I’ve been at it again. Cleaning out my house. My therapy. And also, kind of a strategic get out of jail plan. In the next year to 18 months I plan to move, and sell or rent out my home — the former hoarder’s house to which I fled upon the demise of my marital bliss — just one half step ahead of the hot flaming lava chasing me from my volcano of debt. Dramatic, I know.
So might as well start the pre-listing clean out now, right? Plus the kids are not here and I need to alter my surroundings. Again. And, it’s freee entertainment, which is a necessity right now, the free part.
I needed to seriously clean. Things are dirty. Even though I always felt like I was cleaning all the time, I wasn’t really cleaning. I was straightening up and clearing and cleaning around things — and those people I made — and dogs — but I never had all the stuff out of the way long enough to get to the really deep cleaning.
We had downsized already when we moved here and got rid of around 2/3 of our possessions. Many other belongings were removed along the way as I realized I still didn’t have room for them. My parents got my formal sofa and chairs (and I got rid of their outdated stuff) some other casual furniture purchased for the house just didn’t fit. I get rid of things all the time. But as the kids grew in our modestly sized home, we have been stepping over each other. Literally. We’re all relatively and objectively tall and have large feet and long legs. We take up a lot of room. And the sprints to be the first one to get the only bathroom in the house were getting serious, and a bit dangerous. But now the kids are gone for a while — a college thing — to be discussed in another post — it’s time for me to, as a good friend I recently reconnected with said, “reset.”
“Reset.” I like that.
As part of my clean out, clean up, and just clean, I went through an ottoman that doubles for “storage” of our miscellaneous electronics. I’d throw any cord I couldn’t identify, or those I could identify but did not need at that moment, old phones, parts of video games, remote controls, etc. in there. Some of these electronics were even in baggies to keep them from tangling around each other. I was proud of that and that at least most of the stuff in there was part of the same category. But I hadn’t taken out everything in years.
And at the bottom of the cords, games, adapters, phones, remote controls, and extension cords, there was a cassette tape. (For those of you who are not familiar, cassettes were used to store audio information before CDs, and CDS were and are used when music cannot be accessed from phones, or there is an absence of wifi or available data.)
This particular cassette was an audio recording of my wedding.
The church where I married recorded everything that happened there. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I assume this was to preserve sermons and music. In my case it preserved our voices stating our now defunct wedding vows, along with some really good music (I had a brass quartet at my wedding. It was beautiful . . . but I digress) and it recorded the reading of probably the saddest poem ever read at a wedding, “The People Who Never Say Goodbye.” This was a cry for help. As I’ve said before, ladies, your job as bridesmaids is not limited to showers, bachelorette parties, and shopping for dresses. Your job is to read the room, the bride, and call the whole thing off if necessary. Almost a Runaway Bride
My first thought was just to throw the cassette away, like my husband did with our vows. No fuss, no muss, no pomp, no circumstance. A Twitter friend suggested that I burn the tape. I’m no stranger to the burn. This ain’t my first rodeo. My Wedding Album. In response I joked that if I was a guy I’d whip “it” out and pee on it. The same Twitter friend reminded me — “You could squat.” Smiling about that, I put it on the table while I finished going through the electronics. Maybe, I thought, I’ll just listen to the music.
My next find wasn’t really a find.
I knew they were there. While cleaning out the medicine cabinet, I saw my old friends Mr. Xanax and Ms. Ambien – relics of my clinical major depression, anxiety, and insomnia following that pesky time when my husband of many years and father of our many children broke up with me. The pills were expired of course, but I kept them. Weird, because I never really liked them much and used them very sparingly. If I took a sleeping pill I couldn’t properly wake up in the morning. If I took a Xanax I was just a little bit off, out of it. But I tell ya, this was very helpful in certain situations. Very helpful indeed. It was my pharmaceutical prophylactic in difficult, awkward, or painful situations. Sharing Celebrations .
Still, having the pills in the house gave me comfort. I think I kept these old meds, you know, just in case . . .
After the scrub down and disinfecting of the cabinet (you’d be amazed at the mess that old razors for four girls leave), I found that the added space in my cabinet was far more calming than presence the old pills.
So — I chucked them. I brought them downstairs, opened the bottles, destroyed the labels and trashed the pills so no one could find them and sell them (it would be wrong for someone else to profit from my misery). And then? I casually dropped the wedding cassette — the audio proof of the “till death do us part” fallacy — in the same trash bin. I don’t want any of those particular reminders of the good, the bad, the ugly or the pharmaceutically numbed in my house.
And that was that.
There has been a slight shift in the universe. Did you feel it?
Just Me With . . . space, and some peace. Oh, and I found the remote control to the actual TV! Now I don’t have to get up to change the input from cable to Netflix. Not too shabby. Plus, I already own a CD of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and am blessed to have access to a classical music station, wifi, and a smartphone. There is no reason to listen to a cassette recording of my wedding music. Nope. No reason at all.
Plus, one of the brass players was this asshole, I Don’t Go to Weddings.
It was with a heavy heart that I heard confirmation that the A&E reality show “Hoarders” would not be filming new shows. Hoarders has been cancelled.
Having purchased a partially hoarded house I found some comfort in Hoarders, which profiled one or two homes an episode and “cleaned house” with the help of Psychologists, professional cleaning crews and the hoarder him or herself.
