Tuesday, September 29, 2015

COLUMN: The Watcher

The only bad part about being on vacation is that you miss out on some truly amazing news stories that break while you're away. Blink for one second and the next thing you know, Donald Trump is a legitimate candidate to lead the free world, Ben and Jen have split up, orange clearly IS the new black, and my cousins in Alabama are now living in fear of northern liberals kicking in their door and forcing them to gay-marry with wild abandon. Worse yet, for some strange reason I can't find a single episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard" OR "The Cosby Show" to watch. Hmm.

But my favorite news story of the past month comes out of Westfield, New Jersey, and sets a new bar for creepiness. Some news stories can be shocking. Some can be downright disturbing. But only every once in a while do you find a story that's SO off-putting and disconcerting that it almost comes around full circle to being impressive, just so long as it's not happening to YOU. This is one of those stories.

It first grabbed my eye because it was about a real estate deal. Being a relatively recent home-buyer myself, I know a thing or two about real estate. I distinctly remember calling a realtor, I vividly recall signing about 18,542 documents, and I clearly remember that hollow feeling in my stomach when my first mortgage bill arrived. The rest is kind of a blur.

Somewhere in that blur, though, was a home inspection to ensure nothing was tragically wrong with the property. And there's a disclosure agreement somewhere along the way where the previous owner has to tell you if the house has hidden problems like mold or termites. Or, perhaps, a deranged stalker that haunts the property and makes your every waking moment a terrifying hellscape.

That's the premise behind a million-dollar lawsuit that was filed this month out in Westfield. Maybe you've heard the story by now, but if not, let's recap.

Derek and Maria Broaddus thought they found the dream home to raise their three children when they dropped $1.3 million on a rather unassuming upscale family house in Westfield. But mere days after signing the papers, the letters started arriving.

"I AM THE WATCHER," read the first one. "DO YOU HAVE YOUNG BLOOD?"

Eww. That alone is ridiculously creepy. If I had a family and THAT letter showed up at my door, I'd have called U-Haul before I got to the first adjective. But it didn't stop there. Here are some gems from the letters that followed:

(Note: I've determined it's best to read these using the creepiest inner monologue you can muster. The one I usually fall back on sounds like Christopher Walken imitating the Cookie Monster. Give it your best shot.)

"I am pleased to know your names now and the names of the young bloods you have brought me. Will the young bloods play in the basement? I have been in control of the house for the better part of two decades now. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920's. My father watched it in the 1960's. It is now my time. Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time, they will. All of the windows and doors allow me to watch you and track you as you move through the house."

Yeah, that sets off a red flag or two. Or eleventy billion. And "The Watcher" claims to have "instructed" the previous owners to sell the house, hence the lawsuit. The previous owner's ads for the house mention the high coffered ceilings, elegant foyers, and built-in window seats and fireplaces, but strangely don't mention anything about the complimentary crazypants stalker included in the deal.

Personally, without knowing any of the real details, I have two hunches. I say that either (a) some neighborhood kids are having the most epic prank of their lives, or (b) one of the families just went to some pretty extreme measures to back out of a bad real estate deal. But for now, let's just take everything at face value and assume that this house is, in fact, plagued by a multi-generational family of diabolical peeping Toms.

My only question, then, would be this: How do you, as The Watcher, pass the torch to the next generation?

"Son, can you come here a minute?"
"Yes, papa!"
"Son, your birthday's coming up and you're on your way to becoming a man."
"That's right. I want a pony! Oh, please buy me a pony, papa!"
"Son, it's time you learned about the family business."
"Oh, hurray!"
"One day my father taught me the family business, and his father taught him. Now it's your turn."
"Ooh! I'm excited, papa! Do tell me! Oh please do!"
"Okay, son, here it is. Look out the window there. Do you see that house over there?"
"Why, yes, papa! It's a fine house!"
"Well, we watch it."
"We... watch it?"
"That's right, son. It's what we do. We are The Watchers."
"Err... okay, papa. I will watch the house. What do we watch FOR, exactly?"
"Well, it's hard to... I guess we watch it for young blood, mostly."
"I don't understand, papa."
"Someday you will, son. Someday you will."
"So, that's a NO on the pony, then?"

It just seems like a rather odd family legacy to pass down, no? I guess you should always avoid that car with the bumper sticker that says, "My kid stalked your honor roll student."

And for a guy who prides himself on being The Watcher, he sure seems to be doing a lousy job at it. I mean, I'm no expert in the field of Contemporary Watching or anything, but shouldn't you go into the project with at least a modest attempt at clandestine stealth and secrecy? After all, you're The Watcher, not The Letter Writer. This would be the equivalent of deciding you're going to stalk someone and kicking it off by waving a huge sign in front of their face that says, "I AM STALKING YOU NOW."

Yes, I know we live in a world where there is certainly no shortage of nutbag weirdos running around. And yes, I've watched enough Lifetime movies to know there's no such thing as a funny stalker. If these letters are legit and this family really is being terrorized, I don't blame them one bit for raising a stink and suing everyone they can.

But on the bright side, there might be a million dollar dream home about to go back on the market for pennies on the dollar. I don't have any kids to worry about and I'm fresh out of "young blood," so deal me in. If some sicko wants to Watch me, he can have at it. If you get your kicks peeping at a middle-aged fatty while he lays on the couch eating chips and binge-watching "Alaska State Troopers," more power to you. But honestly, The Watcher, if you really want to intrude on someone's privacy and insert yourself into their lives where you don't belong, why go to all this trouble? Just do what the rest of us do and friend them on Facebook. If nothing else, it'll save you some money on stamps.

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