The story of Why I Moved continues…
The music roars from downstairs. I was just sitting at my desk, enjoying a hot cup of PVC herbal tea when someone downstairs decided to pump up the volume. Downstairs, Wilma has brought her sisterI assume. Betty to live with them, who likes to crank up the music until we can feel the furniture vibrate.
On the upside, she does this during reasonable daytime hours. On the other hand, my wife sometimes works nights and needs to sleep during the day. I try not to get upset about this. It's entirely possible that we're worse offenders when it comes to noise. We're on the top floor and we've got three teens. That can't be quiet. Moreover, they’re probably blasting music to cover up the the furious tunneling of the water company. Judging by the sounds I’m hearing, I figure that they have uncovered a balrog, which they are now fighting.
I kept hoping the problems with my asthma would blow over. I really don’t want to move. Apartment hunting is ruinously time consuming, tedious, and stressful. Moving is expensive. I have multiple projects going right now and I can't bear to have everything interrupted with that hassle. So I've been foolishly hoping that the cat wouldn't be a problem. Or that it would be a nuisance instead of a danger. I've been telling myself that my recent allergy problems were just seasonal pollen, and that the apartments should be isolated well enough to keep me safe. I've been ignoring the signs, huffing on the inhaler, and hoping for the best. In the meantime, the dander has been building up.
The wake-up call for me comes one morning when I huff on the inhaler and find myself still wheezing afterwards. That's not supposed to happen. I can't blame this on stupid pollen anymore. This is cat dander and cigarette smoke, and it's getting dangerous. We need to move. We need to work fast.
We start digging through the classifieds. Like last time, most of the places allow pets. Most of the remaining ones are too small. The few that are left are far out of our price range.
The search for an apartment continues. (To not produce any results.) It does succeed in devouring a great deal of time.
The smoking downstairs has gotten worse. I think Betty smokes clove cigarettes. I’ve never been around them before, but the smoke inflames my lungs like tear gas and makes my allergies go crazy. I haven’t drawn a breath through my nose in days, and the inhaler can’t do more than keep me out of the hospital. I’m walking hunched over all the time, always nursing a low wheeze.
Fun fact: Your nose is part of your body's filtration system. All that hair and mucus exists to grab spores, dirt, gnats, pollen, dust, and other crap you don't want down there in the sensitive pink flesh of your lungs. So when your allergies get bad enough that you can't breathe through your nose anymore, it means your body is screwing itself. In trying to eject the unwanted material by making your nose run, it's forcing you to breathe through your mouth and thus take unfiltered air directly into your lungs.
Speaking as an engineer, I have to say this is a terrible system that's in need of better-fail safes, and maybe even a complete overhaul.
The smoking is the attention-getter because we can smell it, but in terms of Shamus-killing contaminants it's really the cat that's causing most of my problems. I've been around smoking before. It's bad for me, but not really dangerous in mild doses. Then again, these aren't short doses. This is continual.
We need to find a place to live soon. I can't believe all of this is caused by a stupid cat.
I'm trying to tear apart the kitchen faucet, but I don't have the right tools for the job. I have to clean PVC fragments out of the fixtures every few weeks or so, or the water stops flowing. Right now we have to wait several minutes for the faucet to deliver enough water to be useful, and then run that water through a filter to get the fine-grain stuff out. You can't always see it with the naked eyeBut sometimes you can. See above., but if you cook a bunch of raw tap water down it will leave a ring of white powder on the sides of the pot.
The water company is finally done for the season. They’ve packed up their noisy machinery and their orange traffic cones and retreated to their lair at the Water Fortress. I’m sure next spring they’ll be back to make war on beleaguered commuters. The interesting thing is that the white crud in the water is still showing up. In fact, I think it’s worse than ever. We’ve asked around, and nobody else in the neighborhood seems to have this problem. The fact that white crud appeared in our water when the water company showed up was a coincidence. It’s extremely likely that this is a problem with our water heater.
I told the landlady about the clogged faucet, but either she forgot or it’s taking her a long time to get around to it. I’m tired of waiting, so I’m trying to sort this out myself. It’s hard, because I don’t have the breath for physical activity these days.
The landlady was apologetic about how things turned out for us, and was really annoyed to find out about the cat. As I guessed, she was pretty much powerless to do anything about it. I'm not going to guess at the family forces at work here, but from my point of view it doesn't matter. Our fate was sealed months ago when Wilma moved in with her cat, and there was never any course of action that could have solved that problem without creating a worse oneWhat was I gonna do? Sue them? Break in and assassinate the cat?.
I can't breathe deep anymore. The bottoms of my airways are closed, effectively reducing my lung capacity. I'm always hunched over and my back muscles ache from constant exertion.
