The Dead Man's Apartment

As I said last time, this last blog post isn't musical theatre related. Instead I'm writing about my job. When I'm not crying over musical theatre, I clean apartments. This is some of the most memorable moments. It's 2000 words, so be warned.

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The dead man’s apartment was nothing like I thought it would be. Thanks to some television I had expectations of what it would look like, but I found something entirely different. Something much more startling.

No one except us was fine with going in there. The painters, the electricians, the contractors, the plumbers—everyone refused to step into the place until it had had a pre-cleaning. My boss, who is also my dad, made me put on a mask to go inside. I could hardly blame him for his caution. I’m sure the germs of a week-old decomposing body would make anyone sick. Thankfully for us the body wasn’t there anymore, but the mess the body had made was. My dad was contracted to clean it up.

On our first visit, we just needed to take a few pictures for upper-management and insurance purposes. We unlocked the door with the key we were given, and together we began to walk around the tidy apartment.

We documented most of what we saw. The man’s unmade bed, and the model racecar on the grey windowsill. His nice dining-room table, a walker beside it. It seemed he liked to read newspapers and watch VHS tapes.

The place looked like it was still lived in, as though at any moment the tenant would walk right in and ask why the hell we were in his home. That has happened before.

But I knew that that wouldn’t happen this time.

After photographing most of the apartment, we headed to where the incident occurred. The kitchen was a disaster compared to the rest of the place. Containers, plastic bags, and other unidentifiable objects were piled on the floor. I have no idea how they got there. That’s one of the worst and best parts of cleaning these places. I’m always left to wonder, and never have enough concrete evidence to know the whole story.

Maybe these things were on the floor when he fell. Maybe he tripped over them, or grabbed them to try to keep himself up. Maybe family members or paramedics had thrown them to the floor in their haste. I have no clue and probably never will.

The counters were clean. The man had looked after himself, despite his old age. There was a stained coffee maker beside the stove, with a Nescafe can right beside it. My dad remarked from somewhere that it was too bad the microwave on the opposite counter was in this apartment. Since the ex-wife of the man abandoned all the stuff inside, it was all destined for a garbage dump. In any other apartment we’d probably save one or two things before scrapping it all. But nothing could be saved from this place. It was all too contaminated to take home with us.

Too bad. That stainless steel microwave would have been a great thing to bring home.

I moved to walk inside the kitchen, but my dad grabbed my arm. He knew that if I got any closer I would get sick. I told him that would mean I wouldn’t get the best pictures. He told me that when he got in his Hazmat suit to pull up the floor, he’d take close-up pictures. That’s what he was going to be doing later; cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, including ripping up the floor. I kind of admired that he could do it without a fuss. Lord knows I probably couldn’t have. He’s always been calm around death though. And he had already done that about three times in his long cleaning career. It was like any other job to him.

I leaned over to get as close as I could, and stopped just shy of the kitchen floor.

I almost missed it, thinking it was just a stain. It was black and looked like charred grease from my angle. If I hadn’t known any better, I would’ve said it was just the floor that had been underneath a stove, a spot that hadn’t been cleaned in years. A stove that just happened to be shaped like someone in a fetal position. Obviously, it wasn’t that. According to my father, it was a mix of rotted flesh, various liquids that had dripped through any hole in the corpse they could find, and hair.

I’ve told this story an embarrassing number of times, and every time the reaction is the same. At the image of dead man’s imprint, people tend to reel back. Their faces scrunch up in disgust, and sometimes they even dry heave. That is a normal reaction, apparently.

I didn’t react that way. Instead, I just stood there for a few minutes and asked my father, “This is it?”

It’s easy to ask what the hell is wrong with me. Believe me, I asked myself that for a long time too. Eventually I came to a conclusion. It’s not me; it’s my job.

*

The job is simple. Know that I don’t deal with these types of apartments or homes on a regular basis. Normally I just go into empty apartments (or sometimes rented apartments) and clean what I’m told to. Windows, radiators, kitchens, bathrooms, vents. You name it, I probably clean it.

We rate the apartment on how it looks on the inside. It’s a fairly simple scale. "Very Good" is a wipe down with a wet rag. “Good” is some scrubbing. “Bad” is some scrubbing with lots of gloves and masks. “Very Bad” is the dead man’s apartment.

