Letter from This Old House, April, 2010

"There's no arguing about it," I said to my wife. We were two years into our remodel and out of savings, and I was feeling robbed. I said, from the bait-and-switch appliance salesman to the contractor with a con man's way of talking you into extras and out of checks, the remodeling game seems to have way more than its share of vaguely criminal characters. "Except the homeowner—how often is the homeowner the outlaw?" I said. "Almost never." Which is why I was so surprised when a pair of cops banged on our door at three in the morning with a warrant for my arrest.

My wife, awakened by the noise, came down the stairs. "This is highly irregular," she said. "Let me see the warrant." She spoke with the authority you'd expect from a defense attorney, which she's not, though to her credit she has watched every episode of Law & Order. And Law & Order: SVU. And Law & Order: Criminal Intent. One of the officers handed it to her. She glanced at it, then back at the cop. She said, "I have no idea what this means." The cop said, "Yeah, me either. Never seen that code before."

She looked at me as if to say, Boy, you've really done it this time. The cop slapped on the cuffs, and off I went. Truth be told, I figured it was all a mix-up. But it wasn't, and before long I was sitting in a cell between a parole-violating ex-con and a guy wanted for armed robbery. A sergeant finally came by and asked me, "What's the charge?"
"Don't you know?" I asked.
He said, "A wise guy, huh?" and reached for the paperwork. "Never seen that code before." He flipped through the Municipal Code book in his hand, stopped on a page, paused, and said, "Oh, you're a hard case, you are." He gave me a cold stare. "Littering," he said. "You put trash in someone's dumpster, never paid the fine." The robbery suspect and the ex-con gave me dirty looks.

It was another four hours before I paid my fine and got home to find my loving wife…fast asleep. "Weren't you even worried about me?" I shouted, waking her up. "I'm getting pinched by five-o, spending the night with perps in the big house, and you're on the outside under a down comforter, sawing logs?"

"Why are you talking like that?" she asked. "Besides, I looked up the code online. When I saw it was a fine for putting stuff into a dumpster, I figured it was a mistake—you only take stuff out of dumpsters," she said. "That's what you need to be arrested for."

It's true, I do like to garbage pick. But the cops had me dead to rights this time. I did put trash—an OJ container, eggshells, some junk mail—in a dumpster. It was one right in front of my house. It was full of debris from the demo my contractor was doing in my basement. Unfortunately for me, the permit for the dumpster I ultimately paid for was in the contractor's name. The junk mail wasn't, and some Barney Fife on the prowl saw the discrepancy and wrote a summons, and the rest is now legend. Or at least a good story.

P.S. Speaking of good stories—what about you? Do you have a tale of home improvement gone wrong? A yarn about some miscarriage of remodeling justice? We at This Old House would love to hear it. And we'll put the best of them in our upcoming Reader-Created Issue. Drop me a note at scott@thisoldhouse.com
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