Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Little House We Used to Live In

The split-level we lived in in Reston for some years had a colorful past.

We bought it from a Vietnamese entrepreneur who'd made himself quite unpopular with the neighbors by running various unsuccessful businesses out of the place -- skirting zoning regulations by parking his cleaning-service vans in the driveway, trying to have most of the yard paved so he could park more vans in it. The basement was the office of what appeared to be an import-export business. In a musty little room off the windowless basement, there was a baby's crib, a rather depressing fact.

We got the place cheap, as Mr. Vu was what they call a "highly motivated" seller. He scarpered back to Vietnam as soon as the ink was dry on the contract. We got dunning notices in our mail for years.

When we got to know the neighbors a little better -- delightful people who'd lived there since the neighborhood was built in 1969 -- they told us stories of people who'd lived there before us. They were very glad that a relatively normal family had moved in, as some of the previous tenants had been pretty hair-raising. There were stories of the basement being used as a target-practice gallery, for example.

My favorite story also answered some puzzled questions that I'd had about the place. The master bedroom had a gigantic deadbolt lock on the door -- which I got rid of promptly -- and the closet door was a massive mirror, which made the fulfillment of our marital obligations a bit tetchy. We'd catch each other glancing at it to check our technique. Me more than Wonder Woman, I think. I've always been a visual guy.

Sometime back in the Swinging Seventies, two Englishwomen moved into the place. After that, cars would appear in the driveway at odd hours of the day. Never the same cars. But it was all quiet, nobody caused any trouble.

I imagine you can see where I'm going with this. One day, a visitor to the house forgot to set the emergency brake. The driveway was quite a steep slope, and his car rolled back into the street and took out a neighbor's mailbox. My neighbor, observing this, thought she'd do the friendly, and toddled over to tell of the mishap. The garage door was open, as was the door to the kitchen, and she poked her head in.

What greeted her eyes was a flurry of garter belts, push-up bras, stiletto heels -- and a very embarrassed john handing over the Nominal Fee.

Yes, the ladies were running a knocking-shop. In our quiet, mundane, bourgeois little leafy cul-de-sac, where children played in the street and mailmen whistled their way through their routes, Number 2406 was...a bordello. A cathouse. A brothel.

You just never know what's going on behind closed doors...

I'm reminded of this passage from Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"...
All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and grey roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amidst the light green of the new foliage.

"Are they not fresh and beautiful?" I cried, with all the enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker-street.

But Holmes shook his head gravely.

"Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation, and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

"Good heavens," I cried. "Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?"

"They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

8 comments:

Tom W. said...

Neddie - my all-time fave Holmes passage! Great to see it again...I've thought of it many times when tooling around country lanes...

Roger D. Parish said...

Re: the Holmes passage; something for me to think about the next time I'm walking down Stevens Road! ;-)

EmployeeoftheMonth said...

Similar experience with the purchase of my current home from, as we lovingly referred to, "the habitual-liar-con-man-criminal". He had a combination cut-rate retirement home, questionable construction company, and phone boiler room operation humming at all hours. (the gangs of phone lines in my house make Embarq techs weep) Of the bedroom's massive mirrors, we shall not speak.

We were set upon by the neighbors as we were moving in, not unlike citizens of formerly occupied country upon seeing liberating allied forces. Vigorously shaking our hands, offering to help carry stuff, lunch brought over, etc. Many were still in shock that their long-suburban nightmare was now over.

As to the brothel, thats up three and on the right at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Kevin Wolf said...

Methinks the carefree whistle of the passing mailman is also explained thereby.

Clare-asil said...

Damn! Right in my own backyard, Neddie!

I too, bought a fixer-upper in an otherwise "wholesome" neighborhood. Six years later, still getting bankruptcy notices from the previous owners, who fled to Bulgaria.

See, I TOLD you I read this thing every day...

Tom said...

I lived in Memphis in the second half of the Nineties, and during that time the local authorities methodically shut down the local massage parlors. The last bordello that they shut down, however, was in a subdivision in Germantown, Memphis' main suburb.

Really, such places are ideal for that sort of commercial activity, aren't they? McMansions have way more rooms than the owners know what to do with, anyway. Your former neighbors seem to have paid attention, but I don't think that that would necessarily be the case with some of these newer developments--I keep expecting the next housing craze to be the extension of ten-foot-high backyard fences to the front yards, as well. Look for the next multi-level-marketing scheme to be something that your friends and relatives will use more often, and more enthusiastically, than all that Amway soap.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Honestly, I didn't think Reston even existed in 1969. I always thought it just sprung into existence around 1990 or so.

SV said...

And here I though I was unusual in growing up in a completely stereotypically boring suburb, with sterotypical boring big lawns and welcome wagon housewives, right across the street from Mrs. M____ who had, um, unusual taste and lots of boyfriends and no apparent job...