The building where I work was built in the 1980s, and it barely makes code– barely. For one thing, somebody decided at the time “to hell with light switches!” and built 3 whole stories of office space without them. After all, do you really need light switches when perfectly good fuses in the fuse box will suffice? Didn’t think so.
Whoever built this building also felt that hiding the hot water tank in the ceiling space between two stories was a good idea, and that double-drywalling said hot water tank into its own suspended, ultra-secure time chamber was an even better idea. After all, who ever needs to access the hot water tank, really now? I rest my case.
It goes without saying that we have had some real fun working in this building, like that time when plugging a radio into somebody’s office upstairs turned off all the lights downstairs. “To the fuse box! It’s OK– I’ll flip the switch! Jolly good!” Or that other time when somebody’s food heating up in the microwave caused a whole cornerful of computers to stop running. “To the fuse box– again! It’s OK, just another switch to flip! Ha ha!” Then there was that time when the hot water tank leaked all over the floor and needed to be bulldozed out of its cubby in the ceiling to be fixed. We didn’t even know we had a hot water tank until we noticed something leaking from the ceiling… Imagine how horrified we were, after ripping out large chunks of ceiling and wall, to find a GIANT, HEAVY hot water tank (HOT!!) peering down at us from a little shelf on the equavalent of the first-and-a-half floor. Good times, I tell you! Good times!
A few weeks ago, we noticed that something was smelling a little, um, peculiar in the office. We had a poke around the entrances to the building but couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, so we figured it must be something like old leaves or wood thawing out after our ‘frosty’ winter in Victoria. (Hey, a few days at -2 degrees counts. Actual frost has been had here.)
A few days passed and the odor became a bit more, um, pungent. We did a more thorough search this time, peering into odd closets and sighing at the tangles of random wires everywhere. “Oh yes, those random wires again. Sigh… So random.” No sign of anything mildewy, mouldy, or rotten, though. We cleaned out the fridge, looking to find something rank and fuzzy inside, but it was pretty much sparkling. Business continued on as usual.
When our mail carrier declared to us a few days afterward that he would no longer use our elevator due to a particularly nasty stench inside, we decided it was high time to call in our building maintenance crew. We put in a call and told them of the strange smell that was wafting through our building.
The maintenance crew came right away, fearing a possible gas leak. (Ha! Like our shoddy building actually uses the modern technology known as ‘gas heating’!!) After determining that there was no immediate danger, they combed through the stairwells and hallways, searching for the source of the smell. None could be found, though, and they left telling us that our mats and carpets were in desperate need of cleaning.
… So we called our janitors and asked them to do a deep cleaning of the carpets and mats. That night, our carpets were steamed and soaked in some heavy-duty carpet cleanser. Their well-trodden threads positively gleamed with a chemical lemon scent for a few precious minutes. However, the very next morning, the smell of something downright rank still overpowered the office. We were beginning to get worried.
We tried guessing at what could be causing the smell. Rotten leaves? A dead bird? Raw sewage??? A human corpse??!! More days passed and the smell only got worse. Our office freshness lovers sprayed Febreze everywhere like it was going out of style. I couldn’t decide what smelled worse… but even I came to prefer my allergies over that god awful smell!
We put in another call to our building maintenance crew on Friday. “Please help!”, we cried. “This smell is so horrid, our nostrils are corroding!” (It was true– we literally had to hold our breath and plug our noses every time we needed to use the stairs or the elevator.) “But we already looked around and found nothing”, was the stone cold response. They were reluctant to come back. And that was that.
So we waited some more, until we could barely breathe in the stench of it all. Everyone was talking about Sick Building Syndrome and wondering if a cat had perhaps sprayed the entire downstairs floor? Perhaps?? Or if some geyser of raw sewage was bubbling up into our decrepit old foundation? Perhaps?? Should we go home? Do we really have to breathe? There were whispers here and rumours there.
We remembered having to chisel our hot water tank out of its double-drywalled tomb in the ceiling and feared for the worst. Something had to be inside the walls, somewhere– festering– and there was no way to find out exactly where it was (and what it was) without literally tearing down the walls. This was not going to be pretty.
Our building maintenance crew finally returned after another weekend had passed and whatever it was was fully ripe in its stench. Unluckily, I needed to move some heavier machinery from one floor to another before they came, and as I rode the one floor up in the elevator (nearly passing out, of course), I determined that being in that elevator on that morning was the closest thing to being 100 percent inside an actual ass. I discovered precisely what life would be like for a rectal parasite of sorts, and you know what? I DIDN’T NEED TO HAVE FIRSTHAND KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE FOR A RECTAL PARASITE OF SORTS!!!
An elevator maintenance man was called in to see if something had perished at the bottom of the elevator shaft. Nothing had. Our building maintenance crew started pulling up carpet and tapping on walls, trying to hear the telltale ‘thud’ that would let them know where to start ripping out drywall. Our executives were incredibly stressed out, dying on one hand to have that AWFUL SMELL gone but worried on the other hand how many walls would have to come down before the source of the smell could be sussed out. Should we call in a dog?, we wondered. A dog would let us know exactly where to look! Quick, somebody bring in a bloodhound!
The search continued. Our poor building maintenace crew climbed ladders and pulled out nails and screws, all the while getting closer to the smell instead of turning away from it, as any one with any sort of intuition whatsoever was keen to do. Bits of wall came out here and chunks of ceiling came down there until finally… the source of the stench was discovered.
Heartbreakingly, a rather large raccoon had managed to slide its way into a warm crevice inside the ceiling above the main floor entrance (near the elevator). Even more devastatingly, this raccoon was unable to get out of the crevice once it had crawled inside, and so it died a slow and painful death by starvation in our ceiling. (Ugh! I can’t even imagine how horrible that must have been!!) Our building maintenance crew had the unenviable task of removing the very dead, very rotten raccoon carcass from its spot, and as soon as it was moved even slightly, the smell became UNBEARABLE.
We are now left with two tasks: 1. Trying to find out how the raccoon got there in the first place and to seal off any possible entrance/exit routes. 2. Determining whether there are any baby raccoons living (or not-as-much ‘living’ as ‘dead’) in that general vicinity. UGH!!!!
I can’t decide what thought is more painful to me: that a poor raccoon died a horrible death right underneath our noses or that we all worked and breathed and ate our lunches in the overpowering stench of decay. For three whole weeks!!! Sick!
We were lucky (I guess) this time around that only some minor cosmetic walls and ceiling panels had to be removed to get to the source of the issue. But oh, what fun, will our building offer us in the future? Only time will tell!