Friday, March 27, 2009

Treasures of Home Renovation (Or, Naughty Archaeology In Your Basement)

Two (three?) years ago, we decided to renovate our tiny bungabox of a house as it was cheaper than going through the hell of selling/buying a new, larger place. We're Olympic-level packrats and the thought of sorting our crap fills us with cold fear, so you can see that renovating was a far better idea.

Anyway, it all took way longer than expected to redo the bathroom, the heating/cooling and build a whole new kitchen off the back of the house, but all in all it was fairly painless. The best part was that everything came in on budget and there were no significant surprises.

Well, except for the home-made porn in the ceiling.

One night, after the electrician had been in to run wiring from our breaker box to the new addition, which involved tearing out the acoustic tile ceiling, I noticed these two old cigarette tins lying on the floor of our basement. They had long hooks made of coathanger wire attached to them and definitely did not belong to me. The husband didn't recognize them either, so we opened them up and found four packages, about the size of baseball cards, wrapped in brown paper. For some reason, no doubt because I was panicking about reno costs, my first thought was "These are old baseball cards, hidden in the ceiling by the son of the former owner AND WE WILL BE RICH." So I opened a package.

I'm certain my scream was heard all over the neighbourhood because what was in the package was not so much baseball cards as images of other, more indoor sports (as Judy Blume used to say). Yes, that's right, we'd stumbled upon a treasure trove of naughty photographs from the late 60s. I know this because many of them, the full colour polaroid shots, were dated on the back. What made it worse was the fact that the background in many of the pictures made it clear that the photos had been taken in our house...which means that the people in the photographs were likely the former owners.

Now, I always knew the house was weird. It's one of the reasons I was able to purchase it so cheaply on my own before I was married. The day I got the keys and a friend and I went over to begin cleaning it up, the next door neighbour practically jumped for joy at the sight of a new person moving in and told me how completely anti-social the former owners had been. Inside the house, it got weirder. For example, the main bedroom was painted, walls and ceiling, in the shiniest of oil paint in a deep, labial pink. Not that there's anything sinister about that kind of decor, but it was odd. There was also a large iron O-ring set in the middle of the ceiling, which I attributed to the fact that the last resident had been an elderly woman who likely needed some sort of pulley system to get out of bed. But in the basement there was a sort of hidden room, only reachable by a door under the stairs, that was positively lacquered in nicotine. Now THAT was weird. It was like a windowless smoke-hole and I couldn't figure out what the room might have been used for.

The tin boxes of happy snaps told me what it was used for, it was their play room! There were a number of pics of the Mister, skyclad, clearly taken in that room, the walls all but obscured with nudie shots. There were also a number of images of the Missus, wearing nothing but a flowered shower cap, posing in the kitchen and bedroom. There's only one shot of the two of them together, so they either had a friend over or figured out the timer on their Polaroid.

The question is, of course, what do you do with these things? Although I have no desire to ever look in the tins again, the archivist (nice name for a packrat) in me just can't throw them out, they're historical documents! Twisted historical documents, but documents nonetheless. And since they were so lovingly preserved and hidden in the ceiling for so long (our theory is that the long wire hooks either secured them in the ceiling or provided and easy way to pull them out for viewing), it would somehow seem wrong to just dump them in the garbage. And now, frankly, they're part of the house's history. So, I think that when we've got the money to renovate the basement properly, we'll just seal them back up in the wall or ceiling and they can sit and wait for the next owner to discover them, long after we're gone.


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