The Middle Ages: Our house has hemorrhoids and mysterious thuds. But darker threats lurk here too

They hear something in the vents. A rodent? A raccoon? Or some other flavor of forest creature.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

It’s not a bad house; it’s not a great house. It’s just a house, and it keeps us safe and warm.

Like many homes, it’s in a constant state of disrepair. Houses are living entities. They have circulatory systems. They have bones. They have checkered pasts and tiny regrets.

Our house also has hemorrhoids, osteoporosis and is mildly haunted, which comes in handy as Halloween approaches.

Adding to the spooky vibe, my wife, Posh, and second daughter, Rapunzel, heard something scampering in the walls last Saturday and texted me in panic:


“SOS we just heard something in the vents! Hurry!!!!!!!”

At the time, I was half-watching college football at my pal’s house. Believe me, the last thing I was going to do was hurry.

“ARE YOU LEAVING YET?” they texted 20 minutes later, sensing somehow that I wasn’t hurrying. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”

Of course, they are right about something in the vents. Mostly, it’s hair ribbons and lint. Paper clips and Christmas tree hooks. A cuff link from back when I wore cuff links. Lots of missing homework. Old Valentines. Puppy teeth. Stamps.

There are services that will come in to vacuum out your vents. That’s yet another luxury we can’t afford. Like oil changes. Like bread.

Now, apparently, we have something scampering around our air conditioning vents. It’s probably some flavor of forest creature, similar to the pink-eyed little pets the kids had to have when they were in second grade.

I’ll always remember the story of a family whose hamster escaped into the walls and started chewing the wiring. When you consider that, we’re lucky the critter is restricted to the air conditioning vents.

Besides, I really doubt that there is a critter in the vents. Like me, vents are a closed system, with minimal access.


I spend weekends tending to the dogs, repairing the house or hanging with my buddy Paul, who is going through some more medical crud.

But try convincing Posh and Rapunzel of that. Doesn’t help that, as they napped together later, our wise-guy son tapped his finger nails across the bedroom door, simulating something flitting about, feeding they’re absolute worst fears: that there’s something in our vents.

“STOP IT! STOP IT!” they yelled, and if you felt the Earth shake a little last Saturday, it was probably that.

As a dad, I am the starship commander of the dark and ominous. If there’s a strange thump in the night, they call me. I’m like a plumber or a cop … they want to see me only in emergencies, then they can’t thank me enough. In such moments, I feel like a Korean boy band.


Trust me, if you were a Korean boy band that also did plumbing, you’d never be alone.

Other than during home emergencies, they mostly ignore me, which is how I prefer it. I spend weekends tending to the dogs, repairing the house or hanging with my buddy Paul, who is going through some more medical crud.


Lately, I seem to be living from one scan to the next … biopsies and doctor visits, MRIs and blood work. “Cancer” is the lousiest word in the language; it’s not even close. It is life’s most unfair card, and it shows an affinity for — ironically — some of God’s finest work.


In this case, both my wife and best buddy. I can only hope that if I’m ever in their moccasins, I show half their courage.

As might be expected, I’ve been having the weirdest dreams lately, especially if I eat ice cream before bed. I call them “ice cream dreams,” and they are like Tim Burton flicks — kind of twisted, occasionally joyous, like life itself, I suppose.

The other night, I dreamed that Paul and I were hiking through a nature preserve. As we walked, two puppets popped their heads out of a duck blind. Duck blinds are pretty rare in nature preserves, but then again, so are puppets.

“What we’d like to do,” one puppet said, “is put you two on porpoises.”


“On purpose?” asked Paul.

“No, on porpoises,” the first puppet said.

“What would be the porpoise of that?” I asked.

“We’re going to put you on porpoises and see how it goes,” the second puppet explained matter-of-factly.


At that point, I woke up, because our 300-pound beagle “needed to be milked again.” The beagle is like faux livestock, and “needs to be milked” is code for “needs to go out.” Somehow, when we say, “He needs to be milked,” it softens the aggravation of having to let the needy dog out 1,000 times a day.

“Come on, you idiot meatball,” which is my pet name for the 300-pound beagle. He’s got the bladder of a Shetland pony and the brains of a dragonfly.

Yet, he’s still loved, in that twisted, joyous, Tim Burton kind of love we have for difficult dogs and mouthy children.

And yeah, I talk to dogs. All the time.


Wouldn’t you?

Twitter: @erskinetimes