We are just back from spending our first week at the lake house. Some of our friends and family know the back story, and for those who don’t I’ll provide the quickest possible summary of the closing: in one day we became both homeowners and landlords. This was because the seller decided that the closing, contractually scheduled to occur on May 31st, wasn’t gonna happen despite lack of any notification to the contrary from the buyers, or title company, or mortgage broker, or bank, or carpet cleaners or anybody involved with the transaction. Skipping forward a few harrowing hours, the seller finally agreed to pay us 3 days’ rent to stay in the house until the following Monday and put up a security deposit just in case, in his then-haste to vacate, he busted something up. (And by “seller” I mean his real estate agent, who wrote two checks from his own personal account to cover the rent and security and asked us not to mention anything about it in front of his client once we finally all sat down together to complete the closing, due to the client’s “anger management issues”.)

So, we bought a house we couldn’t move in to, at least not immediately, and therefore regrouped and on the next Friday picked up a trusty U-Haul trailer to take additional stuff we wanted to move into the new house. Those of you who have driven with a trailer hitched to the back of your vehicle know the feeling that comes over you: a sense of adventure; the rush of testosterone enhanced by the anticipation that the rear bumper of the car will rip free while on the highway, strewing your belongings all over the road and watching your wife’s grandmother’s antique chifferobe smashed into a thousand pieces by the 18-wheeler that’s been dogging you since you’re heeding the backwards sticker on the trailer fender warning HPM 22 DEEPS XAM (fender view).

My son and I picked up the trailer, parking it in our next-door neighbor/landlord’s driveway. This was a kind gesture on his part, particularly since a week before our closing he informed us we’d need to move out of our apartment since his son needed to move in. It’s a long story and not germane to the current narrative, so I’ll skip ahead about 10 minutes to when we started to load the trailer, which of course is when it began to pour.

We got almost everything loaded that we wanted to take up for this first trip (trailer was packed pretty tightly and so no room for the Weber grill or the box of toothpicks) and had a largely sway-free drive up to the house. Fortunately, we arrived ahead of the storm front and managed to get everything inside before the rains caught up with us again and decided to hang around there for the rest of our week at the lake.

The guy we bought the house from, in addition to being a COMPLETE FUCKING ASSHOLE (I’m back to the closing/rental situation again; sorry) was a very heavy smoker. When we first viewed the house, his agent cleverly attempted to disguise the lingering odor with a nifty little portable convection oven he’d set up to produce freshly-baked apple turnovers, along with one of those pod coffee makers so we could have a cup of… whatever comes out of those pod coffee makers to accompany our warm, scented pastry. But, being the sensitive-nosed types we are, we knew the smoke was going to be an issue. Therefore we arranged for a local fellow to come in with his environmentally-friendly set up and clean the carpets, walls and ceilings to remove the smell. (I would rate the ciggie smell as about 8.5 out of 10 — 9 would be if the seller were still in the house, blowing smoke directly into our faces, and 10 is when you’re trapped in a tobacco barn fire with no means of escape.) The enviro-treatment was partially successful, dialing the smell down to around a 3 or 4. That was still pretty strong and in fact Carol and I stopped at CVS for a couple boxes of nicotine patches to slap on so we wouldn’t suffer withdrawal when leaving the house. Each day we reduced the smell a bit more, slapping on one less patch, cleaning in all those nooks and crannies that make English muffins so appealing but house cleaning such drudgery.

We were at the house from that Friday afternoon until the following Sunday, working very hard and enjoying occasional views of the lake in between cloudbursts. We saw lots of wildlife – a beaver, a woodpecker, bullfrogs, a loon (the seller’s cousin, perhaps?), an osprey, a variety of finches and robins, and a chick on the back of a Harley. Our meticulous, relentless approach to cleaning removed all lingering traces of our interest in cleaning anything ever again.

Other highlights from the week:

  • Carol was anxious to get started with painting, and waited only an hour after starting to cut in the kitchen ceiling to ask me how she should cut in the kitchen ceiling. I yelled at her and as a result she did an excellent job disregarding my instructions. The kitchen ceiling she painted turned out beautifully; the bathroom ceiling I painted looked like I’d swiped at it with a rag while passing by on a roller coaster.
    • (Hey, I made a joke there — “roller” coaster!)
  • We bought several ceiling fans to replace the crud-and-smoke encrusted ones already hanging in the house. Don’t be fooled by those brands trumpeting “Five-Minute Installation” — the small print says “after making electrical connections”. I now know why they call it a “ground wire” — forget to connect it to that little green screw and, once you flip the switch, you’ll be six feet under before you know it.
  • We bought a couch that almost fit through the doorway.
  • We thought we’d solve the dilemma presented by an off-center fixture in the kitchen by installing track lighting. Three trips to the store, a call to Home Depot’s customer service hotline, one defective unit, several dropped screws and nine-hours-spread-over-two-days later — it’s beautiful!
    • This light kit had by far the worst set of installation instructions I’d ever come across. It wasn’t so much the “English as written by the Chinese” syntax as the fact that individual parts were referred to with multiple names throughout: the same piece was called a “canopy”, a “mounting cover”, a “mounting plate”, and an “end connector”. To that list, I also added “this fucking piece of shit”.
  • Despite Carol’s concern for critters, there is no such thing as a “catch and release” ant trap.
  • If you knock over an open gallon of paint, you might as well sell the house at a distressed price and move elsewhere.
  • Removing tub grout is a relatively easy job. Doing so without gouging the walls and tub surround, not so much.
  • Shopping at the community hardware store that’s been in business since forever is a great way to support the local economy especially since you’ll pay three times what everything costs at the national chains.
  • Soft-serve ice cream heals all hurt feelings.
We’ll be heading up several more times over the next few weeks to finish painting, install more fixtures, and hack away at overgrown shrubbery within which we suspect the seller may now be living. We’ll continue working as a team on renovating our dream house.
And eating lots more soft-serve.