
You know how sometimes you come into a place and it feels weird? When things just don’t add up to normal? This was one of those days. There were little shreds of weatherstripping littering the entry hall. Weird. The pull cords were missing from the window blinds, and all the draperies were torn. Not just torn, shredded. Really weird. Blobs of lint made a trail from the living room to the laundry room, where there was one big blob in the middle of the floor. There was another big fuzzy blob in the vent itself. I bent down to take a closer look. And it moved.
I smacked my head on the bottom of a shelf, which set the squirrel desperately trying to scrabble up the dryer vent.
Now, I’m not scared of a squirrel, but you have to admit, having one in the dryer vent is a little startling. Having one un-do my to-do list just pissed me off.
“Get out of there!” I banged my fist on the wall. “Come out, you nasty little rat bastard! Look what you did to my drapes!”
I banged, hoping it would get scared and run back up to the roof. No such luck. The squirrel held its ground, scratching, shrieking, and scolding. The fuzzy blob appeared again at the base of the vent. Squirrel butt. I swear, that little monster mooned me.
We got a trap from Animal Control. We baited it with peanut butter and put it in the laundry room. Ha. Take that, you trespassing little shit.
Next day. Trap sprung. No squirrel. No peanut butter either. Curtains from the kitchen window are shredded and lying in the sink, and two honeycomb blinds are destroyed in the living room.
Trap goes back to Animal Control. Phone call is made to Professional Varmint Catcher Guy, who brings bigger traps. Ha. Take that, you trespassing, window-treatment-shredding little shit.
Next day. One trap untouched. Other trap missing its peanut butter but not sprung.
Squirrel-zilla has splintered the top of a baseboard, opened all the drawers in the bathroom vanity, chewed up a Smith & Noble custom accordion-pleated window shade, and had one side of a Shoji screen for dessert.
This. Means. War.
I re-baited the traps with peanut butter crackers. Yummy. Wayyyyyy at the back of the cage. No more of this nibble-the-bait-off-the-trigger bullshit. He’s gonna have to step on the spring to get the goods. I put duct tape over the spaces between the bedroom doors and the floor so he can’t crawl under. I taped the closets shut. Squirrel will have a straight path from the dryer vent directly to Jail.
Professional Varmint Catcher Guy called the next day. He’s got one trap containing one very pissed-off squirrel. Squirrel is relocated, but one trap is left in case he’s got, you know, minions.
All is quiet today. I wedged a big ball of crumpled-up chicken wire up into the dryer vent and sealed the opening with more wire and duct tape. Tomorrow I’ll go up on the roof to critter-proof that one seemingly insignificant little detail that caused the whole mess.
Moral of the story: Details matter. But the ones you think are important may not be, and some little thing nobody noticed might end up being a really big deal. So what can you do about it? Not a damn thing. You can’t control everything in your life, and even if you could, you’d miss out on a whole lot of funny moments.
All you can do is grab de devil by de-tail and fling him right back to Hell where he belongs. The devil may be in the details, but a squirrel in the dryer vent will mess you up every time.
*Polybutylene pipes are Not Good. They were installed in all of the houses in our subdivision, and they all began to burst at once. Plumbers got rich. There was a class action suit against the polybutylene pipe company. Our pipes burst three months after the filing cutoff date. Crap.