Monday, December 19, 2011

As Livermore Falls, So Falls Livermore Part 4

Country Time
The final unit in this building was also a ground level apartment. It was, in fact, the neighboring apartment to the beat down meth head diabetic's unit. Walking in here gave us the impression that this was going to be a relative piece of cake, as we could actually see a majority of the floor. There were big piles of items loaded up in the corners of each room as if they were intentionally left behind. Randomly scattered in each room were a couple lamps, the ubiquitous wood grained TV sets, Nail clippers, unopened cleaning supplies, lamps and a handful of cassettes - all country themed - hence the name of this post. I'm talking about actual good country music too, like Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and Slim Whitman. The majority of the leave-behinds were essentially clothing comprised of well-worn hunting apparel, miscellaneous socks, and at least half a dozen hand-knit blankets. It felt a shame to dump these blankets as it was obvious someone spent a lot of time creating not just one, but five - all virtually identical. In the living room closet there was a blue electric utilities helmet, stained shirts on hangers and 2 hand cut walking sticks (one of which I helped myself to as it was a rock maple sapling)

The kitchen, with no imminent odor and quaint exposed brick walls, was bathed in darkness as there were no windows on this side of the building. Flashlights revealed that it was pretty clean compared to the other units we faced, but still held a wide collection leave-behinds such as glassware, coffee pots and other well worn appliances strewn about the counters and cabinets. In the closet with the walking sticks and helmet, I found one polaroid:

Upon closer inspection, we noted that everything in this photo had been, or was about to be loaded into the dumpster. (except the body) This photo was among the few souvenirs I brought back with me. Of the other keepers, was a beautifully eroded rock that appeared like a miniature replica of the cliffs in Monument Valley, as well as a perfectly usable military flashlight - complete with red and green lens covers.

As we loaded the remainder of the abandoned items into bags, it occurred to us, that out of every place we cleared, there wasn't one single book amongst all the detritus except for one dog-eared Danielle Steele novel found on the floor of this apartment. Fortunately there wasn't the same hopelessness here that was so prevalent in the others as the tenants likely just moved on in a somewhat orderly fashion. The building was now cleared of the remnants and crushed memories of the final 4 tenants to occupy the building. Overall, I have to say this was a solidly built and decently preserved building. (The bones of it anyway), With some hard work, and a crew fully outfitted in haz-mat suits, it could once again possibly be turned into warm and welcoming apartments.

Friday, December 16, 2011

As Livermore Falls, So Falls Livermore Pt. 3

As we wind down the final apartments, I would like to pause and make clear, that aside from the desolation inside the building, I found Livermore Falls to be a rather quaint little town. It also appears that it is in the process of rebounding. There is a brand new hospital being built right down the street from where we were working at the nexus of Main St and the Exit off Route 4. I think this hospital is going to be key in revitalizing a town that has lost most of its livelihood since the closing of the local mills. The hospital will generate more traffic and with it businesses catering to it. This will also be a much more convenient medical facility than Franklin Memorial Hospital 20 minutes North. Aside from this stirring of growth, there are also some very creative elements to this town - something I notice throughout the whole of Maine overall. One business, which is currently for sale by the way, may potentially have the best name I have ever seen for a business.

Sgt Pepper's Only Hot Dog Stand (#2)

I do think the owner tried to squeeze one too too many jokes in with the #2 and the "unSOLD' bit, but that's subjective. Anyway, after a much needed lunch and hydration, we moved on to the next unit:

Apartment #2 Meth Head Diabetics
This was a ground floor level apartment, and one most likely to have been broken into and used as a party pad by the local kids. Fortunately for the owner, the doors and windows were all locked and intact. When we we walked in, on first glance, it did in fact appear to be a party pad. Upon closer inspection though, another story unfolded. We broke out the shovels and began piling the huge mess into the middle of the room so it could be more easily loaded into contractor bags. The discard pile consisted of a couple tires, some very large dog bowls, a couple TV's and yet another closet piled high with cat litter. In the kitchen, we once again found the obligatory nail clippers, jars of peanut butter and unused cleaning supplies. Scattered all over the floor was broken glass, shattered fluorescent tubes, a couple automotive parts, cheap cutlery, broken chair pieces and empty food containers. It appeared that the people who previously occupied this unit had actually taken the time to remove everything of value. Miraculously, there was no rotting food in the sink or fridge (Likely the large dogs had made short work of anything edible)

