Plot Twist (With Sewer Rats.)

posted in: D.C. 5

Settle in. This is gonna be awhile.

The townhouse I rented here on Capitol Hill is darling, and I’ve said so. There’s a nice big kitchen, there’s a staircase up to the quaint second floor with the bedroom and white-tiled bathroom. The overstuffed easy chair and loveseat are covered in mahogany leather; the pots and pans are All-Clad. I feel like an upwardly mobile mommy blogger here. It’s ducky. Me and this apartment, unfortunately, are about to fade to black.

When I moved in, there was a funky smell. It was an odd one, kind of pooey, kind of ammonia-y, a strange sort of musty. I had just driven a U-Haul from the heart of Manhattan through the rain, through Capitol Hill, so a) I only shallowly registered this and b) figured the house had been sitting empty for awhile and by getting some circulation going and moving in, within hours any must would go away.

A few days later, it had not. I kept several windows in the house open a crack, but I was beginning to be concerned and it was beginning to be too cold for open windows. Was it sewage gas? Was that it? I let the management company know that my house didn’t smell particularly like the field of flowers it ought to, for the price I was paying. They were slow to respond. When they did, I was out of town, and there’s no way to tell if they actually came by to check anything, but they said they sent someone over and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They said it might be a dead animal in the wall and that the smell should go away. Part of the problem with all of this has been that I was out of town a fair amount in December; business trips and the holidays meant that I was only in my new place half the month. Had I been here every day, I would’ve reached a “Oh hell no” place earlier. Before I left for the holidays, I told the management company that the problem had to be resolved (or at least explained and a resolution planned) by the time I came home from my holiday trip.

When I walked in my house last week, the smell was not gone at all; it had gotten far worse. It was an almost sweet smell, a true sewage-y smell, now, and I had a headache almost instantly. I said many bad words and contacted the management with an ultimatum: either they get someone over here to fix this and reduce my rent in the meantime, or I start filing complaints in a real official type of way. By two o’clock, I had a representative from the company and an exterminator in the house, both of whom agreed that this place smelled. Bad.

There are sewer rats in the crawlspace.

There are sewer rats in the crawlspace of this house, evidenced by the feces and urine the exterminator found in the crawlspace. There’s a lot of “evidence,” and if the rats are in the crawlspace, you can bet your bippy they’re in the walls and underneath the property, too. Remember in New York when Yuri and I had a mouse? I long for Mickey, now; I also wonder why, until this year, the sum total of my experience with these kind of animals was petting a hamster in Miss Osborne’s second grade classroom. Now I’m apparently the Rodent Whisperer.

My research into the health concerns of being around rat poop and rat pee were not encouraging. Something called Lymphocyctic choriomeningitis and — more common in the U.S. — the hantavirus can occur when you breathe in the bacteria from rat waste. You had me at “meningitis,” my little rat-a-tat-tats. Both diseases can be deadly; 35% of people who get these diseases die from them. The good news (?) is that of the over 300 cases reported in the past ten years in the U.S., the vast majority have occurred in the western states in rural areas. California farmers get the hantavirus way more than writer-designers in Washington do. But all the information I found recommended that being around rat waste is bad (okay, yes) and that if you are around it, it’s not a bad idea to refrain from dusting or vacuuming too much, as not to disturb the already airborne bacteria.

I love vacuuming, you bastards!

There are other problems with the house and the extreme grumpiness that has propelled this lengthy post this morning is due to the fact that I slept all of three hours last night. There’s something wrong with the heat here. The upstairs is stiflingly hot. The fan will not stop blowing and though I have the thermostat set to 66-degrees, it cannot be less than 85 up there. It was annoying when I first moved in; it’s now untenable. I woke up at two o’clock and at four o’clock after having nightmares about being in a crushing crowd of people while wearing super-constricting jeans. (In other words, it was a dream about being hot.) I had a choice: stay upstairs and sweat through bad sleep or come down to the icy cold first floor — the windows are open, remember — and be assaulted by smelliness and visions of the Rodents of Unusual Size skittering around underfoot. The loveseat where I would ultimately choose to make my bed is about five feet across; I am five-foot-eight. I can’t remember the last time I was this grumpy.

The management company is appropriately horrified at all of this. They will relocate me immediately, of course. At about four-thirty this morning, wedged on the damned loveseat, I emailed them that they would also be putting me up in a hotel until that time comes.

This is where my grumpiness turns to hot, despairing tears. I just moved. I just moved here. I changed my address. I set up shop. My design wall is up; there’s a quilt being made. I have my tea tray all ready every morning. I don’t want to look at cardboard boxes. I just want a home. I just want a little peace for crying out loud. For heaven’s sake, man.

This is my tale of woe.