I live in a (rental) house that is one hundred years old. Well, really, it’s 98 but in 2013 it will be 100. This is not one of those well kept up homes that has been lovingly preserved and cared for, passed down through generations. I think any show from HGTV that came to do a makeover would run screaming from this place. There’s just too much that can be done.
It appears that after the first couple of generations vacated the home, it was passed down into the hands of owners who were determined to “keep up with the times,” so we have wood paneling in one bedroom (70s), “popcorn ceilings” in both bedrooms (80s) and up until we moved in, scarred and scratched up hardwood floors in the main areas of the house and carpet in the bedrooms (90s). Thank God the last tenants soiled the carpets to the point where they were completely useless and we had the option of having the original floors re-sanded and finished.
Oh, and if you’re keeping tabs, the basement is from the 1910s. It is unchanged since the house was built. More on that in a bit.
Some of the bare bones have been preserved. All of of the original woodwork around the door frames and even the pocket doors are all still here and in working condition. They’ve been a bit marred over the decades, as people have hung curtains and stockings and the like. And no matter how much WD-40 we spray on the track of the pocket door to the guest room, it releases a piercing squeal which dogs within a five mile radius can hear. Even the other day when I was on the phone, I tried to quietly open the door and despite my efforts, the door screamed and it stopped the other person on the phone dead in his tracks while he was talking.
What’s good about the house is it’s in an area not too far from the law school where a certain Kevin attends but it’s not so close that we’re constantly dealing with parties and drunk students. Though one time, a very drunk girl did decide to pee in the street where we normally park our car. It was an incredibly New York-esque moment.
Sorry for that mental image.
Our landlords are not the best at keeping up on maintenance for the home. They have been generous in replacing a couple of very old appliances that were in dire need of going to the junkyard but when it comes to taking care of anything that requires actual fixing or repair? Ehhhhhhhhhh not their strong suit.
The foundation wall in the basement is crumbling, the windows are original to the house, the insulation is almost non-existent, the air ducts need a lot of work, it invites all sorts of critters into its nooks and crannies (spiders, ants, squirrels), the list goes on. I wish they would take the time to repair some of these things either in between tenants or one project per year, but they just let things be until it becomes dire and then they usually opt to just put a band-aid on it.
The scariest part of the home, in my opinion, is the basement. It’s not a typical basement. It could easily be one where a serial killer would store things (things being bodies). It has a dirt floor everywhere except for the concrete pad where the washer and dryer are. I had never seen a dirt floor in a basement before.
Insects of all kinds love to find their way in and set up shop because no one in his right mind would want to go down there. Since we have to for laundry purposes, poor Kevin goes down there a few times a week. He took one for the team and banned me from the basement after one too many times of hearing me shriek going downstairs and then complaining about how nasty it is. (I’m sorry, but when I’m standing at the washer and dryer, I don’t want to keep glancing over my shoulder and looking above me to make sure a wasp or tarantula from hell isn’t going to crawl on me.)
Plus, both ways of getting down there are treacherous. One is a rickety, steep set of stairs that has barely a railing to hold on to and you wonder if you’re going to face plant into the dirt when you head down there, and the other is a set of steps that goes down to the basement from the backyard, entering through a disgusting back door with bugs all over it down some crumbling, railing-less concrete steps. It was like Sophie’s Choice figuring out which was the “optimum” set of steps to use when we moved in.
We had to have a furnace repairman come out last year and I could tell he was creeped out having to go down into this veritable dungeon to get to the furnace. I didn’t blame him. I showed him the way and scooted back upstairs before I started having walking nightmares. Did I mention the smell? Yeah, it smells like musty basement x 50. When we run the air conditioning or heating, there’s always a faint basement smell that is released with the circulated air throughout the house. Jealous?
Which brings me to the true story here. One afternoon not too long ago, I walked into the house and was immediately affronted by a strong, moldy smell that had apparently sprouted in a single day. Kevin was already home and I began saying, “What is that SMELL? Don’t you SMELL that?”
Let me also point out that I have the olfactory senses of a bloodhound so things that aren’t really strong, Kevin won’t notice but I will and then I won’t rest until I find the source. And then of course things that are pungent drive me absolutely insane. This smell was more than pungent – it was thick and overpowering, like a chemical leak of some kind.
For me, this was a Smell Emergency but Kevin was able to remain calm and stoic. He thought perhaps it was the trash but it became clear that that wasn’t the source of this heinous, moldy, ammonia odor permeating our house. It was so bad that I thought we might have trouble breathing if we didn’t get rid of it and soon.
It only took me a few minutes of overreacting to state unequivocally that I would not be living in this house any longer if this is what we were going to have to put up with for two more years. After sniffing and sniffing and sniffing, we determined that the smell was strongest in the front area(s) of the house. Because it reeked so badly, I asked Kevin if he could go downstairs and see if there was anything unusual going on in the basement.
Obligingly, he went down to check it out and came running back up a minute later.
“It’s definitely the basement!” he panted. “There’s some kind of moldy crumbling stuff on the wall and floor across from the washer and dryer.”
At this point, I was officially freaking out and I declared that our house was trying to kill us. I mean, why else would we randomly have some moldy substance that had accumulated to the point where the SMELL was overpowering and emitting some chemical that could suffocate us in our sleep? I felt like we were being immersed into a smaller version of The Shining.
I became very demanding and told Kevin that if we couldn’t clean it up and the landlord didn’t take our request for its removal seriously, we were going to have to move. Since that is on Kevin’s Top Five Things He Hates Doing, he was very motivated to do what he could to remove the offender. He asked me to stay upstairs while he went back down with a shovel and some bleach.
A few minutes later he came running up the steps, gagging, trash bag in his hand, and said, “This is definitely what is causing the smell. Don’t come any closer unless you want to vomit.” Since I didn’t feel like barfing at the moment, I stayed away. He tied up the bag tightly and threw it out into our garbage bin. He informed me that he bleached the hell out of the area and that we should soon notice a decrease of Murderous Toxic Fumes.
In the meantime, we aired out the house but good and gave a test run of our air conditioning a little while later. Sure enough, though there were some faint fumes of bleach coming through, the moldy whatever-that-smell-was had gone.
I dubbed the incident as a home-icide attempt because I honestly believe our house wanted us dead. Or it was trying to say, “Hey douchebags, you have to MAINTAIN a home. See this? That just happened.” WE know we have to do preventative maintenance but our landlords do not give a fig for that. We ended up not telling them about the incident because I am certain they would not have done a thing, or at least in a timely manner. They are not uncaring people but when it comes to their rental properties, it’s mostly live and let live.
So we survived to tell the tale. This time. But considering we would like to avoid moving while Kev is in law school, it remains to be seen what else might happen. And if I know my basement, it’s probably got a few more tricks up its revolting sleeves.