I know that some folks complained that the home owners were being exploited and objectified for entertainment, since audiences seemed simultaneously to enjoy and be disgusted by seeing the filth and mountains of mess (and sometimes poop). It seemed to me that the hoarders were getting help that they would not have otherwise received and were the better for it. The crew never laughed at or belittled the hoarders, instead they just tried to convince the hoarders that something had to change. Getting rid of the hoard was always a safety and mental health issue, and usually a financial necessity. Yes, it was a television show, but it wasn’t just about entertainment.
As for me, I found some brethren. I was not aware of the show while I was cleaning the worst of the worst out of my new house, a friend told me about it and said I should watch. When I did, I found that the shows gave me comfort.
Comfort you ask? Among the piles of wet papers and rotten food?
Yes, comfort. Because until I saw Hoarders I didn’t know that I was not alone in stumbling upon a collection of bottles of urine. Hoarders showed me that people other than the former inhabitants of my house have found themselves at a point in life where the kitchen is as likely a place to dispose of human waste as the bathroom. In Hoarders I saw how, like with my house, a home’s smell can make visitors gag while the inhabitants remain completely unaware of the stench. And at the end of each episode of Hoarders, I was amazed at how the hoarded houses looked after they were cleaned out, and it reminded me of how far my house had come.
So yes, comfort.
Now, as I help my parents clear out some of the decades of accumulated clutter in their house, I find myself using the techniques I viewed on Hoarders. I’ve learned to understand how so many things can simply be piled up — unused or incorrectly stored. My parents are not clinical Hoarders, and their house is still functional and the front rooms pristine. However, the private areas and attic and basement are full, and unsafe. My parents are like a lot of true hoarders in that they are old and grew up with next to nothing. Though my parents went to college, married, had children and bought a home, they were never wealthy. And they never moved. As a result, decades of stuff has never been relocated or inventoried.
My parents, and their parents before them, lived through some of the most economically and socially challenging times in United States history — the Wars, the Depression, the time both before and after the civil rights movement. I think they grew up with an underlying worry that they could lose what they have at any given moment, or that someone would try to steal it from them. So, like some of the clients on Hoarders, they ascribe value to things that no one would buy, and by piling up mountains of stuff, they endanger the most valuable possession they have — their house.
The show Hoarders helped me to know that even the most unlikely item has a story, that sometimes the story needs to be told before the item can be discarded, and that when the smallest treasure is exhumed from its grave of stuff, it triggers a memory — of a different time, a different place, a different person.
As I help my parents clean out I have specifically utilized a few Hoarders tricks:
1. Lay out a tarp to place items on, they look different in the light of day.
2. When cleaning out a closet, dresser, or any area, I don’t stand there and pull out items one at a time. Instead, I take everything out at once and set it all out, assuring my parents that we’ll return the items they choose to keep, but we need to get everything out first.
I’ve learned it’s easier for most people to justify keeping an unused item in a closet– it’s not hurting anybody — but it’s a lot harder to justify putting useless things back in once they’re out.
3. Try to do as much in one day or sitting as possible. It’s never a good idea to allow extra time to think about items.
This was the genius of Hoarders. It wasn’t just for filming that the task had to be accomplished in two days. It’s better for the hoarder to have to make quick decisions.
4. Remove discarded items immediately.
Even when possessions are marked for trash, there can be a “declutter remorse” if there is a bag or piece of furniture or appliances or tools left in view. It’s just too tempting for someone with hoarding tendencies to revisit the trash, go through it and bring stuff back in, promising to fix it, or find a use for it, or sell it — later. I’ve been known to load my parents’ trash in my car and take it home to put out in my own trash, just to avoid the temptation to “trash pick.”
A&E’s Hoarders may be cancelled, but it has and will continue to help me. Now, as I watch my Dad go through piles of once expensive clothing piece by piece, stuff that’s over forty years old, suits that he has never worn and he probably inherited, clothes that have mice dirt on them and moth holes in them, I think,
“What would Matt Paxton do?” and I feel better.
And as I clear an area, making it easier for my parents to get around and find the things they actually need, I know that no matter how hard the fight was, the process is important, especially when it helps them locate and display — or even sell — the things that do have real value. Plus, I feel better making the home safer. But it ain’t easy. No, it’s not.
So thanks Matt and the whole Hoarders crew. You helped. You really did.
Just Me With . . . among many other things, a collection of vintage Ebony and Look magazines, a couple of flat mice (but not cats!), a tractor, bowling shoes, and more patience than I thought I could ever conjure up.
Piss, Puke, and Porn — The discoveries I made inside my new old house.
That Hoarders Smell — How to get rid of that awful smell.
Toilet or Kitchen Sink —- Who Can Tell? — I saw some nasty stuff in the old kitchen.
Exhumation by Accident — I dug up something in my yard.
Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure — Giving Away Christmas Decorations Can Be A Very Good Thing.
I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been painting. Obsessively painting. I wouldn’t quite call it manic on a clinical level, but yes, it had to be done.
Looking back, this has happened to me before. I paint when something isn’t quite right. The day after I had a miscarriage, I painted all of the hallway paneling in the old house. I should have been resting. I should have been crying. Instead, I painted.
Then there was when my then husband went away on vacation with his club when we had many young children at home. This, to me, was the perfect time to paint — everything– bold colors. He came home to a purple kitchen, a hunter green eat in area and a bright sky blue play area. I think I was jealous of his freedom, so, stuck at home, I changed my surroundings. All while caring for multiple toddlers with open cans of paint around. Perhaps not well-advised, but it had to be done.
