The Shadow’s Apartment of Junk by Crad Kilodney
You’ve read about this sort of thing before. A typical newspaper headline might read: “Health Officials Remove 50 Truck Loads of Garbage From House.” The occupant is inevitably a reclusive older person. He lives alone. His neighbors know very little about him. He never receives visitors. His property is in a state of disrepair. He is rarely seen in public. And it seems that he never puts out any garbage. Then something happens that causes the police, fire department, or utility workers to enter the house. What they find is beyond belief: the entire structure is full of garbage.
Psychiatrists probably have a name for this sort of madman, and I wouldn’t doubt that there is a thick case file on the subject. Last fall I found out that such an individual lived in my building. My building is semi-detached, which means that there are two street addresses for one structure that is divided down the middle by a wall. This fellow lives on the other side. He’s been here since the 70’s. I’ve been here since ’87, but I’ve never seen him.
“No one ever sees him. That’s why we call him The Shadow,” explained Vic, one of my landlords.
The Shadow rented two apartments — one to live in and one to store junk. For some reason, he decided to switch apartments. The junk apartment had to be cleaned out, and the landlords had obligated themselves long before in writing to undertake the nasty task when it became necessary. They had already been hauling stuff out for a whole day before I found out about it. When I did, I promptly loaded my camera and went over to record the event for posterity.
Bear in mind when you view the accompanying photos that the apartment was far worse than what you see. Also bear in mind that this is a small bachelor apartment — just one room.
Vic is able to see the humor of it all. Mark is filling a garbage bag. Mrs. P. was very embarrassed and really didn’t want me to take pictures, but I insisted that they would have scientific value. “This is a rare phenomenon, like an archeological discovery!” I said.
Many packages of mail-order merchandise were found, some never opened. The Shadow’s preferences were for Reader’s Digest condensed books and country & western audio cassette collections by minor artists. Nothing of any value was found. Vic and Mark claim to have found a complete set of Toronto phone books going back to 1972.
The kitchenette. Fortunately, the apartment contained no organic waste. Door at left is a closet.
As you can see, the floor is scarcely visible. “We couldn’t see the floor at all when we stepped in,” said Mark. “We had to dig our way through layers of junk to find it.”
Door at right is entrance. Bathroom is on the right (not visible), behind kitchenette.
Since the apartment was on the top floor, a winch had to be set up to lower the garbage one or two bags at a time.
Mark sends down another load…
…to Vic, waiting below. Mark hauled away two full truck loads in his pick-up — all from one small room.
The Shadow is a pensioner who worked for many years as a custodian for the Catholic School Board. The landlords spent a week making the apartment habitable. The Shadow did pay a large part of the cost, but it hardly recompensed the P. Family for their efforts. Why didn’t they evict him a long time ago when they became aware of his disgusting idiosyncrasy? Well, they were just too kind-hearted. “We felt sorry for him,” Mr. P. explained to me. “We tried to help him, but it doesn’t do any good.”
The Shadow still lives in the building and still rents two apartments but now occupies the former junk apartment. You can guess what’s happening with his other one.
follow up August 2001
Last May, I reported on the remarkable case of The Shadow, whose junk-filled apartment I photographed for posterity. Carl, as he is properly known, had been renting two apartments — one to live in and one to store junk — and had decided to move into the junk apartment after it was cleaned out, sometime in the Fall of 1999. He gave up the second apartment, as I learned later.
Around the beginning of July, 2001, one of the tenants on Carl’s floor complained of a foul smell that seemed to be coming from Carl’s apartment. When the landlords investigated, they found Carl unconscious in an apartment that had once again been turned into a hell-hole of filth. (“It was even worse this time!” my landlady swears.) His leg was gangrenous, and he was in a diabetic coma. The bathroom was stuffed with garbage bags full of empty pop cans — all sugar-sweetened, no less. Predictably, the apartment was crawling with roaches.
He was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, where his leg was amputated. To everyone’s surprise, he lived. What’s more, he insisted he could move back into his apartment once he got an artificial leg. However, the landlords had reached the end of their rope with Carl and were not going to go through such a horror again. They obtained a court order to evict him. He will end up in a nursing home, where he will get the supervision he needs.
In the recycling bins, I found a lot of packages addressed to Carl (he used to order all sorts of merchandise that he never used). I found a brand-new wallet and decided to take it. It was conveniently monogrammed with a gold “C.” I’m sure glad Carl didn’t die, because I’d feel uneasy about carrying the wallet of a dead man.
by Crad Kilodney
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Crad Kilodney, P.O. Box 72577, 345 Bloor St. East, Unit 7, Toronto, ON, M4W 3S9
Crad’s new writing is now at CradKilodney.wordpress.com