(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

(The following is a personal essay written by my friend Natalie Sidner.)



“I need your nose.”

That’s the text I get from Patrick while driving home on Sunday afternoon.

Uggggggh. I roll my eyes and half gag, simultaneously. I know what he’s referring to.

Yesterday, which was Saturday, March 23rd — literally my declared move-out day — I noticed a smell coming from the master bathroom. The door to the master bathroom has been closed for weeks, so if there’s a smell originating from the crack, it’s probably not a good sign.

One time about a year ago Patrick had to retrieve a dead rat from the attic and almost puked in the process, and since then we’ve been able to hear faint scratching in the walls around us as we’re falling asleep at night. So, unfortunately, we’ve recently suspected we have another visitor or two.

Death has a very distinct smell. My mom taught me that growing up. She was raised in a town where all the kids would play outside every evening until dusk or later, where I suppose they easily encountered the occasional dead raccoon or opossum or the like. I guess for many, many years I didn’t really understand what she was talking about. But as I grew to realize how much I loved camping and being out in the woods, I learned the scent, too. I would describe it as a heap of trash that’s been neglected for weeks married with the pungent must of old cheese — and even that doesn’t get it right. Because, as mom said: death has a very distinct smell.

So when Patrick got home from his 24-hour watch early this morning, I told him what I had “discovered.” He just stared at me for a moment before letting his shoulders fall in dejection. Like, Are you SERIOUS? ANOTHER headache of homeownership? But I was leaving to go take some more stuff over to my new place, so I left him with that parting gift. I worked efficiently for a few hours moving stuff in, and now it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m on my way back to Patrick’s.

So. Back to that text. “I need your nose.” Apparently he’s narrowed it down to where he thinks it’s located in the vicinity of the bathroom — notice I used the word vicinity — and his misery wants company. It’s not enough to endure it himself; he has to ensure that I put my face near the stench as well. For a long time I thought that people were either outright aggressive or passive aggressive, but Patrick can be both. This particular chess move is the I-hate-this-with-a-passion-and-I-can’t-deal-with-it-unless-I-rope-you-in-also approach.

I must pause and explain something. Patrick grew up watching his dad, a Class A contractor, repair and renovate all manner of quarters and living spaces. That, coupled with the male love of demolishing things — okay perhaps it isn’t male, period, but I’ve certainly seen it in military men — made him want to re-do the master bathroom. One day five months ago, he noticed something peculiar about one of its walls and thought that perhaps the shower hadn’t been built to code, so he cut open a little area no bigger than the size of a postage stamp to investigate his suspicions. Getting confirmation that he’d been right, he decided that he wanted to re-tile the shower and put the moisture barrier behind the wall as it should’ve been done properly in the first place.

But if he was going to do that, he thought, why not make the shower bigger? I mean he had been complaining ever since he purchased the house that it made absolutely no sense that the master shower was smaller than the other shower, down the hall, and here was his chance to widen it. Nevermind that this would require cutting the beautiful copper pipes, moving them, and re-soldering them, and he’s never had any kind of plumbing experience. And if he’s going to be re-doing the whole shower, plus picking out new tile to use, then he’d have to re-do the floor as well so that the tile would match. I mean everyone knows you can’t have mismatched tile; that would render your hygiene activities nonfunctional. And shoot, y’know, while he’s at it, why not change the lighting fixture, too?

This was the line of reasoning firing off in Patrick’s brain which led to the total destruction of the master bath. He gutted it, just like in those shows you see on the DIY network. He stripped it down to its bare bones — it honestly looked, no joke, like when workers are framing a house with the pine two-by-fours and fluffy pink insulation. I think he forgot that entropy is your friend when destroying something, but your enemy when trying to rebuild.

I remember one time I inquired about the leak that had sprung from a hairline fissure in the side of the porcelain toilet bowl. Not where a gasket would be, but in the porcelain itself. “I’ll just duct tape it,” he announced. “Duct tape fixes everything.” I rolled my eyes to myself so he couldn’t see. Unfortunately, he seemed to engage in just about everything other than working on the bathroom. One day I was raking leaves in the back yard when he came out, put his hands on his hips, surveyed his property and loftily announced, “Dude, I’m totally gonna tile the patio.” Now mind you, by patio he meant the four-by-seven-feet slab of concrete that’s just outside the back sliding door. Which is fine, but … Seemed to me that there was another project not fifteen feet away from where we were standing that also required his attention in the realm of tiles.

