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Day 1. You say Goodbye, and I say Hell_.

I no longer fear death, for I have seen Hell. OR, Hell is an apartment near D.C. OR, here we are, going to Hell in a basket. Whichever euphemism you want, make sure it has something to do with the apartment where I am living for my summer MELP internship.

When I arrived in Takoma Park, I was thrilled by the beauty of it. Like one big 1950’s dream, my internship hometown contained manicured lawns with flowers, and monkey grass, and vegetable gardens, natural fences made from living bamboo, all topped with cherry homes. The houses were painted lilac and cream, peach with white trim and lace curtains. I drove into town on an easy avenue, passing a college, a hospital, a school. I drove over numerous crosswalks, perpendicular to tidy sidewalks on which grandmothers strolled with their smiling grandkids. I was so excited! This is the perfect place for me! Abbi, my dog, and I are going to take walks and explore one perfectly coiffed avenue after the other!

I turned into my circle, and there were more lovely houses and yards. One yard is completely covered with green butterfly netting, protecting a rich jungle of bean trees, sunflowers, pepper plants, herbs, and royal purple flowers. Another house is painted lavender with dark trim, and has clean, white lattice along the openings under the house. In the center of my circle street is a tidy apartment complex, with well-trimmed grass and well-swept red-brick walkways. I couldn’t wait to see which house was mine! Then it happened. If you’ve ever seen “The Burbs” with Tom Hanks, you know what I’m talking about. The next best description would be “The Munsters.” There you are, walking along in Pleasantville, neighbors smiling and waving, black squirrels chittering away on fence tops, and you’ve walked right in front of the one house that doesn’t look like the others. The one house where everything in the yard is dead, or twisted, and the house is dilapidated and could collapse at any moment. Unattractive brown trashcans are here and there. The only flowers attached to this house are growing through the fence, toward the street, as though trying to tear themselves from the yard, or at least passersby that this is not a safe place. I live in THAT house.

When my mother and I arrive at the new place, Abbi the dog, and Kodak the cat, in tow, we found my landlord, hereinafter just Landlord, mowing the lawn in front of the house. I should say, she was mowing the dust, since the only thing growing in that yard are fresh and quickly desiccating dog piles. We were greeted by four yappy, little dogs that would not let us pass into the yard through the fence. After I removed Abbi from their sight, Landlord took them inside, and we entered the yard. Then we entered the apartment, which is more like two dens and two closets, one of which serves as the bathroom, off of the rest of the house. I expected it to be two rooms, I wasn’t expecting anything of what I found.

The first thing that hits you is the smell, and it hits you right on your rear. The apartment reeked of mildew and cat urine with a subtle undertone of dirty dog. It was awful. Everything smelled bad. The couch, the carpet, the walls, the bathroom, the bedroom, the bed, the air coming in from the air conditioning vents. Everything stunk. After the smell, you can notice other things that make you wonder when the Addams Family was last home. For example, the carpet IS dirty with animal hair and other debris. The “kitchenette” (I jest, but that is what Landlord called it) has wall peeling so that about a half foot of material hangs off the ceiling. The floor in the kitchenette suffers from crevices filled with cat litter, it sags, and where it is sagging, there is the inevitable pieces that don’t sag enough, and create jagged areas that cause even calloused feet to scream, ouch! The bathroom window is useless, because the screen is so covered with some brown moss that no sunlight can pass through. The toilet may fall through the floor at any minute, and tips to your left side at a near 45 degree angle. There is a bra, black thigh-high, and one lady’s sock by the piano that is out of tune. The chairs for the table have straw seating that has seen better days, as in a wild animal gnawed on them, so someone threw a smelly afghan and a smellier black, fleece something over the wild straw seats. Upon further inspection the really awful smelling black fleece fabric was a hair-covered (as in matted with hair) fleece pull-over! Ack! Someone’s dirty clothing! There are very few outlets in the house, and so the fridge is plugged into a surge protector, which also power the microwave and the half-broken toaster oven with one working hot plate on top, and that surge protector is plugged into an extension cord, which runs along the bottom of the doorway (don’t trip!), and is plugged into another surge protector in the “living room.”

Along the top of the kitchenette, wildly floating in the air, then falling down the side of the door jam, only to run messily along the floor with excess cord in front of the bathroom doorway (again, don’t trip) and leading out of a large hole in the wall, is the cable for the TV. Unfortunately, the cable has been stripped, so I can’t actually use it unless I buy the female part. Even then, who knows?

