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Thursday, May. 19, 2005
I passed the termite! I passed the termite!

And if you don’t appreciate just what that means . . . well then. It’s obviously up to me to enlighten. After all, I live for the little moments like this.

Back in ‘92 when I last went through the madness of giving up a perfectly good roof ‘oer head for another one, I had to pass the termite. It was my first termite, and I was but a wee lad, and innocent (or just damned naïve) in the ways of the world of realtors.

“Got to get that termite inspection, Outfoxed” they all said. “Y’all either pass that inspection or the buzzard’ll swoop in and knock ye off the shit wagon.”

The termite, as it is called in the fraternal world of realtor buds, is the thing they do a week before closing. Pass the termite inspection, get a termite letter, you’re home free.

Like I say, I was an innocent. Figured the termite was a mere formality, since we’d studiously employed the service of a bug spraying firm who showed up twice a year and defoliated the weeds around my foundation and collected their $50. Problem being, they didn’t write letters of termite inspection. Oh no. They weren’t up to the challenge, I suppose. Had to get another, more educated company out for that. So when the dude showed up to take a peek under the house, I just vaguely waved him in the direction of the access hole and went back to whatever it was I was doing. If it was ‘92, I was probably herding kids around the house in an attempt to clothe/wash/feed them, and I had no interest in the adolescent looking termite guy. I blew him off just a little.

Next day the realtor calls up in a blind panic. “You didn’t pass the termite!”, she hissed.

I think I mentally shrugged at that and said something to the effect of “Well, big deal. I’ll just get somebody out here with a bigger sprayer and we’ll really zap those bugs.”

“You don’t get it”, she said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with termites. They want plastic sheeting rolled under the house. You’ve got three bad floor joists and a bad main beam. There’s ponding water under there . . .” and she went on with a laundry list of stuff that would make any carpenter blanch. A weeks worth of work, at least. And like I say, this was the week before closing.

“But . . . but . . . it’s really not that bad under there,” I managed to stammer. “Does all this have to be done before they’ll let us sell?”

“Oh you betcha,” she replied. “Regular fiends for compliance, they are. You’re gonna really have to hustle to find a carpenter or something to get all this done. And re-inspected. In a week.” She was a gem, my realtor. I don’t think she had ever worked a sale in her life as hard as she worked ours, it was a buyer’s market back then and our place was, shall we say, not exactly the jewel of the block. She was ready to dump our particular pig and move on to more fertile ground, she was.

It probably helps the story to know that at the time, I wasn’t a free ranging carpenter with my own crew. Wasn’t able to just up and take off whenever the fish were biting or the joists under the house needed fixing. I was an office stiff. A construction office stiff to be sure, but I seldom ventured out the door without a tie and trendy shoes. And I had a smattering of the nobility of the office stiff that said, “Crawl under the house and replace floor joists? Ewwww.”

But I also had a stubborn streak in me.

I bought plastic sheeting, big rolls of it. I picked up some 2 x 12’s. Had the nails, the jacks, the hammer and saw. And one notable summers evening in 1992, I plugged in one of Ally’s good table lamps to a long cord, stuffed a hammer in my belt and dove under the house.

I won’t bore you with the details. It was one of those situations you tend to blot out of mind anyway. It was hot, I’d worked my usual 10 hour day with an hours commute on both ends. I rolled around under the house and listened to my children rumble overhead like a small antelope herd, with the occasional laughing squeal faintly wafting through the floorboards. I wrestled and cursed and slithered, cutting and coaxing long chunks of wood into position then nailing them off. I rolled plastic out like so much carpet over the sand. Periodically Ally or Beth would peer through the access hole some 50 feet away and inquire as to when I was gonna stop making so much noise.

Somewhere on the wrong side of midnight, the deed was done. As was I.

I called the inspector. He showed up, a pimply youth with dirty sneakers and a wad of gum, eyed the foundation and the access hole (with a hint of plastic sheeting visable) and asked, “Did ye have the carpenter sister up that main beam? Got bearing points on yer joists? Plastic run all the way to the front?”

I assured him that yes, the carpenter had done all of that and more, indeedy.

“Well, I reckon I don’t need to go back under. Here’s your sign-off. Have a nice day, good luck with your closing.”

I could have murdered him then and there, stuffed his body under the plastic and, really, who would have ever known? A future termite inspector, perhaps? Nah.

So yesterday, 13 years removed from my last termite horror, a gangly child with a flashlight and many piercing arrived at the door.

I ushered him in, offered tea and the best chair. Smiled a lot, laughed at his jokes. Removed the access panel on the foundation for him. Had already broomed the plastic where he would have to crawl. Asked if there was anything, anything I could do to assist him in his efforts.

He appeared after a while, scratching some notes on his work order as I plied a whisk broom to his shoes and spritzed lavender on his discarded coveralls.

“Looks okay under there,” he mumbled, paying me very little mind. “Couple carpenter ants, but that’s common enough. You pass.”

I was fully prepared to take him to my bank, withdraw what meager amount of cash might be there and just hand it to him. If I’d had a daughter home at the time, I would have handed her over, too.


We close in 9 days. I passed the termite. If we only had a place to move into, I could relax, and write long diary entry’s about the inanities of daily living.

Lately, when the folks in the Watering Hole greet me with the standard "How's it goin'?" my reply has been "Settin' 'em up and knockin' 'em down." I knocked down a bunch of them yesterday.

Beats hell out of wrestling floor joists, I can tell you that much.

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