You Can Never Go Home
I was driving by my old house on 26th when I spotted some activity in the alley, so I thought I’d stop and peep it out. It looked like the garage was being dismantled for some reason, so I parked my car in the driveway to have a closer look. They weren’t so much taking the garage down, as they were clearing it of wood scraps and such which appeared to have come from the house.
This place was built in 1905, and the garage was about as old: dirt floor, and a handy little window for a horse to hang his head outside. Most of the old wood planks stacked on the floor had already been moved from inside the garage and onto a trailer outside, with the last few being loaded by a backhoe onto a flat-bed trailer.
I was getting back into my truck to leave when I noticed my path was blocked by the backhoe (which was moving up the driveway toward my parked truck). One of the workers was waving the backhoe in my direction, and I was going to be blocked in. I got out of my truck and walked up toward the machine and waved him back toward the road. That’s when the new owner of my old house climbed out of the backhoe and the traffic-directing worker pointed their attention toward me and started walking up the driveway.
I’ll be damned if the worker guy wasn’t The Marionette from the train! I couldn’t believe it. Apparently he’s been helping the new owner of my house with some remodeling, and he lived right next door. How totally crazy! The two of us, plus the homeowner, struck up a conversation about the house and the neighborhood, and the work they were just finishing up. Homeowner and The Marionette hugged (kind of weird), and The Marionette climbed into the backhoe and got back to work.
The homeowner was telling me about the stuff he’d been doing to the garage, and how he’d just cleared out the “rooms” in the attic. Rooms? What rooms? There are rooms in the attic?
“Oh yes, you wouldn’t believe how much random crap was up there. This here,” motioning to the pile on the trailer, “is the last of it.” I couldn’t believe that I had no idea about the rooms in the attic, and the odd assortment of planks and old windows and such that was up there. It never occurred to me to go up into the attic while I owned the place. I’m not a big fan of spiders, bugs, and other unpleasant surprises (like finding a dead cat skeleton, or something gross like that), so I never did go up into the attic. Let sleeping dogs lay, I say when it comes to creepy dark places. I don’t recall that I ever even poked my head up in there.
Regardless, it always seemed too small a space to do anything useful up there, so I’m really surprised to hear there were “rooms” up there. “Mind if I go and take a peek at your work,” I asked. “Go right ahead. I’ll be back here finishing loading the trailer.”
I head into the house and climb the stairs to the second floor. For doing an extensive remodel, the place looked a lot like I had left it when I sold the place in 2000. I made it to the attic access hole in the ceiling at the top of the stairs, and pushed aside the plywood “door” covering the hole. The whole time I’m thinking to myself, “there is no way there are rooms up here”.
I poke my head into the space, and it’s kind of dark. I’m squeezing my shoulders through the access hole–it’s just barely big enough for me to fit in–and I’m peering into the darkness while using my cellphone as a flashlight. I climb the rest of the way into the attic and am stooped-over looking around in the dim glow of my cell phone. Janie pokes her head up into the attic space and asks, “Why don’t you just turn on the light?”. She flicks a switch, and the place lights up like it’s the middle of the day.
The place looks like it had just been cleared out. I found myself standing (as much as I could stand with such a low ceiling) in a small room painted the same minty green as the wheelhouse of my grandpa’s boat. There wasn’t anything in this room, but a doorway leading to another room. I turn back to Janie and say, “c’mon, it’s pretty cool up here!” As I turn to her I can see there is a window facing the back yard, and I can see the homeowner and The Marionette working together on loading the trailer.
I turn around and start to crawl through the doorway and into the next room. This next room is really long, nearly the length of the entire house, and there is a window at the other end. The lights were fluorescent, giving off that crummy fluorescent light, providing the place the weird kind of glow you see in a really crappy thrift store–bright enough to make you squint, but not bright enough to light anything up adequately.
This room was painted the same minty green as the “foyer” I originally climbed into, but the paint was pretty old: nicks and dings here and there, and it kind of looked like the panels were painted before they were nailed up against the studs. The shape of the room was kind of what you’d expect in an attic. Low walls with sloped ceiling terminating in a peak. The walls were paneled in that crappy masonite board, as were the sloped ceilings. It was a lot roomier than I’d expected, but I still had to walk around bent over at a 45-degree angle.
About 1/3 of the way down there was a little closet looking “room” jutting out of the right-hand side wall. As I approached it I could see that it was some kind of storage room. There were shelves in there, and they were stocked–literally stocked–with neat rows of flour bags, bags of sugar, rice, charcoal briquets (??), pancake mix, and some cans of condensed milk. There was also a hot-plate and a really small sink in there.
I couldn’t believe this space was up here all these years and I had no clue! The new homeowner who cleared the place out must have been some kind of survivalist to want to store all those heavy bags of food and BBQ supplies in the attic. Come to think of it, his shirt was a little too short to cover his belly, so it’s not impossible to imagine a little twinge of anti-government hillbilly in that guy.
So, I continue past the storage room/kitchen wondering who would have built this place out as an apartment in the first place, and who would want to live up here? I mean, the only access is an access hole in the floor, and you need a ladder to get there? The thought was pretty ridiculous, but then I thought about how cool that would have been when I was a kid. Maybe that was it–storage + kids play space?