We only get “Very Bad” apartments to clean every few months. They are passed on to us when no one else wants to do the job. That alone shows what kind of apartments we clean. If it isn’t clear to you, just know that we’ve cleaned apartments with used diapers on the floor, bed bugs in the furniture and piles of garbage everywhere. Thankfully dead bodies aren’t usually in the equation.

At the beginning I hated them. Going from cleaning bathrooms and kitchens to rotting garbage wasn’t easy.

I remember putting on my first Hazmat suit, with my dad warning my brother and I not to touch anything in the place. I slid the suit on outside the door, then put on the goggles and mask over it.

Despite the suit, I didn’t think it would be that bad inside. But it was.

Almost everything was left behind. Food, a couch, clothes. The tenants took what was of value with them, like the television and the beds, but almost everything else was left behind.

Worse, it had been left behind for quite awhile. The food was mouldy, everything was covered in dirt and dust, and flies buzzed everywhere.

I wondered how people could live like this. I still wonder that sometimes.

We cleaned up pretty spectacularly, considering the mess. It took us three hours, and out of boredom I began to wonder about the people who used to live there. I don’t remember what I thought of, probably something about super spies.

The truth was worse.

A couple and their child had lived there. I knew that much from the diapers on the floor and the fact the place was a two-bedroom.

There were many rumours about them. The one in particular that stuck with me was that the mother and the child had never left the confines of the apartment. Maybe it was an abusive husband who banned them from leaving; maybe they were vampires. I don’t know.

The workers in these buildings, mostly men, like to gossip. So I can’t know whether or not the rumour was true. What I did know, from the state of the baby’s bedroom when I cleaned it, that there was no way he or she was taken care of well. After all, the place obviously hadn’t been cleaned in months, and the child’s clothes had been left behind. Added with the poop on the floor and the scratches on the doorframe, there was simply no way.

It was tough to move on from that. I did of course, after having a good cry about it, but it took me awhile. I had to get used to the fact that it was all out of my hands.

The job became easier after that. Repeated exposure to some of the strangest and gloomiest stories humanity can offer does that.

Take, for example, The Hoarder. The poor woman had way too much garbage in her apartment, and was ordered to get rid of it or get evicted. I can see why. The piles of things there were higher then I was. Cards, letters, Christmas decorations, little knick-knacks. Garbage too. There was enough of it that it had to have affected the people below and above her.

She was so upset while we cleaned. She followed us around, and we humoured her when she asked to keep something. Eventually, after more then a dozen garbage bags and a floor that suddenly appeared underneath our feet, she calmed. She wasn’t necessarily happy with it, but she was happy with us. That made it worth it.

There was also The Box Man. He wasn’t a hoarder like the little old lady. He was just a man with three boxes who rented an apartment in one of the buildings. He then promptly dropped off those boxes and left. He didn’t move in and didn’t come back. He only returned for the boxes when the lease was up a year later.

I don’t know what was in the boxes, or why they were so important that they needed an entire apartment to live in. And I’ve never had the fortune of meeting the man, so I don’t know who he was or why he did what he did. But we had fun trying to guess.

We had many theories. Mine was that he was a secret agent hiding something where no one would think to look. My co-worker insisted that the man just wanted a storage place, or somewhere to hide away from his life. Another person I talked to insisted he was an evil mastermind who needed a lair.

While it may be frustrating to never know who the man was, it did give us a pretty cool story. Just like the many apartments I’ve cleaned over the years. It’s amazing how many things I’ve seen and lives I’ve looked into without leaving my street.

Now I must ask myself: have I witnessed too many stories? Is the lack of sympathy a tell of how far I’ve gone? Perhaps too far?

*

I found myself back inside the dead man’s apartment two months after the fact, just before it went back on the market. It was surprisingly beautiful. After my father cleaned inside, several other people came and renovated the place. Everything was new.

It had become a “Very Good” apartment, and all I had to do was clean the new windows and the bathroom. After a few hours it looked brand new. Technically it was.

Before I left it, I looked over from the front door and tried to picture the black stain that had been in the kitchen. The imprint of a lonely man, curled up on the floor as he took his last breath.

I felt sympathy for him, but it was detached. Like I was feeling it from far away. Is it because I’m cold-hearted, or is it because I’m trying to adapt to the requirements for the job?

Does it matter?

Maybe what does matter is that I was, and am, telling their stories. Maybe that’s enough.

Crying for what’s happened to people in the past actually isn’t my job. My job is to clean the way for a new story to begin.


