We enter our Phoenix home and find a totally trashed house. I rouse the house sitter out of bed and he apologizes for the mess.

“I thought I had a few more hours to clean up, he says.

Mare and I retreat to the small studio apartment in our garage. We cannot stand the smell of our house, and are not yet aware of the scope of the mess. At least our dog is still alive.

The next day we walk through the house. The house sitter sleeps on our mattress without sheets. We are shocked. I mean, as former Adult Probation Officers we have seen dysfunction in decrepit houses, have searched methamphetamine labs, and have rescued young children from such circumstances. As landlords for the past almost twenty years, we have cleaned abandoned rental houses filled with debris and rotting food. We have traveled through West Africa amidst abject poverty and the horrifying consequences of too many people with no sanitation system.  Nothing compares to the mess we now face.

Hundreds of empty beer, wine and liquor bottles stack upon each other amidst empty drug packets that once held cocaine. We toss out our microwave, which had been turned into a cocaine cooker. We gingerly step over countless, empty containers of moisturizing lotion and cigarette butts. It seems that the house sitter has serious alcohol, drug and masturbation addictions. The worst part is his failure to clean up any of his remains. He hides nothing, not even picking up the used condoms strewn about the floor. Several cans of my shaving gel lie empty on the floor. There is not one bottle of lotion or packet of antibiotic cream left in the house. Who uses shaving gel or antibiotic ointment for masturbation lubricant?

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Unstaged afterthought

We kick out the house sitter and get to work. No sense in whining. Now is the time for action. First, we throw out our slimy king mattress, all of our bedding and towels, many of our dishes and cooking utensils. We pitch the computer keyboard, slippery mouse, window coverings and stained office chair, but the smell still lingers. We fill over twenty, large Hefty garbage bags with substance abusing debris. Even the old cases of collector item, “Three Stooges” beer cans and a dusty case of “Pabst/Harley Davidson” beer cans are emptied and left rolling around on the floor under the bed. Who drinks twenty-year-old beer?

I clean up three months worth of dog feces lying in the yard. Then, Mare and I laugh. We thought that the raw sewage, garbage and lack of sanitary conditions in West Africa were shocking?  Are we really back in the United States, in our own home?

The worst part is when Mare gets a splinter in her finger trying to clean the wood floor. The finger swells quickly and five hours later she undergoes emergency surgery to stop the fast moving infection. Three surgeries, and three days in the hospital later, we learn that we have no health insurance. The electronic, remote access payment method apparently did not work. We had no indication that the payments were not made. Those will be some frightening medical costs.

So what do we do? We laugh. We would have been better off staying in West Africa. Heck, for all of the costs we have incurred from this incident we could have stayed in Spain…for a year!

In the end, this final chapter helps reinforce several important life lessons: The United States can be as filthy and unsafe or as clean and secure as any other place in the world. Money and possessions are not everything, good friends and family are. We can be happy and comfortable wherever we are, under any circumstance. With that said, we look forward to continuing our travels and conquering whatever challenges they may present. We hope you will all come along for the ride.