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An Interesting Story

Updated on March 3, 2011

Nothing like checking up with old friends and finding out a funny situation had grown to look like a Monty Python skit, of sorts. The following events are true and have been building up over the years and recently reached its conclusion just a few weeks ago. The event I am about to share with you happen the way you are reading it but the names have been changed.

For a while I was staying in Berkeley, California. While living there I met a lot of great people as well as encountering people who made die-hard Liberals look like Ronald Reagan. Having to deal with many city laws and ordinances any person can easily break the law and not even know it. It was at this time staying here that I realized that I had an accent. Living all my life in North Carolina never dawned on me that a huge majority of people couldn't understand a word I said. But that’s another story I'll share later.

While staying in Berkeley I was sharing a house with a few other people. One of the joys of living with co-workers. Life was going great as most of our time was watching, for a lack of better word, a group of hippies that grew their own clothing from their over grown yard of weeds as the smell of strange scents drifted from their rented house. The neighbors on the other side of our place were more normal. During the Summer time we would get together at our place for a cook-out while the hippie’s called us murderers for eating meat. Ah, good times.

Our normal neighbors, Max and Raquel had been renting the house from a Real Estate agency for about ten years by the time I moved into the neighborhood. They were able to get a great deal on it when they first moved in. The house had been vacant and was in need of major repairs. They made an agreement with the agency to deduct the price of repairs from the rent. Needless to say they were able to live there for a little over three years before they even began to pay any form of rent.

When they first moved into the house, the back yard was over grown with untrimmed trees and vines covering all parts of the house, rusted plumbing as with the electrical system requiring a huge upgrade. The house needed painting as with several floor boards and crack drywall in need of replacement. A huge task but this was what this couple loved to do in their spare time. Even the real estate agent was impressed with the remodeling that they returned the couples security deposit. These people made Bob Villa look like Mr. Bean.

One side of the house was left almost untouched. The trees still appeared overgrown with a few vines clinging to the house. They kept thick curtains on all the downstairs’ windows which most people did on this side of the street due to the strong sunlight during the afternoon time. But the real reason for the over growth and thick curtains was due to a more money saving effort. But over time as the remodeling had come to a finish they became bored with little to do so as they always did, they planned to find another fixer-upper to move into. In time their luck worked with them as his job required them to move to another state where they were able to find several house to choose from.

Before their departure, we had a huge party that even their real estate agent came. Due to the work they did on the house and their friendship with the Realtor they were able to get another couple they work with to move into the house. And so as Max and Raquel moved on with their life, the new neighbors, Brandon and Lynn Ann became close friends with us with summer cook-outs as with outings to different places. Max and Raquel did inform the new couple in on their big secret so as the years marched on, Brandon and Lyn Ann family grew to include a son.

In time Brandon and his family had moved on as well. As with the hippie family, they were arrested due to an electrical short circuited causing a small fire leading the police to find the entire basement covered with marijuana plants. Another couple, Henry and Sonoko eventually moved into the house after Brandon and Lyn Ann left but they kept mostly to themselves. They were never told Max and Raquel’s big secret. Over time they began cleaning up the side of the house with the overgrowth and discovered something rather interesting.

Upon clearing the overgrowth away they found a window that over the years was not visible from inside the house. It seemed that Max had built a book case that covered the whole window area that from inside the room you would never have known a window was there. On the outside window was a place card declaring the building to be vacant. Near the newly discovered window was the power meter. And then the real entertainment began. It seems that when Max and Raquel were fixing up the house they discovered the power meter as well as the vacant place card.

They decided to try something that apparently worked pretty well. As the power company came around to check the meter, they would instinctively go to where the meter is located at. Putting thick curtains on the nearby window as well as building a book case around the window to not only block the inside lighting but sound as well. The Meter Reader would see the Vacant building sign before trying to make their way through the overgrowth to reach the meter. Naturally as it was proven, they would simply give up trying to get to the meter and would simply record the last reading from the meter. No power used so no power bill to pay.

So as the Meter Reader made his rounds again discovered the newly trimmed area and successfully recorded an accurate reading from the meter. And as the couple received their first power bill were understandably shocked. I was told that it was over $100,000. Needless to say the new tenants challenge the bill and they were able to clear themselves of having to pay the total amount which was passed on to the Rental Agency. They tried to locate the former tenants with no results. Max and Raquel had already moved a few times over the years and couldn’t be found quickly.

Brandon and Lynn Ann were contacted but seeing as they were now living in Connecticut chooses not to talk to the Realtors about it. Max and Raquel were located and threatened to appear in court and forced to pay the total amount. This led to an interesting development of sorts. When Max made a written agreement to deduct the cost of repair to the house from the rent there was a much worded clause to cover any future expenses relating to the house’s up-keep. In layman’s terms, the Realtor became stuck paying the full power bill.

So as unlikely that this will ever happen again, it’s great hearing these kinds of stories from old friends. An occasional letter from time to time eventually paints a masterpiece that as the full story is unfolding, keeps us connected no matter how far apart we live.

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