In the 20 years or so that I spent my days sweating through other folks’ attics and crawling in their crawl spaces, my work was pretty much routine. But every now and then, the day’s events took co-inspector Rick and me on new, unknown and peculiar detours.
One fine spring day, Rick and I drove out to a house in the country and met a nice woman who was interested in buying the place. When we were almost finished with the inspection, I went to the kitchen to check the sink plumbing. The buyer was standing behind me when I turned on the water. As soon as the first drop of water went down the drain, a herd of brown recluse spiders came charging up the drain, fanning out along the floor of the sink.
“What are those,” the buyer lady asked, with a little tremble in her voice.
“Brown recluse spiders,” I said. “They’re poisonous. Their bites are nasty. A person can lose body parts to brown recluse spiders. And I’m told that if one gets you in just the right place, near an artery, the bite can kill you.”
“Do they live in drains?” she asked.
“Some do,” I said. “These did. The trap’s probably dry, so they set up housekeeping there. I don’t think they’re particular about where they live. I’ve seen bunches of them drop down out of faucets, right into a bathtub. They can swim, or at least tread water.”
I continued: “I’m no spider expert, but I’ve read that most people get bitten when they reach into a drawer or a cabinet without looking.” To demonstrate, I opened a kitchen cabinet, and stuck in my hand. The cabinet was literally crawling with fat, juicy brown recluse spiders. I jerked my hand back. “Bug men tell me they’re really hard to kill,” I said.
The nice buyer lady wrote me a check and trotted to her car. For all I know, that house is still for sale.
A few days later, Rick and I went to another house way out in the countryside, where we met the buyers, sellers and real estate lady. After we talked for a little while, Rick and I climbed up into the attic. About as soon as our eyes adjusted to the dim light, we noticed snake skins all over the attic—big skins, little skins, skins lying in the insulation, skins hanging from the wood braces.
After that, we noticed there were dozens of snake-sized holes burrowed into the insulation. Then I saw snake poop. Fresh, foamy snake poop, and lots of it.
“I’m about ready to go back downstairs,” Rick said. “How about you?”
“In a minute,” I replied. “I’m trying to decide exactly what to tell these people.”
“Tell ’em their attic is full of snakes,” Rick said.
Rick and I went down to the ground floor, and called a meeting of all the interested parties in the kitchen.
“There are snake skins aplenty up in that attic,” I said. “It’s not uncommon for rural houses to have some attic snakes, but I’d say y’all have way more snakes than usual. I’m pretty sure they’re corn snakes, which are harmless. But don’t go by me. If you don’t like snakes, you won’t like this attic. If you do like snakes, I’d say you’ve found your dream house.”
I expected the sellers would deny all knowledge of attic snakes and the would-be buyers would run out of the house screaming. But everybody held steady at the kitchen table.
Then the man who owned the house spoke up. “The snakes eat the rats and mice,” he said, matter-of-factly.
The buyers didn’t even blink. They just nodded. By the time Rick and I left, all parties were satisfied, and the buyers had made up their minds to buy the house, snakes, rats, mice and all.
On another day, at another rural house, the proud owner met co-inspector Rick and me at the door. She’d just done some work on the house, and she was proud as could be. Most of all, she was proud of her new security system.
“Want to see it work?” the lady of the house asked me.
“No ma’am,” I answered politely, “we don’t inspect security systems. It’s just not part of the job.”
“It’s got a fire alarm on it,” she said enthusiastically.
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said. Then Rick and I went about our work. As were checking all of the usual stuff, I couldn’t help but notice that the lady of the house was working feverishly at the security system’s control panel, doing her best to prove to us that the house was safe for the new buyers.
“I’ll make it work in just a few minutes,” she said.
“I’d love to stay for that,” I said, “but we’ve got to move on to the next job.” Of course, the next job was lunch, but I didn’t want to tell her that.As Rick and I started pulling out of the driveway, we heard a loudspeaker on the side of the house broadcasting, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Just then, the proud homeowner ran out into the yard jumping up and down and waving her hands. “You tell those people this thing works!” she yelled, as we rolled out of listening distance.
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