with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Something’s Rotting in Here

When we are in the middle of stress, sometimes it helps to write, other times, like recently, I sit down at the computer and start to write and tears come and then sobs, and then the dry heaves. So I procrastinate, hoping that time will help me deal with the emotions with more perspective, allowing the words to flow and not the tears.

Our home on the road in Mobile, Alabama, before the hurricanes, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenLast week, I came into the trailer after hours spent working in the sweaty heat helping some folks deal with the latest crisis preparing for the arrival Hurricane Rita. The smell just about knocked me on my ass. Something was rotting.

I cleaned up the dishes, took out the garbage, cleaned out the fridge, and went through the cupboards. Nothing.

Since Hurricane Dennis, keeping the trailer neat and tidy hasn’t been a major concern since we knew we’d probably be packing up and running, which we did for Hurricane Katrina. And we just haven’t had time. Brent is working two jobs, and I’m now working…well, all the time. Books and files normally on the shelves above my desk are in boxes stacked on the couch, along with the storage box for the new monitor and color printer, so we can slip them into padded protection for the next evacuation move. Why bother to put them away when they will just have to come out again in a few days?

But when it comes to food stuff in this hot weather, I’m paranoid. Always have been. I looked everywhere. I decided it was coming from the air conditioner.

Brent came home that evening from work and started his own quest to find the rotting thing. He, too, decided that it was the air conditioner. Maybe it was leaking Freon. We’ve been having trouble since Hurricane Katrina with our the power going off in the trailer, both from outside and inside, often triggered by the air conditioner switching from maintain to cool automatically. It kept tripping the power to my computer, turning it off. I finally bought a backup UPS unit and all day long the balloon that tells me it’s on backup power and then AC power keeps popping up every hour or so. All signs pointed towards the AC, so we turned it off.

That night, it was 80-85F degrees all night long. We laid in our beds, windows open, fan running, and drenched the bed in sweat. I was out in the morning for a couple of hours in the campground, and returned to the trailer to find it already sweltering. I set the fans to full blast, and kept spraying myself with water, finally restoring to sitting at my desk with an ice pack on my head. There was no escape. The coolest spot in the trailer was on the floor of the bathroom, and Kohav had claimed that spot. I finally went up to the office early for my evening shift, unable to function in the heat.

I did, however, research air conditioners with the intension of ordering a new one, once I discussed our options with Brent that night. I also sent Charlie, the campground owner, down to our trailer to do a sniff test to help us determine if indeed it was air conditioner freon, rot, or something dead. He told Brent it smelled like a rotting potato, but then most rot, mold, and mildew has that smell. He couldn’t tell if it was freon.

When I returned at 10 that night, even without the air conditioner running, the smell of mold, mildew, fungi or rot was even worse. We thought we’d tracked the smell down to back of the trailer in the kitchen area, but it smelled like it was coming from the walls.

Repairing water damage and leaks on our trailer, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenAs you may remember, we’ve had massive trouble with leaks after returning back to the states and our home on the road. While we seemed to have repaired the worst of the leak damage in our slide out, we also know that the whole back side of the trailer also has water damage. We’re just waiting for cooler temperatures to tackle that horrendous job.

In my mind, I was suddenly envisioning all the black, orange, brown, and green mildew and mold shown on television and seen on the debris removed from flooded homes lining the streets of our neighborhood, living in my walls! Mold can kill you. Panic set in and fear overwhelmed me.

Brent works on repairing water damage and leaks on our trailer, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenI crawled up on the bed and fought back the tears. Brent crawled in next to me.

For the first year of our lives in Israel, I missed the trailer terribly. We’d live in it for six years full-time, and it was our home. Everything was set just as we liked and we’d grown accustomed to being in close proximity to each other all the time. In the roomy apartment, Brent and I could spread out and it was tough being so far away from each other. Slowly, I gained some perspective and made plans to replace the trailer with a motor home when we returned back to the states. After all, we’d have tons of money from working overseas, and we deserved to finally move up into something stronger and more durable.

