Of Mice And Men (But More Mice Than Men)
I run across hoarders on occasion. I don’t judge them for their lifestyle choice, but it does make my job more difficult having to be a plumber AND a moving company.
This story is about the worst I’ve ever seen.
From the street the house looked like any other house. It was a decent part of town, the yard had been mowed, the flower garden was well-tended. Matter of fact, the homeowner was watering the lawn. I walked up to him and extended my hand to introduce myself. He looked at my hand and said Hi but wouldn’t shake it. No big deal, some people are like that. We stood out front for a few minutes while he explained the reason for the call. He said he could hear what sounded like water spraying somewhere in the back of the house, and his water bill was quadruple what it should be. I asked if he had tried to diagnose or fix it himself. He gave me a weird look and said no, he couldn’t get to it.
He leads me up the front step and asks me not to mind the mess. I’ve heard that statement so many times I don’t pay attention to it anymore. After 17 years of running service calls, I can say (without exaggerating) EVERYONE is somewhat messy.
When he opened the front door I actually blurted out the words “holy shit”. The smell burned my nose. It was so pungent I couldn’t walk inside. I took one step in and my eyes started watering. I stepped back out and told him I couldn’t go in there. I asked him what in the world the smell was, and he said it’s just the way the house smells. I have to admit I was a little surprised to see he wasn’t upset with me. He asked what we should do now, and even said he wouldn’t hold it against me if I wanted to leave. Being a problem solver I wasn’t ready to give up yet and besides, I really wanted to see how deep this rabbit hole went.
I came back from my van wearing a respirator I use when cutting concrete and a pair of safety goggles that are tight-fitting. Now I’m ready to rock. I enter the house again and notice the floor is moving, what floor I could see that is. You would probably call it a trail. Floor to ceiling was stacked with everything this man had acquired over the past 30+ years. But back to the floor. ROACHES, thousands of them. Not wanting to have roaches in my good work clothes, I went back out to the van and stripped down to my underwear in the driver’s seat to put on a pair of coveralls,rain boots, and elbow length rubber gloves. This time I enter the house looking like a character from a steam punk novel. All I’m missing is a few brass accessories and a shotgun.
THe owner leads me to the back of the house where the trail ends in a room full of buckets. There had to be at least 50 5 gallon buckets on the floor of this room. When he turned on the lights things began to jump up from the buckets, which was a little startling at first. It ended up being mice, 10 to a bucket. It looked like a lottery machine. They couldn’t quite jump to the top of the bucket, but close enough that their noses would poke up over the lip. Crawling around the buckets were several cats and a couple ferrets. I asked him what the deal was with the mice, and smiling he said when one of the cats got hungry they would snatch a mouse out of a bucket. Okay, creepy, but I applaud you for your ingenuity. I asked “How do the buckets stay upright”? He kicked one and it didn’t move. “Glue, he said”. There were no litter boxes in this room by the way (nor any of the rooms I walked through to get here). The cats and ferrets were doing their business in the trash piles throughout the house. Smell identified.
From the mice room I could hear rushing water from the next room. It turns out we were in the master bedroom, and the other room was the master bath. He was right though, there was no way in to that room. There was so much crap packed in there I could hardly see the ceiling. I asked him where the crawl space entrance to the house was, (certain it would be covered with stuff) and he catches me off guard by opening the bedroom closet door (which was surprisingly empty) to expose the cut out in the floor. I opened the hatch to see a giant pile of trash covered in rat feces. Yeah… I’m not going down there.
I did fix the leak. The installing plumber had unwisely plumbed the master bath shower supplies in an exterior wall, and they froze over the winter. I was able to cut a hole in to the wall from the outside of the house to access them.
This story took place at the end of winter 2011, and that house is now gone. I don’t of course know the details behind the demolition, but I do recall after I finished, the owners neighbor met me at my van and asked if I had taken any pictures of the inside of the house.