Later, after my husband left for good (or so I thought . . . but I digress . . . See Surveillance with My Mother and the When My Husband Moved Back Home — The Tale of Three Carries ) I slapped beige paint over all of those colors in order to make my kaleidoscope house neutral for potential buyers. My children didn’t help me at all. They resented the change, hated the beige.
“We’re colorful people,” they said.
They were right. We are colorful people, but the HGTV gods told me I had to hide my crazy (Oops, I mean color).
Accordingly, all the evidence of my color rebellion against my husband’s hobbies and freedom was – neutralized.
I promised the children, however, that when we moved to our new house, we would bring color back. As that little hoarders house smelled so badly, I painted right away, see That Hoarder’s Smell, and I went bold: I had red living room, and the TV (family room) was a dark slate blue.
At one point I had an orange accent wall in my bedroom.
But lately, my little house had been pissing me off. Well, everything has been pissing me off. The red was making me angry, I think. I’m already bitter, I don’t need to see red, literally. The dark blue was making me feel sad and closed in, like I was living in an elevator.
My home’s overall darkness screamed despair and denial and hinted at failure, or maybe that was me . . .
I moved to this little hoarders’ house so that my kids could stay in the same schools. I had to move, and it was all I could afford. I was lucky to find it. I’m fine with living small, but I hate the neighborhood — which is on the lower end of the socio-economic scale — and it shows. Also, we are six tall people, and do our fair share of stepping over each other and our stuff. But I can’t move until they graduate, not even to a nearby neighborhood, unless there’s a big chunk of change in my near future. I’m still dealing with divorce debt. Freedom ain’t free.
If I wanted to pull them out of school and move across country — well, I can’t do that either. I’m divorced; I’m not allowed to move without my ex-husband’s permission. I’m stuck.
Until my youngest kids turn 18, my options are severely limited. Yes, I’m blessed to have a roof over my head, but sometimes it feels more incarceration than protection from the elements.
However, HGTV, the teachings of Feng Shui, and countless blogs suggest that if I change my surroundings I’ll change my life.
I took a shot.
So I’ve been painting, lightening up the color, lightening up my life. It goes along with my constant search for non-medicinal treatments for anxiety and depression.
I have to say, the rooms do appear bigger, brighter, calmer.
Still, I need color, so the plan is to get the color back through art and accessories. That’s the plan anyway.
It’s a good plan.
Well, it was a good plan.
Now I’m on the other side of not quite clinically manic, back to the depressed side of things. Suddenly I’m too tired. I don’t feel like hanging my old pictures or scouring yard sales for something colorful, because, at the end of the day, I’ll still be here. And whatever I do, someone in my house will hate it and loudly voice his or her displeasure. So why bother, right?
It’s like hanging posters in a jail cell. Sure, it helps, but the most important thing on the wall is the calendar, marking off the days until release.
Just Me With . . . a bright new look, but not complete. Methinks the angry red and the crying blues are bleeding through a bit. But, hell, I’m giving it a shot.
Release date? Sometime in 2017.
I’m getting my house painted this week. I know I’ve written about painting it myself, describing how That Hoarders Smell inside the house was so bad that it engulfed me even while I was painting outside. So yeah, I painted the house already.
But I never finished.
I painted the front under the porch. Then I stood on the porch roof to paint the second floor. And, along with my nephew, I perched on scaffolding temporarily left by another contractor as I prepped, primed and painted the back of the house.
That left the sides, where the paint was peeling so badly that barely brushing by it caused a snow flurry of dirty paint flakes, some big, some small, some lead-based, some not.
So although usually one preps, primes and paints from the top down, I started from the bottom up, reasoning that since we were about to move into this house I didn’t want the children to be exposed to this peeling paint at eye level. The upper floors weren’t peeling or flaking as badly as the lower level and at least no one would be touching it. So, for safety’s sake I tackled the first floor. Well, safety and the fact that I could reach the lower level and paint it myself without scaffolding or big ladders that I didn’t own.
The top side sections, however, have not been prepped, primed, or painted.
It’s tacky. It’s been this way for over two years.
I had every intention of painting the rest of the house myself. A contractor friend even lent me some scaffolding and we put it up on one side of the house. Then, well, stuff happened, and I changed and eventually went off my meds, which gave me vertigo, poor equilibrium, extreme dizziness, and severe sensitivity to light. I couldn’t even think about doing it then. My friend eventually took his scaffolding back, unused.
Since then I have struggled with my half-painted house. I struggled to find the energy to paint my house, struggled to find the motivation and money, struggled to conquer my newly developed fear of heights, that I will fall and lay broken and bleeding in my yard —and no one will know.
And, I lost my Mojo. I’d done so much work on this little Hoarders house. I’d tried to make it nice. I did make it nice. But recently I’ve been feeling that no matter what I do to this house, which sits on a busy street and backs up onto the perimeter of an poor neighborhood, it will always be compared to the much larger marital home situated in a park-like setting. I don’t miss that home at all, and selling that home was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — that decision may be a subject of another post — but I don’t love where we are now, I tried . . .
- I installed a stone patio and fire-pit for us to enjoy — that no one uses.
- I partially finished the basement so that we’d have a place for the drums and could jam — but no one does.
- I made a music room for lessons for students that are fewer and fewer in number each year.
- I planted shrubs to give us some privacy — that died.
- I bought a shed to house bicycles — that nobody rides.