Unfortunately, paying 40% plus in taxes to Israel and other crappy lies we were told about the financial benefits we would get for the job, killed off most of our plans for a healthy financial cupboard. Israel sucked just about every shekel out of us. Returning to the states meant a pay raise, finally, and lower cost of living, but we didn’t have the financial reserves to spend on anything but fixing up the trailer and continuing to live in it.

I resented this for a few months and then decided to accept it and put massive effort into cleaning out it, fixing it up and repairing what can be repaired now and planning for future repairs. The joy of being back in “our home” grew and I moved towards acceptance again that this would continue to be home for a few more years.

Now, this was threatened as Brent and I laid on the bed, crying, and evaluating the state of affairs. There is water damage in the back wall of the trailer and in at least 3 spots on the roof. We haven’t been able to look inside the walls to see how extensive the damage is, so we’re left with assumptions and imagination. If mold has moved into the walls, the trailer is toast. I get my wish for a new home on wheels, but we can’t afford what I want, just what we will have to settle for.

Unfortunately, this need comes at a time when every trailer and motor home within 500 miles has been either purchased up by FEMA or by rescue, insurance, and construction workers. It is a seller’s market and making a deal will be near to impossible as sellers can charge whatever they want, as long as they keep supplying the RVs.

The next day I got on the Internet and did some hunting. At least I could turn on the air conditioner, but I left the windows open, and the ice pack was back on my head anyway. In between helping out with more trauma in the campground, I got a couple hours of research on what was out there in a new home on the road. I tried not to breath too deeply in my current rotting home.

Brent had to go to work Saturday morning for one hour. Then he took the day off, came home and we headed out to the three local RV sales companies. Only one had anything worth looking at, since they’d been cleaned out. They only had top of the line motor homes or the cheap, fragile travel trailers. Nothing in between. Totally sold out. So we looked at the top of the line, expensive motor homes and actually found one layout that we liked. For $200,000 USD. Choke.

What we found in many of these quarter of a million dollar and less motor homes was funky workmanship, layout, and designs. Overkill on technology like satellites, big screen televisions (one had four TVs – including one in a basement storage compartment so you could sit outside under the awning and watch TV – built-in tailgating, I guess), massive stereo systems and computer controls, but underkill on air circulation, counter space, sensible light weight but strong construction, and dumb slide out layouts. Only one caught our interest, but even that one had things on our list that we would remove and change.

After a morning of prowling through crap on wheels, Brent decided to reward us with a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant he’d been wanting to take me to since we arrived 10 months ago. We had to park the truck some distance away as the parking lot was narrow and full. I walked inside and was told that they were closed due to a private party and would reopen to the public at three. So we decided to walk over to the Red Lobster next door. I couldn’t make it through the door for the stink of cigarette smell. So we drove across the street to a new Ruby Tuesday. We had to wait 20 minutes for a table. As usual, we specifically insisted on being as far away from cigarette smoke as possible and they told us that no one was smoking. Besides, they could only smoke at the bar.

I’ve never eaten at Ruby Tuesday, but Brent told me it was good food and we eagerly ordered steak and shrimp, a special treat. A few minutes later, my throat started to swell and my eyes started watering. Brent noticed immediately. I couldn’t smell smoke, nor could he, and he looked all over the place for the source. Brent got up to find the waiter to move us to a table farther from the bar area.

A woman at a nearby table told her waiter that someone was smoking and that it was disgusting and disturbing her lunch. I was delighted until I couldn’t breath any more. I started choking, so I grabbed my napkin, covered my face and pushed through the crowd to get outside into the fresh air, only to be met by a woman smoking out on the sidewalk while her four teenage children stood around and watched her.

I headed off towards the street and found another smoker getting out of her car, talking on the cell phone and waving her cigarette all around her face for punctuation. I headed past the smoking mother towards the back of the restaurant, then into the parking lot to escape three workers standing at the back door chain smoking away in a blue grey cloud.

Brent finally found me sitting on the sidewalk in the parking lot sobbing, barely able to breath. Three restaurants, a home filled with toxic mold, allergic reaction, and a blinding headache from low blood sugar. This was not a good day.

He helped me into the truck and told me we were going to Olive Garden. We liked the food, though the service has been horrible lately, and it was smoke safe. Unfortunately, after parking two blocks away with our huge truck, we arrived to find a waiting list of more than an hour. Screw it.