I have since rearranged some of the wires, but I am still dealing with the smell. After a two pound box of baking soda, three jar candles, eight sticks of incense, numerous smaller candles, a bottle and a half of Febreeze, and removing the afghan, the polo fleece, the thing covering the couch, and the awful area rug (whoa, what a stink that was), it smelled tolerable in my new “home.” I threw the area rug with the trash because it was covered with white mold on the under side, not to mention that it just reeked of that overpowering cat urine smell which signals a bad mildew problem. There were leaves and dead bugs under the area rug, and a stain of white mold.

Also, did I mention that Landlord’s first sentences to me were how she was going to begin renovating my small space while I was living here for not even three months? I don’t even have a door for the doorway between my bedroom and my “living room,” and she’s telling me that she is going to renovate my area, which includes all new flooring in my living room. I did not sign on for that. Besides, after assessing all the damage to my small living space, especially the sagging floor in all the rooms, the entire structure would need to be replaced. There is no laminating over this one. Everything, I mean every single plank, would need to be replaced to renovate this place and bring it up to code.

Landlord leaves, we clean. I try to use my one sink, since the kitchenette is really just a closet with some appliances plugged in, and the cold water doesn’t work. Two and a half weeks later, and the cold water side still doesn’t work. If my hot water heats, which it does, I either suffer the mild burning sensation, or a crick in my back as I use the bathtub tap, which is what I use to wash my dishes. Aw, paradise. She gave me two keys for my door. Only one of the keyed-locks turns, and it is a weak doorknob lock. The other keyed lock is misaligned with the door. At least when I am home, there is another bolting lock that secures the door, but there is no key that matches that locking apparatus.

After an appalling day of cleaning and purchasing well over $100 in cleaning supplies and candles, I wrote an email telling Landlord that this was unacceptable. I outline everything, making it very factual. She tells me that she’s retrieved the area rug (obviously she has no sense of smell!, and placed it on her porch, just outside my front-facing windows – when I walk past the porch to my private entrance, I can smell the rug from ten feet away!). She tells me that she cleaned the apartment, and has no idea where I would find a bra. She tells me she steam-cleaned this apartment, which shares a door with her part of the house (I keep that locked at all times with the cat little up next to it and thick plastic stuffed under the wide gap to prevent smells from leaking in there). She tells me that because she cleaned it, it must have been the last tenant who left it so messy (something about the order of that sequence isn’t right). Responding to my question about what to do with the items left in the apartment (couch covering, afghan, someone else’s greasy pans and dishes), she tells me that since I’ll only be here for a few weeks, to just keep everything where it is (WHAT?! Including the awful smelling, hair covered fleece thing and the couch cover? Um, ick.). Then, in response to my concerns about the renovating, which I didn’t really expect to happen after dealing with her for just an afternoon, she tells me that they were never going to be in my space anyway! Erm, but just this afternoon, didn’t you say…

I cried, I can tell you that. I cried like a person who has been beaten in life’s game of chess. I looked for other places, but I knew it was futile. My father offered to drive up, take the animals for the summer, so I could move into a group home, or anything that wasn’t this sweltering flea-riddled swamp of despair and animal odors. I wanted a place to renew, rejuvenate myself, and possibly invite a friend or two over for dinner, or Wii games! THIS smelly place is what I deserve?

My mother had to return to her life in her nice smelling house four days after we arrived. I was alone in a new city, a new apartment, or whatever the proper term for this place is. The apartment odors were more tolerable, especially if I burned candles, incense, and sprayed Febreeze on everything as soon as I got home and as soon as I woke up. I began to calm down. Then, I woke up one morning to the strong smell of dog droppings. I jumped up with an accusing glare at Abbi. A quick look around my small space, and I apologized to her. The smell that was so strong as to wake me up was coming from the air vents! Ack! Awful smells from Landlord’s area were oozing into and invading my expensively freshened air! –I did find out that weekend, from the person who was watching Landlord’s dogs for a day while Landlord was gone, that Landlord’s FOUR incredibly barky dogs, whose crap smells like a rotting, dead thing when it’s outside (the entire “yard” reeks, DO go to the bathroom inside the house. I’m guessing they do it right by the air vents! Bleackh! Glmgugkh! WHAT?! One day, she commented that she scrubbed her floors, and on that day, it was the best MY apartment ever smelled. –Now, I have cat-litter pan air filters glued over my air vents, and I drizzle peppermint and lavender oils on the filters. I’ve also sprayed my walls and carpet and the vents with oregano oil-water, which did kill a lot of mildew smell. Still, odors invade my space, and I can’t believe just how bad the air from the vents smells. I feel very sorry for Kodak, who is having a lot of her sneezing fits.

I’m doing the best I can, and being very inventive, and that is something I am proud of. And at least I can write about it. These blogs are my documentation of what I am going through, my thoughts, and what any intern could go through if she is living alone, with a German Shepherd, a cat, and a little imagination (and some legal understanding).

What new odor or adventure is coming at me next?

Oh, hell.


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