But. . . I never finished painting the house. Perhaps part of me became comfortable with my half painted house. Maybe it was some sort of admission of defeat. The move been an adjustment, a difficult adjustment. I’m not going pretend otherwise — anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my accomplishments with respect to this home and my family. I’m happy that we have a roof over our heads and that the kids didn’t have to change schools — which was the reason why I bought the little hoarders home in the first place. And I know things could be a lot worse, and that things aren’t really that bad, or really bad at all.
Still, the unfinished paint job screams that there are still struggles in this home.
Anyone looking at it would ask,
“Cute house. But when is she going to finish painting it?”
Well, the answer is “Now.” I’m borrowing from Peter to pay Paul to pay some Painters that gave me a good deal because one of my “Friends Without Benefits” told them to.
I’m waving the white flag in surrender. I will not finish painting the house myself. But I will not leave it partially unpainted for another year as a shrine to my failure to renovate our way into happiness — or the land of denial. I’ve got to think of resale value and protect my investment. So, I’ve called in the professionals.
It is what it is. And it has to get done. At least it won’t look tacky anymore.
“Maybe it will lift my spirits,” I thought, as I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately.
And then, the universe threw me a bone.
The painters here are very nice guys. Just now one of them stopped me and said,
“I don’t want you to get a big head or anything, but I gotta tell you . . . you look just like Halle Berry. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that? Mike (the other painter) said it yesterday, too. I’m a movie buff, so I would know.”
I have to say, I’m starting to feel a lot better about hiring these guys to paint my house. A lot better.
Just Me With . . . a paint job in progress, in butter cream with hunter green trim, done expertly by — my new best friends.
Postscript: The painting is finished. The house looks great, it really does, and just in time for Winter.
Sadly, one of my kids informed me that her friends told her that they aren’t allowed to come to our neighborhood, for fear they might get mugged.
The house I bought was not as bad as some of the houses you see on Hoarders, at least the whole house wasn’t. But the third floor attic bedroom was as bad as those hoarders’ houses. This is where the man who I call PissMan, his girlfriend and their cat (sans litter box) stayed. The cat just relieved itself on all the stuff up there — clothes, cardboard boxes, etc. I needed this room to be a bedroom for two of my kids. It had to be completely transformed.
The master bedroom that became my room was the second worst. That is where the family matriarch stayed until she was confined to a hospital bed downstairs, and eventually passed away. See What Happened In My House? Murder? It was in this room where at least one cat was confined with a litter box, sans litter. This cat threw up a lot on the old hardwood floor. Nobody cleaned it up. Old hardwood floors –150 year old unmaintained hardwood floors– have many cracks, they do not have thick coats of Polyurethane to repel liquid. They act as sponges, soaking up whatever is dropped on them. Cat urine, feces, canned food and cigarette ashes had been dropped on them and left there in the Summer months, with no air conditioning or adequate ventilation.
This house had been a house of smokers for many, many years. The walls and ceilings had once been white but had turned a brownish-yellow. So, underneath all of the animal and human excrement smells was the smell of years of cigarette smoke. In addition, there had been some water damage in some of the rooms.
This added another smell — wet plaster, wet rugs and mold. Hmmm Hmmm Good!
Some rooms were worse than others as far as the hoard goes, but the whole house stunk. The smell was bad, really bad. It was so bad that I could smell it from the outside, while I was on the porch roof painting the exterior of the house with oil based paint.
Imagine — a beautiful Spring day, being up high in the sunshine — flowers blooming, birds singing — yet I could still smell the inside of the house — and it was enough to make me nauseous — and seriously question my decision to purchase that house. What was I thinking? (Well, I was thinking I had to move, I wanted to keep the kids in the same schools, and with five children and no money I had very little choice . . . but I digress . . . )
Paint fumes? Not a problem. Fumes from in the house? Problem.
The smell is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. You know when a smell is so pungent that you begin to taste it? Have you ever smelled a diaper after days in the trash, or after it has gotten wet? Are you familiar with that neglected service station bathroom smell? Cat urine? A litter box that hasn’t been cleaned in — months? Well, that shouldn’t happen, but just imagine. Adult human urine and feces? Has anyone ever let milk or cream go bad — like until it gets lumpy? Let’s see what else — food. The family cooked in a kitchen with absolutely no ventilation. Oh yeah, and soap. These people washed, but the usually comforting smell of soap just added to the soup of nastiness. The home’s overall smell was sour and sweet and nauseating, stronger in some areas yet pervasively throughout everything.
It was nasty.
Eventually, however, the family who had lived there for four generations, left. Five people, two cats –at the time (previously there had been many more cats, I’m told, and various other pets. The mom/grandmother loved her animals. See Accidental Exhumation; Be Careful For What You Dig For) plus human urine, feces, trash, piss soaked carpet remnants — all gone, though not in one trip.
Finally, the only thing left was their security deposit. Given the items they tried to leave me, i.e. bottles of urine, and various other debris including used adult diapers and crack, yeah, I kept their money.
So they were gone. Their stuff was gone.
The odor, however, remained — not surprising considering all the piss bottles and all. See Piss, Puke and Porn.
Damn, thinking back on all of this. I can almost taste that smell again. Ew.
Anyway, the following is my public service announcement and my personal account of how I got rid of . . .
That Hoarders Smell:
Hard scrubbed with good old-fashioned Pine Sol, barely diluted, rinsed and wiped down with water, repeat. Repeat until layers of dirt and smoke were removed. Spackle, sand.
