The Worst House in Town

Cape May, New Jersey is a pretty competitive town.

Like, if your town suggests it has more Victorian houses then they do, Cape May will accept your smack down invite and throw back with all sorts of b.s. about the number of “restored” homes that they have, and how they are the true “queen of the seaside resorts”. Or “cooler by a mile”. Or just “better than you”. (Two of these were actual advertising campaigns for Cape May. A free coupon to the Fudge Kitchen for anyone who guesses correctly.)

So don’t try to beat those Cape Mayites. You won’t win.

Which is why I always love to hear the one-up-manship between two historic homeowners, when they bump into each other at Swain’s Hardware Store.

“What you buying today, Ed?”

“Some drywall patch for my ceiling. The roof is leaking again. I’ve spent $4000 in the last three months patching it, and still the water drips down it like the fountain in the mall.”

“You’re lucky. When I bought my house, the whole third floor was covered with mold from decades of leaking. Apparently the old owners wanted an indoor swimming pool.”

“Ha! At least your house had a roof. Our roof collapsed twenty minutes after we went to settlement. Opened up the whole third floor. Killed our dog, too.”

And on it goes.

I don’t like to enter into these contests, as it seems to me like there are no real winners.

But I have a doozy of a story, if I wanted to throw my hat in the ring.

I mentioned that the house was in some sad shape when we bought it. The front of the house looks better than I remember it..but the back is pretty accurate:

It was a little unliveable, with mold everywhere (it’s the beach, folks…it happens) and mustard-colored carpet in the whole house, including the bathroom (I’m not sure what color it was when it was installed in 1970. I think it was orange, because we found some orange patches underneath the mouse-infested sofa).
I thought that there had been a fire in the kitchen, because the floor was very dark and missing in a section in front of the refrigerator. In fact, I later figured out, the linoleum had simply melted after 40 years underneath a southern exposure window (this is about week 10…you can still see the dark area in the back there in front of the mustard-colored fridge):
That’s a lot of deferred maintenance.
The funnest part of our acquisition is that we planned to rent the house. For gobs of money. It was 2000, you know, and we took advantage of banks that were giving money willey nilley to all sorts of bad credit risks like the hub and me. Renting the house to tourists was the *only* way we could pay for our mortgage.
We said we’d open for business on July 1. We started taking rentals.
And then, as I said earlier, we worked our butts off for 18 weeks straight. We scraped wallpaper. We chloroxed walls (not good for a manicure, or for your skin, or for mold). We called plumbers, electricians, and pool people (we planned to install a pool, thinking it would help with the rentals).
Later, I’ll write about some of the fun times we had working on the house. Like the time that we flooded two blocks of Washington Street.
But let’s stick with the mother of all stories first.
It was week 17. The house was looking pretty good. Almost liveable. Our contractor friend Mr. Mark was down for the weekend, taking care of loose ends. And going to Atlantic City, which is where he was on Saturday night when the hub decided to install the home theater system in the living room.
“You want these wires to run around the room, or should I run them underneath the house?” the hub asked, clearly hoping it would be the former.
I hate wires, and said to run them under the house.
A few minutes later, he was back in the house. Looking a little sick.
He said that there was a pipe under the house that appeared to go nowhere. And that it looked wet in front of it.
Did I mention we were in the midst of a 17 week drought? It hadn’t rained once since we bought the house.
But that wasn’t everything.
There was, he said, little white things.
“Like toilet paper,” he whispered. He was as white as a roll of Charmin as he said it.
I’m not always the calm one, but this time I was. “It can’t be leaking from the bathroom,” I said, very matter-of-fact. “We would have known by now.”
So we devised a plan where the hub would crawl back under the house, with a flashlight (it was getting dark already), and I would flush both of the toilets in the house and see if anything happened. (How I got the “good job”, I still don’t know. I usually don’t).
We were both in place. I decided to flush the toilet upstairs first, since the pipe seemed to be in the middle of the house. I pushed the knob down. I heard the water swish through the pipes the way water swishes through old pipes.
I heard my husband scream. Seriously. Two stories beneath me.
I came running downstairs. He was back in the house by now, covered with…water.
“I expected a trickle,” he said. “A small leak somewhere.”
But no, the pipe opened up straight into the crawlspace and the whole force of the flush came flushing out on him.
We both were sick to our stomachs. “If you have to puke,” I said, “use the bathroom on the first floor.”
We waited until our contractor friend came home from Atlantic City. It was almost 2 in the morning.
He listened to our story. Then he almost laughed.
“That’s no big deal. We’ll just run out to the hardware store tomorrow and get some plastic thingamobobs, and about 400 feet of doodlywhacks, and one or two hokeymans.”
Obviously, he didn’t say that. The truth is, I stopped listening after the “no big deal” part.
It was a bigger deal than he said (a trend among contractors that we would see again and again during the ten years we’ve owned the house). But it was fixed before the first renters came.
I didn’t ask them, but I think they would have been less than pleased to have a festering pool of poop underneath their vacation home.
And that, boys and girls, is the story of the Worst.House.inCape.May.
Note: The only reason that there wasn’t more “stuff” in the crawlspace is because the toilet spent much of the 17-week renovation right here: inside the bathtub. Thank *God* the plumber kept canceling on us!

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