The bathroom was a comparative pleasure to clear as there were only old bottles of skin cream, shampoo, toothpaste and several yellowed toothbrushes. It was when we went into the back bedroom that the story further elucidated itself. On the walls, every section of sheetrock had been smashed through with back, shoulder and foot sized holes. This was possibly the work of an angry departing tenant or more colorfully, meth rage. It was almost methodical the way each hole was conveniently smack dab between every 2x4 in the wall frame. This was no doubt deliberate and likely spontaneous. On the floor, beneath one of the holes was a rung from one of the broken white ikea chairs. Scrawled on it in sharpie marker was what appeared to be an attempt at sketching. This 'artwork' revealed itself to be juvenile drawings of swastikas and SS logos as seen on German WW2 uniforms. It appeared the artist was trying to perfect his technique as there were many attempts to 'get it right'. Why this person chose a diminutive discarded chair rung to develop his art skills was beyond any of our guesses. Not only was this dude hopped up and angry, but also an artistically challenged anti-semite. Across the room, Chris warned us that this particular room pile contained a bunch of discarded needles and that we were to exercise extreme caution. The small needles were mixed amongst a bunch of used diabetic testing supplies and other almost-empty toiletries. The combo of diabetic supplies mixed with all the neo nazi rage essentially formed the the name of this apartment.

Throughout the day, we had brought various "donatable" items out to the front porch - which we had planned to pile into the pickup and take to Goodwill. As we brought down a basket of reasonably usable canned goods, a couple pulled up in a white 15 year old Volvo sedan. They approached us, asking if they could have the basket we had laid out as well as some other stuff. We enthusiastically replied that they could certainly help themselves. (This would save us the trouble of loading it on the truck) They didn't hesitate for a second. The wife commanded her thickly Hispanic accented husband to start loading up everything. The woman told us, with a never ending cigarette dangling from her mouth, that they had just moved here from Connecticut and "needed stuff". This did our hearts some well-needed good. I immediately ran up to the other apartments gathering anything that appeared salvageable - CD's, VHS tapes, clothing, computers, microwave ovens and rusty bikes - which joined their orphaned friends on the porch. As quickly as I brought down more stuff, it was scanned briefly and loaded them into the car. The husband was grumbling and quietly protesting the necessity of some of it while his wife barked to him that Aunt Maisie would certainly be able to use these things if they couldn't. The man continued trudging back and forth, making as many as 10 trips, until they had filled their car to the point that the back end was sagging a good foot lower than the front. With the realization they couldn't fit another thing, they happily thanked us and bid us adieu (In english of course) as if Christmas had come early this year. 

Back in the meth den, after clearing out every room, we had only the bedroom closet to clear. We could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Inside the closet was a broken telescope, yet another TV, a couple dirty sweaters and jackets (surprisingly no Nazi symbols), and a perfectly immaculate brand-new stuffed white bear with a big-hearted valentine greeting "I love your hugs". I guess even raging methed-out diabetic anti-semites can find love too.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

As Livermore Falls, So Falls Livermore Pt.2

Before we head downstairs, you may wonder why I didn't take more photos. I can honestly say, being a fan of iphone 'of-the-moment' photography, I was just a bit overwhelmed by the tasks and situations at hand to possibly think of capturing more after the nightmare that was upstairs. I also just didn't want to touch my phone. The previous post's photos did a good job of summating the worst of the experience anyway. Yes, I'm retro-justifying not taking pictures.

Apartment 5 - Teen Parents.
Upon walking into this unit, I noticed a somewhat less smoke stained environment than the sty upstairs. Instead of the dense stale cigarette smell, we were treated a smorgasbord of air filled with moldy food and cat box odor. There were the obligatory discarded ashtrays full of butts and typical abandoned furniture and food packages. Although the cushions of the oversized crushed velvet couch and matching chair were all relatively intact, they were left in what I suppose was their original places - as though the previous owner possibly considered feng shui. In, under and around the furniture was, at this point, even more stained newspapers, empty junk food containers all interwoven with the ubiquitous discarded clothing. Along the right wall were a massive pair of classic Radio Shack woodgrain speakers flanking 'the entertainment center'. There was a big red splatter of paint behind the speakers, which at first glance, indicated the possibility of finding a body. Miraculously, much to our mutual relief, there was no body. In the closet was more of the same discarded papers, photos and clothing. Items such as CD's, XBox games, and other salvageable electronics were set aside as what we considered "Goodwill material". The selection of these items began to collectively paint the picture of the previous tenants. We began guessing and joking about the various elements out loud to keep our spirits up. We began to think we were getting let off lightly with this place until we ventured into the kitchen and back bedroom and bathroom.

