I've been recuperating from some unidentified type of virus, a flu or something that refuses to exit completely. For close to a month I have felt drained, energyless; it's hard to put one foot in front of another and it feels like my IQ has dropped down to a mongoloid and/or retardative level.
I went to work for my landlord on one of their rental units, a small house that was previously occupied by an unwittingly dysfunctional couple: a husband and wife team of miscreant meth heads, alcohol abusers and constant partiers. My landlords had originally rented a small house right up the street to a nice, responsible retired gentleman who dutifully kept the house and yard in fine shape until his grandson showed up with wifey in two and nowhere to go (plus two babies and three dogs).
Grandpa let them move in for a temporary stay (he thought), but the 20-somethings wouldn't leave and basically took over the two-bedroom house. They were enthusiastic crank imbibers and poly-drug aficionados who would stay up for days/nights at a time creating noisy mayhem for those unfortunate enough to be neighbors.
The rent went unpaid, the "kids" took grandpa's rent money and traded it for crystal meth and beer. Grandpa moved out, the bills were ignored, simple basics such as the trash pickup were soon jettisoned while bags of garbage and piles of beer bottles accumulated freely. The dogs and two toddlers were allowed free reign in the house, the pooches (all pitbulls or pitbull hybrids) happily chewed holes in the walls and orally assaulted the doorframes while both dogs and kids freely pooped and urinated throughout the house, ruining the new carpet. The teants took to heaving bags of garbage up into the crawlspace above the ceiling which developed cracks and leaked smelly fluids through the plaster, adding to the general miasma and decay of the recently renovated home.
My landlady felt it was then necessary to personally visit the property to collect the tardy rent payments (90 days worth). Betty the landlady observed with dismay the wretched condition of the once attractive house and the heavy, foul odor emanating from the carpet and stained ceiling; cigarette butts were dumped freely on the floor and used diapers strewn about in corners and smelly piles. The one adult tenant at home, "Courtney," a very plump blonde gal with abundant acne, mentioned that her boyfriend "Billy" was out, having gone to the local recycling center to get "mad cash" for a pickup truckbed full of bottles and cans. "We will pay you the rent in a view days! Just be patient!"
Courtney was kind enough however to offer Betty a warm beer out of the rusty, nonfunctioning fridge. Betty also noticed the electricity was off (probably due to nonpayment of bills).
Courtney seem happy enough, nursing her should-have-been-weaned-by-now toddler openly on the sagging couch while chain-smoking and sipping Coors Light out of a dented can. Betty also noticed a piece of glass on the coffee table with a crusty, white powder arranged in lines and tiny plastic bags accompanied by a short length of plastic straw. "Oh! Care to do a line? We got the best crystal in town!"
Courtney seemed oblivious to why Betty had showed up and Betty's carefully worded refrains about paying the past-due rent or eviction notices would be forthcoming were cheerfully ignored as an abundant supply of house flies buzzed energetically about.
Betty then showed up at my house curious about the decay of their recently renovated rental. "We invested over $10,000 to put in new carpets, replace the old plumbing fixtures, new window and doorframes, etc. — and now look at it!" I nodded along. I previously had painted most of the inside of that house myself and recently, on bike rides past the residence, had noticed the obvious decay of the property. My landlords (very kind people!) have hired me on occasion to do repairs, painting of their rentals, etc. after previous tenants moved out and when, every once in a while, a renter will "go sour" on them and basically destroy the property while accumulating large piles of refuse which requires the rental fees for, say, an industrial sized dumpster or two to haul all that trash from the property to the Willits Dump.
This latest "family" left without paying any back rent and I got dibs on the cleanup/maintenance and was the first one to enter the house after it was abandoned.
When I let myself in the front door it was like someone (olfactorily-wise) punched me in the face. Ammonia fumes and dirty diaper stench mixed liberally with cigarette ashtray funk slammed into my nasal passages with an unbridled vengeance. Doogie doo and used diapers littered the floor, the thrift shop quality furniture was gone but the previous tenants had left cheesy 70s era posters with cliched pronouncements like "Hang in there!” (with a kitten clinging wide-eyed to a towel rack), "If you love someone let them go!," "Love is never having to say you're sorry," "Happiness is a warm puppy!" "Sunrise is God's way of saying good morning!" "Love! Believe! Hope! Succeed!" And even scarier, an old Keene painting of a blond kid with enormous sad eyes wearing clown makeup/costume holding a wilted daisy.
I was supposed to repaint the house interior and replace the doggie shredded doorframes etc. But I had to clean up the house first, a noxious task made somewhat safer by my luck in finding an old person's "grabber” — a four foot long rod with pinchers on one end and a squeeze handle and on the other — in the garage (most probably belonging to the nice old guy who originally rented the house).
I then used the grabber to pick up various forms of unsavory refuse: old dented Coors Lite cans stuffed with cigarette butts leaking a foul, brown liquid, a swollen rotten package of ground hamburger meat from the warm, molded, piles of hubby’s very used socks, very perused porn magazines, etc.
