If you’re unlike me, your idea of a fun afternoon is inviting your friends to come over with their laptops, their ethernet cables, and all their favorite games that were meant to run at DSL speeds. Everyone gathers around the ethernet wall hub like Scouts around a campfire, plugs in to the same jack, boots up Windows XP, pops in their CD-ROMs, and has themselves a grand old wired time.
I’m assuming that’s what the previous owners of this house did. Or maybe they taught Applied Computer Science classes from home to all the neighborhood latchkey kids. Or they weren’t sure which jack the phone company would endorse but they figured you can’t go wrong with “Bigger is Better” or “Holeyer is Holier”. Maybe they were anticipating the one magical day when Internet Science would let you could hook two ethernet cables to your PC and double your processing speed. If only that had ever been feasible, perhaps RealPlayer would’ve been watchable.
I’m not sure what the previous owners do for fun today. They left their ethernet jack behind when they sold us the place and moved out. It wasn’t on the inventory list, but their loss is our unsightly wall hole. Decent of them to toss in the free gift, one bearing streaks of evidence hinting at how they spruced up the walls a tad for us but got a little frantic with the paints. Or maybe the plate looked like that when they bought it and this is an interior decorating trend we missed because we subscribe to all the wrong magazines.
As first-time homeowners, we had no idea if it’s normal for sellers to leave behind special surprises for the incoming buyers. Call it preplanned housewarming, bargaining bonuses, FHA favors, or whatever. After we signed the dozens of dotted lines and started filling the place with different, better, cooler stuff, we kept running into little things here and there that they abandoned or regifted, either with us warmly in mind or with visions of our heads replaced by giant hallucinatory lollipops labeled “SUCKER”. We were surrounded with Easter eggs such as:
* A pair of itty-bitty plastic hooks glued to a shower wall, meant to support some small, dedicated object we don’t own. They’re too small to hold anything except presumably the original holdee, and possibly loose floss strands if you’re careful not to breathe on them or knock them into the drain.
* A tiny hex wrench nestled on the header above the bathroom door, in case someone locks themselves in and can’t get out, or in case we’re heinous monsters.
* A green patio screen that’s too small to fit any of our doors or windows, and too large and unwieldy for straining macaroni.
* A low jagged hole in the living room wall that housed sound system cables or possibly a mouse who took no pride in his doorway-gnawing. If the latter, I’d give him a C-minus and order him to try again. Mouse holes should be dome-shaped, down against the floor, and fortified with cute, lethal defenses in case of cat.
* Several sheets of unused sandpaper, a few Bounce dryer sheets, and a few cans of paint that had dried up by the time we got around to opening them.
* The unfinished garage walls with cryptic writing on one panel: “Dick DiD IT!” There are so many things I don’t want to know about that sentence.
* Their secret winning formula for having such a healthy lawn: beneficial spillover of seeds and chemicals from the next-door neighbors who paid for professional lawn care and didn’t mind letting their effects be contagious. When the 2008 recession hit and they plainly cut that service from their budget, quality of life plummeted for a good 99% of the grass on our street.
* The washer and dryer. As in the complete appliances. Neither was in the agreement. Neither was requested or expected. We assumed the laundry room would be empty and we would remain loyal local laundromat customers for months or years until we could save up for such luxuries. We walked in on moving day and there they were, waiting for us and looking innocent as if they were a pair of magnificent gift-horses and we were gauche hicks for staring into their maws.
Fun trivia about that last one: IT WAS A TRAP. Shortly after move-in, the dryer heating element burned out. At first we assumed standard planned obsolescence in action. Later we would learn this was the first of many damages inflicted directly or indirectly by my diabolical new enemy, the dryer vent. Longtime MCC readers with elephantine memories may recall its appearance in previous entries, in which we told the tales of the perplexing vent cover replacement tribulation and the mysterious ugly ceiling wound.
Some detective work revealed the vent was a popular condo for passing birds, who nested in it every year without regard for the malfunction their jam-packed straw walls were causing on the other end. We learned the hard way what the sellers hadn’t: dryer vents gotta vent. The first time, we had pros clean the ducts for us. I did it myself a few other times, once through an hour of creative wrangling with the garden hose and a demented look on my face. Despite the lesson, the vent keeps coming up with new ways to confound us and ruin laundry plans.
Soon we’re hoping to eliminate another of the sellers’ castoffs, the vestigial ethernet jack. It’s been covered for years with furniture, as we never had it turned on even when we had DSL. Now we use cable internet from another, less unhelpful provider, and the jack is blocking progress for a home-upgrade experiment that needs to move forward. In two weeks a guy with skills I lack is coming out to remedy the eyesore and leave us with one less reminder of the forgotten hopes and dreams of our dwelling predecessors. All those memories, all those levels of Wolfenstein, all those AOL chatrooms, all those digital footprints will be wiped away like one-word posts on a defunct message board.