A week and a half ago, we woke up in the early hours of a Thursday morning with a strange and powerful stench wafting through the house. It wasn’t the rotten eggs smell they put into natural gas lines, or the nasty stink of sewer gas. The only thing I could compare it to was overpowering permanent marker, like the tip of a massive Scripto had been plunged over our house.
Our next door neighbor (who also happens to be my stepbrother and a musician) is reliably up at hours like 4 a.m. pretty much any night of the week. Dan went next door to see if he had the smell too. In the 10 minutes or so that he was gone, I had a panic attack as I imagined us spontaneously combusting. I grabbed the baby, his diaper bag and my purse and headed out the back door, leaving it open so our dogs and cat could escape as well.
Dan was visiting with a group of people at my stepbrother’s house. Basically, the entire closing-time crowd from a bar up the street had relocated to his living room, where the stench was nowhere to be found. People snuffed out cigarettes as I walked in with the baby and started doting on him immediately. Declan was full of sleepy smiles, so he attracted several drunken hippie chick satellites in a matter of minutes. He loves being the center of attention.
A couple of the guys went back over to our house to check things out and see if they could distinguish the smell. Mostly they said “huh, smells like permanent marker.” I called the gas company to ask questions. Not their department. They didn’t even have a suggestion about who to call. There was a chorus of hypotheses from the bar crowd: a dead raccoon under or around the house, some weird smell drifting up from the ravine, or the most popular; that the furnace had kicked back in after months of warm weather. Everyone agreed, including a tipsy electrician who was in attendance, that it was clearly not gas.
After an hour or so, the smell had abated a bit, so we went back home, lit some incense and went back to bed.
The next day, Dan found that a water pipe that had been shut off during a summer plumbing job was also connected to our heater (we have steam heat). He felt certain that this was the source of the smell – the heater trying to run without enough water. He got the water back on and one of the radiators started leaking. He tried to shut it off and it wouldn’t budge. He called the landlord and they decided to shut the heater off until someone could come on Monday. The smell wasn’t so bad, as long as we stayed upstairs.
But on Sunday night, the house was thick with the smell again – it was unbearable, no matter where you went. I called my mother and asked to stay at her house, and while I was gathering things for our overnight stay, my stepbrother called to say the stench was now in his house too. He was going to stay at his girlfriend’s house, but he would make some calls to see what else he could find out.
To be continued…