Wednesday, July 18, 2007

the biohazard next door


so our neighbors are in germany for five or six weeks; we've been keeping an eye on their house and taking over their duties maintaining the clubhouse and pool. sometime last week i came home and noticed a tag on their door, saying that their utilities had not been paid and that their power had been shut off.
i tried to think if they had said anything about watching out for bills but didn't remember anything about that, nor did mark. further, i looked through their mail and didn't find the red 'final notice' bill from provo city. not sure what to do, i e-mailed them to let them know of the situation and then checked the fridge and freezer: it was still cold inside, and i'd hate to throw away their food if all i had to do was call the city and work the issue out.
days went by and i didn't hear from them.

last week was busied with prepping for 'the adventures of food boy', and as shooting started this week, the powerless refrigerator next door faded from my mind.
i came home last night to an empty house. remembering next door, i went over and checked on things. it had been five or six days and most of the fridge's coolness had left. i was tired and had left my flashlight at work, so it was difficult to see very well. i decided to wait until mark got home and then we'd come back and empty everything out.
mark got home around 11 and i was already in bedtime mode.

so i came home tonight, again tired but knowing that i should probably check next door. it was wednesday night and therefore 'movie night' and mark was having a few people over to carry on the tradition by watching 'singin' in the rain'. as they were waiting for the others to show up, he offered to come next door and help me out.

we unlocked the front door and the smell hit mark.
difficult to describe, it was reminiscent of a dumpster, and became more intense as we walked back toward the kitchen and the dreaded refrigerator.
we opened the fridge door, and, like an odorous banshee coming forth from a long-forgotten tomb, were hit hard. mark ran for the door and barely made it outside before losing it in the bushes.

there was nothing we could save. containers and baggies of food that was now completely deformed were scattered throughout the refrigerator, which was, most thankfully, not very full. juices and liquids that had long since gone rancid mingled, creating smells that were almost inhumane as they dripped from the shelves and door onto the floor. i held the garbage bag out and reared my head back as mark bravely threw everything in. when the first bag was full, i ran to the dumpster. mark threw up again.

by now this commotion had attracted cheryl, who had come over expecting a nice even of the cinema. cheryl is tough, yet we refused to let her anywhere near the house. the kids from down the street gathered on the porch, informing us that it didn't smell good in there. as we stood out front, psyching ourselves up again and contemplating whether arson may be the best solution, parents began to come by, inquiring of the situation. and, after they got a wiff from the door, were declaring us to be amazing neighbors and offering cans of industrial strength lysol [we used about a third of the large can by the time the evening was through]. yet, in light of all their kind comments about us being great neighbors, i couldn't help but think that had we been on top of this on monday, or even taken up the offer of 'eat whatever's in the fridge', we would not be gasping for air and wondering if we would ever smell again.

we ran back in again and opened the freezer.
this is around where mark threw up for the third time.


i don't know how long it takes for seafood to go bad, but this was well past prime ripeness. this did not smell like a full dumpster on a hot day. this did not smell like roadkill. it smelled like a mixture of the two, confined into this little box that we had to empty.
everything frozen had thawed, and their was putrid juice dripping everywhere. we went back outside to formulate some sort of attack plan. cheryl had a 72-hour kit in her car and gave us some plastic surgical gloves as we stormed back in.
finding a middle ground between 'as fast as humanly possible' and 'trying not to make the mess any worse', mark threw handfuls into the garbage bag. packages of crab meat seemed to be the worst, yet as we moved near the back [the freezer was much more packed than the fridge], the stench only became worse.
as i came back with the third hefty bag, we found the demon lord of this thawing hell:

at one time, it had been a nice large piece of salmon, neatly shrink-wrapped in plastic. now it looked like it was in a balloon, the packaging almost ready to burst, dripping everywhere. i shudder to think what would have happened had that popped, because even from the back of the freezer and piled under so many other foods [who were contributing their fair share], it gave off an odor which i could not believe existed.
mark bravely grabbed in and threw it into the bag at lightning speed. i cinched the bag tight and ran for the dumpster down the street as if i were holding a biological bomb.
i really, really feel bad for the innocent, hard-working trash collector coming by in a day or two.

someone commented that it was like after the great battle in book of mormon, where the bodies of the soldiers caused the land to stink so profusely that the land was uninhabitable for many years.
that's a pretty good description, i think.

sadly, while the worst was over, there was still much to do. by now, cheryl had talked herself into the house, and we began finding any old rags and every cleaner we had [mark took a spray bottle and made a 50/50 bleach-water solution] and wiping up anything that could caused offence. mind you, this was all in near-dark conditions, as there was no power and all i had was a tiny mag-lite.
we pulled out the trays and soaked them the sink. the magnetic letter toys on the fridge we also tried to wash. we wiped down the fridge and freezer countless times, and scrubbed the floor again and again. we opened the windows and brought in fans. i smelled the couches, hoping they hadn't been infiltrated. they seemed alright. the smell, though still definately present, had deteriorated greatly over the gauntlet of the past hour or two.
there might be hope, still.

when we had done all that we could think of, we left the house for the evening and watched 'singin' in the rain'.
that helped soften the events of the evening, but i do fear my nose is scarred for life.


Em said...

I'm terribly interested to find out what happen(s/ed) when they get/got home!

Anonymous said...

This is epic. One for the record books!