Friday, January 14, 2011

The Bum and the Bicycle

If you couldn't tell from the title, today's post has nothing to do with my love story. Well, I guess every post I write is connected to my love story somehow, but today's does not involve any smooches or confessions of undying love. Not that I don't love writing about those things, but if I did it all the time I'd have to rename my blog something like The Brown-Eyed Girl's Man or Kissy Kissy Huggy Huggy and I don't really want to do that.

So today I will tell you a funny story about our house.

Mr. Brown Eyes and I had been looking for a house for several months before we first laid eyes on the one we now call home. We fell in love at first sight, and how could we not? The porch was scattered with golden autumn leaves, the grassy yard shaded by willow and mulberry trees, one of which sheltered a tree house high in its branches. The huge garage in the backyard was big enough to accommodate Mr. Brown Eyes' boat and four-wheeler, as well as five tugboats. No kidding. And the yard was big enough for a pasture, big enough for my horse and then some.

And it was a log cabin.

Yep. A log cabin in the Arizona desert. Step through the front door and it's as if you've been transported to a ski lodge in the Rockies. A stone fireplace takes up most of one wall, wooden beams soar to the peaked ceiling, and the walls and stairs are composed of smooth logs. It's absolutely beautiful.

My problem with house-hunting is I get attached. Really easily. Like, we walk through the front door and I'm already envisioning a night of cuddling on the couch in this living room, or our family seated around the dining table in front of that window. That's all it took. I'd fall in love with  bay windows, vaulted ceilings, gleaming wooden staircases, and lofty balconies. If all the houses we looked at were suitors, I'd be a bigamist.

Therefore it was not wise for us to look at houses we couldn't afford. Even if it was just to look. I'd lose my heart to some French door and be bummed the rest of the day knowing the house could never be ours.

So, yes, I loved the log cabin at first glance, but my heart sank, thinking we could never afford something so beautiful. The scenic front porch, the view of the pasture from the kitchen, the sunny dining room--I turned to Mr. Brown Eyes in despair. I could tell he was thinking the same thing I was.

Then our real estate agent told us the price the house was listed at.

Our hearts lifted. Maybe the log cabin wasn't such an impossible dream after all.

Right then I looked out the living room window at the wooden swing set nestled against the trees, and I tell you I could see my future children out there playing, could hear their laughter drifting on the wind. The Spirit filled my heart with peace. I knew this house was meant to be ours.

I will spare you the drama of the back and forth offers, the eternal waiting, and the never-ending paperwork that came along with buying the house. Let's just say the house was unofficially ours one spring afternoon when my sister and her husband were visiting from out of town. Mr. Brown Eyes and I wanted to show them "our house." We probably should have taken our agent with us, but we had the lockbox code (through a series of events that I will not describe here, in an effort to protect the innocent), so what did we need him for?

We knew something was wrong when we found the front door unlocked. With less caution than I should have exercised, I ventured inside, glancing around the living room. Everything looked normal except...

"Someone left a bike here," I announced, perplexed.

"What the..." Mr. Brown Eyes started, and I realized that something was very wrong.

The fireplace was black with soot, a half-full can of hominy sitting among the ashes. The blades on one of the ceiling fans were bent, drooping like a wilted flower. Splinters of wood were scattered over the carpet.

Someone had been in our house.

With sinking hearts we searched the other rooms. The cabinet doors and drawers in the downstairs bathroom were gone, as were three drawers and two doors from the kitchen. The bum who broke in must have used them for firewood. The idea made me feel sick. My house--violated.

Thankfully the damage was minor. We called our agent and he told us to take pictures and get out of there, to get an estimate on the damaged cabinets and the real estate company would pay to repair it. We followed his instructions, unceremoniously dumping the bike outside next to the road.

Eager to get "our house" fixed, we called a carpenter and arranged to meet him at the house the next morning to get an estimate. The carpenter and his partner arrived while Mr. Brown Eyes was checking something on the other side of the yard, so I let them in the house, tucking the key from the lockbox in my pocket.

While the cabinet guys tinkered and measured and muttered in the kitchen, Mr. Brown Eyes and I talked in the living room, surveying our dirty and misused fireplace. As we talked, a black SUV pulled up in front of the house and idled there.

