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If I were to be asked, “What’s the nastiest thing you’ve encountered from working on your house?” I would have always thought my answer would be about the press-on fingernails we found in the fridge (and in the closet, and in the garage, and in the carpet) when I moved in. Or that the kitchen was so dirty, oven cleaner had to be used on the countertops and the ceiling was orange (likely from years of chain smoking by the previous owner). Or the disgusting and caked-on dirt found behind the stove on the linoleum floor. Take your pick; any one of these are winners. But, no. Imma have to go with frass.
Yes, frass. I now (unfortunately) know the appropriate vocabulary word for insect feces. Bug poo. Mite manure. Dragonfly dung. Entomological excrement. Gross, nasty, creepy-crawly things we wish in life that we could somehow unlearn or unsee. Before you move on to the story below, there are a few things that I recommend not doing before reading:
- thinking about eating or drinking
- changing diapers (or anything else gross where this story might push you over the edge)
- having a cold, flu, or any other illness that might make you queasy
- gearing up to be offended at my overuse of references to poo. And cursing.
Being the sole owner of my house, most of the time, I decide which room I feel like working on. That changes as I see fit, and I call it “project A.D.D.” But when it comes to getting a helping hand when the big things need doing, I don’t always get to control the timeline. You see, Dad sometimes gets a free weekend and suggests that we work on something that isn’t really on the current to-do list.
For example, I don’t really have the time or ability to work on the master bathroom. The entire lower level of the house is trashed thanks to shoving all of the furniture into the living room while I work on the dining room. But when Dad has free time to help me on a project I can’t possibly get to for three months, I still say yes. Because that’s just what you do when someone offers to help you on a house.
Over the weekend, that’s exactly what happened. Dad suggested coming over Sunday morning with Tony. For those of you that are new, Tony is my Dad’s handy fixer friend who lives in my old neighborhood. He helped paint my house, add a gate to my back yard, and all sorts of other things that I would otherwise be lost at doing by myself. This time, Dad and Tony planned to help me rip out my master bath (the one that I originally began working on over a year ago until they came over while I was in class one weekend and ripped out the guest bath instead). It didn’t take too long before the toilet with the scalloped shell lid was on its way out.
Most of the screws that held the vanity in place were stripped. And the builders seemed to have had a hard time finding a stud. Ya think?
So, we just ripped it out, piece by piece. I was on the other side of the room (gently) ripping out the baseboard (so I could use it again). And by “other side of the room,” I mean approximately six inches from Tony’s feet. Dad usually takes a more supervisory/hauling away role when we can’t all fit. And I showed him how to take pictures on my iPhone.
Next, we peeled up the linoleum. It pretty much came up in one solid (nasty) sheet.
AND THEN… (warning, warning)
I just had to ask Tony, “what the frick is that?” – pointing to the pile of dirt in the corner where the vanity used to be.
“Oh, that’s just bug crap.”
“What? Um, bugs poop?”
“Yep. [he says as he sweeps it with his bare hand] That’s been there a while though. I didn’t see any bugs, so they’re probably long gone by now.”
“Oh. Wait… Huh?”
And inside my head, horror. Disgust. Fear of breathing the air that is likely filled with bug poo particles. The desperate need to wash my hands and take a scalding hot shower. Tony and Dad left shortly after – enough work done for the day. But I had to get that shit (literally) out of my house. I put on a breathing mask and swept, vac’d, and cleaned until I felt satisfied I could be in the same house as that room.
After a little bit of research on something I never thought I’d ever have to know, I read a few online forums to make sense of it. What I learned is that bug poo has a name – frass (sounds like such a friendly word, doesn’t it?). And most online articles about frass are related to bed bugs. But it’s location in my house wasn’t near the bed, and didn’t seem like a logical source. Then I put two and two together: termites. When I moved in, I had to get a termite inspection. My house has cedar siding. And there was a fair amount of termite damage just outside of that bathroom window, only about a foot from the corner where I found the frass (we repaired the exterior prior to painting the house). There have been no new signs of termite activity since moving in (and just had the inspector come by for a check in December, so was confident this was not new), so that means that this pile of shit must have been in my walls for years.
The things we learn about our houses, eh?