When the cable installer rigged up my new television service a few days ago he had to open up the drop ceiling in my basement to install some new wiring. But when he pushed up the ceiling tile a small surprise was waiting for him.
Two empty beer cans fell on his head.
“Who likes Coors Light around here?” he said, chuckling.
“They’re not my husband’s,” my wife said. “He’ll drink Coors Light but he’ll never buy it.”
“I prefer Fat Tire or Lagunitas myself,” I said.
“You drink Pabst though.”
“Only when I’m trying to be a hipster on a budget.”
My wife examined the cans. “It says copyright 2013,” she said. “So we know there were up there since at least then.”
“We moved here in 2015. Could have been the people here before us.”
“Who hides beer cans in drop ceilings?”
“Drunks,” I said. “That’s who.”
“You think they were alcoholics?”
“People who hide bottles or otherwise conceal their drinking usually have a problem with booze.”
When I think about it, the guys who pick up my recycling have a good idea how much I drink. They’ll usually find five or six beer cans in my bin every two weeks and maybe a bottle of wine. After six months in my liquor cabinet, I recently finished a disappointing bottle of Basil Hayden bourbon and tossed it in with the other empties. The guys on the truck must have thought I was on a bender.
“Could have been kids, though,” I said. “They’ll hide beer cans from their parents.”
“But the people who lived here before didn’t have children,” Annie said. “At least not living with them.”
“Maybe a neighbor? A guest? Who knows? And those people didn’t live here very long, remember? The guy was here on business and the lady said she couldn’t wait go back to Southern California. So maybe it was the people before them.”
My house was a rental property before my wife and I bought it and we’re always getting mail for the previous occupants. When I went on one of those “spy on people” websites that promise to tell you what a train wreck you ex-lover has become (Bankruptcies? Divorce? Arrests? All for $29.95!) I punched in my address and found ten people had lived in my house during the past twenty years. As you can imagine, my home was a little beat up when we bought it.
Before it was listed, my realtor caught wind the house was for sale and arranged a tour. When we arrived the lady of the house was home and asked us to take off our shoes and then, after some small talk, disappeared. When the husband came home he didn’t say hi and made a beeline to the garage where he fiddled with his computer. That irked me. It was like we weren’t even there. The house was nicely decorated and impeccably neat. Scratch that, it was scarily neat. Not a mote of dust anywhere. I found the husband’s shirts crisply hanging exactly one inch apart in the closet and his shined shoes arranged with military precision on the floor. Dirt, it seemed, was anathema to them – though perhaps not Coors Light.
A year later the pair showed up unannounced at our door, asking if they had left a wrought iron garden piece behind. I said they didn’t and, truth be told, I didn’t want them to come into the house and see how messy it was. Later a neighbor told me they had wanted to buy the house but, for some reason, they didn’t. Maybe that’s why they were so standoffish. I once has a landlord sell my apartment out from under me and I didn’t like it when prospective buyers were traipsing through my place either – but there was something off about the previous tenants. Maybe they were mad at us. Maybe they were mad at the former owners. Maybe it was all in my head. I’ll never know.
But when I looked them up on those espionage websites I found they had moved out of their SoCal rental to decamp to a more affordable state. Actually, they moved around a lot. When you look at my house on real estate websites the pictures are of the former tenants’ tasteful decorations, not mine. An ad for their recently vacated house in California was decorated the same way – right down to the Tiffany lamp in the bedroom. I should have been a private eye.
It’s possible one of them had a drinking problem. I’ve known lots of people who were neat and orderly on the outside but complete slobs on the inside. A crazy neat house could be a sign of compulsive behavior and, when they don’t get help, those kinds of people tend to self-medicate, sometimes on the sly. But I wouldn’t mind if some of the previous occupants’ neatness rubbed off on us. My wife and I sometimes disagree on what level of mess is acceptable and, when you have a small child, that mess can be epic. But I’ve never felt the need to run into the basement to quaff down booze and then hide my empties in the drop ceiling. However, if bottles of Fat Tire start falling on the heads of the next people who move into my house then you’ll know I succumbed. But that probably won’t happen. Annie and I are pretty neat where it counts.
But the Coors Light Mystery frustrated me. I’ve always felt the need to know other people’s stories. That’s why I write. I also fancy myself as a low rent Phillip Marlowe or Harry Bosch – a detective always trying to tease patterns out of chaos. But two beer cans is flimsy evidence and conjecture is not enough for a conviction. So much about life and people remains stubbornly cloaked in a cloud of unknowing. I’ll probably never find out why those beer cans were in the ceiling. Then it hit me.
A few days after we moved into our house my old and much loathed cable company sent an installer to hook up our television service. He was in that basement too. Maybe he had a couple of cold ones while he worked and hid them in the ceiling. I have a friend who once dug graves and he said it wasn’t unusual to dig up old steel beer cans when they had to stick a widow next to a long predeceased husband. I’d probably want a drink if I was digging a grave too – but hooking up cable? It can’t be that bad. Then again, maybe the installer thought I was standoffish and odd and needed booze to cope. Who knows? He had the time, opportunity and maybe I was the motive. I’m no bowl of cherries either.
But the Coors probably explains why my cable never worked right.