"Is that anyone we know?" Mr. Brown Eyes asked.

I shook my head. "No."

The car sat there for several minutes. No one got out. "Maybe I should go talk to them..." Mr. Brown Eyes began. But right as he was saying it, a cop car pulled up behind the SUV.

"Uh oh," we said together.

"I'll go talk to them, " Mr. Brown Eyes said, hurrying out the door.

My heart fluttering in panic, I ran into the kitchen to see if I could hurry the cabinet guys along. They were done. I sighed in relief, my mind flashing just one thought: Let's get out of here. As they packed up their tools, I heard the front door open. A pistol-packing police officer strutted in, his hair short-cropped, his face unsmiling.

"I need you all to leave immediately," he barked.

The cabinet guys looked surprised. I wondered if the thought crossed their minds that maybe Mr. Brown Eyes and I were criminals and we had just swept them into our illegal activities. I wished I could explain. But I didn't get the chance.

"None of you have permission to be in here," the cop continued.

"Not even the homeowner?" one of the cabinet guys asked, gesturing toward me.

"She is not the homeowner. Not yet. Now get out."

The cabinet guys were compliant. A little too much. They were talkative and submissive. I started to wonder if maybe they were already on the wrong side of the law.

The cop herded us outside, where Mr. Brown Eyes was waiting. I closed the door, indecision itching the palms of my hands. I had to put the key back in the lockbox, but how, without Officer Sunshine seeing me? I tried to be discrete. I locked the door, stuck the key in the box and quickly closed it, spinning the numbers on the lock with fumbling fingers. I heard the cop's voice behind me.

"You have the lockbox code?"

Sickened, I bowed my head. What could I say? I could lie, but really, there is only one way to get into a lockbox for a girl unaccustomed with the intricacies of burglary, and that is having the code. "Yes," I muttered.

"How did you get it?" he demanded.

Geez, he didn't have to talk to me like I was some sort of criminal. "Our agent gave it to us."

"He gave it to you?" the cop asked as if he didn't believe me.

That's what I said, isn't it? "Yes."

I gratefully reached Mr. Brown Eyes' side, away from the cop's piercing eyes that had probably already labeled me as the perpetrator of the violence against my own house--even though it wasn't really my house yet.

The cop asked for our IDs. As we handed them over to him, he grunted, "You know, I could have had you taken out of the house by gunpoint."

I kind of wished he had. That would have been a story for the grandkids.

The lady in the SUV came out to greet us. She was the real estate agent over the property, and once she was told we were the homebuyers she was exceedingly apologetic for calling the police on us.

"I just saw the unfamiliar cars in the driveway and didn't know what to do," she gushed, her friendliness easing our distress. "I had no way of knowing who it was, and knowing the house had recently been broken into...I'm so sorry."

The cop returned our IDs. I noted with relief that the cabinet guys didn't appear to have any outstanding warrants for their arrest. They cheerfully waved goodbye and drove off.

"We didn't mean to scare you," Mr. Brown Eyes apologized. "We're just a little excited to get our first house, I guess."

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as a survey of the damage to the house led the real estate agent to authorize a few extra repairs that had occurred before the bum broke in. And our agent managed to finagle his way out of any discipline he might have received for giving away the lockbox code.

"You should have just lied to the cop," Mr. Brown Eyes told me as we got into our car.

"Yea, lie to a cop. And what would I have told him? I just flipped the numbers on the box randomly and--hey!--I got it right?"

As we backed out of the driveway we pulled up next to the cop, who was busily trying to ID the bike to see if it was stolen.

"I can't find anything on it," he told us. "It's yours if you want it."

Well, he was awfully friendly all of a sudden, wasn't he?

Neither of us wanted the bucket-of-bolts bike the bum rode. So the cop left it hanging on the fence. The next time we visited the house, the bike was gone. As long as he doesn't come back, I told myself.

But even now, years later, I am still suspicious of every dirty, grizzled old man I see riding down our road on a rusty bike.

I hope he enjoyed his hominy.

Not a criminal,
The  Brown-Eyed Girl

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