Mystery Deconstructed

The ongoing adventures of Sally Smart, cub reporter


“Where is the house that was deconstructed? And are the owners at home?”

Sally Smart, cub reporter, had pulled her car over to talk legally on her cell phone. The traffic on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard was thick with after-school rides; the Marin moms were out in force. In the shade on Butterfield Road, Sally watched a few plaid-skirted girls—San Domenico students—stroll by with curious looks at her car, now splattered with bird droppings. She should have picked a different place to park.

“I’m sorry,” answered the voice of the public relations flak. “But the owners of the home do not wish to speak with you or to be identified in your article.”

Sally felt the tense rush of adrenalin that accompanies major setbacks on deadline day. “Well, I’m practically in Ross right now,” she said. “Can I at least stop by the house and get some pictures?”

“Oh, no,” said the voice. “You can’t see the place. It would be a violation of their privacy.” Sally got off the call and threw the phone on the passenger seat. So why am I here? Why am I even writing an article about them?

Deconstruction. She had been sent to write about it. All she’d discovered was that the house, owned by who knows who, was hidden somewhere in one of the wealthiest communities in Marin, the wealthiest per capita county in California, itself the richest state in the richest nation in the world. Sally put the car in gear and steered toward Fairfax, where her car would not be conspicuous and where she could hopefully find her construction expert, Rob the Builder. He would know what to do.

Fifteen minutes and one call later, Sally watched Rob the Builder walk into the Sleeping Lady Cafe, order a beer and hold out his iPhone saying, “See those French doors? Those are double-paned, pure oak. Solid brass handles.” Sally nodded, not seeing anything more than a fuzzy snapshot of some workers carrying pieces of a house around. “This is top-quality stuff,” said Rob the Builder. “And it’s going to be used again in a home built by Habitat for Humanity or by a similar organization called Corazon. If the doors won’t work in a house, then they’ll be sold to the public at the ReStore, which sells stuff they can’t use in the houses. The public can buy them, and the money funds the nonprofit.”

Sally nodded slowly at Rob, then glanced enviously at the beer the waitress had set by him. Today was one day she thought drinking on the job not such a bad idea. But Sally, a cub reporter of high integrity, never broke the rules. She’d ordered an iced tea so she could concentrate on her deadline and ponder how she was supposed to write a faceless feature article about a house project for unnamed owners completed at a secret address that she couldn’t visit. Sigh. Maybe just a very, very small beer would help.

“Look on the bright side, Sal,” said Rob. “So what if you don’t have a face for your article? Whoever those Ross homeowners were, they took a green step by keeping the guts of a 3,000-square-foot house out of the landfill, and instead donating all of its reusable parts to charity. They were following the lead of a nonprofit called Deconstruction and ReUse. Check out their website.” He tapped a bit on the iPhone again and on the screen appeared photographs of homes from all over California, remodeling sites from which the deconstructed materials had gone on to have a second life, rather than go to landfills.

“This is amazing,” said Sally. “Looks like people are catching on to a radical new trend—to stop throwing useful things away. I bet it’s revolutionizing the construction industry since—no offense—you guys put more tons of stuff in the landfill than anyone else.”

“Not me,” said Rob the Builder. “Not anymore. I’ve joined the Deconstruction and ReUse Network.” Sally smiled and grabbed her pen. “Hey, can I quote you on that?”

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