This kitchen, compared to upstairs, was much more cluttered and full of cookware, cutlery and glassware - as if the owners left in a hurry just after a big grocery run. On the floor were at least 6 cases of Ensure baby formula. (just expired this past October) The sink and countertop were piled to the cabinets with every dirty pot and pan ever used in the home. These items mingled with half empty moldy microwave food containers and other formerly edible leftovers. It seemed a a huge waste of what could have been salvageable goods. Once again, in the cabinet underneath the sink, were several unopened cleaning products mixed with a stash of recyclable bottles and cans. A toaster oven, microwave and other well-used, badly stained appliances that were all added to the dump pile. When I opened the cabinets, I was amazed at the quantity of food left behind. Each cabinet was virtually full, and looked as though the owners were stocking up for the apocalypse. At least 10-15 lbs. of sealed bags and boxes of pasta mingled with dozens of canned food items and at least a dozen jars of unopened peanut butter. (some of which still appeared usable) What surprised me here was the fact that mice had not gotten to any of these items since there were no signs of droppings or nibbled packaging. After emptying the cabinets, and leaving the sink for later,  I made my biggest mistake of the day. I opened the fridge. I did this partly out of curiosity but also out of diligence for the job. I peered in and saw that the freezer had been left full, and was about to remark on some of the items within when the smell hit me, through my respirator mask, like a 9 iron over the bridge of my nose. The strength and density of the rot smell physically knocked me back against the wall and I began to gag uncontrollably. I ran to the open window for a breath of air while simultaneously slamming the fridge door shut. Through my gags, I warned my coworkers to not open that fridge under any circumstances. After regaining my stomach and composure, managing to NOT vomit in the process, I put my respirator back on and decided to try and tackle the back bedroom and bathroom - after all, there couldn't be anything worse in there right?

Wrong. The back bedroom was filled with a supremely dense and dank cat box smell. This smell emanated from the bathroom, which had been inadvertently converted to a large litter box in its entirety. The dank smell again pierced my respirator like a well aimed dart up my nostrils. At least 6-8 inches of cat litter, pock marked with petrified cat turds, filled the room and bathtub. Mixed in was the obligatory soiled discarded clothing. Some of this clothing however, was different as it was a small child's. An additional wave of sadness crept over me as I observed other children's things in the bathroom such as a child's giraffe night light, a shredded dirty stuffed animal, tiny socks and other decor.

Outside the bathroom, in the bedroom itself, was a massive pile of clothes and other completely random detritus. (the biggest pile yet) These were mostly oversize "hip-hop" style clothes, which despite their size, matched that of a 12 year old white kid who listened to nothing but 50 Cent and Wu Tang Clan. Again, we spotted several pairs of finger and toenail clippers (gold this time), more discarded once-worn socks, several lamps, 2 TV's and a couple hot pink fluffy women's robes and slippers. Amongst these 'fashion-challenged' discards, were more children's clothes. Thankfully the kids clothes appeared more appropriate for a small child - festooned with infantile animal patterns and pastel color palettes. Behind the chest of drawers were more discarded XBox games, broken sunglasses and other depressingly cute attempts at providing a modicum of childhood for this poor little unknown soul. I couldn't bear to delve deeper into the Candyland game that had been left behind beneath more cat litter on the rug. I was amazed at how many bags it took to get this cleaned up. It seemed the more bags we filled with clothing, the bigger the pile appeared. I could have fully outfitted a small army of hip hop kids with the amount of goods left behind. It had become apparent that these people not only didn't know how to take care of a child, but themselves as well. Which led me us to a mutual assumption that the former tenants were a couple of teen parents in way over their heads.

