When my wife, Sharon, was to have surgery, I spent three weeks with two of my sons, Jason and Travis, who were attending a large university. They were living in an old house they’d rented on Elm Street.
I hadn’t seen their house before, though I remembered some of my friends’ rented houses when I was in school, and they weren’t for the faint of heart.
If you’ve ever been in a house rented by male college students, you know what I mean. If not, can you say "filth"?
But I knew that my boys had been raised properly and that they wouldn’t live like heathens.
When I arrived outside their house, I thought it didn’t look too bad. The windows weren’t all broken out, the outside walls had been painted sometime within the last century, trash didn’t litter the yard (not the whole yard, anyway), and there was an occasional blade of grass sticking out of the front yard dirt.
The first inkling that I was in trouble arrived when I saw the wheelchair ramp they’d made so I could go up the five steps to the porch.
Now this wasn’t a master carpenter’s creation. It appeared to be made of any type of scrap material they could scrounge up, and held together with a few nails, one screw, what seemed to be twine and prodigious amounts of duct tape. It looked like an enlarged, lower-tech, horror-show version of the Mousetrap Game.
Surprisingly, I made it to the porch, ignoring the squeaks, shrieks and moans that came from the ramp as I crossed it. Those sounds were hard to ignore, especially since I was making them. Happy to be alive, I rolled on into the house.
Then I wasn’t so happy. The interior looked as if it had been designed by the Addams Family Decorating and Furnishing Company. Not only did it look like a haunted house, but it was absolutely filthy, with dirty dishes everywhere and half-full glasses stashed behind, under or in every couch and chair.
I told the boys I was very disappointed with them for not cleaning it up for me. They said it hurt them to hear me say that, after all the hard work they’d spent cleaning it up for me.
We had raised them right — so what happened? I blamed it on their mother. It had to be one of us, and I’m the only one that I know for sure was a perfect parent.
So I had Jason and Travis do some more cleaning. But, knowing that single college boys have a perverse sense of pride in a messy house, I let them stop when they left "filthy" and reached the "severely dirty" stage. I could put up with it for three weeks.
After all, I was the one invading their apparently desperate lives. About the last thing college boys want is for their dad to be around for three weeks straight. I knew it would cramp their style with the girls.
So I was amazed when both boys told me I was helping their image with girls. I was filled with pride knowing that the girls thought more highly of my sons because of the impression I made. They obviously figured my boys would grow up to be like me.
One night during my stay, a pretty, socially conscious young lady stared at me very intently from across the room, after she’d finished speaking to another young person. It was a look of warmth and caring, with a tint of sadness.
It was painfully obvious that she really liked me, but was saddened that I was happily married, and she had no chance with me. It gave me an ego boost but also made me feel sorry for her, with her undisguised longing.
My ego enhancement was short-lived, however. The next night I was in bed, and through the wall I overheard one of my sons talking to another girl he was trying to impress. He said he’d given some of his clothes to a homeless person with a disability and was allowing him to sleep in one of the extra bedrooms.
I’ve never forgiven him for that.
The worst part of my stay was the bugs. I lived for three weeks with insects and spiders, including some species I’d never seen before. Some of them were so big they would have given an Arkansas razorback nightmares.
My first night there, I was protected from the largest bugs by either their dog or cat, which slept on my bed. I couldn’t tell which one it was, but I could feel the mattress sag when it got into my bed in the middle of the dark night.
The next day I asked the boys what their dog’s or cat’s name was.
They responded, "Dog? Cat?"