Winter Is Coming. We’ve got the windows open and air blowing through the house. It’s chilly all the time, but if we shut the place up then the allergens will accumulate faster.
It’s hard to find a place large enough for a family of five, with space for an office, with solid wiring that can support the kind of electrical load we create, that hasn’t had pets in the last decade. Oh, and we’d really prefer not to live between the gun store and the biker bar, metaphorically speaking.
Shamus, does it really take a decade for allergens to clear?
I don’t know, honestly. It’s not like I can study this. Maybe you could fix a house for me by replacing the carpet, repainting, and blowing out all the duct work. (But if you're smart, you won't do it in that order.)
I must say that people are really bad at placing ads on Craigslist. One guy built a new deck on the rental property, so he took pictures of that but not of the inside. One three bedroom unit listed only four pictures: Front door, parking space, kitchen, toilet. Yes, just the toilet, not the whole bathroom. Only half the people bother to specify the neighborhood. Lots of people forget to say how many bedrooms. Some offer no pictures and nothing about where the place is located. Almost everyone allows pets.
And when a miracle happens and we do manage to find something promising, they don’t return my calls.
We meet a nice young guy. Nathan. He bought a house, fixed it up, put it up for rent. He did a great job. He doesn’t allow pets, but apparently the previous owner had a dog. I figure this out about three minutes after I walk in the front door. I just saw NO PETS in his listing and foolishly figured I’d be safe, so I didn’t bother to ask about previous owners.
I spend the rest of the day huffing on the inhaler and sneezing my eyeballs out. Yes, my symptoms have been bad, but there's still plenty of room for them to get worse.
A week later we meet a nice old man with a great house for rent, and it’s exactly the same story. I don't bother to ask about previous occupants, and then halfway through the tour my symptoms intensify. I'm desperate and sick of this tedious process, and it's making me careless.
Apparently I'm not thinking clearly. I don't notice, but my wife keeps giving me strange looks and having to explain things to me repeatedly. Partly this is due to sleep deprivation; it's pretty hard to sleep when you're struggling to breathe. But it also might be due to a personal oxygen shortage. It also might just be personal discomfort. People always get a little muddle-headed when they’re sick. Whatever the cause, this whole thing seems to have shaved off a couple of much-needed IQ points.
I put my hands on my knees and lean forward, panting open-mouthed like a runner. My head bobs as I struggle to suck air. I just took out the garbage, and climbing the apartment steps has burned all my oxygen. It's going to take me a minute or so to catch my breath. That whole ridiculous D&D thing where a level 1 Wizard is killed by a housecat seems less far-fetched every day.
When I stagger back in the house, Heather sees me panting and scolds me. She could have taken out the garbage. Or one of the kids. But the truth is I'm tired of being useless and I hate having to ask people to do things for me. I feel guilty for putting the extra weight on everyone else. Heather works long shifts, and the last thing she needs is to come home and care for a useless man-baby.
There's still no place for me to live. We've got a big spreadsheet of properties with links and info and records of our interactions with the owners. We work our way through the list, crossing items off as we go: Taken, had pets, no callback, taken, scary neighborhood, had pets, had pets, no callback, taken.
What happens if this drags on into winter? We really can’t close the windows or my asthma will spiral out of control. We can’t very well keep them open when the temperature dips below 45°F, (4°C) which is bound to happen at some point next month. Even if everyone is willing to freeze like that, cold air is also an asthma trigger for me.
I can’t stay with relatives, because even they have pets. Brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, in-laws. Everyone. Everyone has pets. There is nowhere to go.
Asthma has a sort of “tipping point”. As your airways narrow, it takes more work to push air in and out. If you want to know what it feels like, jog until you're very slightly winded and then try breathing through a couple of coffee stirrers.
This extra labor increases your need for oxygen, while at the same time the violent rasping irritates the airways even more. You're working harder, which means you need more air, which makes the swelling worse, which means you have to push even harder. If the oxygen burned by the exercise rises above the oxygen you can take in, you die.
I suspect I've been near that edge a few times in my life, but I've never gone over. (Obviously.) I've gotten pale, but I've never turned blue, which is apparently what the end looks like. The usual treatment when it spirals out of control is to run to the hospital. That can save your life, but it's just delaying the inevitable if you're allergic to where you live. You can go to the hospital, get pumped full of drugs, and then stagger home and suffocate three days later anyway. What am I going to do, live at the hospital?
Meanwhile, the buzz is that the downstairs cat has had a litter of kittens. This tells us two things:
- They had at least two cats downstairs.
- They now have many more than two cats.
It's one thing to sneak a cat into your apartment because you think it can't possibly do any harm. It's another to thumb your nose at the rules and start your own cat farm.
We really need to get out of here.
 I assume.
 But sometimes you can. See above.
 What was I gonna do? Sue them? Break in and assassinate the cat?
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