Household mysteries

My desk was "Grown in Washington State." The washing machine is a "Producto de Ecuador." And the kitchen counters are really "California Navels."

This, at least, is what it says on the little stickers affixed to them.

You know which stickers I mean. The ones originally attached to fresh fruit. These stickers migrate throughout the house, fastening themselves onto every surface.

I asked my two sons how this keeps happening and they are in agreement: "We don't know."

It's a mystery, one of those unexplained phenomena that occur all the time in homes where there are children. It's enough to make parents think their houses are haunted.

Lights left on in unoccupied rooms. Radios turned on by unseen hands. Toys arranged on tabletops in arcane patterns, as if to spell out some message from the beyond. Furniture moves around the room so I can find it in the dark with my little toe. Sometimes, whole rooms are rearranged into scenes from Dali paintings. Dirty socks creep around the house and hide in unlikely places, such as behind the TV or under sofa cushions.

The most obvious deduction: The children are responsible for these eerie anomalies. But they deny all knowledge of how candy wrappers end up in dresser drawers or how magazines get all wet. When confronted with such household conundrums, they go all wide-eyed and shruggy. It's beyond explanation, they indicate, one of the universe's sly tricks.

If the boys are eliminated as suspects, that only leaves poltergeists. My wife certainly wouldn't go around putting fruit stickers on the furniture. And the dog doesn't have any fingers. He couldn't peel a sticker off an apple if his life depended on it.

Why would ghosts ply such mischief? If they want us out of the house, if we're sitting atop an ancient graveyard or something, they could give me one healthy "boo" and I'd sign over the deed in a flash. I saw "The Amityville Horror." I wouldn't wait around until things got out of hand. But no, these ghosts' evil plot doesn't revolve around fright. They seem bent on annoying me until I falsely accuse my poor innocent children of leaving puddles of warm juice on the floor.

These apparitions apparently are computer-literate. Every time I sit down at my computer, all the settings have been changed. Unfamiliar wallpaper greets me. Icons are rearranged on the desktop. The ghosts leave disks or CD-ROMs in drives, which confuses an awakening computer, forcing reboots. Phantom files appear that can be neither opened nor deleted. My cursor, normally a quick one-dimensional arrow, becomes a staggering drunk of a pointer, leaving little images of itself in its wake.

Grave annoyances, but my children swear they know nothing about them. I curse and fume. Somewhere in the house, the ghosts must be laughing their sheets off.

The other day, I was writing at my computer ("Fresh To You From Sunny Mexico"). The kids were at school. My wife was at work. The dog was asleep. The house was blissfully silent. Without warning, a loud whirring commenced behind me. I surveyed the room's electrical appliances, puzzled that one might've suddenly come to life on its own.

Just as I ascertained that the videocassette recorder was rewinding a tape all by itself, the whirring stopped and the machine spit out the tape. Then the VCR just sat there, the tape protruding like a mocking tongue, its red eyes glowing.

It gave me the creeps. I kept my distance, but the VCR didn't seem to have anything more diabolical on its agenda. After a while, I returned to my work, trying to stifle the notion that the house was possessed. Naturally, I'd lost the thread of whatever I was writing.

After much thought, I concluded the boys must've left the VCR running. It reached the end of the tape, automatically rewound and upchucked the tape. No mystery after all. But the kids denied ever using the VCR. And, if they didn't do it, then we're once again faced with the specter of paranomal activity.

I need help from professional ghostbusters. I'm thinking of calling Mulder and Scully. The truth is out there.

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