You can’t judge a house by its cockroaches, or can you?

Originally published June 2001 in the Dickinson County News

I’ve been living out of suitcases for three weeks… and counting. So far I’ve lost three pair of socks, a dress slip, 18 nights at home, and my sanity.

But I’m beginning to look on the bright side of things. At least I’m not sleeping in a cockroach-infested litter box.

The reason I mention such horrible sleeping conditions is because I’m moving. But not until the roaches are fumigated and the cat feces are cleaned up. Oh, but don’t worry about me. I’ll see more variety than this – already have. We have already killed approximately 50 spiders, pulled an inch of laundry lint off a wall, and shampooed the floor nine times.

So, now you might be wondering how long the house had been vacant, how the cats got in, and why on earth I would want to live there.

The answers: 24 hours, they were pets, and I’m crazy.

While the living conditions of the house won’t be livable by my standards for another week or so, the previous tenants had left just 24 hours before we began cleaning. They were living in a roach-infested, spiderweb-filled, litter box.

Why that continuous reference to the litter box? Because their pets – two cats (and a dog) – used the whole house as a bathroom.

If you’re a dog owner, you remember puppy-hood. Often, you’d come home from work, walk into the house, and know right away from the smell that your new pet had recently had an “accident.”

For those of you who are queasy, I’ll spare you the description of the smell. Let’s just say “accidents” were way too abundant in that house.

You’re still wondering why this crazy writer would want to move in, aren’t you?

A few times this week, I’ve wondered myself. But the truth is, I like a challenge. And the challenge of cleaning up my next home is probably the largest one I’ve ever faced. Besides being a challenge, the house will be a nice place to live once it’s clean, and the location is perfect.

Underlying the cleaning challenge is a more emotional challenge for me – one that may turn your stomach as much as it turns mine.

I don’t know how many times I’ve comment4ed that I can’t believe there were people living there. But there were. Children too. And I’m sad.

I met the previous tenants briefly on a tour. They seemed nice. They had respectable occupations.

You always wonder what kind of people live in houses so dirty, but I’d wager you wouldn’t know them on the street if you passed them. They’re normal people with normal jobs and they know how to clean – they just don’t.

I’ve been in homes of Harley-riding long haired Sturgis-goers. I’ve visited a 16-year-old living on his own. I’ve lived in a home where both spouses work 60 hour weeks. It’s neither lifestyle, age, nor business that constitutes cleanliness. Its willingness.

Would you know a child-molestor if you passed him on the street? A millionaire? A Christian?

I probably wouldn’t. Not unless it was blatantly obvious. My judgement is often wrong, and I don’t think I’m alone.

We all remember too clearly the Shelby Duis case. In retrospect, we should have known. Friends and daycare workers and doctors should have known.

The signs were all there, but errors in judgement hid them from sight.

I’m not saying that the previous tenants of my house are comparable. I’m just saying that in judging people we’re often wrong.

I don’t know how to become a more accurate judge of people – I wish I did. I do know that people are harder to read than we think. Maybe with a little more work, and attention, we could be more accurate judges – whether in discovering an abuse case or finding an unexpected friend.

Just as there are Harley-riding Christians and blue-haired honor roll students, there are also corrupt cops and high school graduates who can’t read.

I urge you to look deeper into people before you judge, whether you’re making a good or bad jusgement against them.

I know I’ll be looking a little deeper myself – after I finish deep cleaning my carpet.