My second job was also with the person I mentioned in my first post, my girlfriend: Karen. We were still 13, and her mother had heard from a, "friend" that she had some work for us to do at her home office.
The only background information that you need for this story is that this occurred in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. People living here are police, firemen, grocery-store clerks, secretaries, postal/government/airport employees etc...
So, Karen's mother drops us off at this lady's house to complete this work that is supposed to last two or three weeks. We didn't yet know exactly what we were going to be doing, but we figured it was some sort of paper-work, like filing.
From the outside, this house is like every other one in this cul de sac: a three-story brick building, with a walk-in basement, and six concrete steps that lead from the street to the front door and first floor (i.e., it's small, and unimpressive).
Karen & I greet this housewife, and immediately notice the dreary maroon-ish & black shag carpet in the living room. This lady is really nice, and we're both thinking that $10/hr is worth hanging out and helping this lady set up her office or whatever it is that she's got us here to do.
Now she heads toward the basement. At this time, I’m beginning to notice three things:
1) This lady must be on a budget, because despite the oppressive darkness of this place, she doesn't have a single light on. However, she has selectively drawn a few curtains here and there;
2) It's a darn good thing that the sun is coming in here, even a little bit, because I could have broken my neck on those stairs leading to the basement... because there are TOYS EVERYWHERE!; and,
3) It would be nice if she'd open a freaking window... because it's really stuffy in here.
Now, my use of the word, "stuffy" is purposely inadequate... because I am attempting to give you my impression at that moment, which was the impression of a 13-year-old, who had never been in a place like that before. I'll tell you shortly what the smell actually was. (Don't flee just yet. It's not as bad as you might imagine.)
It's at this time that we learn our task, which was described something like this. "Well, girls… What I'd like to have you do over the next couple weeks, is help me organize all of these things. I want to have an office in here, and I need to have these things cleared out some." Karen and I looked around, and then looked at each other. We then looked at the woman, smiled, and she adjourned to the less stinking part of the house
She barely had left when we both broke out laughing. Had this lady just hired us to clean her house? I mean, we were young, and perhaps any job should’ve been considered a good job, but I never had aspirations to be a maid. My grandmother had been a maid. She had harrowing tales about her experience that she'd relayed to her progeny for the explicit purpose of repelling them from that profession. However, Karen's mom occasionally did this kind of work. Still, I fully intended to raise my friend’s life expectations.
So, we had a choice... bolt out of this place, and walk about twenty blocks to get back home—broke—or, clean this lady's basement. Now you need a visual. The room is about 30 x 20. The ceiling is approximately 8' tall. In the middle of the floor on the dirtiest looking green carpet you've ever seen is toy, clothing, and paper pyramid, which goes from floor to ceiling. The base of this heap takes up about 16 feet, leaving room for only a stingy path around it... but not quite. Because, the perimeter of the room is decorated to match the pyramid, i.e. crap is cluttering the walkway too.
I looked at Karen and asked, "Where are we going to put stuff?" I mean there were so many toys that even if you could organize them, they would still take up the entire room. She just shook her head and started in. I watched her for about three minutes, and then realized that there was no way in hell I was going to walk home alone. Ugghhh!!! So, we cleaned the place.
Even now I can't remember where we put everything. It was as if all of a sudden, after hours in a fog, we awoke in a, relatively, clean room. Now comes the interesting part...
I noticed that Karen was coughing and clenching her stomach. "What's wrong?" I asked. "I don't know!” She was tearing up, and now she was covering her mouth. She sounded pitiful. And now I was noticing that smell again. What was it? "Oh my gosh! We should call your mom, you look like a ghost!" Just looking at her was making me feel nauseous, I thought. No. I was nauseous. Huh? I never got sick. I felt like I was going to hurl. (Sorry, if you're eating.)
Just then the "nice lady" came down the steps. "Oh my; it's just beautiful in here!" A half hour of overwrought praise later, Karen's mom showed up. "Why do you look so white?" she asked. "I don't feel so good."
... Long story short, I get home, tell my mom the deal, and she's like, "Where's this place?" I tell her. Her response: “Well of course you’re sick. That area was just flooded a few weeks ago! Who’s this lady who would hire some kids to clean her moldy basement? That stuff is toxic!”
Two weeks later we were both as good as new. I haven't barfed as much since.
After Karen's mother confirmed the mold theory, she asked the lady, "How could you ask them to clean a basement that was so dangerous that you didn’t want to clean it?" ...
I don't recall her reply.
* For anyone who doesn’t understand what we were all so upset about… you are supposed to hire adult professionals to clean certain kinds of mold, like black mold, which can be deadly (or, you can wear a mold-retardant mask, and do it yourself). Furthermore, to abate mold properly, you must dispose of carpets, paneling, dry-wall etcetera, and spray everything that remains with diluted bleach. However, many times mold-spore infested areas have to be abandoned entirely. You should never hire teen-agers to do this sort of job at all. For anyone else you should never ask them to, “clear out” such areas without first explaining the job they are actually undertaking.