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This is a question Karma

Sue Denham writes, "I once slipped out of work two hours early without the boss noticing. In my hurry to make the most of this petty victory, I knocked myself out on the car door and spent the rest of the day semi-conscious, bowking rich brown vomit over my one and only suit."

Have you been visited by the forces of Karma, or watched it happen to other people?

Thanks to Pooflake for the suggestion

(, Thu 21 Feb 2008, 14:24)
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I'm still kinda working on this one.
This is kind of a long and involved ramble without a punchline, so bear with me.

I live on the south side of Richmond Virginia, just outside of the city limits. I can travel ten miles from my house and either be in the city itself or in the middle of nowhere.

As I have been laid off yet again, I have a fair bit of time on my hands. As one can only do job hunting for so many hours per day, I find myself needing to get out of the house on my own a bit. Being unemployed, I have no money coming in, so I have to do things on the cheap.

One of the things I decided to do was play around with photography. So one day I got in my car and drove out along one of the main roads here in the direction of countryside, as I knew that there were some old farm buildings to be photographed out thataway. Here is one picture I shot, and here is a detail from the same building. Pretty cool, huh?

So after poking around in this building a bit and finding that it wasn't safe to go upstairs or even through some of the downstairs, I decided to look further out and see what else I could find. And sure enough, as I went by a bit of a hill that they had cut into for the road, I saw the peak of an old structure back in the trees. So I backtracked and found the old driveway and parked at the end, and continued on foot.

As I approached the house I became a little more hesitant- I could see curtains in the windows and other signs of habitation, yet the place was clearly not inhabited now. I stepped between rotted pieces of furniture on the front porch to the front door, and saw that it was standing open behind the screen door. Not sure what to expect, I stepped inside.

The house is full of furniture, clothing, dishes and glassware, much of it kind of scattered about- someone had obviously ransacked the place looking for anything of value, then left it where it was to decay. The roof has holes in it, so the ceiling has fallen in throughout much of it and the floors have begun to rot through- and throughout it all are someone's abandoned possessions.

I was morbidly fascinated by this and looked around very carefully, and realized the following:

-the house had been inhabited by an elderly black couple. I found women's clothes as well as men's, and two photos of little black kids- apparently their grandchildren. And amid the wreckage I found his social security card- but instead of being paper like mine, it was a small aluminum plate. I don't think they've issued those since the beginning of Social Security.

-the woman had predeceased the man. Her bedroom (they stayed in separate rooms) was in advanced decay, with much of her stuff gone. At a guess I would say she was gone between one and three years when he died, judging from the state of the house- it had been rather messy before it was ransacked.

-the man was one of those old black handymen that you rarely find anymore, the kind who drive an old pickup with some tools in it and can fix anything that ever worked in the first place. Behind the house sit a number of old vehicles, and his pickup truck- with some tools in the cab, along with his last load of laundry, still in the basket.

-he died there in that house, most likely in his sleep. There was still food in the kitchen and old bedding on his bed, his razor and toothbrush are still in the bathroom, his glasses were on the kitchen table, and I found what appeared to be his cane lying next to the bed.

Apparently they took out his body, his relatives rooted around for anything they might want, and left the rest to decay where it was. In his bedroom are about a hundred ties and at least fifty suits, still hanging. All of his books, his records (there was still an LP in the record player), his papers, everything he had, are still there in the rot.

I don't know what kind of karma the old man had to be treated in this way- Google turned up nothing at all on him, not even an obituary. Were it not for his Social Security card, I wouldn't have any idea of his name- and in another few years there won't be anything to show that he ever existed. His family obviously doesn't care- and that's what really sent a chill through me, so that I had to get out of there, fast.

And yet... well, I did take a few things from there, which I will cherish and use. I took his Social Security card, his glasses, his cane and a few hand tools that I can put to use. I'm going to see if I can find out who currently owns the property so I can contact them and ask if I can take the rest of his stuff out of there for the Salvation Army. If his family doesn't care about him or his stuff, then I will. Someone needs to. No one should die so ignominiously.

And an interesting note to this: when I picked up the cane it rattled a little. I found that the brass tip unscrews, so I tightened it- and still it rattled. So I twisted the top, and it unscrewed in my hand and came off. I turned the cane upside down- and a long piece of wood emerged, with threads on one end and a cap on the other. The cane is actually a full length pool cue, with a very elaborate dragon carved into the handle. I'm going to take it with me one night and shoot a game or two in his honor.

RIP, Emmitt.

EDIT: w00t, it's my b3ta birthday today!

Update: his family are still in the area, and very nearby. It appears that they're still using his identity, which is even more horrid, despite the fact that Social Security records his death in 2000.

If my kids do this to me after I die, I'm going to come back and haunt them by playing Barry Manilow in the night.
(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 14:12, 13 replies)

(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 14:25, closed)
Despite this being quite sad
...I'm glad there are still people in the world who care about people, even if they've not anything to gain from doing. Good on you sir.
(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 14:55, closed)
Thats sad and nice at the same time.