We were happy to have finally cleared this space, taking advantage of the window directly above the nearly full dumpster, to heave the clutter over and out of the space and our lives. At this point, we were also glad to have finished with the more disgusting elements of the day, while simultaneously looking forward to the stories the next units had in store for our imaginations.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

As Livermore Falls, so falls Livermore

I got the opportunity to do some work for a friend this past Monday. It involved being part of a team to help clean up abandoned apartments in a building he owns in Livermore Falls, Maine. The job was described to me as "cleaning with a shovel". Interestingly enough, Doug, who usually has folks in their 20's work with him, was quick to discover that the four of us collectively were 201 years old. We were all excited to see what we were made of and I, always being game for a new experience, was happy to join this 4 man crew. We were, however, not prepared for the impact each of these apartments had on us emotionally. If not for our collective sense of humor, we would have been overwhelmed at the evidence of the crushed hopes and dreams of these former tenants. Each apartment's debris and detritus told a very different story based on the items left behind.  I'll try to encapsulate observations of the people's lifestyles apartment by apartment. There were a total of 4 apartments that needed cleaning as the other units were left in comparably immaculate condition. The "comparably" term will be self-explanatory by the end.

We all decided it would be a good idea to tackle the most disgusting apartment first and work our way down to the least to maximize our energy output. Also, we just wanted to get the rough stuff over with. Apartment 7 edged out Apartment 5 by only a small margin.

Apartment #7 - Smokey's

Upon entering the apartment, I noticed that above the doorway trim was what appeared to be smoke damage. Looking inside, we realized it was in fact smoke damage - or rather "smoker damage". The entire squalidly furnished apartment had the dull yellow glaze of a shut-in chain smoker. Every window, wall and item, both vertical and horizontal, had an incredibly opaque coating of tobacco tar. The windows were so thickly coated that, like shower doors, obscured everything visible outside. The smell of stale cigarettes was so strong, it seemed as if he never even opened the windows once.
Apparently the previous tenant had only left the premises 6 weeks earlier, with a single Rite-Aid bag full of "important stuff", and left behind everything else he owned. His computer, stereo(s) VCR, DVD player and TV all remained exactly where he had left them. His VHS tape collection and stack of banal 90's dance CD's were stacked right next to the stereo as if he had just stepped out to go to the store.
The couch, worn well below the foam cusions to the springs, was that classic broken-down brown tweed that you might have seen in your friends' basement in the 70's. Joining the couch in the living room was a stacked twin size pair of mattresses that looked like they had been crushed by a sleeping elephant. These too were worn down to the springs through overuse. Ashtrays, cigarette butts, mail and other items were scattered about - including a notice that the state of Maine was providing him with his next apartment for free. (of which he had refused) The living room closet was stacked high, full of old photo albums (mostly empty), framed baby photos and owners manuals from items long gone. Hanging in the closet was his military issue jacket, a couple unused coats with labels still attached and random pairs of socks attached to hangers. (The sock theme seemed to be one of the many threads we noticed throughout the building)

Moving into the kitchen (off to the left the bathroom) we noticed the stove, counters and cabinets had not been cleaned in years. In addition to the yellow smoke film, were plates and utensils stuck to every surface as if they had been intentionally glued there. Pots and pans covered in an unidentifiable brown substance were scattered about and stuck to the sink and inside the cabinets where dirty glasses joined their glued comrades.

The bathroom - something I had never ever seen quite like, rivaled any abandoned building or crack den you can think of. The photos here attempt to capture the scene but really only capture a portion. Apparently he'd been living there for months without running water - which would explain the hideous pile shown below... (pic courtesy of Chris Johnson, one of my coworkers)

I've never seen a shitstorm like this in my entire life. This man was obviously obese judging from the size of the shorts and other discarded clothes, however the acrobatics required to reach the height of the spray is hard to imagine - even for a relatively healthy individual. The shot I took below, despite lack of lighting, shows this from a wider perspective:

In the back, in what would likely have been a bedroom, were 10-15 contractor bags worth of discarded clothes. Dirty socks were strewn all over with a visible pack of new socks only partially used. In the drawers of an old faux antique dilapidated chest, were additional undergarments and random clothing items along with a few unused cleaning supplies and nail clippers (another thread). There was also a well-worn crumpled list of "Things to do" that looked as if it had been referred to many many times. On the list, #1 was "See psychiatrist about diagnosing mental condition" followed by what appeared to be 20 or so random tasks - one of which, on its own line, said "warm hole" possibly meaning worm hole. (I hoped) In the closet were several more pairs of socks affixed to hangers as well as giant tent-like shirts that could easily fit two of me inside. All in all, this unit was a sickly mirror of obvious mental illness and squalor and told a sad tale of someone who had essentially given up.

Next post, we'll visit:
Apartment #5 - Teen Parents
Apartment #2 - Meth-head diabetics
Apartment #1 - Country Time