ASHLEY O'NEIL

Student. Writer. Likes to rave, rant and cry about television shows. Sings popular show-tunes loudly and happily. Has a huge family and a huge book collection. Is trying to find her way in the writing world, and in the world in general.

Can be found on LinkedIn and Facebook. Follows this blog.

Carry On My Wayward Son

When I first heard that there was going to be a musical episode, I was confused. A musical Supernatural episode? How could that even work? I honestly didn’t think it could.

I wasn’t going to watch it. But then I made the mistake of sneak peek of it.

It was a surreal experience. A cast of girls lined up in a row, much like how the actors in RENT performed ‘Seasons of Love’. The ladies sung the fan-proclaimed theme song of the show, ‘Carry On Wayward Son’

I couldn’t help myself. I watched the full thing later that night.

Despite its many flaws, the episode was hilarious. I genuinely enjoyed Supernatural for the first time in forever. While the main characters didn’t sing, the prey of the week did. You see, said group of girls from above created a musical based on the two protagonists of Supernatural (long story). In the midst of this, they had to kill a monster.

While I wouldn’t give the show a Tony Award anytime soon, it was nice. It was pretty cool to see some of my favorite scenes in musical form. And don’t even get me started on all the musical references. I smiled every time.

Unfortunately, the episode did not mend my relationship with Supernatural. I guess that only works on some people. But at least one of the last episodes I’ll ever what of the show was a good one.

However, now I’m worried.

Musical theatre is one of my favourite things and I don’t want my love for it to end. I like to think it won’t, but then again, my love for Supernatural died. It’s more than likely that this will too.

If it does, I think I will be okay with it. While my love might fade away, it will have left an imprint on my heart (it’s not my cheesy line, don’t roll your eyes).

Before it does, hopefully it will help me gather the courage to go volunteer at the Ottawa Little Theatre on November 30th. Yes, it’s finally happening.

If I can’t find time to write about said volunteering experience, then this is my last blog post about this subject matter. This isn’t a particularly sad goodbye, but a fond one. This blog brought me closer to musical theatre, and I can’t be too upset about that.

So long, farewell…you know the rest.


ASHLEY O'NEIL

Student. Writer. Likes to rave, rant and cry about television shows. Sings popular show-tunes loudly and happily. Has a huge family and a huge book collection. Is trying to find her way in the writing world, and in the world in general.

Can be found on LinkedIn and Facebook. Follows this blog.

For The First Time In Forever

My sister Faith is nine years younger than me. As you can imagine, it has always been a little hard to bond with her.

It was different with my dad. He tried to understand where I was coming from, and listened to me. I tried to do the same for him.

However, because Faith was so young, we couldn't do that. She didn’t remember or understand some of the things we talked about. She was always changing and growing. It was hard to stay on the same page with her.

Despite this, I wanted us to be friends. I wanted to be close, unlike all the other siblings I knew. It seemed for a while that would never happen. So I used something I hoped would work.

When Wicked came to the NAC, I decided to see it with my stepmother Lorraine, Faith and myself. It was great. It gave us wonderful memories, and my stepmother and I found something we both enjoyed.

Unfortunately, it did not help Faith and me. We were as distant as before.

I became disheartened. I gave up, deciding to wait until she was older to get to know her again.

Then, the movie Frozen hit theatres.

(I know animated Disney movies aren’t necessarily musicals…except when they totally are. Musicals theatre is defined as, “a play or movie in which singing and dancing play an essential part.” And I would say Disney animated movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin would constitute as such.)

The fact that Frozen was so popular and that it was about sisters drew me in. So, we went to see it in theatres together.

It was, of course, amazing. For months we raved about it. We sang the soundtrack repeatedly, together and apart.

Imagine your young children/family members singing this loudly, proudly and terribly around 10 times a week. That's what my poor parents went through for MONTHS.

It quickly became important for our relationship. When she got upset, we used the song lyrics (like ‘Do You Want To Build a Snowman?’) to communicate. When we were doing crafts, we’d sing "Let It Go" together. We constantly debated who was Elsa and who was Anna. It revealed so much to me about her, and I think it revealed a little about me to her too.

We developed a friendship from that, and now, we’re closer then ever. We’re even considering volunteering together.

Thankfully, we were able to fix things, hand in hand.


ASHLEY O'NEIL

Student. Writer. Likes to rave, rant and cry about television shows. Sings popular show-tunes loudly and happily. Has a huge family and a huge book collection. Is trying to find her way in the writing world, and in the world in general.

