It’s a Sunday morning. Summertime in the 1980s, I am having breakfast at my house with my buddy Todd and his girlfriend, Chris. They’re neighbors next door, we shared the same alley.
I get a call from dispatch at AT&T. The voice says, “Guess who’s the next guy up on the duty roster?” And as an added note, “Don’t pull that bullshit drinking excuse, Fahey (after imbibing alcohol, you’re not permitted to do company work, and it was 9:00 in the morning). Someone’s out of service, and it’s an emergency!” I gotta go; can’t weasel out this time.
Being a Sunday I ask Todd if he wants to come along. There are no supervisors. Hell, we can drive around in my phone company truck all day. Nobody’s in Hollywood on Sunday. Who wants to go there unless you get paid?
Todd hops on the back of my Harley. We blast down to Formosa garage in Hollywood, pick up my AT&T truck, and head up into the Hollywood Hills. We soon found the house. It happened to be just out of our boundary. That’s why nobody would pick it up. Almost in Beverly Hills, up off of Sunset just on the other side of Doheny. A long twisty road that went way up in the Hollywood Hills. A lot of really expensive houses. Todd and I are driving along, shooting the shit, smoking a doob. What do I care? Just another case of residential trouble.
We’re havin’ a pretty good time joking around. I’m showing Todd some stars’ homes I’ve been in on prior jobs. I find the address and it’s a driveway. This particular driveway has the mailbox overgrown with ivy. I notice there’s ivy everywhere, growing up into the tops of the trees, out into the branches and then cascading down. You can’t see one inch of the blacktop on the steeply inclined driveway. The house wasn’t visible from the street. A border of huge eucalyptus trees hid it entirely.
At the bottom of the drive, the ivy has overwhelmed the chainlink fence with a locked gate. Over the years, delivery people had bypassed the gate by trampling down a section of the chainlink fence. We picked out a small path through the ivy going up the drive. I look at Todd. He looks back at me. We start up the path.
Now there is no ground. Just a sea of ivy. Halfway up the drive on a turnout, we make out some kind of ’60s car. Can’t make out the type, it’s also covered with ivy. Just a small splash of color here and there. The garage behind it, covered with ivy. Farther up the trail we come upon a ranch style house, one story. You guessed it – covered with ivy. Bushes, tangled blooms, weeds, four feet high. You can’t even see the yard. There is no yard, just jungle. A huge twenty-five foot long oak limb had cracked and fallen through the roof of the main house, ivy filling the hole around the tree. It was surreal, almost like a picture from a Hansel and Gretel book.
I hear Todd say behind me, “Whoa, Dude, this is really strange!”
We get to the front door. It’s open about eight inches, opening to pitch black. I put my shoulder against the door, opening it about eight more inches. I’m stopped by a mound of garbage. I pound on the door and yell out, “HELLO, TELEPHONE REPAIR, ANYBODY HOME?” No answer. After my second request, we hear a faint voice emanating from the bowels of the dark, ill-smelling entryway. It smelled terrible. The air was foul. I turned and asked Todd, “Did you hear something?” Todd: “I think I heard a woman say, ‘In here.'” Pulling out my flashlight from my tool pouch I went in, sucking in my gut as I slid past the door jamb. Todd followed. Shining my flashlight around the room, it was like another world. Trash was piled everywhere. Well, not just piled, it was compressed. From the entryway you climbed on the trash until the ceiling was right above your head. Along the floor of the trash were grooved passageways, almost like they were for a giant worm or snake, they were so smooth. As I remarked to Todd about the unusual passageways, we heard the voice again, faintly crying out, “In here; I’m in here.” I pointed my flashlight towards the voice and pressed on. Todd didn’t want to go. He said, “I’ll wait outside.” I told him “Nope, you’re an honorary phoneman now, you’re coming with me.” We headed toward the voice.
At the doorway to the living room, you had to get onto your hands and knees to crawl, the trash was so high. Once inside the living room, the ceiling was higher. But so was the trash. It was pitch black. Except for my flashlight, the only outside light entering the room filtered in through the hole in the ceiling where the tree branch had crashed through. Ivy had grown towards all the light sources, obliterating the windows. Just a dull green glow.
It was a pretty good sized house. Sliding into the larger room we were now able to stand upright with the taller ceiling of the dining room. We followed the groove and found the voice.
The sight lit by my flashlight was unlike anything I had ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of horror movies and creature flicks but the reality of this situation was hard to comprehend. It’s impossible to convey to someone the stench that hit your nostrils while you are looking into the eyes of an almost human worm squinting its eyes into the bright light of your flashlight’s beam. The debilitated look of inhumanity was lying nude before us. Hard to tell how old she was, ’70s, ’80s? I don’t know, she told me she had been married in the ’30s so that’s a clue. Todd actually talked to her more than I did, as I went about repairing her phone line destroyed by rats.
Before I started looking for her protector (Main Point of Entry) I asked her a few questions. I noticed my flashlight didn’t bother her eyes, I figured she was mostly blind. I shined the light out of her eyes and down her body. It was terrible. Completely naked, she must have weighed under eighty pounds. Like a news photo from a WWII German death camp. She must’ve broken her hip quite a while before I came on the scene, for her legs were twisted together in a way that seemed impossible. She was a Caucasian woman but completely black from crawling over the newsprint that packed her house. Todd and I realized she had made those grooves.
She must have been crawling in that house for a long time. Besides her legs being so twisted, the most disgusting thing about them was the rat bites. Some were scabbed over and some were fresh. She told me she slept during the day and swatted at the rats all night. Her toenails were over three inches long and curled. So were some of her fingernails; they were yellow and black. As I talked to her, I looked past her physical appearance. I started wondering “How could this have happened?” I asked her a couple of questions, then told her I would get right onto fixing her phone.
In questioning her, the importance of her telephone was impressed upon me. It was her only link to the outside world. Without home deliveries, she would have perished long ago. As the delivery guys left their parcels at the front door, they never saw her face to face. How could they know what existed inside? They never went in. Until her phone went dead, she was able to keep up the ruse of normalcy. Her greatest fear was losing her home and being put into an asylum. The only reason I was called was because her phone, though badly chewed by rats, could still transmit. This call was picked up by our 611 (pre 911) man, and he dispatched me.
Looking about with all the trash accumulated everywhere, I decided to just run a new phone line. Who knew how many bites were in the cord covered by trash. She sensed our disgust, so to make her feel more at ease as I kicked through the trash into the kitchen, I said over my shoulder, “So, maid’s day off, ‘eh?” She laughed, “Yeah, it’s the maid’s day off, that’s a good one, kiddo! I’ll remember that one.” I tell her, “I’ll get you back in service in no time.”
Fighting my way through the kitchen to the back door, I noticed that a majority of the trash located inside that room was empty cat food cans. There must have been thousands of them. Guess that explained all the rats. Later Todd told me she told him that’s all she ate. Apparently, she was a singer from the ’20s. Her husband had died and left her a few bucks; that is how she survived. She had a quaint English accent.
I replaced her phone wires and phone set and said goodbye. Back at the garage I pulled out the yellow pages and left messages to various agencies about her condition, giving her address and my phone number. The following Monday afternoon, I called back a number left on my answering machine and was informed by a county health worker that the poor woman had been removed to a hospital. Sadly, I caused the poor woman’s worst nightmare to come true. She no longer lives in her home. The house has been completely renovated; like it never happened.