Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dander Island

My mom lived the same house (my childhood home) for more than 30 years. A house I now lovingly refer to as "Dander Island." Seriously, no vacuum cleaner was up to the task. As a child it wasn't so bad. I have fond memories of several Hispanic housekeepers coming and going throughout the years. Who could forget Rosarita, the young pregnant housekeeper who we found passed out on the floor desperately clinging to a bottle of my parents' finest scotch? She was promptly delivered to the bus stop where she stumbled off into the distance. But after years of raising animals and my parents' three-pack a day cigarette habit each, the house started to become toxic. Knowing this, you'd think we were poor white trash living in a double wide amidst tumbleweeds and dirt-devils. This was the furthest from the truth. The house was a 4-bedroom, 2400 sq. foot house in a nice suburb with a pool. My parents were successful business owners with a boat and an airplane. I was even a debutante!

My dad moved out in the early 90's while I was away at college, leaving Mom to rule the nest. Unfortunately, cleanliness in Mom's world was never a virtue. Dog hair would literally float like furry angels around your feet when you walked on the Mexican-tiled floors. Crossing the threshold required a gas mask for non-smokers or those who hadn't yet acclimated to the environment.

Ticks are hard to avoid in the Arizona heat, but throw 4 indoor/outdoor large dogs and some shag carpeting into the equation and it becomes a personal hell. Whenever friends were over, I'd often see a tick in the background meandering up my mustard-colored floral wallpaper. In a panic, I'd have to somehow distract them while I quickly cornered the tick, flicking it downward onto my booger-colored carpet, praying that it wouldn't return. Imagine the horror when, during my senior year of high school in Psychology class, I looked down at my feet to discover a tick desperately trying to suck blood from my dry, scrunchy, white sock. I knew that if any of my classmates were to see the struggling, bloodthirsty tick, I would be forever known as "Tick Girl." I quickly made a fluid I'm-bending-down-to-stretch-my-arms-and-scratch-my-leg movement and clasped that tick between my forefinger and thumb. Paranoid that the tick would immediately start to suck my entire blood supply via my thumb, I quickly flicked it in a backward motion, under my desk. The tick was airborne for a second or two before, landing (god-willing) close to someone else's fluffy sock.

Mom decided to move to a smaller house in 2000. I was terrified when she asked me to help her move. She couldn't afford movers so my sister, her husband, his brothers and me were recruited to pack and move all her precious belongings via U-Haul. the secrets that lurked in the depths of that house will haunt me forever. Cereal boxes that had expired in 1989 (but made for great breeding grounds for mealy bugs), cake mixes purchased circa 1977. "Pack those, they're still good," Mom insisted. Deep, dark closets contained horrific albums  - such 70's legends as Leon Russell, Loggins & Messina and Richard Harris singing "MacArthur Park." Again, we were instructed to throw NOTHING away. Adorning her fireplace were silk flower arrangements that no longer had color - unless you call "dust" a color!  Colonies of unhatched tick eggs hidden beneath the Indian Couch (also known as 'Sticker Couch'). The furniture itself should have been burned in our front yard. It would have been an amazing shit-smelling bonfire. While Mom stood center stage, directing us and pointing, we found ourselves dripping in sweat doing the (literally) dirty work. At hour 5, my sister and I began to randomly throw useless items (porcelain chicken sculptures, unravelling wicker baskets, plates with German Shepherd Heads painted on them) over the back wall and into the desert. It took 12 hours and a box of allergy pills to get the truck loaded. When finished, we looked like 9/11 survivors coming out of the rubble: dry, thirsty and covered in a mystery dust. I don't even think I got a "Thanks."

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