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Busted

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After almost two months of house hunting, I was on the verge of giving up until after the holidays. Pickings were slim. Christmas is not exactly a popular time of year for uprooting one's self or family and selling a home. Furthermore, I had by then driven my agent, Carol, nearly to drink with contradictory signals. One week I'm hot for a townhouse in Chapel Hill, the next I develop an interest in a Durham duplex. In the end, after dozens of showings, I could pull the trigger on none of them. That little voice, the one that says "Eureka!" or warns against regret, never spoke up. It was time for a break.

So when a friend told me of a home about to come on the market in a Durham neighborhood that interested me, I hesitated. Still, I drove past to check it out. It had the big porch I wanted, and a chimney suggested a fireplace of some kind. Throw in hardwood floors and a decent kitchen, and it might have some promise. I called and arranged to drop by.

The owner, a single mom, had recently decided with her beau to get married, and was new to the idea of selling her home. She warned me over the phone that it had not been prepped, but I assured her that I was an old hand at seeing beyond that lived-in look.

When I showed up after work a couple of days later, the owner's young daughter was there, but her teenage son was out. The bungalow-style home did have hardwood floors and a decent kitchen, and coal fireplaces in every bedroom. But when I looked behind the metal cover over the fireplace in one room, I discovered it had been bricked in. I wanted to know if the other fireplaces had also been rendered useless.

I was about to invade that most private of places. Now, I'm not a parent, but I was a teen for seven years (some would say longer), and we all know teens guard their space like momma bear looks out for baby bear. And it seems to me that kids have some pretty good reasons to be secretive. Much of what is fun for adults--sex and booze, for example--is illegal for hormonally-controlled teens. They are also aware of the hypocrisy of anti-drug laws passed by a generation of adults that experimented with them. All in all, there's an uneasy truce with parents, whose status as providers--of food, shelter, life itself--gives them an extra-judicial right of search and, if necessary, seizure.

None of this was on my mind as I entered her teenage son's room, but perhaps it should have been. The place was a wreck. A tall dresser stood just inside the door, blocking the view of, and easy access to, the room. Other furniture (invisible under piles of clothing) was arranged in a pattern similar to those used by Japanese Shoguns, who would arrange the streets and alleys of their cities in such a fashion as to lead invading strangers into dead ends where they could be annihilated.

I picked my way carefully to the fireplace and kneeled down. With momma bear looking over my shoulder, I pulled back the black metal fireplace cover. I looked into the intact fireplace and froze.

"Well," said my host, not altogether astonished at what we both saw, "I've been looking for that for months."

"Fireplace works," I said, trying to change the subject as I replaced the cover. But it was too late. We'd stumbled on his stash, hardly enough for more than a couple of joints. I felt like a narc.

After a few minutes I asked her how she planned to handle the situation. She told me the stuff was going into the toilet as soon as I left--although upon telling this story to friends, they did to a person scoff at that assertion. "She probably smoked it herself," was the common belief. A generation inured to hypocrisy finds it easier to believe that.

As we continued the tour, I began to lose interest in the house. That little voice spoke to me, but not about regret. Not enough storage space, it said.

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