Primed with oil-based primer. This is the kind you cannot wash off with soap and water. This is the hard stuff. If you get it on your clothes, they are ruined. If you get it on your skin or hair, either suffer through washing with turpentine or paint remover, or wait until it wears off on its own. The oil-based smell is strong. A mask is required for safety. Given the smells I was trying to eradicate, I welcomed the chemical smell of the paint, though, I admit.
Paint. I bought the thickest (and unfortunately the most expensive) paint I could find. Paint, repeat. The walls and ceilings required two coats of paint to deal with the smell and smoke stains.
Scrape the cat feces and vomit, and tape residue (they used tape for many repairs),
Sand the floors (some floors I had professionally sanded, but taking off a layer of floor did not, unfortunately, take away the smell, it some areas it made it worse).
Seal the floor (and odors) by painting with oil based floor paint. (The floors were in pretty bad shape, staining and them and covering them with clear polyurethane probably still would not make them look good, plus there was a time issue, since we had to move in immediately and therefore needed to be able to walk on the floors right away.)
All in all, smell removal was a huge process. Though it was nice to choose wall colors for my new digs, my painting of every surface of the house had very little to do with decor. No, my painting had to do with odor control. It had to be done.
Not surprisingly, now I enjoy watching the show Hoarders on A&E, though I had never heard of it when I was cleaning my house. Watching now I’m never surprised when those Hoarders houses get a fresh coat of paint. It’s not a makeover, it’s a smellover.
Now? Now my house smells good. But it’s a freaking miracle. A miracle brought about by hard work and some angels, very extremely cool people who volunteered to help me. A post dedicated to these folks is forthcoming.
Just Me With . . . no more smell, and a sudden urge to clean.
Related, Goodbye Hoarders — The television show Hoarders has been cancelled.
One of my daughters wants a cat. I have nothing against cats, but after going through what I did to clean this house, I can’t do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to smell a litter box, even just to clean it.
I love Dunkin Donuts. I know it’s just a chain of low-end Doughnut shops, but I go to Dunkin Donuts every day. The baked goods and food are not so great, but I do enjoy the coffee. When I moved, downsized, left the marital home, whatever you want to call it — I began a relationship with Dunkin’ Donuts that was very personal.
When the old house sold, the new “old” house was still being remodeled. “Remodeling” makes it sound so pretty and exciting — so HGTV-like. It wasn’t. It was more a combination of Hoarders, Clean House, DIY’s Renovation Realities and Jerry Springer. Oh, it was an adventure, but it wasn’t pretty. Some of the details of the renovation will be in other posts, but for this you need to know that the kitchen had already been demolished to the studs, see Toilet or Kitchen Sink — Who Can Tell? and the home’s only bathroom was under construction to allow for an over the tub shower and for my boy to be able to stand in front of the toilet — like a man. The tub and sink had previously been removed, only the toilet remained, temporarily, which looked like this: Did you notice the duct tape on the toilet seat? Did ya? Can you imagine the germ fest going on there? Although at least one of the prior owners wasn’t even using the toilet regularly, see Piss Puke and Porn, . . . that toilet was more than nasty. It was a bio-hazard. This picture was taken almost a year before I moved in, when the prior owners were still living there. Yet when I moved in, the same duct tape was still on the toilet, now covered in plaster dust and construction dirt which had stuck to the urine stains on the commode like a weird kind of sand art. Ew!!
We moved into this mess – in Summer — and it was hot. Wait for it . . . we moved into a true
. . . wait for it. . . hot mess!
But at least we had a toilet to flush, assuming we could use it without touching it. I kept a bottle of hand sanitizer on a bucket in the “bathroom.” This held us over until we could use the hose — outside. Oh yes, and I forgot to mention that since the bathroom ceiling and roof were being raised, there was no overhead light. A desk lamp plugged into the one working outlet gave us some light — because you need to see in order to use a toilet without touching it. You need to see — but not too much, not too much, not in that house. We were seriously roughing it.
Two days after we moved in the disgusting toilet was removed. I was slightly relieved, not realizing that a simple plumbing fixture could actually scare me so much. But this left us with no indoor plumbing at all. Huh. But when the toilet was taken outside and I saw it in the light of day? Well, no indoor plumbing became suddenly acceptable, preferable, actually.
Still, I wasn’t alone. I do have five children. One kid was thankfully going on vacation with another family for a week. That left four. Four kids with nowhere to wash themselves, wash clothes or prepare food. And the four kids left were girls, so going behind a tree — not so easy.
I schlepped the girls to and from Grandma and Grandpa’s house, along with our laundry. But my elderly parents also have only one bathroom as well and were quite distraught over our living conditions. They were distraught? Imagine how I felt. I had to downplay the situation to keep my parents (who are Olympic level worriers) and my kids calm. I pretended this was not that big a deal. I deserve an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. I don’t want a SAG award, because I can’t get over the sound of that . . . but I digress.
Of course the bathroom construction was behind, though I was given reassurances to the contrary. And, let’s just say my funds were not liquid at the moment, which severely limited my options. (This may be subject of another post.)
While the kids were at the grandparents or other activities (which I kept them in, so as to maintain normalcy and give them a place to go — literally — ha!) I stayed and worked at the house. Professionals were doing the bathroom but I needed to be around to supervise, and continue my round the clock cleaning and painting, see That Hoarder’s Smell, and also try to organize our belongings —which were stored in stacks of boxes that could not yet be unpacked. Of course, there was no need to unpack the kitchen because, well, we didn’t have one. In addition, the house was not yet secure — broken locks and doors — someone needed to be around.
