Monday, June 26, 1995
So a lawyer calls me asking about a house that I repaired, a house just two doors down the street from my own. The house has been sold. The buyer is suing the seller for fraud and nondisclosure. The lawyer's voice is precise. Immediately I sense the chill, the threat of large sums of money changing hands. Hopefully not my money.
"I understand you did plumbing in that house."
"Did you install a graywater line?"
A graywater line is a way to dispose of wash water - never toilet water - by a system less elaborate, and much less expensive, than a septic tank. They're not allowed in San Mateo County, but lots of rural folk install them because they combine two good things: they dispose of soapy waste, and they water the plants. Generally, the county inspectors pretend not to see them.
"When you installed it, were the owners aware that it was illegal?"
"Yes. I told them. I installed it at their request. And then later I noticed that they tore it out. They said it was smelly. And then even later I noticed they'd restored it themselves. So whatever is there now is something they did themselves. They never talked to me about it. I'd stopped working for them by that time."
"Why did you stop?"
"They stopped hiring me."
"Do you know why?"
"I raised my rates. They were ... uh ... frugal." Jake was a schoolteacher who tended to stray from the curriculum; Mindy was a seamstress who sold her handmade tie-dye dresses at flea markets. Both of them tended to engage in wishful thinking. Mindy liked poetry and birds. Jake liked poetry and college football. I'm sure they had no money saved up beyond the equity that had accumulated in their house. They hired me when I was first starting out, paying me as I was learning on the job, and to them I'm grateful for that.
Like most of La Honda, their cabin had been built in the 1930's when the town was a summer home community. During the hippie invasion of the 1960's, Mindy and Jake had bought a place and converted it - whimsically - into a year-round dwelling. Unfortunately for the plumbing, the cabin was at the bottom on a sloping piece of land. As a summer home, lightly used, maybe the location wasn't a problem, but as a full-time residence, it was a drainage disaster.
One more thing: they had a dog named Gandalf who was the bad boy of the neighborhood. One time when he had my dog in a death grip, I broke a two by four over Gandalf's back. Another time after Gandalf had broken into his house and impregnated his dog, my next-door neighbor wanted to borrow my rifle and shoot him. Another time Gandalf attacked a seeing-eye dog in Golden Gate Park - and Jake not only didn't intervene but also pretended he didn't know whose dog it was.
The people who had bought the house were a nice hardworking couple with a young boy.
"Do you remember the layout of their house?"
"Did you install a downstairs bathroom?"
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. They asked me once, but I told them their downstairs was below the level of the septic tank, so the only way they could drain the bathroom would be with a septic pump which the county wouldn't allow. And it would cost more than they would want to pay anyway. And even if they could somehow get the waste to the septic tank there was no place for an additional leach line which they would need. In fact, there's no place for any leach line for that cabin and I have no idea what happens to their septic water and I bet they have no idea either."
"So you have nothing to do with the downstairs bathroom?"
"There's a downstairs bathroom?"
"We'll be in touch."
I would never hear from that lawyer again. Forces of karma - and civil law - would grind Mindy and Jake to bits.
They were irresponsible. But I'd always sort of liked them.