Cabin in the Woods 2015

Once upon a time there was a cabin built on a pine tree-dotted mountain in Northeastern Arizona. At first, it was a simple A-frame used as a summer home, a respite from the heat of a California desert residence.


When my parents retired there, some rooms were added, one filled with windows to let in the sun. It provided a peaceful place to watch birds enjoy the plentiful food provided year round.


There was a deck with a porch swing to watch Blue Jays get up their courage to hop down from trees to feast on raw peanuts left on the rail.

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A window in the living room with glass shelves displayed a collection of Hummels, porcelain German figurines. Upstairs, ceiling fans cooled a large loft where music by Barbra Streisand, Glenn Miller or Pavarotti might be playing.

When entering the house, the scent of freshly baked bread, cakes or chicken & dumplings filled you. You’d find an assortment of homemade pies cooling on the kitchen counter.  The pantry held boxes of recipes, cookbooks and the ingredients needed, its shelves covered with sticky fingerprints as things were fetched.

My dad would welcome visitors by saying “I’m not well you know”– as he had joked for 20 years. My mom might have a little flour in her hair from cooking or she might be quilting. The house was filled with love, laughter and friends.

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Then, in 2010, it all stopped. Both of my parents passed on within months of each other.

The next tenant was a neighbor whose house had burned down. She moved in until her home could be rebuilt. Then there was a lovely lady from Sweden who stayed until a family crisis sent her home.

The most recent tenants had a great credit score, no criminal history and were just out of the military. The wife seemed a bit hyper- but anyone on the planet is hyper compared to me, so it didn’t send up any red flags. They paid their rent mostly on time and didn’t seem too unusual. Then, they gave notice that they needed to move out early. I advertised the cabin for rent again, with them agreeing to show the place. I’m in California and most of the property managers I’d interviewed caused more problems than solutions.

One afternoon I received a call from some prospective tenants who had looked at the house…the cabin in the woods was NOT how it had looked in the photos I’d posted with the rental ad

Hopping a plane, I traveled to Arizona with a former military friend, who is easily the scariest person I know. What we found was intermittent destruction.

The minor stuff: The tenants’ dogs had scratched the bottom of doors, curtain rods had been ripped off the frames and bedroom closet doors removed.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here’s a tour through before and after photos:

The Hummel display window and shelves had been torn out and the place the shelves had sat were filled in with hammered wood so they couldn’t be used again.

Before Living Room and Window (2)After Living Room Window

The living room and stairs had once featured natural tongue and groove wood paneling. Now, it was painted white and unable to be restored.

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Random walls were painted dark brown with a wire rack added for no apparent reason.

Before Wall where Wire Rack and painted Brown After Dining Room Wall painted Brown and wire shelf installedIMG_0677

 The carpet in the loft upstairs and a ceiling fan had been removed.

thBefore Loft with Ceiling Fan that was operational After Loft Carpeting and Ceiling Fan Removed

 In the large bathroom, the wallpaper had been partially torn out, a wood cabinet and medicine cabinet removed–revealing a window to nowhere.

After Large Bathroom Cabinets and Wallpaper Removed After Large Bathroom Medicine Cabinet Removed

In the pantry, the doors to the storage and a cabinet had been removed.

After Pantry Without Doors After Pantry Cabinet Removed

The heart of the house– the kitchen– had been painted like a pro in dark brown. But..the cabinet doors, the range hood and the dishwasher had been removed. The hood’s electrical outlet had been drywalled over and the panels in the ceiling lights were removed.

Before Kitchen (4) After Kitchen showing Lights, cabinet doors and dishwasher removed

Now we get to some weird stuff: piles of computers and electronics were in a bedroom and stacked 10×10 feet outside by the garage. The tenants were mining them for “gold.” They even tried to melt them on the barbecue. The cinder driveway and yard was littered with nails, screws, computer parts, glass and other debris. Each time I used a magnet, it took seconds to fill it.

After Electronics Stacked in Bedroom1 After Electronics Stacked by Garage and Backyard IMG_0917 After Debris and magnet from yard and driveway

The best part? They’d used the back of the kitchen cabinets to write in magic marker about conspiracy theory book titles and, randomly,  “Kombucha”. Kombucha is a probiotic drink, written there like someone was going to rip off the cabinet and take it to the store  “Hmm.. what else do I need?”

After Kitchen Cabinet Writing Closeup

Thus began the forced remodel/restoration of the cabin, done over 2 long weekends. Here are a few things I’ve taken away from the experience:

  • It’s great to have friends– even better to have friends who can do electrical work and carpentry. And even better if they are also skilled in weaponry and defense. The tenants had unsecured assault weapons, so it’s nice when you ask “What if they go for a gun?” and your buddy grins and says “That’s when the fun starts!”
  • Those hideous red curtains the tenants kindly left behind make great drop cloths for painting.
  • There is a thing called “Mountain Time.” Do you believe you don’t get much accomplished? Californians operate at the speed of sound and maybe we should slow down, take time to tell stories and reminisce. I’m not sure, however, if it’s a good thing to do when a customer is waiting to ask a question and you’re a Home Depot  or Lowe’s employee. I did, however, become well known enough there that I had groupies.
  • You can get a lot done in between screaming.
  • The local people know things– like how maybe your tenants might have been smoking a controlled substance. Hmm…that explains a lot.
  • Painter’s tape was invented by a demon from that special part of Hell that makes it rip into shreds or come off in jagged pieces, particularly when you’re tired and want to finish.
  • To the electricians who, over the years, put 10 1/2 pounds of electrical crap in  half ounce holes– if you are dead, my friends and I would like to dig you up and shoot you.
  • Taking time to look at paint samples on the walls is for pussies. Pick some colors from cardboard examples, buy the stuff and rock on.
  • Your problems aren’t really as bad as they seem. I hired a painter who told me about his life, how he’d been thrown out of the house at 13 because his dad didn’t think he was his father and he had to live on the streets. He also he has a son with cerebral palsy.
  • My dad used to say “My wants are many, but my needs are few.” I learned all I needed was a pot to boil water for tea, a bucket of KFC and a few hours of sleep.

In the end, the cabin has been restored, rejuvenated and reawakened- ready for a new chapter. We did a lot in six days:

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Even though it was emotionally hard to put a fresh coat of paint over those sticky fingerprints, this story is once again on its way to a happy ending…after urinalysis and a modern day version of the Spanish Inquisition for the next proposed tenants.

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