A room I rented earlier this year required $200 and four laborious days of mold remediation. I’ve gotten mold poisoning before; in 2012 I’d spent four nights in places that smelled thickly of my basement growing up; I was hacking mercilessly for a month and a half. Mold poisoning more commonly takes the form of chronic nausea and fatigue with long-term exposure to milder concentrations. I really didn’t want that, hence my efforts with this room.
At first I thought it was just in the closet, where stains darkly mottled the paint. I cleaned and sealed the small space, but the room still smelled rankly. There’s a particular sensation of cold, abrasive dripping in the back of your throat when you’re around mold for a few minutes. The feeling filled me with regret, despair, disgust, and panic. I realized that the carpet, long-ago soiled by the dog that once lived there, was a festering landscape of mildew. It was even still damp in spots. That the room got no direct sunlight sure didn’t help (I could see the sky though, at a certain angle, which is more than my partner can say).
I resolved to tear out the carpet (Sam helped, she lived four blocks away!). I wanted so badly to sleep in this place I was paying so much money for, where I’d acquired illusions of safeness, stability, and respectable citizenship. A chunk of the carpet was already missing anyway. From that gap, I thought it was concrete that lay beneath.
But oh no.
Half the floor was exposed particle board. The other half had this weird shale-like stuff poured over it, starting thick at one end and petering out to a thin layer to even out the un-level floor. The thinner parts broke when I stepped on them. The real problem, though, was the that the particle board was spongy where the carpet had been damp. Some of this lay beneath the shale. Well, I thought, I already had one afternoon of sweating in goggles and a respirator, why not treat myself to another? This time I was accompanied by my crowbar friend, and we broke up the shale to expose the rotting boards beneath.
I then doused the floor in mildewcide, let it sit for a day with a fan, and painted over it with mold-sealing paint and concrete-floor paint (for which I chose a pleasant shade of sage green). I also painted the walls to be extra safe; the worst part of all of this was at no point being sure that any of this would work, and worrying that I’d just sunk a bunch of money for nothing. But, to my swelling relief, it didn’t smell after that. The last step was acquiring a rug to protect the floor (paint, particle board, and shale remnants), and when my partner helped me pick one up from East Oakland, we got into a collision on the freeway. But that’s another story.
You may ask, “But young Wren, noble and fair, why did you move into a moldy room?” At the time, I was in between housing, and pretty desperate for a stable spot. The last time I’d looked for housing in Oakland, it took five months for me to land a room. Houses are overwhelmingly swamped with applicants, especially those with less-pricey rooms (and, as a bike messenger, the less pricey is a necessity). So, when I was accepted into this house, I wasn’t paying much attention, and thought it all smelled musty because the last person living there was a slob. Besides that, though, most people I know in West Oakland are living with black mold. It’s not easy to find a house without it. Professional remediation requires evacuation, as well as bringing up an expensive problem to a slumlord who’s itching to evict you and double the rent on new tenants. West Oakland has six times the asthma rate in children as the rest of Oakland. The Port and freeways are a big part of it, but black mold, I’m sure, takes some blame as well.