EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HOME REPAIR I LEARNED FROM “LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE”
Remember the episode of “Little House on the Prairie” where Laura buys the run-down abandoned building in town and announces that it’s going to be the home of the new blind school? Everybody thinks she’s crazy (or “feisty” in some cases), because the building is in such disrepair that fixing it up would be way beyond their means. But Pa knows how headstrong Laura can be and Almonzo just shakes his head and says, “She’s a go-getter!” And sure enough, by the end of the episode, Laura, Pa, Almonzo, Mary, Adam and nineteen blind kids with brooms have turned that dump into a palace, and the shelves are lined with Braille editions of Ivanhoe and Huck Finn.
Well, I think that episode gave me a very unrealistic sense of the possibilities of home repair. On Sunday, Drew and I saw a house much like that abandoned building, and, like that building, it was available for cheap (and we didn’t even have to agree to let a crotchety old homeless man sleep in the basement as part of the deal). I walked in and saw not the dump that it was but the blind school it could be. And we came very close to buying it.
Pity those visitors forced to reside in the “guest house”.
Yesterday, we went back with three of our friends, who took a look at the place and, like our own “Queer Eye” team, assessed the potential. But all they saw was the potential for frustration, misery and debt. There was the steep slope in the living room, which would mean no rolling TV carts or snack trays. And then there was the ugly wood paneling that covered every inch of wall space, except, for no apparent reason, the dining room. And of course, there was that huge gaping San Andreas-sized (and most likely San Andreas-caused) crack in the hallway ceiling.
Entrance to spooky attic (left), nonworking light fixture (center), massive crack (right).
Our friends also pointed out that the home was half a block from the cemetery, a fact which Drew and I, in our Laura Ingalls-ian optimism, somehow overlooked. Nobody saw me as a go-getter, nobody called me “feisty” and ultimately, we decided to pass on the house and wait for a better one to come along.
The backyard was filled with cages in which we were told the previous owner grew his “herbs”.
Meanwhile, a war has broken out in our apartment building between the tenants and the evil new owners. Somebody — and somebody who definitely deserves to be called “feisty” — apparently called the health department and registered a whole bunch of complaints. The housing people then came, did an emergency inspection and cited our building with a whole host of offenses. Take that, Evil Investment Corporation!
Well, the EIC isn’t too happy about it, and when we got home, we all got not one but two notices on our door informing us that a) clearing the garage of all debris is the tenants’ responsibility and b) they’ll be entering all our apartments for “minor repairs” in the next week. The housing board posted a citation notice to the front door that the EIC must be legally required to leave up, because it’s still there a day later. It lists all the issues involving our unsafe living conditions and contains a date when the reinspection will occur.
Take that, you rotten slumlords!
And since the EIC never responded to my offer, that got me to thinking… What would Charles Ingalls do?
Well, remember the final “Little House” TV movie, “Little House: The Last Farewell”? The plot involved some greedy developers who were using their sneakily-obtained deed to the town to force all the residents out. But the feisty Walnut Grovers weren’t having any of that. They retaliated by blowing up all their homes and businesses (everything except the church, of course) and leaving the evil developers with nothing but a barren plain dotted by piles of debris. Was there a lesson in this? Wouldn’t Charles have done everything in his power to sabotage that health inspection so the EIC gets slapped with a fine so massive that they surrender and sell the building to someone kinder and less insistent on forcing us all out?
Yeah, maybe. But when you think about it, how much did blowing up the town really hurt the developers? The Ingalls family lived in a one-room cabin with no indoor plumbing that Pa built by hand in about a week. (I’m nitpicking TV history here, but if you’re building your own house and you don’t have to worry about pricey central heating, why not put a few extra rooms on it, especially if you’re planning on having seven kids? Of course, that would mean changing the title of the series to “Reasonably-Sized Home on the Prairie”.) Were a few dozen log cabins, Doc Baker’s exam room and Caroline’s restaurant really so central to the bustling economy of the town?
The more I thought about it, the more the TV logic fell apart. It was just like with the cemetery house which, no matter how I tried, would never be a blind school. Ever. So I’m resigned not to fight the EIC and not to do anything sneaky to screw up the inspection. I’m not that kind of guy, and it probably wouldn’t work anyway.
Besides, I’m pretty sure one of my neighbors will do it for me.