We finally ended up at McDonalds, and choked down salty and tasteless food. Both of us had indigestion for the rest of the day.

A trip to Sam’s Club was cut short by the crowd by the door who told us that the electricity was off and the store had been closed. I had forgot that Hurricane Rita was beginning to come in and pound the area. It had been raining and blowing hard, but I’d been too self absorbed with my own trauma to even notice.

On our way home, we stopped in at the hardware store and bought a mold testing kit and a huge Hepa Filter air filter to at least help clean the air and maybe give us another day or two to live in the trailer before we had to move out.

We came back to the campground with just enough time for me to shower and run up to the office for the evening shift. The rain and winds blasted the campground. I was totally drenched by the time I and my near to useless umbrella arrived at the office. A kind woman, taking her laundry out of the dryer early, invited me to use the last of her dryer time to at least dry my soaked pants. I stood around in my underpants for 15 minutes, and my pants were fairly dry when I pulled them out. What a sweetheart.

When I got home about midnight, I told Brent that I’d been thinking too much about all of this, and if it were rot, we should be able to put some holes in the wall and see if there are any signs before we commit to spending a hundred thousand dollars on a new trailer. Let’s be sure.

Early the next morning, we started with the bottom of the kitchen cupboards. We pulled everything out and looked under the newly installed hot water heater to see if there were signs of mold and mildew from all the water damage from that leak. Nothing. We moved through the cupboards, pulling everything out and examining it carefully, ready to start putting some holes in the inside walls of the cabinets to see if we could detect any mold.

At one point, in a cupboard that never sees food of any kind, holding only our foil, plastic wrap and a couple cans of cat food, I pulled out some plastic bags to find black smudge marks on my fingers. A closer inspection brought out a quarter size chunk of something unknown that had half inch black moldy hairs growing on it. It disintegrated in my fingers. We pulled everything out, vacuumed it, then bleached it out, and scrubbed every item from the cupboard.

Within an hour, no more smell. Of course, the bleach smell was potent, so we put the Hepa filter under the air conditioner so it would blow “clean” air into the air conditioner system, and waited. No more smell. Maybe we got it.

Before I headed out for another evening working for the campground, we started to put all the stuff away back in the cupboards. We washed all the silverware and kitchen tools, pots and pans, everything. As I laid away the final items, I found a flood of water under the sink. Everything had to come back out and Brent wiggled in with the flashlight to find that the new hot water heater’s connections to our plumbing were leaking. I headed off to the office, leaving him stuck under the small cabinets, trying to tighten things up.

We still have boxes of cleaning and cooking supplies on the floor and the couch days later as the leak continues each time we think we’ve finally fixed it. Brent says he fixed it last night. Hopefully tomorrow they can go back in.

And so far, the smell is gone. All holes poked into the back wall from the inside show no signs of mildew or rot. Water damage, yes, but nothing growing, waiting to kill us in our sleep.

Our minds are now back on our business and not the panic of finding an emergency place to live and buying and moving into a new RV, but the stress continues. Outside in the world around us, the stress of recovering from the hurricanes goes on, and inside, the turmoil of our life continues to boil.

Did I say that we live on vacation? That we live in a place where people vacation? Doesn’t that imply some kind of carefree, low stress lifestyle?

What? Where? When? How? Why? Why not us? When do we get our vacation?


2 Trackbacks

  • By Taking Your Camera on the Road » on September 30, 2005 at 12:50

    […] Something’s Rotting in Here […]

  • By Agrevo Toxic Information on January 16, 2006 at 3:31

    Toxic Mold Symptoms

    The most common symptoms for someone who suffers exposure to toxic mold can include:

    breathing difficulty
    memory loss
    acid reflux
    flu like symptoms

    These symptoms can cause fatal endings, and unfortunately, these symptoms can go undetected for a very long time. The mold creates mycotoxin which are metabolites that produce toxins. At this time, the government has not setup any type of regulation, guidelines or air standards. If symptoms go without being treated, the end result may end in loss of eyesight, memory, and hearing.

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