There comes a time in every man’s life when he must set an example for his son by crawling under the house to fix something. This must be done with apparent fearlessness even though he knows whatever needs fixing is going to be located in the darkest corner of the house’s underbelly, probably behind a spider web the size of a commercial fishing net.
Several years ago, I used plywood to seal up the underside of our home and stop what I suspected were nightly ‘rave parties’ hosted by our cat. These parties generally started around 11:30 p.m. and were held directly beneath our bedroom floor, where it sounded like 20 cats playing Twister. Naturally, I had no choice but to break up these parties by getting out of bed and shoving our 80 kilo German shepherd headfirst through the crawl space through our closet floor (my emergency escape hatch).
My point is this: Sealing things up stopped the cat parties. Unfortunately, it also turned the crawl space under our home into a frightening black void where, thanks to evolution, a species of hairy, sightless, spider-like rodents with large fangs and the ability to mobilise telepathically has nested, colonising into the hundreds.
Possibly even thousands.
I know this because I’ve shined a flashlight down there and — this is not an exaggeration — I’m pretty sure I saw something move.
It was this thought (along with how I might turn a zippo lighter and a can of my partners hair spray into a flame thrower) that came to mind last weekend as my family and I stared into the dark opening of our crawl space.
Within minutes, our team was assembled around the kitchen table for a briefing on ‘Operation Underbelly’.
“There’s no telling what’s down there,” I said. “So keep your eyes open.”
A collective nod from the team.
Using a not-to-scale mud map made up of kitchen condiments; “We’re going to concentrate our efforts in the area between the bathroom, the kitchen and rumpus room,” I said. “It’s called cross-triangulation.”
“I see, like the Bermuda Triangle,” my partner said.
Ignoring her, I gave everyone their assignments, and then dispersed the team. “Let’s go do some good!”
“Is she making you go down there?” asked my son.
“Of course not,” I said. “As man of the house, it’s my duty to do things no one else wants to do.”
My son thought about this a minute. “But she tells you what those things are, right?”
“Pretty much,” I said, and then dangled my feet over the opening.
“What are you going to DO down there?”
I explained that one of our bathroom outlets wasn’t working, and I thought it was because something had chewed through a wire.
“What chewed through it?”
Even at age 14, my son wasn’t ready for the truth, which was that hordes of slobbering, milky-eyed creatures were waiting in the dark, excreting a web-like substance from their bulbous posteriors and communicating with each other telepathically that a 100 kilo Happy Meal was about to be served. So, to preserve my son’s innocence, I made something up.
“Probably a possum did it,” I said.
His expression relaxed as he handed me the torch, then offered a final piece of advice. “If a possum lets you pat him, he probably has rabies.”
“Good tip,” I said and eased down into the crawl space.
Moving in a leopard crawl motion toward our bathroom, it wasn’t long before I had passed the point of no return. This, of course, is when my torch decided to blink out. Throttling it with both hands, I shook it back to life just long enough to illuminate the area above me — including a dead possum dangling from an electrical wire by its teeth.
Sure, in retrospect, attempting to defuse the situation by screaming uncontrollably may not have been the “manly” thing to do. However, I credit that mind-numbing howl with scaring off the spider-rodent creatures long enough for me to dislodge the possum and repair the exposed wire.
“I found the problem!” I called out in a tone my partner mistakenly thought was a scream.
“Where are you?”
“Purgatory; or the crawl space under the bathroom, I forget which.”
“Can you grab it?”
“Not exactly; I can’t move.”
“Why does this sound familiar?”
“Remember when I got stuck under the VW..?”
“I was being rhetorical.”
“Oh good. Now, how about being helpful and getting me out of here?”
I learned a couple of things during my recovery mission. First, given a choice, possums prefer white wires to grey wires. And second, cooking spray is as effective as WD-40 when it comes to loosening grown men out of tight spaces. Because of these things, I’m still alive and our home is safer.
Unfortunately, in all the commotion, I also dropped my partners hair spray — which means I’ll have to go back.
But only if she makes me.
Andrew Douglas is a long-suffering Aussie Digger who, after many hours of sitting in a pit with a notebook and pen writing his woes, has turned his hand to writing for leisure and entertainment in the comfort of his lounge room. He and his partner, Sonia, live in a 100-year-old home in southern NSW, where Andrew uses his home-repair skills to make improvements, such as being able to flush the toilet by turning on the garden tap.