Freudian Slips: House of Hoarder

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

March 03, 2010

House of Hoarder

A blizzard of snowfall anchors a triple dresser in the modest front yard. It's an oddity the way the unprescedented deep snow surrounds it. It looks more like a wooden casket than a piece of furniture not in its own house. Its woodenness occupies my attention as I trudge through the long winter to make it to the covered porch of a three-story century old house.
As I maneuver around pratfalls of junk, I realize that the integrity of the porch’s subfloor is failing. It is an environmental hazard further compromised by my client’s weekly ritual of picking curbside trash then bringing it home to pile in the way station of her porch. The otherwise benign term “covered porch” carries new meaning with me. The screen door flaps in the wind, a thin wooden barrier separating the big world chock full of customs and socially accepted mores from Rochelle’s hock of a dysfunctional home.
Barging my way through the breakers, I knock on the door. Scheduled by appointment and now let in by invitation, I enter the house of this reclusive hoarder. The transparency surrounding us evaporates privacy. She presents a tight smile but my saucer eyes have social worker written all over them. Her living alone status makes her responsible as head of household.
We begin to talk about the neutral subject of weather when she pressingly says that she knows what I am thinking. Rochelle sheepishly confides that she owns no shovel to have done snow removal and apologizes if my shoes are not waterproof. After a long awkward pause ending with my head nod, she offers me a seat. I wish to accept her honorary hospitality but at first glance I do not see four-legged availability. I pace. She pulls piled clothes from the back of a spindle chair then stacks of newspaper and cardboard from the seated cushion. Short of shouting eureka, I see the bottom of a chair and accept its respite amongst clutter to the infinite degree.
Situated lower to the floor now, a mitigating foul smell hits my nostrils as if Beowulf lurks under the dining room table. Although Rochelle swears she is continent and owns no pets, the smell of stagnate urine overwhelms my senses. In an agitated tone, she admits to once owning a miniature collie named Waterloo. Rochelle insists she has seen through Waterloo’s passing to a pet cemetery in the northwest corner of the backyard. I do not own a compass to begin identifying the right quadrant for excavation but I presume now that she once owned a shovel to carry out grave digging. She conveys “inhibiting factors” that prevented her from walking the animal outside when poor Waterloo was alive, if not well. Posthumously, I cannot indict the creature for using every inch of the downstairs shag carpet for relief because it was a matter of cruel necessity.
Rochelle blurts, “It is why I never wanted children. They're too much work.”
A hardbound book “How to Fix Things in Your House” catches my eye on a bookcase shelf. She grants me permission to pluck it like an oddball from a shelf dedicated to themed outdated gardening books. I open up this vintage book in a house of disrepair. A random page reveals a time-stamped drawing of a refrigerator alongside a glowing narrative spouting the preservative benefits of chilled food and the wondrous invention of pliable copper tubing to supply water to make ice. The world has passed her bookcase by and her carpet smells like an unfixable toilet this book did not reference.
Another literary preference is the largest collection of yellow page phonebooks that I have ever seen assembled in one place. Many volumes are from the same county in which she lives, multiple phonebooks of the same year perhaps stolen from her neighbor’s driveways. I ask the obvious question regarding the need for redundancy. Her answer rings more gongs of mental illness than mental retardation.
“People change their phone numbers all of the time. I can’t keep up. The sheer numbers are overwhelming.”
Her eyes follow mine. With that in mind, I do my best not to pass judgment with my social cues but this proves difficult around this excellent observer. I look away for convenience sake. Beside a rickety piano, a sandwich board professionally advertises the headliner, “Appearing For One Night Only, Rochelle.” It was an extraordinary prop that just needed a tip jar to complete the stage.
