Friday, July 31, 2009

Fiction - Housesitting Instructions


I have this friend, Maynard Steele, who in addition to being a good writer (he’s on staff at “Good Housekeeping”) is just a very thorough guy. We house-sat for him last spring and he left us the most complete, detailed instructions you can imagine. With August, the peak summer vacation month, almost upon us I thought I’d post Maynard’s instructions here as a template for others. (He has given me permission.) Here it is.

Doors and locks

In addition to the two keys we already gave you for the front door (the gold one does the dead-bolt and the silver does the knob), we have left three other keys: one for the back door, one for the French doors, and one for the door between the garage and the house. You probably won’t need to open the big garage door. The remote control garage door opener is lost, and the doorbell-looking button inside the garage doesn’t work. If you have to open the big door, the downhill neighbors four doors down (taupe house) have an opener that, miraculously, works on ours. The man’s name is Ron (I don’t know his wife’s name).


All the smoke alarms work. The one near the downstairs bathroom will alarm from the steam from the shower, so either make your shower short or wait until everybody’s already up.

We have two fire extinguishers: one under the kitchen sink and one in the garage. In all likelihood you won’t need to use one, but if you do, be sure to pull the pin out first. Hold the unit upright, aim at the base of the fire, and stand back six feet. Press the trigger and sweep from side to side. There are more detailed instructions next to each unit. Be sure to read these before it’s too late!


We always empty the fridge before vacation, but there are some canned goods, pasta, etc. in the garage. There’s a sheet taped to the fridge for recording what you took.


Recycling is under the kitchen sink on the left; garbage is on the right. The paper recycling bin is in the laundry room. Trash day is Tuesday. Put the cans out the night before because the garbage men come crashing in at around 6 a.m. There is a separate bin for CRV bottles, which the homeless guy picks up. (If you don’t separate the CRV stuff for him, the homeless guy makes a lot of noise and mess.)


Our cat, Snowball, should be no trouble. He has a food bowl that you can just keep topped up with the Friskies in the big box in the pantry. If he stops eating, feel free to give him the canned food from the top shelf of the pantry, but don’t overdo it because canned food gives him the runs.

If the litter box starts to stink, you can empty and refill it. There are two boxes of litter in the garage. One is Arm & Hammer and the other is some off-brand. Use the off-brand litter first—we’re trying to use it up because it really doesn’t work for controlling odors.

Snowball is friendly but watch out for his “evil twin,” a stray that looks just like him and bites. If you see a cat outside that looks just like Snowball, try to run him off. If you are playing with Snowball and he bites you, that’s not Snowball! Snowball plays nicely. His favorite game is chasing the red dot from the laser pointer (you can find the pointer on the desk in the upstairs office). Do not point the laser pointer at his eyes. If you screw up and blind Snowball, do not try to switch him out for his evil twin, because I saw a similar thing in a movie once and it was really dumb.


Our boa constrictor, Buck, should only need to be fed once or twice (or maybe not at all, if Snowball brings him a mouse, which he sometimes does). Every week Buck gets a single feeder rat as his meal. The pet store down by 4th Street is where we go. Get a big one. Note that Buck sometimes escapes from his cage at night. Don’t worry—when he gets cold he usually finds his way back into the cage because that’s where his heat rock is. One more thing: do not starve Buck because he could unhook his jaws and swallow Snowball!


Please just stack the mail on the dining room table (we already have a stack going). Put all junk mail in the paper recycling (use your discretion). You’ll probably see a lot of big packets from the law firm Biggers, Ferris, & Walsh. You can recycle these, too. If any of these legal packets arrive Certified Mail, refuse them.


Wireless Internet access is provided, through our neighbor. Signal strength isn’t great; it may help to open some windows. If the connection goes down, yell over the back fence for our neighbor to reboot his wireless router.


Feel free to use the TV, DVD player, etc. We do have cable, but don’t be surprised if it gets disconnected at some point, as we’re in a feud with Comcast. Note that the DVD player has the Japanese region code, so it will not play American-encoded movies. (It’s a hassle, but it was only $36!) We have a couple of Japanese-encoded DVDs you can watch: “Porco Rosso” and “Punch Drunk Love.” You can turn on English dubbing for both of these, though “Porco Rosso” is best in German and “Punch Drunk Love” is best in French (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Book club

My book club meets at 8 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month. This month it’s at the Swensons’, 482 Wine St. The book for this meeting is The Corrections; a copy is on top of the bookshelf in the living room. Please attend in my stead because I have a perfect record for attendance going back several years and don’t want to spoil it. I also have a perfect record for disagreeing with Barry, the stocky, dark-haired guy, so before you say anything about the book, listen to what he has to say and then beg to differ.


The living room can get uncomfortably hot in summer. We have a rotating fan you can set up; it’s in the front hall closet. Note that the grille is missing from the fan; if you accidently stick your hand in it from the front, you won’t be hurt, but don’t go near the back of it.

Furnace guy

We're having the furnace replaced while we’re gone. Please let the guy in; he knows where to go. During this activity, try to avoid the lower floor of the house because asbestos removal will be in progress.


The washer and dryer are in the laundry room. Please use your own detergent. Also, please do not throw away dryer lint. There is a blue covered tub in laundry room; please put the lint in there whenever you clean the filter. (Megan does something with the lint; I never learned what.)

Drip irrigation

The drip irrigation system runs automatically every other morning at 7:00. Please keep an eye on it because it often springs leaks, spraying water forcefully from a popped-off tube. Clip end off tube with blue-handled clippers (on top of the dryer), and push new tube end onto junction.


I have disconnected the gas from the oven (for complicated reasons). I have notified the uphill neighbors that you may be asking to use their toaster oven from time to time, and they did not say no.


You can park wherever you want. If your car drips oil, please park where the existing buildup is from our car. FYI, one of our neighbors tends to acquire cars (e.g., old Buicks). He fills them up with garbage and parks them in front of other people’s houses. Do not say anything to him. He only does this for attention.

Law enforcement

A cop often parks across the street and just sits there with his engine running. We’ve never been able to figure this out. Don’t bother talking to him—he’s a complete asshole.


If you need to take calls at our house, feel free to answer the phone. If a telemarketer calls, ask her what she’s wearing. (Drives ‘em crazy!)


There is an old guy who often sits on the curb out front, or sometimes on our stoop, usually in the morning, and cries, usually with his face buried in his hands. Don’t worry about him—he is harmless.

There’s another guy, a big dude, younger, usually wears a baseball cap and a hoodie, who hangs around a lot, just staring. He is a terminal psychotic. Everyone in the neighborhood is convinced he’s going to erupt one day. The police will do nothing.

If the psychotic guy does become violent, note that Ned, the neighbor across the street in the light brown house, is a total gun nut. If he’s not around, here’s a tip: the key to his gun cabinet is on a string around his son’s neck! If his son isn’t around, there’s a Glock in the étagère in their upstairs bathroom. (If you ask Ned to let you see the Glock, don’t use the word “étagère.” Call it a cabinet.) I know it’s weird, a gun nut in Berkeley, but there you have it. (He does drive a Prius, though.)


  1. I know Maynard Steele! Wasn't he that guy who won the burrito eating contest in Isla Vista? Or maybe I'm thinking of that guy on the Liesure Time Products racing team? Anyway, I'm pretty sure I know this guy from somewhere... Regardless, this note is surprisingly similar to the one we left for the 12 year-old next door who walked our dog while we were away, except the part about the book club -- there was no way I was going to have this little girl sit in for me at the meeting where Clan of the Cave Bear was being discussed.