Thursday, September 21, 2006

Poop and a Cup of Joe

Like many others before it, the theme of my day was poop mixed with coffee. The major difference was that today that seemingly innocuous combination caused me to dial 911 for the first time ever.

My new home is actually quite old. Built sometime between 1899 and 1910, we are only the third owners of this undecided residence. It has the floor plan of a classic American Foursquare with decidedly Craftsman details. Its facade is where the head-scratching comes in: neither Foursquare, Craftsman, nor Victorian, the tax records list the style of the building as "Oldstyle."

The original owners lived here until their deaths, and one of their children continued to raise his own family here. Through decades of change, the original family of owners grew tired of its upkeep and began to replace the details of their original construction with cheap versions of modern upgrades. It became the kind of older home with piles of newspaper in the corners and peeling layers of paint on the once gleaming gumwood trim. The ornate scrollwork of the original radiators lies buried under brown, jade, turquoise, and now white paint.

It was finally sold to an older, professional couple with one child. It was their forever house, and they began to restore it - ripping the kitchen down to the studs, refinishing the floors, taking down the two giant spruce that had grown over 100 years to shield the house that now found itself painted lilac.

Yes. Lilac. The previous owners decided that “Oldstyle” would not do, and began to restore themselves a Victorian. They had lovely ideas, and most certainly made this once grand home livable again. But we knew we were in trouble when the gentleman leaned over conspiratorially to my husband and announced that he was a master carpenter and had done much of the work himself.

So now we have a Craftsman era home decorated with hugely floral motifs and toile wallpaper. And we have fabulous granite countertops kept level with shims jutting out between the cabinets. And we not only have old wiring, but we have faulty outlets and switches jury-rigged by a man who was not an electrician but who thought he was.

So today, when I walked into my toile kitchen and smelled the bitter scent of something burnt, I got a little nervous. When I walked down the steps into my terrifying cellar (straight out of Silence of the Lambs) to get to my laundry room, and became overwhelmed by the acrid smoke of something undeniably burnt, I was terrified.

I stood in my moldering laundry room and panicked.

I found myself on the lawn, in my socks, calling 911 on my cell phone. Lizzy was crying, with bare feet in flip-flops on a chilly day. I managed to grab shoes and socks – one brown and one blue – for Teddy. When the emergency operator asked me if everyone was out of the house, I responded no. “My cat and desert tortoise are still inside!”

After I hung up, I wondered if the fact that my cell still has a Minnesota phone number was going to affect the situation. Apparently not, as I soon heard fire trucks roaring down my quiet and leafy street. Three fire trucks, to be exact. And two SUVs. And a police car.

They were suited. They had axes and oxygen tanks. They had handheld monitors and walkie-talkies. The dog went nuts. Lizzy quietly snuffled, asking where she could stand. Teddy was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Mommy! Siwen twuck! Siwen twuck!”

The troop of firefighters marched in, and soon marched out. Surrounded by large yellow-coated men, I was told that while they smelled something a “little bit funky,” there seemed to no smoldering, smoking objects in my home. Then one of them said, “You know, I think that it might be coming from the toilet down there.”

“The toilet? The toilet down there? But we DON’T HAVE a toilet down there!” I took a deep breath, and there it was again. “Wait, I smell it now! The smell is here too!” I began to hop up and down in my socks.

One of the large men sniffed, and smiled. “That? That’s just coffee.”

I stopped hopping and stared at him. “Coffee?”

As it turns out, there is an old toilet in my basement. Or there was an old toilet in my basement, in a closet at the foot of the stairs. It is now just a hole in the ground emitting sewer gas – the master carpenter who removed it failed to seal it. The firefighters had to take me inside and physically show it to me before I would believe them. And there is a coffee bean roasting facility less than a mile from my house. When they roast, it can be smelled for miles.

Sewer gas combined with roasting coffee beans led me to believe that my house was on fire.

I was mortified. I still am. The one saving grace about the whole event was that my neighbor – the only one with children close in age to my own – came out to rescue Liz and Ted. She scooped them up, spirited them away, and was making them lunch when I arrived twenty minutes later. She made me coffee, told me that she would have done the same thing, and let me sit at her kitchen table with my head in my hands while murmuring, “coffee beans.”


Heather said...

Well I'm glad that it was a false alarm! How scary!

And I would feel a bit sheepish after a false alarm too...

Hope it's your first and last 911 call.

lynsalyns said...

Channing just shook his head when I told him this story.

You should have called me first. I could have told you about the coffee roaster! :)

Thank God for good neighbors, eh?

Christina said...

Looking back, now knowing that nothing was wrong, it's a funny story. I think you made the right call, though. Better to be safe than to have something slowly burn until it turns into a big blaze at night or when you're not at home.

Sandy said...

Wow! I wouldn't have believed the fire department either. Coffee beans should not smell like something smoldering...what kind of coffee do they sell anyhow? Stinkybucks maybe??

As for your house, we have encountered the same issues with our electrical. Recently, we discovered that in order to shut off the electricity in the family room, the ENTIRE house must be shut down (the former seller called himself a "master" electrician).

tpon said...

So, the coffee roaster/sewer gas made you think your house was on fire... people have made worse mistakes than that.

were the firefighters at least a little bit cute?

Occidental Girl said...

Well! Better safe than sorry. And, makes for good blog fodder. (Sorry! Had to be said. I like saying "fodder".)

I've done similar things. Don't worry about it. Glad you and the kids and the cat and the desert tortiose and the toile are okay. :)

Kara said...

Karen, I'm picking my jaw up off the floor and am ready to pee my pants from laughing! Not because you had to call 911, but because it sounds like something that I would do.... you know, I live in an old house too!


Nancy said...

I'm glad everything was OK.

And you know, I am sure the rescue personnel would rather you be safe than sorry in a case like that. It's kind of like calling the pediatrician in the middle of the night -- that's what they are there for if you need advice.

ECR said...

What a strange and funny scenario. I'm pretty sure I would never have guessed coffee and poop, either. Your house sounds fabulous, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Meow meow don't understand the need to post a picture of meow toilet. Come on meow . That is just a shameless waste of meow bandwidth.