Can be found on LinkedIn and Facebook. Follows this blog.

Connection in an Isolating Age

My dad asked me recently about how my researching for volunteer opportunities at local theatres was going. I told him that I was (and am) still looking around and writing up forms.

He also asked to read my blog. I told him I’d print it out.

I have to say, this request shocked and flattered me. I mean, it’s hard for him to read anything that isn’t a yoga manual. So asking to read my blog? That’s a big deal. I’m especially happy he did, considering that he, musicals and I have a history.

He was the first to show me Jesus Christ Superstarand he was the one who helped me buy Phantom of the Opera and West Side Story years later.

He also introduced me to RENT.

I was older by then, just discovering musical theatre. It was happenstance that he was watching it one day. He was right at the end, and I couldn’t help but watch it too. After my family went to bed, I re-watched it from the beginning.

The musical, about a group of friends living in New York City, just trying to get by, with the central message "No Day But Today," floored me.

It changed my life.

 I may be a fan!

I may be a fan!

I fell in love and Dad was thrilled. We began to talk about it. Over the next weeks, we accumulated at least a dozen hours strictly talking about the show.

This was an amazing feat, since maintaining conversation and a connection was hard for us at the time.

It was neither of our faults. I was just growing up and growing apart. I wasn’t loud or social to begin with, which didn’t help him or anyone else get close to me. Thus, our relationship suffered.

RENT helped us. We could talk about how much we loved Angel’s selflessness, or how raw and devastating the ‘Will I?’ sequence was, or about which song truly represented the life the characters lived. The life we all live. These conversations gave us a way to communicate properly.

This connection stayed with us throughout the years, despite the hard times. Having those conversations behind us, when we talked about life and death and love, everything that RENT was about, was a buoy we could hold onto.

Now, we talk every day. The years of awkward conversations and days of disconnect are over.

Thank you, Jonathan Larson.


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ASHLEY O'NEIL

Student. Writer. Likes to rave, rant and cry about television shows. Sings popular show-tunes loudly and happily. Has a huge family and a huge book collection. Is trying to find her way in the writing world, and in the world in general.

Can be found on LinkedIn and Facebook. Follows this blog.

 

 

Strange Thing, Mystifying

 The holy musical that blessed my ears for the first time (puns intended). Credit: The author

The holy musical that blessed my ears for the first time (puns intended). Credit: The author

I still remember my first musical.

I was around five years old, and playing on the living room floor. The first few notes from Jesus Christ Superstar’s “What’s The Buzz” started playing from the television speakers.

I looked away from my toys for a moment. I turned my head and watched as, on the screen, these strange people danced, and sang words I didn’t really understand. I watched until the song was over and then went back to my toys. I didn’t understand what was happening so there was no point in watching.

But somehow, it stuck with me.

Years later, I sang that song, despite only knowing a few lines. I sang along when I re-watched the movie-musical at fourteen. At that time I was hunting down all the musicals I could get my hands on, and couldn’t leave out my first.

I couldn’t get the soundtrack out of my head for days after that. I blame the catchy music, and the local library that lent me the CD.

After listening to it for months, I knew that if I ever got the chance, I’d love to play Mary Magdalene. Her character was gentle, and wise beyond her years. And yet she was still so confused and vulnerable. I liked her. I knew all of her lines, and I knew I could pull off her small, sweet voice.

Sort of.

Well, with practice I could. And with the possibility of my school doing a musical the next year, I could at least audition!

Who was I kidding? I was too scared to do it then, and now. I'm too afraid of messing up, or of being in front of a large crowd.

It’s unfortunate, because there are so many characters I want to play and so many songs that I want to sing. At the very least, I want to help those who are bringing these amazing stories to life and do the behind-the-scenes experience.

I never tried. I felt comfortable, sitting in the audience while so many others did what I can’t. I’ve always been fine with that.

Until now.

I have a plan. I’m older, with a confidence that I've never had before and a lot of support. I’m going to do it. With baby steps, I’m going to volunteer at a theatre and be a part of the magic that is the stage.

And maybe, with some time and practice, I'll finally have a chance to be in the spotlight.


ASHLEY O'NEIL

Student. Writer. Likes to rave, rant and cry about television shows. Sings popular show-tunes loudly and happily. Has a huge family and a huge book collection. Is trying to find her way in the writing world, and in the world in general.

Can be found on LinkedIn and Facebook. Follows this blog.