Tom and I live in a quaint little hut mere blocks from charming downtown Whitefish, Montana. Well, "hut" is probably somewhat of a misnomer. It's more of a shack really. It has a certain beach-side flair, with its little sailboat cutouts on the white shutters, and its powder blue siding (makes me think of that blue and white striped ticking you see in Pottery Barn catalogs). I think perhaps it might have been a lake cabin at one time, and been transported to this lot in town. I have a fondness for small spaces (I'm only going to say that the square footage is in the three digit-range. And not the upper range.), and we both live very simply and have a visceral terror of accumulating too much personal impedimenta, so it suits us. Although there is perhaps not quite enough storage for my burgeoning jewelry paraphernalia. (I should put the bed up on blocks, I could get more under there).
I've never had the urge to own a home, and frankly, it's never really been in my grasp financially anyway. Well, maybe when I first moved back here, before the real estate boom, I could have got into a house if I'd really wanted to, but I hated the idea of possibly being trapped in a soul-killing job because of a mortgage payment, or not having any emergency cash savings. Mobility, options, and emergency cash have always been top priorities in my life (freedom to change jobs, to move, cash to do stuff with), and having a mortgage seemed like it would do away with those things. I was never home anyway so I never much cared what my house was like. So I've always rented. This can lead to living in a house with a relatively...bohemian maintenance history.
When I first moved into this house ten years ago the interior was appalling (a long series of men must have lived here), but it had potential--mainly because of the location, the big picture windows (so much light!) and the gas heat/forced air (unusual to find a gas furnace in such a small house). I thought, I could peel off those three layers of dog-eared wallpaper, paint that circa 1972 faux-wood paneling, wash the nicotine stains off the ceilings, paint over those multicolor patch jobs on those old sheetrock walls, and paint over the faux-marble wallboard in the bathroom and it would be just fine. It smelled like an old bar--an old bar that was in a basement--a basement with inadequate drainage--but that got a little better with a coat of Kilz and open windows. Tom joined me here some years later.
Over the years our little shack has aged like an exotic cheese. Ripened, if you will. The last couple years a really piquant odor has crept in during cooler weather that I can only describe as distinctly organic. Or more precisely, mammalian. And not live mammalian, as in, like, wet dog, but rather...dead mammalian. Like a dead rat in the heat vent.
My impression of this odor has probably been influenced by the fact that the room in which I'm sitting as I type this, the second bedroom, has a barely functioning heat vent. All the other vents in the house are busy pumping out toasty air when the heat comes on except for this one. This room is typically freezing from October to June.
Judging by experience, I didn't think the landlord would spring for a vent guy to come and clean the vents (and it's not apparently cheap to hire someone), so I Googled "smelly heat vent". I was surprised, and somewhat relieved, to discover this exact phenomenon was extremely common in everything from brand new to fairly old houses. I found a message board where someone was looking for feedback on this exact problem, and they must have gotten about a hundred responses, all from people describing the exact same thing. A rank, pestilential odor appearing to emanate from their heat vents when the weather turned cooler. And not even when the heat was on. A few people found dead mammals, most didn't. Many had their ventwork cleaned, the vast majority of those to no effect.
So I sort of stopped worrying and just poured some Dove body spray down the vents.
But before I did that I Googled "DIY clean heat duct". Not very helpful. One guy said, well run a ShopVac down in your vents, at least get that part clean. So before I dumped the Dove body spray down there I vacuumed them out. In the process I discovered this room where I type was apparently at one time a child's room. A very bored child. Or maybe a very bad child who spent a lot of time in her room. Probably a girl. Not because she was bad but because of the tea set.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
This was the last vent I vacuumed. And as soon as I had snaked the ShopVac hose down there, there was that telltale THUNK. I had just sucked up something big. (I'm thinking of a badly decomposed Fivel). Well, it being a ShopVac, the object worked its way without a problem into the canister. I continued my probing with the vacuum hose--THUNK. THUNKITY-THUNK-THUNK. TINK. WHUMP. A series of rattles (bee-bees?). Eventually I sucked up something that got caught in the hose. I took the hose outside, detached it and shook it onto the pavement, fully expecting to find something that would make me barf. This is what came out:
Plastic knife, fork and spoon; part of the blinds that must have hung in the window (formerly a classic 80s burgundy color); part of an erector set (the yellow thing); plastic bread bag fasteners; plastic wheels off a toy car; some change (just pennies, unfortunately); an ear from a Mr. Potato Head; cheap clasp from a piece of jewelry; and some other random crap. The other half of what I sucked up is still in the vacuum bag. I'm too cheap to cut it open and see what it is because the bag's only about 20% full. The other half of the tea set maybe. A barbie head. Mr. Potato Head's lips and mustache. The car that went with the wheels...
Ah, well, something to look forward to.
I excitedly turned on the heater after it appeared there was nothing else within reach of my ShopVac hose. Nothing. No hot air. I'm guessing there might be a doll baby head down there that was resistant to the power of the ShopVac. Maybe a tennis ball. Something big and round that rolled down in there. Or I guess it could be Fivel and the tea set is just a coincidence.
The smell has abated quite a bit. Perhaps because the heater is running more regularly now. Or Dove is more powerful than I ever realized.
Oddly enough I don't really have any desire for a bigger house. I probably wouldn't even use a "studio" because it would be too lonely. I'd haul my crap into the living room so I could sit next to Tom while I make stuff. Every day I expect to get a letter from the landlord saying the house is being torn down to make room for a parking lot. Or a real estate office. They're all over the place. (Har har. Good luck with that.) But for now apparently the lot owner thinks renting to us is a better deal. Thank God for the recession.