When I swing my head around, Rochelle is gone. I hear her feet trampling the staircase then overhear her voice upstairs. She returns to the dining room wearing an uncomplimentary Goodwill cocktail dress. This is not the one night stand scenario a male social worker wants to foster when alone with his female aspiring client. I feel like the talent agent in that signature movie scene from “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” The thought crosses my mind to check the upstairs floors for wire hangars and hostages. I excuse the remote possibility that while Rochelle was upstairs she may not have been talking to me but a bound captive. My distraction and uneasiness continues as she sits down and plays nimble fingers across an out of tune piano with the ivory literally worn from the keys. Some keys stick, she plays one handed and belts out an Elton John song like she is chilling bones. Hearing the drone of a foot pedal, I look down and see her curled toenails working barefoot from a hairy leg.
Oh God Almighty! I need to create space here as much as she does. I politely remove myself from the living room and enter the kitchen. Big mistake. I scoff how surprised I am by its deplorable condition. The chances of catching salmonella and ptomaine poisoning are a distinct possibility. Mice and cockroach might not even eat here. Food spores, greased pans and dirty dishes are everywhere. If I had a dime for every empty sugar packet I saw from his main food group of coffee, I could retire early never to hear Rochelle botch another song. Encased with hardened food, the microwave looks like a fire hazard.
The strangest curosity about the house is that there is no indoor trashcan or wastebasket. Star Trek’s Spock might say, “Factual observation reveal conditions barely sustainable for life in a hardscrabble environment where nothing seems categorically disposable.” Psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Spock might simply conclude that she is somebody's baby. Entertaining both spoofs, I come to the illogical conclusion that a hoarder does not find need to dispose of things. Captain’s log…diagnosis of a hoarder's cluttered mind, there is no addition by subtraction. Beam down empty dumpsters and an ensigns weilding phasers set to shun.
As if to illustrate how comfortable she is at home in her surroundings, Rochelle pours expired milk into her dirty cold mug of instant coffee. I try to convince her not to drink it. She bends an elbow. I reach my hand out as if I am prepared to intervene but she recoils not unlike a toddler denied her way. I remind her of her recent hospitalization due to eating bad food. She rationalizes that the coffee is older than the spoiled milk. I watch her gullet double swallow. My stomach curls like the milk in question. She silhouettes dysfunction standing before samples of her artwork. Hanging on easels and the wall are architectural drawings of famous buildings she somehow rendered to exact scale. They accompany her oil paintings of shadowy human figures that are as beautiful artistically as they are Rob Zombie horrific in subject matter. She finishes her milk in front of a backdrop of pure genius. I think of Hannibal Lector's decorated cell although I do not conjure any danger of her eating me before my expiration.
The newly activated landline phone rings like a whistle-blowing referee between us. My hopes that it is her treating psychiatrist calling become dashed by familiarity of conversation. I find myself cleaning her kitchen. I tackle expiration dates on food packages and scrub everything in my wake using a dirty washrag that looks like it cleaned up the killing of a dog named Waterloo. While I clean around her stationary perch, Rochelle cogently talks to a dear cousin from Georgia about the systemic obsolesces of down spouts during 100-year storms. In another hour, I will be off duty. Ah, the Sandman slowly shifts time for a social worker trapped in a health inspector’s nightmare.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic! I'm dealing with a hoarding parent (although not that bad) and I can relate!

I did see some interesting hoarding when I installed cable in Philly in the 90's. Sounds a lot like the place you described!


8:51 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Thanks for stopping by Freudian Slips....Did oyu ever catch the show on A & E called Hoarders?

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post puts me in the proper frame of mind; I won't fret about the gathering dust, anymore.

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yikes! The dust balls whiffing around my house make me feel clean.

4:52 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Dust you say? Fear not.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a ruff-one. there's another show on TV....Dirty Jobs
Both not as torturous as selling T-shirts LOL RFV gardens

7:02 AM  
Blogger Honeybmse said...

Joe - If you invite me out to this house to help, all I ask is that you forwarn me so I can be mentally and physically prepared as well as stocked with cleaning supplies. Have a good one.

4:54 PM  

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