Just past the storage room, there was a perfectly made bed pushed up against the corner made between the storage room and the wall. It was covered with old-style sheets and blankets, circa 1975. Some yellow, some orange, and the top sheet was folded over at the top, as though ready for someone to sleep there tonight.
This was kind of weird, and made me a little sad. Who is going to sleep up here? It’s such a depressing space to live in , but a really cool space to explore. As a kid it would have been incredible!
I’m just about to turn back when I see past the edge of the bed what looks like the top of a small cage, kind of like a dog crate. And I have the sense that there is something in there. Is it a cat? A couple of cats? Holy crap! It’s a monkey!
And it’s not just one monkey, but it’s several monkeys! I get really low to the ground and creep around the corner of the bed and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. There are seven monkeys in this cage all clinging together like they’re really scared. One of the monkeys is almost completely white, but the others are colored like a squirrel would be. The cage door is open, but all of the monkeys are packed in there by their own choosing.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing. A crate of monkeys–and these aren’t the little organ grinder monkeys, they’re easily 25lbs each–the kind you’d see chilling in one of those hot springs in Japan–huddled together in the attic of my old house, in a room I never knew existed, in the middle of Tacoma, and The Marionette from the train is out in the alley loading a trailer with remodeling debris.
I reach toward the monkeys and they carefully untangle themselves and climb out. The white monkey turns out to have been covered in flour. There was a bag of flour in the cage, and he had torn it open and was covered in it from head to toe. One of the braver monkeys came out and grabbed my hand. He put my finger in his mouth and as I pulled away he bit down gently, kind of how a dog would if you were playing with it. I lifted him off the ground and that must have been the signal to the other monkeys that they were free to roam about the cabin, as it were.
Totally weirded-out, I turned to crawl back toward the hole in the floor. As I passed the storage room/kitchen, I see two of the monkeys in there standing at the counter with a plate of pancakes (short stack), and one of the monkeys is wearing an apron and a chef’s hat, gleefully eating a pancake with his bare hands. Maybe the white monkey was just hungry, so he was eating the flour? Clearly, someone made the pancakes and left them there for the monkeys. Who the hell feeds pancakes to monkeys?
I’m just about to the hole in the floor, and I can see a little doorway in the wall to my left. Before I leave, I need to see what’s in there. It’s another little room, paneled in a more rustic 1950’s style cowboy rough-sawn cedar planking, and there are boxes of books, a lamp, tricycle, and a few others kids toys from that era in there. A yellow bedsheet is laying over the top of most of the stuff. I also see a very small and narrow staircase leading down and around.
I go down the staircase (monkeys are entertaining themselves at this point), and end up inside a knee-wall behind one of the closets in the “master” bedroom. How in Hell did I not know there was a small stair-case leading to the attic? I turn around and go back up to the attic and it occurs to me that this whole monkey business in the attic has been here for a long time. I see a small toilet outside the storage room/kitchen, and I start to think about the time when I lived in that house. There was a time when I was convinced someone was living in the crawlspace below the house, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe someone was living in the attic the whole time–but with seven pancake-eating monkeys?
I’m standing there thinking to myself, how could anyone get in and out of this attic “apartment” without me knowing for the five years I lived there? It seems impossible! I mean, they’d either need to sneak into to my closet, into the space behind the closet, and then up to the attic or they’d need to climb directly into the attic from the access point in the ceiling in the middle of the hallway. There’s no way this could happen!
I snap out of my bewilderment and notice that one of the monkeys is trying to make his way past me and out into the house at-large. I manage to shoo him back upstairs, and follow him up there. I glance out the back window one more time, and I see that there is a platform outside the window and a ramp leading from it down and to the left along the side of the house. It’s only about 18″ wide, but I can tell it’s been there a long time (how did I not notice this before?). The wood looks at least 30 years old and it’s built like a gang-plank you’d see leading from a fixed pier to a floating dock. I climb out the window and follow the ramp down and around the side of the house to a deck (the deck is pretty new, FWIW).
When I step onto the deck, the homeowner is standing there grinning at me. “What do you think about the attic?” I’m still in disbelief, and manage to say something like, “Yeah. Wow. That’s a hell of a thing!”.
Thinking of it more while I’m standing there with the homeowner (I never did catch his name), I start to put the pieces together. At this point it dawns on me that the old lady who sold the place to the people who sold me the place never moved out of her home. She retreated to the attic and moved in with her seven monkeys, pancake makings, charcoal briquets, and small black-and-white TV. But, why did the new homeowner have no issue with this?
He’s her grandson! That’s got to be it! He “remodeled” the attic for grandma so she could tend to her monkeys in the home she grew up in, and he’d live in the main house. It all made sense now, except the part about The Marionette living next door…and the rooms in the attic…and the monkeys…Then I woke up and had to start getting ready for work.
For a guy who never dreams–or at least never remembers anything more than dumb stuff like letting Janie’s dad borrow my belt–this one was a doozy.