My morning routine was as follows:
I would get up, roll into my clothes or keep on whatever I’d slept in (because so very few of my clothes were accessible to me) and head to Dunkin Donuts.
Walking in quickly and giving the very hip “up” nod to the workers, who knew me as a regular, I would head directly to the bathroom where, in addition to the normal thing to do, I would wash my face, dry it with a paper towel, grab the toothbrush and paste stashed in my purse, and brush my teeth. When I emerged my coffee was ready for me. The largely Pakistani staff expected me, remembered my order, and never gave me a hard time about my frequent and prolonged bathroom visits — even when I had the kids with me and we did it as a group, waiting our turn, usually at night, which brings me to—
The night-time routine:
“Okay, kids we need to go and use the bathroom for the last time before bed. Get in the car.”
And we went to . . . Dunkin’ Donuts. The folks there would often give us free doughnuts, too! Plus I made friends with one worker even though there was a huge language barrier and I later helped her with a very personal issue — again something for another post.
I almost forgot that at one point there was a “Potty in the Basement” provided by the plumbers — really it was like an adult-sized training potty, except with chemicals. Yeah, that didn’t work too well either, partly because there was no light down there in the oil stained, crumbling stone basement, and partly because the contents of that potty needed to be dumped– not after every use because of the chemicals, but regularly. This meant carrying it up broken basement stairs, through the house and outside (walking a plank which extended from the back door four feet down to the ground, no deck or stairs yet) and then dumping it into the sewer line.
That potty overflowed once in the house. Ew. I just shuddered a little, thinking about it. Ew.
Damn, I’ve been through some shit, literally, shit . . . but I digress . . . and this post is getting long.
Realizing the bathroom remodel was going to take longer than expected, and when I finally had funds available (back child support was finally paid, on the very last day listed on the court order), I arranged for a port-a-potty to be installed in the back yard. After all, it was a construction site.
Oh the Port-A-Potty — it gave us another round of adventures . . . since it was Summer and my children were and are very afraid of bugs and the dark . . .
Anyway, this is how my love affair with Dunkin’ Donuts happened, it wasn’t just about the coffee.
Just Me With . . . a fully functional bathroom — now — though I still enjoy my morning coffee from my friends at Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Time to make the . . . Doughnuts?”
See, “She Asked For My Help” for the issue with my Pakistani friend.
Ah yes, my landscaping work. The back yard was a mess. There was a retaining wall that wasn’t retaining much, there were stepping-stones beneath inches of wet decaying leaves and muck, there was mud. There were bricks, rocks, slate and overgrown I don’t know whats. My raking just to clear the path turned into landscaping which turned into demolition of a retaining wall which turned into completely regrading the yard.
This required digging, and dig I did. I removed pounds of dirt, along with natural stone, and man-made brick and concrete. I made archeological finds — railroad ties, nails, barn and shutter hinges all likely from the 1800’s. I uncovered a mysterious large concrete block with an iron pipe through it — still don’t know what the heck that was, but it was too heavy and went too deep for me to move so I buried it again.
I removed brush and plantings gone wild. Dig around the roots, flip and pull. It was kinda cool. And I was transforming my new home from a very scary place to what I hoped would be a cute little Victorian actually worthy of saving rather than one step from the wrecking ball. The kids were, as usual, and like many of today’s healthy red-blooded children, inside. They were enjoying some sort of technology, while I toiled outside in the fresh air. I was on my own. No power tools. No help.
When I was digging and moving earth I pulled up some trash bag type plastic. Okay, I’d already pulled a lot of this stuff up. The prior owners used garbage bags as landscaping fabric. As I pulled I saw that the garbage bag had something light-colored in it –some white cloth. I wondered, “Now what could this be? A buried treasure, maybe?” I dug and pulled.
Just like with the shrubs gone wild, I dug around it, started to flip it out of the dirt, reached down (with gloves of course) for one last pull . . . and . . .
I’m not usually a screamer.
But when I pulled, the bag ripped open and the cloth fell out. The cloth was stained, had something stuck to it, something . . . that appeared . . . to . . . be —- HAIR !!!! This is what turned me into a screamer.
I ran inside to get a kid, any one of them would do. I needed a witness (well actually, support). The youngest ones were curious enough to venture out into the sun. And we, of course, did the mature thing.
We took a stick and poked at it.
Because, not only was it a cheese cloth like old world material, brown blood stained and showing bits of hair type stuff, it had a bulge in it.
So, we poked some more.
My optimistic child said the bits of hair like stuff was really mulch. Gotta love her — but the stuff was not mulch. I untangled the cloth with a stick, revealed and uncovered . . . some skin, a skull and bones. EWWWWWWW!
I had exhumed a pet of the prior owners. I didn’t need to call in CSI or NCIS or any of the Law and Order folks to figure that out. Thank God it wasn’t the remains of a human. Remember, this is the 150 year old house of Piss, Puke, and Porn — it could have been anything.
By the size and shape of the skull I surmised that this thing had once been a guinea pig, maybe a rabbit, possibly a kitten. It must have been a cherished pet at one time since it seemed to have had a proper burial — complete with a white shroud. And, I presume, it was resting in peace. That is, until I got to it. EWWWWWW!
There is a beautiful contemporary country song, sung by Miranda Lambert, featured on her album, Revolution, called “The House That Built Me.” It’s about a troubled adult going back to visit her childhood home to get grounded. Miranda sings to the current owners of her old house. . .