Oh, and um, Patrick has a video game addiction. Okay, sure, he won’t be flying over to the eastern hemisphere to go into the video game addiction rehab centers prolifically erected in Seoul. No, this soul is not quite that far gone. Nevertheless, I’ve witnessed literally hundreds of hours he spends playing said games. And people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones; I myself have such pronounced ADHD that I’m certainly a culprit of starting a dozen different projects without the necessary follow-through. I’m simply saying that Patrick is typically so compelled to play his games that he’s apparently content to leave the bathroom gutted for five months straight while he’s mightily slaying the dragon.

I get back to Patrick’s, hang my keys up on the little hook when I walk in the front door, and inaudibly sigh. (Heaven forbid that he hear me sigh.) At this point the smell is permeating almost the entire house.

Patrick hates roaches and rats. The house can slowly fill up with dirty laundry and general mess while he’s clicking away at his games, but roaches and rats motivate him. He’s pacing around, agitated by the situation. I suggest calling his mom and dad.

“Yes, I did that. I talked to Dad about it. And then I looked up an article on the Internets” (he loves pluralizing it like that). “The blog said one option is just leaving the carcass there, where it is, and nature will take its course — the ants and maggots will go to work on it and eventually the smell will go away.”

“And how long does that take?” I ask.

“Two to three weeks. Yeah that’s completely disgusting, there’s no way I’m gonna do that.”

He walks around some more, from room to room, almost as if allowing the odor to further saturate his olfactory system and the disgust to spur him to action. I can see the wheels turning in his brain. He stops abruptly, like that moment in A Few Good Men when Tom Cruise’s character is pacing around holding the baseball bat he reportedly thinks better with, and Demi Moore witnesses him halt in his tracks when he’s had a compelling idea for their case.

Patrick decides he’s going to cut a hole in the ceiling. The ceiling downstairs, that is. In the kitchen. Since our little critter has likely died between two of the floor joists of the master bath upstairs, he’s going to approach the problem from underneath — and what better way to go spelunking for a dead rat than ripping up your finished plaster ceiling?

He grabs a dining room chair and whisks it into the kitchen (Patrick looks like he just stepped out of a Hollister ad, so one thing he’s not lacking is physical strength). To his credit, when engaging in these creative house projects, he often thinks of eye and ear protection — something that comes with being in the military, I suppose. So he snags two pairs of protective glasses for us, like the kind you see in those bewitching pharmaceutical commercials where there’s always some attractive lab tech wearing a starched white lab coat and protective lab glasses, using a pipette and a test tube to deliver a few drops of some elixir that’s gonna cure cancer and save mankind. Then he also grabs two pairs of earplugs — no wait, correction. He actually gets one pair of earplugs (which I choose to don) and one pair of sound attenuators. So now he looks like a catapult officer who works on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The point I must emphasize now is just how arbitrary the location for this imminent cut is. Odors are dispersing, no? By their very nature? Unless we’ve already identified their source with another one of our senses, like seeing the warm apple pie sitting on the kitchen counter for instance, scents are actually quite difficult to pinpoint. We are not the master smellers that our canine counterparts are. Nevertheless, Patrick makes the decision to cut into a particular spot as if he’s a bloodhound. It happens to be above the cooking vent, immediately above the stove. Again. Arbitrary.

Standing tall on the dining room chair with the reciprocating saw above his face, he lays into the plaster ceiling. In seconds, white gypsum dust settles upon everything in the kitchen like a layer of ultra-fine dandruff. I have the feeling that this is gonna get bad, so I start moving all kinds of stuff out of the kitchen into the dining room. I grab clean dishes (okay, well, clean until about five seconds ago) that were drying peacefully to the right of the sink; standing water glasses; a porcelain crock of vertically-standing cooking utensils; a bag of organic corn chips; the butter dish; a bowl of half-eaten lunch.