Any chance for a photo of the pool que? It sounds bad arse.
(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 18:22, closed)
My motives are various...
Aesthetically it bothers the hell out of me to see stuff rot needlessly. Altruistically, it bothers me to see plates and other things that people could use being left to rot and get broken- I was once poor enough to have need to Salvation Army's stuff, and remember all too well what that was like. Spiritually, it bothers the hell out of me that a man's entire life will be forgotten because his relatives just don't give a shit.

The pool cue is very bad-ass. Check it out:

(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 18:32, closed)
I love that sort of thing - noseying around in the past. Its amazing what just gets abandoned these days.

Have a look at www.28dayslater.co.uk for some truly stunning photos of abandoned buildings and industrial sites.
(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 19:50, closed)
Hell of a story. There's a couple places like that out around Tech. You walk back into the woods, and you find stuff that's been left for what seems like a hundred years. Nothing like what you found, of course. But still incredible.
(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 21:12, closed)
That's really interesting. My Grandad died a few weeks back and we found an battered tin in his ttic. It was originally a tin of cooking oil but it had been fashioned into a safe case for documents. Inside were photos of him and his family (going back 4 generations from me), boat tickets from when they emmigrated to Australia (1920's) - government fucked them over, advertised lush fields, gave then an empty plot in the outback without a pot to piss in. My Grandad (age 7/8) had to built a house with his dad to house his mum and 5 sisters. There were photos of him in the war (one with him and his commrades eating dinner in the snow in the Italian mountains on Christmas day 1944). After VE-day he served in the middle east and there were pictures of the Pyramids and Jerusalem in 1947. It was amazing stuff.

I can't believe that poor old man's family weren't interested in any of that. If I were you I'd try and save any photos you can find in that house. Make an interesting Blog...
(, Sun 24 Feb 2008, 22:06, closed)
Next progress note...
I have a friend who works for another county in the planning department. One of his inspectors used to work for the county that this house is in. I gave my friend the address of the property, and he's going to see if he can find out who the current owners are. If he can, I'm going to try to contact them and see if I can get permission to go onto the property and remove what can be saved.

I'll update this again tomorrow once I've heard from my friend.
(, Mon 25 Feb 2008, 1:29, closed)
That was a great read, try writing some short stories.
Funnily enough, you took exactly what i would have taken (The social security card, his glasses and his cane), just because I would have hated for them to just rot there waiting to be vandalised.

I don't think Emmitt would mind, especially if you get some use out of his cue.
(, Mon 25 Feb 2008, 11:21, closed)
Fragments of other people's lives
I collect orphaned lives, so to speak; I have several collections of documents and personal effects of total strangers that I bought at estate sales or flea markets or wherever just because it made me sad to think of them being forgotten. Handwritten recipe collections are my main focus but I also have random piles of letters, old ledgers, photographs and all manner of little things.

I believe you did a good thing in rescuing what you did and in trying to save more. Maybe something in the universe decided you were a better keeper of this man's memory than his own family would be.

If I may ask, whereabouts outside of Richmond was this? We go up that way fairly often and I'm very fond of photographing abandoned buildings.
(, Mon 25 Feb 2008, 16:46, closed)
The road in question
is Rte. 60, going west toward Powhatan and Amelia. I've seen about a dozen abandoned houses along there, going west from Midlothian. The one whose pics I linked is on the south side of the highway, clearly visible from the road.

At this point I won't say where Emmitt's house is, not until I know more about it. If I get told to leave it the hell alone I don't want someone else possibly getting busted in my place during a visit. *grin* However, I will say that it's not exactly obvious- I just happened to be looking in the right direction to notice weatherbeaten boards visible over the scrubby trees.

Oh, and for added creepiness- each time I was there, I made sure that I was the only person around, and kept a lookout through the windows. And yet I would swear that I heard someone softly whistling to themselves...

A side note: the Lunatic Artist has a brother who's a professional artist, and he often does strange sculptures of houses like this. I once asked him why he does so much on houses and he told me of exploring old houses as a child, much as I've been doing, and being very moved by these old structures and the remnants he found from the people who had lived there. Those old shacks, decaying and decrepit, were iconic to him of the people who were trapped in them, living there because they had nowhere else to go. He has managed to spin this into an entire career, and is quite successful at it- click through the pictures in that gallery to see what I mean. His actual website is here, and I can recommend a look around it.

A word of caution to you would-be explorers: these buildings are generally not safe to walk through, so extreme care should be taken when entering one. Walk close to the walls, testing every step, and try to step on the joists whenever possible to avoid going through the rotted floors. Also be aware that there may be unfriendly types around who will run you off the property- if you have a camera and identify yourself as a photographer, they'll often calm down a lot, but they may still send you away. Be prepared to talk your way out of the confrontation, and don't argue with them. (Yes, this has happened to me in the past.) But it can be extremely rewarding to enter into these places and listen for the echoes of the past within them...

Update: the house is still owned by the family. They also own a parcel two doors down the road- I'm going to ride out there and see if that one's inhabited, and if so ask them about Emmitt's house.
(, Mon 25 Feb 2008, 18:08, closed)
Such poignancy on the exploration. I think a click is in order.

I too have done the exploration of abandoned properties, and it's sometimes sad to think that nobody cared enough.
(, Tue 26 Feb 2008, 10:14, closed)
Great story and well told.
(, Wed 27 Feb 2008, 12:15, closed)

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