I bet you didn’t know under that live oak,
My favorite dog is buried in the yard.
Yeah, okay, Miranda. Love the song, it makes me cry. But as the new owner of the former childhood home of somebody, where somebody buried their pet in the yard and moved away — only to leave poor unsuspecting landscaping me to dig it up . . . well, it’s not quite the same sentiment.
More sticks and a shovel were used to dispose of the remains, remains that the kids now wanted to keep. I caved and we left the skull out for the rest of the day. Other critters must have carried it away during the night because it was gone by morning.
Just Me With . . . lots of dirt, a shovel, and apparently — a pet cemetery. EWWWWW!!!!!
This house had some bad mojo, no joke. See, What Happened In My House? Murder?
I’m on a sleep regimen. No messing around this time. I have a lot of crap to deal with and I need to do it without being sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture — of mind control, right? (We all saw the third Bourne, it can drive you to kill.) I haven’t slept on a regular basis in years. This week I have been making a point of going to bed at a decent hour. No television, no computer, no phone. I’m also taking a very mild sleeping pill. I have a low tolerance for sleeping pills, however, they put me seriously out, and I’m often groggy the next day, even though I’ve allowed myself the full eight hours of sleep recommended. Consequently, I take a low dose and break it in half. Still, two nights ago, it didn’t work well. I had trouble falling asleep with the half pill. So last night, I figured I’d take a whole low-dose pill.
All of my night-time routine work was done, i.e. dishwasher was running, instrument had been played, kids were in their rooms, dogs had been out and were back in. It was all good. Sleeping pill taken. Then,
“What?!!!!!!!!!” (I’d like to say I said, “Yes, Sweetie,” but I don’t think that was the case.)
“I CLOGGED THE TOILET!!!!!”
Swearing in my head commences. We’d just had a bad experience with this about a month ago, hereinafter known as “The Last Clogging Incident.” It was not pretty.
You should know that I hate plungers. I hadn’t bought one for this new old house (except for the first few days, we didn’t have a working toilet here anyway in so it was unnecessary . . . but I digress). I hate plungers because although they serve a useful purpose, I despise cleaning them afterward. It’s just one of my things. My usual method of unclogging is to pour water down the toilet, quickly, to “flush” out the obstruction. Often this must be done multiple times, but it works, it’s less messy and less smelly. During The Last Clogging Incident, however, it did not work. There was no plunger in the house and it was after midnight. Suffice it to say, I have a plunger now.
Back to last night, the hour wasn’t as late as The Last Clogging Incident, and I now own a plunger, BUT I HAD TAKEN A WHOLE SLEEPING PILL!!!! If I had a strong reaction to it, I would be a stumbling idiot in a few minutes. If not, and I simply attempted to override it, I would be cursed with a blinding headache. Plus, two kids had to use the bathroom. The “clog-her” was content in her bed, reading on her Kindle. grrrr Still, I had one on deck and one in the hole. The drug would soon take effect, and I, too, had to go to the bathroom. (As a result of prior medical/emotional issues, if I don’t go to the bathroom right away when nature calls, I become nauseated). Oh, did I mention we only have one bathroom in a house with 5 girl-type people and one boy?
It was a race against time. But since The Last Clogging Incident — when we ran out to a convenience store to use the bathroom just to buy time for me to figure out what to do and stave off my nausea — I had gained some knowledge. It is amazing what a simple Google search will yield. I had searched then for “How to unclog a toilet without a plunger.” I found the following. I do not claim ownership, authorship, or creative input. In short, I did not invent this method, but I pass it on.
Squeeze liquid dish detergent into the toilet.
Slowly pour boiling water into toilet.
The theory is that the soap lubricates the mass (ew) allowing it to pass more quickly and the boiling water breaks it up. All of this is safe for your commode — unlike using chemicals (which neither I nor the convenience store had anyway).
Last night I chose to use a variation. Liquid soap, hot, but not boiling water. I couldn’t wait for the boil, wanted to avoid the plunger. After a while — it worked. Two kids used the bathroom (before me, of course, I ignored the airline face mask on the adult first mantra).
After the second kid used it,
“MOM!!!!! THE TOILET’S CLOGGED AGAIN!!!!!” (The cursing in my head resumed also.) Time was not on my side, I was already feeling woozy and nauseated.
This time I got the plunger, the soap, and hot water (still couldn’t wait for boil). It took some work. (Note to self: add more fruit to kids’ diets). One kid helped (as I stood back, letting the wall hold me up, pinching my nose closed). But this was the kid responsible for The Last Clogging Incident, so I felt no compassion.
“It smells, Mommy.”
But finally, the sound of a flushing toilet. Twice for good luck. Thrice — well, for me. The plunger was rinsed, wrapped in a plastic trash bag and still sits on my back deck. I went to bed. I slept. I feel like crap today. I will only take a half a sleeping pill tonight. Still, I am triumphant. I am strong. I am invincible, I am . . .
Just Me With . . . a plunger on my porch and a half of a sleeping pill with my name on it.
I’ve talked about the crap I’ve had to deal with in my new house, well not crap, piss, actually, see Piss, Puke and Porn, but my old house had been a fixer upper, too. There were a lot of jobs that didn’t get finished, what with kids that started coming two at a time and then the husband walking out and all. But I had decided to sell and I had to do cosmetic changes quickly to make the house more appealing.