The carpet itself, a veldt of stains, wet areas, tiny plastic bags, cigarette butts and a crushed-in mixture of what appeared to be Cap'n Crunch breakfast cereal, dried dog kibble and Doritos (along with accompanying bags, etc.). The convenient and handy-dandy geriatric grabber broke halfway through my cleanup duty succumbing to the weighty stress of an abundantly laden baby's diaper heavily soaked in an astonishingly aromatic bright yellow muck.
Not only were the walls of the house prominently stippled with various colorful shades of mold, but the carpet also provided a healthy biosystem for other sporulating fungal colonies. I pried the grubby, handprint-smeared and dog nose snot-slimed sliding glass back door open and found a rusty, tine-challenged pitchfork leaning against the side of the house to gather up the remaining offal and fling it into the dumpster the landlord helpfully provided. "I should be wearing a facemask or better yet a hazmat suit to work in this noxious abode," I thought to myself. (But I didn't listen to that little voice of reason deep down inside.) "Heck, I haven't been sick in over a decade, so I'll probably be fine!"
Reality is beyond thought however, and early that evening I began to feel rather unwell, my head buzzed like a telephone dial tone, my energy level dropped to nil, my mental acuity disappeared in a a fog of disassociation as everything seemed far away and unimportant. It seemed to take forever to make myself dinner as I dropped utensils, forgot ingredients and shuffled around the kitchen like an Alzheimer's patient. Somehow I managed to make myself a pasta dish: linguine with a nice hearty Romano cheese sauce with wild mushrooms (some chanterelles I had gathered on a previous foray in the hills outside of Willits); some garlic bread rounded out the meal. But the effort exhausted me, I sat down and masticated emptily, my appetite had disappeared and the meal tasted like cardboard as my taste buds crashed and burned. I felt scooped out, empty as a dried husk, my chest cavity felt like a soggy cardboard box someone had taken a few mean kicks to as my lungs filled with a gloomy substance. Going to bed seemed an attractive remedy but I chose to emptilly view a DVD on television, a content free exercise of futility as my brain refused to register picture or dialogue. The TV was on but I was off!
I figured a nice hot shower would ease my general body ache, but I couldn't summon the energy to do so and crawled into bed, my brain buzzing like a hornet's nest. There was no rest for countless hours, just a grim, fuzzy insomnia with no blissful release into unconsciousness, a speeded up state of exhausted tossing and turning that stretched on forever it seemed.
Finally at about 3am a delirious dream state parked itself into my brain involving a seemingly infinite chessboard of black and white one-inch square boxes with some part of my brain (or perhaps a disembodied and very cruel taskmaster?) commanding me to “Play the game!"
The rules were simple: I was given a long pair of forceps or tweezers and an infinite supply of white and black dustballs. I was supposed to place (with great precision) a single white dustball in a small, black square receptacle and this was followed by me having to place a single black dustball into a small, white square receptacle and there were seemingly millions of dustballs and receptacles — a gigantic gridwork of them without end.
I was determined to follow the rules and do my best. It all seemed simple enough. For some reason however, I screwed up by placing a white dustball in a white receptacle which made the Taskmaster quite angry, with my resultant penalty being that I was forced to switch the order of black dustballs which now went back into black receptacles and white dustballs into white receptacles, meaning that I had to go back and change the thousands I had already done. This mind-numbing routine went on forever it seemed. I got even more boggled and made more mistakes. The endlessly repetitive task exhausted my mental capacities completely. My skull felt as if it was filled with hot sand. Black! White! White! Black! Mistakes and resulting penalties piled on without end. There was a great crushing suspension of time itself. The all-encompassing urgency to correct my mistakes and finish this brain scouring task assumed herculean importance. "No rest for the wicked!" The voice shrilled through my skull, my brain itself felt as if it was being squeezed through the black and white gridwork with enormous force. I became a hot grainy ashwork of black and white granules being mashed through a sieve with atomic force.
I finally, mercifully slipped into the velvet void of unconsciousness and awoke at about eight in the morning, totally enervated and feverish. The previous night's game of repetitive infinity was a delirium caused by a high fever and perhaps inflammation of the brain itself caused possibly by inhalation of various sporulating colonies of mold, miasmic nightmare cloud of nasties entering my body and "taking up residence" for almost a month. I was wiped out physically and mentally for most of that period. I lost the much-needed income for that cleanup and repair job and noticed ironically enough a short time later that the previously evicted tenants of "Muck Mold Manor" had their rusted out, primer gray Dodge pickup truck parked in front of another small decaying residence. The pickup sported a bumpersticker bearing the quotation: "Honk if you know the universe luvs you!" A wheelless kid’s tricycle laid on its side in the unmown front yard surrounded by empty "Steel Reserve" malt liquor bottles and it was apparent once again that some trusting rental owner had handed over the house keys to these miscreants and was hoping for the best.