The cacophony of power tools cutting through dense material fills the house. I feel really grateful that Patrick thought of ear protection, or “ear pro,” as they call it in the Navy. The more Patrick cuts away, the thicker the air becomes with white particulate. I grab the cluster of bananas; the bag of navel oranges; the jugs of drinking water, albeit closed; the knife block housing its many knives; a canister of rooibos tea that I got in St. Maarten; my numerous bottles of nutritional supplements that were organized according to when I take them (until now). I grab some glass jars; a small bottle of powdered turmeric; and my sister’s beautiful handmade pottery, a neatly stacked trio of nesting bowls (well. Neatly stacked until now). I shuttle all the items into the dining room as fast as possible to get them out from under the now-quickly-settling plaster dust.

Again, entropy. It blows my mind how it can take days to clean a house and get it all straightened up and spiffy, and then it can all go to shit in a matter of minutes. The navel oranges are now on the shelf with Shakespeare’s anthology, and the block of knives is sitting on the mantle.

A couple of larger-sized chunks fall from the incision onto the floor. Patrick pauses his sawing and grabs the hose of the vacuum, pulling it toward what he’s intending to suction up. He’s forgotten that he put the vacuum cleaner on top of the chair earlier in anticipation of there being a big mess, and he’s also apparently forgotten that the hose has a finite length … so when he moves toward his target, the vacuum cleaner comes crashing to the floor. It takes him a second to realize what’s happened, because of all the commotion and the fact that he’s wearing the ear pro and the fact that he’s not looking in the direction of the vacuum canister. After mouthing some token swear word and righting the canister, he suddenly has a brilliant idea. He tells me that as he saws the ceiling plaster, I will come along just inches behind him with the vacuum nozzle to suck up all the dust. So it doesn’t, y’know, go everywhere on God’s green Earth. I momentarily consider pointing out that that’s already happened, but I think better of it.

Just smile and nod, Nat.

We commence the execution of his idea. Let me save you the suspense: it’s absolutely futile. I think I’m getting about five percent of the plaster dust being generated by all the sawing, the rest of which is just adding to the mess that we have both silently decided to ignore.

After a few minutes of this nonsense, he sees what I’ve already concluded and says I can put the vacuum nozzle down. At this point I don’t know what I can do that will assist the situation in ANY regard. I resign myself to the fact that he’s just gonna make an incredible amount of difficulty for himself. Ever think about how we sabotage ourselves? As humans, I mean?

I fix my gaze on his genius undertaking for the last five minutes of this adventure. He gets frustrated and ramps up a gear or two, into full-steam-ahead. He sticks his fingers, now raw from working with the plasterboard, into the incisions and begins to pull. I suppose that stuff is made with relatively good quality, because he lifts a lot in the gym and it’s still giving him a run for his money. He grunts softly a few times and keeps yanking, and yanking.

The pristine, black-glass stovetop below — pristine because he just purchased this house and the previous owners had put close to forty grand into renovating it before selling — is now, I’m not exaggerating, a receptacle for vermin excrement. Evidently Patrick did in fact pick the exact spot where the critter was active, or at least incredibly close, because an inordinate amount of rat feces just raaaaained down upon the stovetop. I wonder for a brief moment if we’re on Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d because this scene is just so surreal, but I ruled it out because they stopped producing the show back in 2007. No, this is simply the manifestation of Patrick’s amazingly astute, insightful approach to the dead rat.

The next half hour is fuzzy. I think about whether I would ever, ever want to eat anything that’s cooked using this particular stovetop, from this particular point forward … and I’m doing a vivacious celebration dance inside my head about the fact that I began moving out yesterday. This incident unwittingly and perfectly strengthened my absolute conviction that I was making a healthy decision by breaking up with him.

We exchange few words, as I’m still completely mystified by what possessed him to do this. It’s intriguing; I’ve gotten to know him really well in almost two full years, but I haven’t decrypted his general logic. Or rather, lack thereof. I do, however, know him well enough to know — without a single doubt — that if I come back in three months, he still will not have found the rat carcass and there will still be a large square cut in the ceiling.

The two of us deal with the white plaster all over the kitchen, chalky chunks of vomit the house has spewed up as a result of being poked and prodded ad nauseum. Patrick goes into the garage. A moment later he appears again, carrying a roll of duct tape, and he climbs back up onto the chair to affix his cherished panacea.

Because “duct tape fixes everything,” right? Source