You know, sometimes I really hate being such a creature of habit. It’s one thing to develop a comfortable pattern in life as a coping mechanism for when things get crazy. It’s another thing entirely to be up at four in the flippin’ morning on the first Saturday of the school year.
I tried to get back to sleep, I did. It just wasn’t going to happen. My body whined, “But it’s too early!” and my brain said, “La la la can’t hear you…GET UP.”
It’s okay. I’ve got a surprisingly palatable cup of coffee and the kiddies are sleeping off their first week of school thought-hangovers. At least we’ve got time to chat.
Pardon the smell while we talk. The landlords have finally decided that a house should not, in fact, get a middle-age beer gut and sag alarmingly in the middle. They bought some 2x4s and spent the last couple days whacking them in place under the buckled support beams in our scary-beyond-all-reason cellar.
“Wait, Bethie. Did you just say your support beams have buckled?”
“And that they are NOT going to replace them?”
*sigh* And now you see why we’re trying to find a different place to live.
What should happen is that the house should be professionally jacked up and held in place while new support beams are installed, after which proper supports should be set in place on cement platforms so they can’t sink again. What actually happened is what I just said. They went around and placed bricks on top of the mud floor, then wedged 2x4s between the bricks and the sagged beams. As such, the house is still slumped in the middle, but they fully believe it won’t sag any more. And it won’t.
…until spring, when the floor of the cellar does its part to change our boring, common house into the poor man’s Fallingwater.
*architectural fist bump*
The cellar here is really a glorified crawl space, and you must hunch over like Quasimodo to move around under there. There are also a couple random pipes strung along the ground instead of up under the floor of the house where they belong, so while you’re hunching over looking for the bell to ring, you’ll need to have the skills of a top level crook on a bank heist faced with a laser security grid to twist and bend your way across the space.
Did I mention the spiders?
Because they’re down there and they’re everywhere. Normally I don’t mind spiders. But these freaky bastards are albinos. Large, albino spiders. So while you’re hunched over, twisting in ways the human body was never meant to twist, you also have to constantly swipe your hand in front of you to cut through an admittedly impressive amount of spider webbing if you don’t want to get it all over your face. Those albino spiders might be creepy, but boy can they weave.
Now, this house has been here for over a hundred years. It was cheap housing for workers who toiled in the leather tanning factory just down the road. It was never intended to last. Its purpose was simply to give the workers a place to sleep at night that was close enough to the factory so that they didn’t need to try and figure out a way to pay for a car on their measly wages. A quality house would have been built on cement, a real foundation. The cellar would have been a basement, and the builders would have taken steps to ensure that sagging into the Bog of Eternal Stench didn’t happen.
Being around for so long, it’s got junk crammed down in there. Nothing valuable of course. It’s all junk that people decided would be someone else’s problem.
…oh, we haven’t met? Let me introduce myself. I’m Someone Else.
It’s bizarre what’s down there, too. There are lots of old construction scraps, clearly from the people who’ve had to patch this old beast up many times over the years. There is a large stack of pipes on one wall, along with a dead boiler and two broken furnaces. Since I can’t see how in the hell they would have gotten those out of there, I can totally understand why they though it best just to leave them.
However, there is also an engine.
From a car.
Keep in mind, there’s no bulkhead.
Scratch that. A bulkhead was sort of constructed when the house was split into two units sometime in the 90s. However, it was never actually completed. There’s a rotten board over a gaping hole where someone framed out a doorway, but never actually built. It was not part of the original house. How do I know this? Because the way they made the hole was to remove the actual foundation stones and heap them up in the cellar as well. And yes, that may have a little something to do with the sinking problem, too. I’m no architect, but it seems to me that if you remove a large section of foundation stones, that might cause a wee bit of an issue down the road.
Anyway, as I was saying, the original house had no bulkhead. In the original house, there was a door to the cellar, and that was your way down to the boiler. When the house was divided into two, they made an additional set of stairs to get to the boiler from the other side. On one side of the house, you’ve got decent, sturdy stairs, but have to duck as soon as you start down them because of a great big wall. On our side, you don’t have to duck until you’re all the way down, because it’s the original way to get into the cellar and, therefore, was not built under a wall. That’s a plus. But, the staircase is a rickety old mess, constructed of what I can only surmise is jello. Either way into the basement sucks, that’s my point.