I needed to get carpet on the stairway and upstairs hallway. Not a job I could do myself. Even the most avid DIY-ers will call in the pros for carpet installation, especially stairs. So I got a quote from one of those next day installation companies since the house was already on the market and I needed a quick turnaround. Didn’t like the sales guy that came by hours late — said he couldn’t find my house and when he did, there were no cars in the driveway so he thought I was out. Wrong. But again, I needed a quick turnaround so I went ahead and booked a time for neutral colored carpet to be installed next day.
For staging purposes, I had already moved one of my dressers from my bedroom to another room to make my bedroom appear larger. (This was a big house , but it was an old house so we didn’t have the huge walk in closets, etc., just a lot of rooms). So my dresser, containing my bras and panties and pajamas, was in the room (formerly and traditionally, a nursery) adjacent to the master bedroom at the top of the stairs. I sometimes keep important documents in my panty drawer (anyone else do that?) so I had been looking in there for a credit card I don’t usually use to pay for the carpet. I admit that I may have left the drawer slightly ajar — cracked, but not completely open.
Sitting with the supervisor downstairs I completed the paperwork and made the down payment. While we were doing this the workers came in to prepare for installation. This much must be understood: this was a hallway carpet installation, the previous carpet had already been removed. In other words, there was no furniture to move out of the way and no bedrooms were getting new carpet. After the paperwork was finalized, I checked on the workers.
I walked upstairs to find a man in the extra room with his hand in the now open underwear drawer, gazing at and fingering my panties. My good, lace, hoping I’ll get lucky — underpants. Ew. (Ladies, you just crossed you legs, didn’t you?) As soon as he saw me he dropped them, removed his hand, looking like a kid caught with his hand in the candy jar — or more accurately — looking like a man caught with his hand in my panty drawer!
Nothing was missing from my drawer. But in my mind my panties would never be the same. I complained to the supervisor who spoke to the workers — in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish. I complained to the corporate offices in writing. I got a call saying that they had investigated and the worker said the drawer probably fell open while they were moving furniture, and of course I countered,
THE WORKERS DIDN’T HAVE TO MOVE ANY FURNITURE TO INSTALL HALLWAY CARPET! THEY HAD NO TO REASON TO BE IN THAT ROOM AT ALL, LET ALONE IN MY UNDERWEAR DRAWER!
Now, I understand that any company can get a bad worker, but not only did they offer me nothing for my experience, but I even got the subsequent follow-up marketing calls, you know, the “How did you like our service?” calls. It was funny, because I would calmly respond, “The carpet is fine, but one of your workers played with my panties and that kinda of ruined it for me. So, no, I can’t recommend your company to anyone.” Ha! Oh, the stutters I would get from the unknowing telemarketer!!! But really, what kind of company would keep me on the call list after I’d complained in writing?
This is a national carpet company — and to this day when I hear their ads with their catchy jingle, I sing a little ditty — “They’ll install carpet and feel up your panties — today.”
Just Me With . . . panties that get more action than I do.
I was in the midst of a nasty divorce and remodeling a nasty house. (See Piss, Puke, and Porn). I was learning how to do so many construction type things by myself. I went almost daily to the Home Improvement Store.
Sometimes I bought what I needed.
Sometimes I’d just stare at items and plan my next project.
Sometimes . . . I would just stare.
I had decided I would learn about electrical work (dangerous, I know). My thinking was that carpentry is all good but it requires a fair amount of strength – man strength that I just don’t have, and I’d often need help for those projects anyway, same with plumbing. I was looking to learn how to do things I can do my own damn self. So electrical work– nothing big– more like just being able to trouble shoot and maybe one day being able to replace a receptacle or put in a light fixture — could be a skill I could use by myself. It doesn’t take a whole lot of strength, and it seemed like something about which I could at least try to develop a working knowledge. So I bought a book and was standing in the electrical aisle — you know, just looking.
(As an aside, if you like the work boots kinda guy, it’s fun to look at the home improvement store customers early in the morning during the week if you can get there. Weekends, not so much, unless you want to ogle married guys with their wives and kids in tow.)
Anyway, a nice gentleman working there asked if he could help me. He was okay cute, well-spoken, friendly — impressed when I told him about my projects but not condescending. The conversation turned personal and I found out he was divorced with grown kids (he must have married young), and he owned his home. I told him I was getting divorced too, hence my move to the fixer home (my Hoarders dump).
I started to think: Well, this is The Perfect Man. Based on his store discount alone I could justify falling for him. Plus — bonus, he actually had skills, electrical skills, construction skills — and a nice smile. This man could teach me things. (I was still mid-divorce nastiness, not dating but trying to be open to it.) I started to fantasize about power tools and having someone to hold the other end of the tape measure. Ahhh “Maybe I should go out with this guy,” I thought. “What can it hurt?” So when he finally got around to asking if he could give me his number (very gentlemanly I thought), I just said, “Sure.” At the time, this was a huge step for me. Though my husband and I had been separated for a while, I did not feel very single yet and was not ready to be “out there.” (Sadly, some of that has not changed.) Anyway, he got some paper, scribbled his name and number and handed it to me.
His name? —- SAME FREAKIN’ NAME AS MY ESTRANGED HUSBAND!!!!
What the . . . ?
I kept his number for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to call. I knew I’d never be able to say his name. Never. Ever.
My Home Improvement Store Guy Fantasy was over.
Just Me With . . . the digits of a guy with the same name as my husband.