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First impressions

Well, I made it to Pittsburgh. Or more precisely, I made it to Mountaintop Campground in Tarentum—the closest campground I know of, and a nice one. I ended up in the same spot I stayed in two years ago: at the edge of a plateau overlooking rolling Pennsylvania hills.

Mountain Top Campground, Tarentum, PA

I have the rig parked facing west, so that the hot afternoon sun shines on the cab rather than on my office in back. In the afternoons I block off the cab with a comforter, which makes it a lot easier to keep the rest of the rig cool on these hot, humid summer days.

After getting settled here and paying for a month's stay ($500), I headed into town to have a look at Donald's house. The neighbor I had talked with had warned me that the smell was pretty bad, so I stopped at a Walmart on the way in and bought a respirator mask (proof against dust, solvents and fumes, so I figured it'd work against dead-people odor) and a bunch of cleaning supplies. I also brought along four cheap 20" box fans to help ventilate the place.

As it turned out, when I opened the front door and took a cautious sniff, the house didn't smell any different than it ever has: it was just the odor of 25 years of pipe smoking that has turned the walls and ceilings yellowish-brown. Not pleasant, but not like a rotting corpse. So I didn't need the respirator.

However, the kitchen was a mess. There were stains on the floor, as well as a plastic sheet that may have been left by the EMTs who collected the body. I didn't want to deal with that, and friends had told me that before the house was sold, I'd probably need to be able to prove that it had been professionally decontaminated. So I made an appointment with Aftermath, a company specializing in cleanup of crime scenes and unattended deaths.

Cheater plug

My scheme to ventilate with the $15 box fans ran into a few snags. First, only a couple windows in the whole house have screens, and most of the windows are painted shut. Almost none of the windows is within six feet of an electrical outlet (this is a 1910-vintage house), and almost none of the outlets is polarized, much less grounded, so the fans' plugs wouldn't fit. I ended up having to go back to Walmart and buy extension cords and "cheater plugs" to get around these problems... and even so, most of the time the fans are just pushing hot air around, because I can't get the windows open. Why Donald put up with these conditions is beyond me.

Given the tropical weather here at this time of year, you may be wondering why I didn't just buy a few cheap window air conditioners. Well, I would have, but there are a couple of problems: first, as I work on the house I'm constantly moving from room to room in a ten-room house, and I can't put an air conditioner in each room. And more to the point, if I tried to run an air conditioner from these antique outlets, the wiring would probably catch fire. It's just not up to the load, except in the kitchen, where a grounded outlet was installed for the microwave oven. So I sweat and suffer.

I did buy a $68 dorm-sized (1.7 cu. ft.) mini-fridge at Walmart, and stocked it with some jugs of water and a couple of sandwiches. Why not use Donald's fridge? Because it and his microwave oven are disgusting inside (so revolting that if I showed you pictures, you'd probably lose your lunch), and have been that way for years. Donald kept his antique furniture polished to a fare-thee-well and his brass and copper gleaming, but when it came to the kitchen and bathroom, he had some sort of housekeeping blind spot. So I have no intention of storing my food in that fridge, or heating anything in that microwave. (Yes, I bought a new, cheap microwave too.) The old appliances will go to the dump just as soon as I can get someone to haul them away.

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