Thursday, March 6, 2014

Coffee, Trespassing, and Other Expensive Pursuits

I went on a very expensive date...

...with my son.

It was supposed to be an adventure, but it cost so much we both felt deflated rather than elated over our afternoon out.

Ever since I was young, I have loved exploring old abandoned houses.  I had a cousin who was adventurous and a little bit bad.  He is the one who first introduced me to trespassing on personal property and breaking into houses.  I guess that made me a little bit bad too.

I distinctly remember the first house I ever explored.  We were camping at the time.  We used to camp with a bunch of families three times a year...twice in the summer on the 4th of July and another weekend, and once in the fall when the leaves began to change.

This particular experience took place the first week of July; I know that because it was hot and we were wearing shorts, and my cousin had a bunch of firecrackers that he carried around in his pocket and lit off at random times during that the campground sandbox, inside a toy truck, and inside an old doll's head that he found on the old abandoned property we were exploring.  There is something gruesome and not very innocent about blowing up a doll.  I didn't like it one bit, but at the age of 10 I couldn't really explain why it bothered me, so I laughed and gave my cousin all the attention his naughty ego desired.

We started out playing in the sandbox at our campground, but that quickly bored us.  We went for a walk with no destination in mind.  We came to a fence that marked the boundary of the campground.  On the other side of the fence was a big open field.  My cousin didn't hesitate to climb the fence and the rest of us followed and started out across the field towards nothing in particular...we were just enjoying the feeling of freedom after the confines of the campground (which hadn't felt the least bit confining to me just a few minutes prior!).  As we swished our way through the tall grass, I felt a deep pain in the back of my ankle.  I turned to look and saw a huge hornet fly away.  Within minutes my ankle was stiff and numb.  I kept walking and didn't say a word.  My cousin didn't like babies.  As we pushed our way deeper through the waist-high weeds, we stirred up the grasshoppers, which began their crazy jumps every which-way.  I was never bothered by mice, snakes or spiders, but grasshoppers were another story.  They were the one and only insect that terrified me.  But I sucked in my breath and swallowed my cries so my cousin wouldn't think I was a baby, and I bravely plowed on like I didn't even notice the hideous green-brown bodies hitting me in the face and sticking to my shirt.

About halfway through the field we spied the house and barn.  We could see that many of the windows were broken, the barn door was hanging on its hinges, the porch was sagging, and the yard was empty and full of weeds. Suddenly we had a destination.  There were about 6 of us, maybe 7.  We found the back door unlocked and walked in boldly.  Everyone began running through the house, wanting to be the first to discover something that would make us say, "Hey guys, come look at THIS!"  The house was totally empty, except for graffiti on the walls and a staircase that had no railing, which looked pretty scary to me, but the older boys in our group found it to be the best part of the house.  Since there was nothing more to see inside the house, we wandered out to the barn.  That's where we found some old toys, including the poor naked doll.  My cousin pushed on her neck until the seam at the head and neck gave way enough for him to slip in a firecracker.  Then he lit it, pushed it all the way inside and let her blow.  The guys laughed like it was the coolest trick ever.

That's really all we did that day, but it put the exploration bug in us and we spent the rest of that week traipsing all over the countryside around our campground, finding other properties to trespass on.  Once we hit a jackpot when we climbed up to the attic of another abandoned house and came across boxes full of old letters and cards.  My cousin, not much of a reader, was quickly bored, but it was my turn to be fascinated.  I sat on the dusty wooden floorboards of that attic and contentedly read mail that didn't belong to me...stories about people I didn't know and places I'd never been long before I was even born.  Now this was my kind of trespassing!  But my cousin's continual pressure on me to stop being so boring won out, and I put everything back in the box and climbed down and out of the attic.

As I grew older I continued exploring vacant houses whenever I found them.  I moved far, far away from my cousin, but I had a group of friends who were willing trespassers.

One house in particular was especially fun, because an old man had died inside and when they took his body away, they left everything exactly as is.  Apparently he had no family because no one ever came to clean up the house or sell the property.  I remember opening up the oven door and finding a roasting pan inside.  I don't know what made me take the lid off the roaster, but I did. Inside was a hard, black roast that had petrified almost to stone.  The calendar on the wall was still open to a date about 7 years prior.  One of us got a great idea:  Let's rig the house and bring some of our other friends over and scare them to death!

