Inner City Diary
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"You don't want to go there"...
March 28, 2004
There are times you’re tempted to say, “I told you so!”

There are other times all you can do is shake your head and laugh.

Several weeks ago, we evicted a resident in one of our buildings. We had several good reasons. But as is sometimes the case, after the departure of the tenant, we’re left with their mess.

In this case, it was particularly nasty. The stench filtering under the door was just a hint of what we would find as we entered the tenant’s suite.

The bedroom was literally littered with rotting garbage. The room was swarming with tiny flies.  I’ve seen such a swarm in other extremely filthy places, but still don’t understand where they came from. If they’re attracted to the waste, I figured we would have noticed them come into the building. If they’re emanating from the waste, well, I don’t really want to think about that for too long.

The mattress was soiled and cut up. Dirty old dishes were strewn about the room. There were a variety of green, white and black molds. Fuzzy beans, petrified wieners, rotting chicken, bad bread. There were food wrappers, scraps of paper, stuffed animals, and a variety of other things we didn’t want to touch.

Having anticipated a gut wrenching experience, I came prepared. Plastic gloves and a bath towel peppered with drops of perfume oil. I tied the towel around my head in such a way that I was assured more cologne scent than room scent.

It got worse. Blocking the scent didn’t block the sight.

Strewn throughout the mess was a collection of pornographic clippings, pictures cut from magazines scattered all around the room. Some were partially covered by rotting food or partially obscured by rancid rags and soiled clothes.

I noticed one smiling woman striking an inviting pose in the picture. There was nothing sexy or alluring about this picture smeared with the filth of the room. I wondered in passing how she would feel – if she would still have smiled – had she known where her likeness would end up.

And it got even worse than that.

Even through my towel, I noticed a strong scent of urine in the room. Then I noticed the bottles and containers. All around the 10 by 12 room, there were at least 30 bottles and containers filled with urine. Two litre bottles. Jars. Some open.

Why someone would store their urine completely eluded me. This wasn’t a middle-of-the-night too-tired-to walk-to-the-washroom kind of thing. And I knew the bathroom was private so it couldn’t be a bashful-kidneys thing.

I started hauling stuff out of the room. Several other people came by to help. Several almost lost their lunch. By the end of the day, the raunchy, rancid contents of the room were stuffed into a dumpster in back of the house.

Our caretaker was out later in the day, and noticed a bunch of local rough guys hanging around the dumpster, doing a cursory inspection of some of the contents. A couple of the guys were a bit high.

Our caretaker called out to them, “It’s pretty nasty in there. I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”

They looked at him, laughed and shrugged off his caution. Their demeanor was “Don’t tell me what to do. Shut up and go back inside.”

Sensing their reticence to take advice, understanding that he couldn’t physically stop them, and seeing one of the guys already climbing inside the dumpster, our caretaker turned to go back inside.

Just as he closed the door, he heard someone howl, “Oh s---!! Oh s---!!!” as he frantically scrambled out of the dumpster.

As our caretaker told me the story, we both laughed and felt bad for the guy who learned the hard way.

You’ve heard the saying “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”?

This was more a case of “You can warn a person about the garbage, but you can’t keep him out.”

There are lots of times we warn others based on our first-hand experience with trouble. But like the guys with the dumpster, we can’t always keep people from learning the hard way.

The experience is paralleled in families, friendships, homes and workplaces on a daily basis.

I wonder what those guys will do next time they’re warned about diving into a nasty situation. 

That evicted tenant called this week to apologize and inform us that he’s followed our advice about getting the help he needs.

I was glad to let his “now I know” trump my “I told you so.”
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929