I knew this because most of the people living in my neighborhood had lived there all their lives, and they all knew O’Rourke. In fact, even though we lived in that house for 9 years, the neighbors always referred to it as “the O’Rourke house.” O’Rourke had been dead and gone for over a decade when we bought the house, but everyone remembered him fondly as a Good-Time Charlie who always had time for a drink with his neighbors. In other words, he was an alcoholic.
Whenever the house needed maintenance of any kind, O’Rourke always chose the cheapest, quickest solution. If cracks appeared in the plaster walls, O’Rourke put up crappy paneling. If the oak floor was damaged by a water leak, O’Rourke pulled up the boards and replaced them with plywood. Then he covered them with linoleum. The basement was a maze of crudely-arranged piping and dangerous wiring.
We spent years undoing the mess that O’Rourke made of the house. Weekends were spent chipping up linoleum, patching and sanding, sweating and straining, and most of all, cursing O’Rourke.
Now we live in Florida where homes are newer, so we inherited fewer problems. One problem we did inherit was the hedge alongside the pool enclosure.
The previous owner, a guy named Fouts, was not an experienced landscaper. He planted the hedge too close to the enclosure, only 14 inches from the screen. Once those plants grew, they grew up against the screen and pushed against it so strongly that they pushed the screen right out of the frame. When I moved in, one of my first and worst jobs was to cut the hedge back from that screen.
Almost anything will grow in Florida, so Fouts had the choice of dozens of species of hedge plants. In a fit of stupidity, he chose a kind of holly. Holly makes a nice thick hedge, but it’s full of thorny leaves. With only 14 inches to squeeze between the hedge and the screen, I was soon covered with deep scratches. Every few months, I have to squeeze through and cut back anything trying to grow towards the screen. I say terrible things under my breath about Fouts.
As I treat my bloody scratches, I have to ask myself what kind of things I’ve been doing to the house that the next owner will hate me for. Maybe I’ll leave them a drippy faucet or an unfortunate choice of paint, but those are all easily remedied. The thing is, no matter what I do, I’ll be remembered for what I did wrong, not for what I did right. I’m starting to think O’Rourke had the right idea – find time to make friends with the neighbors, and don’t worry about who will own the house after you. No matter what you do, you can’t please everyone, and Karma is cumulative. It’s OK for one person to hate your guts if everybody else remembers you as that nice guy who always had time for a drink and a joke.