So that's exactly what we did.  We tied fish line around the calendar and the stove pipe and made a little set-up.  Then later when we were together with our other friends, one of us nonchalantly said, "Hey, we should go explore that old house down the road."  The rest of us "in the know" chimed in, "Yeah, let's do it!"  The innocent ones went right along with us.  When we got to the house, we all pretended to discover something.  "Look!" I said.  "There's still a roast in the oven!"  Everyone squealed.  "Hey!" said someone else.  "The date on the calendar is seven years ago...that must have been the time the man died!"  At that moment, while everyone was staring at the calendar, the fish line was secretly yanked and the calendar fell off the wall, seemingly without anyone touching it.  A couple of the girls screamed.  Another yank of the fish line, invisible in the dim light, and the stove pipe fell over.  Now everyone was thoroughly spooked.  "Let's get out of here!" one of the girls cried.  We ran out of the house as though we were all scared, knowing very well the next trick.  There in the yard by the old, over-grown garden was a scarecrow, half hidden in the shadows of the tall trees bordering the property.  "The scarecrow moved!" one of us said in our best hysterical voice.  Everyone stopped, grabbing each other in fear and staring at the scarecrow as he moved one arm, then another, and suddenly took a step towards our group.  Screams of true terror erupted.  One of the girls picked up a rock and hurled it as hard as she could and hit the poor scarecrow in the forehead, drawing blood (and leaving a scar that remains to this day, 30 years later!).  Then they ran as hard and fast as they could for home, screaming and crying, with the rest of us trailing behind them, screaming and crying...with laughter.

So here I was all grown up, reminiscing with my son about all my childhood adventures as we drove through town towards our favorite coffee shop.  First, we would get coffee on this sunny Sunday afternoon, then we would drive out to a stretch of country road where I had found four abandoned houses and we would explore them together, because this was with my adventurous-and-a-little-bit-bad son!

We were almost to the coffee shop when a cop pulled out of a side road and followed the car behind us.  He didn't turn his lights on, just kept following him until the car pulled over.  "Poor guy," I said.  "He wasn't even going fast."  But the cop passed the car that had pulled over and was now behind us.  "He let the guy go," I said.  "That was nice."  But I nervously watched him in the rearview mirror.  "He's still following us. You weren't speeding, were you?" I asked my son.

"I don't know.  I don't think so," he replied.  "What's the speed limit?"

"I think it's 35.  You're okay," I reassured him.  "He would have put his lights on if he wanted us.  He must be driving back to town."

 We were just about to pull into the coffee shop's parking lot when he flashed his lights at us.  "Noooo," I wailed.  "There's no way we could be speeding for that much distance!"  But speeding we were.  Apparently it was only 25, even though we weren't even in the city for most of the drive.  I thought for sure he'd have mercy on a 20-year-old kid who was riding with his middle-aged mother on a Sunday afternoon.  Nope.  He handed out a $160 ticket and sent us on our way, fully chastised (and mad).  We both tried to keep a good attitude.  We bought our coffee and headed back out of town, comforting each other with, "It wasn't your fault."  "I'll pay half." and other nice things.

We came to the houses and picked the one that looked most interesting.  As soon as we pulled into the weedy driveway, a man across the street stepped out to his front porch and watched us.  Already it wasn't fun.  How were we going to be able to go inside with Mr. Neighborhood-Watch following our every move?  I pulled out my iPhone and began taking very obvious pictures of the sun over the fields and the old house, trying to look like an innocent passer-by who was simply admiring the scenery and wanting to capture it for Instagram.  We slowly wandered closer and closer to the house, but the neighbor was still out on his porch, joined now by his wife.  Hmmmph.  I told my son to go sit on the porch and I would take his picture.  Now he was quite dressed up, including wearing a very expensive pair of new boots.  I, on the other hand, was wearing sweats and running shoes.  I had told him he would probably want to change in case we had to climb a fence or wade through weeds, but he seemed to think it would be an easy adventure and shrugged off my suggestion.  Well, as he was walking towards the porch, he stepped on a blackberry vine, which caused it to twist up, wrap itself around his foot, and sink its brambles into the nice, soft leather of those gorgeous boots, tearing them when he took his next step.  "Arrrrggghhh!" my son yelled.  There in the rich, brown leather of the top of his boot was a deep gash.  Oh, this was not very much fun at all.  I tried to comfort him by telling him I had a leather repair kit at home.  He refused to be comforted and stomped angrily over to the porch and stood stiffly for me to take his picture, holding his coffee in one hand and a shovel in the other, looking absolutely stiff-jawed and expressionless.

We tried our hardest to have fun.  It just wasn't the way I imagined it at all.  We got back into his car and drove home.  I told him I'd pay half his ticket.  We made half-hearted jokes about our expensive date.

Later, after I posted on Instagram the picture of him standing in front of the house with his coffee in his hand and got many "Likes" on it, we were able to laugh a little more genuinely.  We agreed we had had an adventure after all.  And we had made a memory.  And we had lost a lot of money.

The moral of the story is:  Don't date your mother.

No, just kidding.  I don't really know the moral of the story.  But I do know that I was intrigued by those four abandoned houses, and I began making up stories in my head about who lived in each one and why they had abandoned their homes.

Maybe my next blog post will be one of those stories!

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is that it was an inexpensive date compared to a trespassing fine that Mr. Neighborhood-Watch could have imposed by turning you in!