One of the people to whom I e-mailed this story in 1998 requested that I post it. At the time this was written, Daniel and I were sharing a house with two friends, Bill and Steph.
Lest any of you may be feeling that your housekeeping skills are deficient, here’s a story to demonstrate that you are not alone and things could be worse!
Because our kitchen is so small and lacking in storage space, we have a lot of canned/packaged food stored in the enclosed back porch, along with the tools and cleaning supplies. We have two sets of shelves and a wheeled cabinet out there. The broom and mop and rake and snow shovel generally lean in the space between the cabinet and one set of shelves. The general tendency of everyone in the household has been to put things on/in the appropriate storage unit but not necessarily in any particular place thereon/in, and recently a lot of surplus groceries got stacked on the floor and weren’t moved onto the shelves when there was space for them, and somehow the doormats migrated into the melee, and Bill left two pairs of shoes out there for some reason, and…it became apparent that someone would have to reorganize the porch. I had been meaning to do this for several weeks and finally got around to it yesterday.
I cleared off the food shelves and categorized all the food. Then I moved into the back corner between the two shelving units, where a box of trowels and such had been jammed down on top of a pile of stuff in plastic bags. I was crouching on the floor pulling at one of the plastic bags, which was stuck, when I lost my balance and fell forward and one of my hands landed in a puddle of STICKY BLACK GOO.
“Paint?” I thought at first, but the can of paint I’d found in one of the topmost bags (leftover from painting the new bulkhead door Daniel made) was a lighter brown, and besides, this didn’t smell like latex…. It had just a faint odor, like dead leaves or maybe tomatoes. I began cleaning up the goo, which was pooled in front of the non-food shelves and extended into the darkness beneath. The reason nobody had noticed it before was that the mop bucket had been blocking the view. I decided to leave the floor alone, since mopping is Steph’s job and the whole floor needed it anyway, but the goo was also on the side of the shelves, the wall, and the bag that had been stuck. (Said bag contained party cups, which were completely salvageable.)
After removing a ruined doormat (I’d thought we had two mats out there; apparently we had three), a plastic gasoline jug, and several old damaged pots and pans that I thought had been thrown away, I found the source of the goo: one of those giant cans of Campbell’s tomato juice with its label 3/4 soaked in goo oozing from a horizontal split in the side. Large blobs of gray and white mold decorated the split. When I picked up the can, I dislodged a silverfish and a millipede, the two species that consistently make me scream in fear that they’re going to “get” me. I quickly squashed them, then flipped out and ran upstairs for comfort from Daniel. He joked about how we could’ve used the can in his film about killer mold from space (we did use a bag of English muffins that had gone blue and fuzzy) and suggested that I put the can in a trash bag under the porch steps until garbage day.
I did that and returned to cleaning. When I moved a bulk package of sandwich bags (stuck to the floor by goo) I found another can, which had been sitting under the first and was identical except that it had two ruptures and one of its mold colonies was so large it resembled a mushroom.
None of us recalls buying two large cans of tomato juice; either ex-housemate Curt bought them or they were among the foodstuffs we got from friends leaving town and cleaning out their pantries. We can’t figure out what would make cans split horizontally like that–if under stress, wouldn’t they split at the vertical seam? Bill suggested that the acid of the tomatoes ate through the steel over time.
At any rate, this gives us incentive to stick to our new organizational chart and clean frequently!…maybe.
Update, ten years later: We don’t clean all that frequently, but nothing quite this horrifying has happened since, maybe because we’ve become more selective about accepting free food. Those party cups I found came with us to the next two houses, but when we have a party we just use real cups and wash them, so we finally donated the disposable cups to the church. We’re still working on using up that bulk package of sandwich bags!