The engine is an oldie, one I might like to screw around with or at least use as a neat base for a coffee table if I could figure out how to get it out of there. It’s old and has a thick crust of rust keeping it secured to the wall, so I’m pretty sure it’s been down there since well before the hack attempt at bulkhead building. I have no idea how in the hell someone managed to get it in the cellar in the first place. In my mind, it probably began with alcohol and someone saying, “Hey Ernie, I know what we can do with that engine…”
So let’s recap. While being Quasimodo on a Mission Impossible assignment karate chopping your way through Aragog’s lair, you’ve also got to step over old, sharp, rusted metal. Even in the best of conditions, in the droughts, while armed with a flashlight that actually works, since god only knows if the swinging bare bulbs that are down there will play nice and actually light a path, it’s a Herculean trial just to cross the cellar, never mind what it takes if you actually have to try and repair something. Then, you might as well get out the Twister board and try to turn it into a game, because the other option is to sit down in the mud and cry.
…which you really, really want to avoid. The spiders will laugh at you if you cry, and that is a sound you never want to hear *shudder*. Also, there is a mysterious fungi down there that we believe may, indeed, be the harbinger of the zombie apocalypse. Don’t sit down. Suck up those tears and push on. Don’t let it get you, Atreyu!!
Now, imagine that it’s spring. The melting snow from the hill up behind the house turns the muddy cellar into Gollum’s lair. While you are twisting, turning, hunching, and flailing, you step over the same pipe you’ve had to step over a dozen times before. For a split second you feel triumphant, because hey, you’re finally getting the hang of the obstacle course! And then your foot hits the level where the mud bottom of the lake should be and keeps going, and before you know it, you’re sitting on your ass, dripping wet with who the hell even knows, listening to albino spiders snicker at your predicament while you desperately try not to remember that situations like this are exactly how plagues start.
See, what happens to a dirt cellar when water rushes in is exactly what you’d expect. It pools and puddles, makes little rivers through the mud, and swirls and carves out new basins. It’s an ever changing environment, like a shoreline or wetlands. Good for vacationers, hippies, and landscape artists. Bad for the foundation of a house.
What absolutely should have happened the other day is that the landlords should have rented a hydraulic jack, raised the house to the proper level, replaced the support beams, pounded cement cylinders deep into the mud, and then installed proper house supports.
Boy, doesn’t that sound like a lot of work? I get tired just thinking about it! Best just whack in a shitload of pine 2x4s and hope for the best.
Which brings us to the smell.
Look, I’m glad they’re working down there. It honestly should have happened seven years ago when they were told by a contractor that the house was starting to sink. They chose to ignore it then, it’s gotten so much worse now. Fixing it HAD to happen. And while what they’re doing is, at best, a half-assed attempt, at least it’ll keep the house of cards standing for the few more months we’ll be living here. I must say that even though it won’t last, for now it’s way less wobbly. The efforts aren’t completely without merit, and I applaud their attempt to do SOMEthing.
But the smell.
Oh m’gawd…the smell.
Their huffing and puffing and digging and shoveling has kicked up an unholy miasma I have to believe has come from the bowels of another dimension. It started the first afternoon they began work as an unpleasant odor that smelled faintly like a boy’s locker room. The second day, the smell was worse. Not only was I reminded of gym socks and sweaty jock straps, but a distinct rotten aroma added to the mix. I’ve never actually smelled durian fruit, but I imagine that’s what it smells like. I spent the day spraying Lysol and Febreze all willy-nilly, trying to mask the odor.
The third day, that was the worst. We got up and started gagging. Windows were thrown open, fans were run on high. I took another trip to the store to buy emergency Lysol. A giant can of the name brand stuff. You know, the BIG guns. No cheaping out on this disaster! It didn’t help. Nothing helped. I knew I should have bought those gas masks when I had the chance. We spent the day with watering eyes and queasy stomachs, and finally, that night, things started to calm down.
Yesterday it only smelled a little.
This morning I caught a whiff when I was near the cellar door, but I can’t smell it anywhere else, so I think the worst has passed. The crisis is over. I can breathe deep without fear of singeing my nose hairs.
I don’t want to think about what made that smell. That smell was not the smell of a healthy environment. That smell was not the smell of things that are pleasant and wholesome and good. That smell was the exclamation point on our voiced desires to get the hell out of here. We’ve lived here and paid rent for ten years. TEN YEARS. We’ve been putting up with their bad housekeeping for ten years. And now all of a sudden when they have to rent the other side, NOW they decide to do work? That’s a fine thank you for being tolerant and understanding and…
“Bethie, you’re starting to sound bitter.”
*deep breath* You’re right. I need to get going, and I don’t want to end on a sour note. They are here now doing what it takes to lure in another unsuspecting family. And we are working on leaving. Hey, at least I’ve learned how to do a lot of home repairs, right? If nothing else, I certainly got an education living here.
Now, we just need to find a place. And be able to afford it. Anyone know any wealthy old benefactors looking for a family to adopt?
Thus concludes a stinker of a Musing for Saturday, August 30, 2014. Off I go to prepare for the last yard sale of the summer. Hopefully the landlords haven’t chosen today to work on the outside of the house. The crap I’m trying to sell is cruddy enough without them splattering it with house paint.