Friday, January 23, 2009

Blue Plate Special

I did not get on campus housing for my junior year of college, so I was forced to search for an apartment. During the initial process, I went to take a look at an apartment my friend Rami had with two guys soon to be moving out. My future roommate, in a show of confidence for all of the appliances, provided a demonstration that each of the oven burners worked. One by one he turned them on and off, explaining which knob corresponded to which burner along the way. What he forgot was that he was in the midst of a defrosting a package of chicken breast on top of the left rear burner, which briefly caught fire when the flame hit it. The plastic and Styrofoam packaging had a small dark burn mark, but the chicken remained in good condition. Despite this unknowing show of pyrotechnics, I still decided to move in.

A few months had passed and move in day was approaching. It was the end of August, and both Rami and I were returning from our second summers staffing USY on Wheels. Rami’s two previous roommates had already moved out, having found a new place, leaving behind various pieces of furniture and other messes. Two other guys we did not know, Ryan and Ian, were also moving in to the apartment, sharing the largest bedroom in order to save some money.

One of the bigger factors involved in my moving in was the way Rami partied. He was a champ. I had gone to one or two of his parties during the previous year and found them to be pretty wild. Lots of alcohol, loud music and tons of people crammed into a moderately sized apartment. Everyone who came through that door knew his name and they also knew just how good a time they were in for. It wasn’t long before the first party of our regime occurred; in fact, it was the first Saturday night in September.

Sometime during the post-party week, we noticed a smell. The kind of smell that isn't overbearing, but still, it doesn't exactly come off as fresh. Someone probably spilled a drink or some salsa that we missed during the traditional after-party clean up session. These sessions usually involved someone taking the Swiffer and creating one lane from room to room. The worst area was the dirt-black floored foyer known as “the dank,” gaining its namesake from everyone tracking in snow, dirt and mud on top of the spills of one thousand beer pong games. But I digress - back to the odor at hand.

It was hard to say what kind of smell, but it wasn’t terrible. Our initial solution was to open the two windows we had in the kitchen and let it be. Any stench would be taken care of by the cool autumn breeze and we’d be back to normal in no time.

It did not go away. Four men in the midst of achieving college degrees could not find the source. There were times we just walked around the kitchen, sniffing out different areas, hoping to pinpoint the location. In some areas it would get stronger, but others it would get weaker. No specific pattern could be made from tracking the smells, so again, the windows were left open. Full bottles of Fabreeze were dispatched in hopes of slaying the stinky giant, but it was to no avail. Had the bedrooms not been located on the complete opposite side of the apartment we probably would have had bigger problems dealing. It became something we lived with, trying to avoid being near the kitchen as much as possible.

A full three week after it first became barely noticeable, it was now hard to avoid. Rami contacted the realty company to complain about the mystery odor. The landlord told us that it was nothing to worry about. He explained that it was probably just a dead rat underneath the refrigerator or oven. To this day I disagree with the idea of a dead animal in our kitchen falling under the heading of “nothing to worry about".

It was now October. We were preparing for another party that weekend and we all decided that the smell could not be included on our guest list. The kitchen was a huge part of having any party - drinks, food, ice - we couldn't have everyone gagging anytime they ventured near that side of our apartment. It was time for a full overhaul. All cabinets were opened and dug through, drawers were opened and emptied, the fridge was taken apart and scrubbed. Still the smell lingered.

At our wits end, I said "What's the deal with the stack of newspapers on the counter?" The large stack of newspapers, magazines and mail resided next to the sink. Nobody knew why, but each of us had assumed they belonged to someone else and decided it wouldn't be right to throw them away. It had been there for as long as I could remember, possibly since I had moved in. I asked the other roommates and nobody had a problem with tossing it out. When I lifted the newspapers that had seemingly occupied the kitchen counter for an eternity. In that instant I had unleashed the full potency of the smell, multiplying the existing odor by at least 500 percent. What we found was a plastic Stop and Shop grocery bag with a receipt sticking out that had the name of one of the old tenants, dated July 17th. After retrieving and examining the receipt, we knew what we were dealing with: a package of chicken breasts. Had we not read the paper, there was no way anyone would be able to identify what was in that bag as anything that ever resembled chicken. It was the color of Superman’s hair – a regal looking black with streaks of blue at certain light. The bag was filled with a watery translucent liquid that had accumulated during its tenure on top of the kitchen counter.

Rami ended up drawing the short straw and had to get rid of it. He snapped on some heavy duty rubber kitchen gloves and held the bag an arms length away. The rest of us pulled our shirt collars up over our noses to open the door for him as he sprinted all the way out of the apartment to the dumpster, leaving a clear liquid trail along the path. We bombed the counter with Lysol, Windex, Comet and anything else we had, creating several dangerous chemical reactions. As bad as it was to breathe in kitchen chemicals that don't get along, nothing could have been worse than what was lingering on our counter for nearly three months.

I would like make sure everyone knows that the initial problem of leaving chicken out was not our fault. I'd also like to say that this was a turning point in our lives, that we all became much cleaner and more responsible around the house. We didn't. It would be nice to say that I never had to tell one of them his sandwich bread had blue spots on the side closest to me. Or that during a cleaning session later on in the year, one of the guys opened a severely outdated bucket of cheese balls, smelled it, and uttered the following words: “Cheese doesn’t go bad, does it?” It was a year full of great memories, stupid moments and a lot of fun - though a lot of it was lost in the flow of keg beer and punch from a giant red bucket.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I had the same experience at work once, and it turned out that a coworker had bought a fish (as in the large, raw, to-be-cooked kind) and forgot about it.

She never apologized, but instead blamed another coworker who was "supposed to remind" her to take it home.