Smell Shock, Plus an Important Message About Maggots

All I needed to see were the headline and tags over at Fight Stupidization: something rotten, house, animals.

I knew.

Dead rat in the walls. We’ve had that, too. Now, for the first time, I share the full story in a public forum.

Back in 2003, I’d invited members of our Planned Parenthood Young Leaders group to our house after work on a Thursday to stuff envelopes. The house had a faint odor of something not so fresh. Nothing a few candles and open doors to get a cross-breeze going couldn’t fix. Or at least mask. No one complained.

Friday morning, no smell!

Or so I thought. Turns out, I had gone into smell shock.

Now, I don’t know if technically there is such a thing, but I have a knack for confounding medical science, so I believe that’s what I had. I was lucky, too, because the smell got worse.

Normally, you just ride it out. Dead rodents happen all the time in the big city, and eventually, one will happen in your attic, under your porch, or in your wall.

The challenge was that we were expecting 30 people for a Sunday brunch introducing them to a first-time mayoral candidate, Bill White. I planned to make all of the food, but didn’t want to cook, or eat, or really do anything in the house with the smell permeating everything. I did not want my baked goods to absorb essence of dead rat!

Saturday, the smell was much worse. We couldn’t ride it out.

Into the attic. Nothing. Under the house. Nothing.

We isolated the strongest area of stench. Well, Allen did. I just stood there burning a scented candle. We pulled out the fridge and, with the help of Mr. Pete from down the street, ripped out the drywall behind the fridge.

We did not find a rat carcass. We did find an exclusive rat condo, chock full of dryer lint and dog food. We had no dogs at the time, so they were importing it. No carcasses, and fortunately, no one at home.

At that point, Allen remarked that the fridge, which was pretty beat up, must have been older than we thought, because it had one of those really old power cords that are sheathed in fabric instead of plastic.

Wait …

They pretty much stopped making cords like that in the 50s …

RAT CARCASS! In the coils of our REFRIGERATOR!


Someone had to do something, and that someone was not me. Allen armed himself (wish I had a photo) with gloves, a hat, glasses, and a giant dustpan, and pulled the tail.

Out it came, and quickly, into a plastic bag it went. He triple-bagged it outside, then tossed it, then stripped in the yard, then ran straight to the shower to scrub himself with bleach. Or at least Dr. Bronner’s. The strongest he could get.

Then, Allen had to leave, which meant I was in charge of maggot duty.


Since the rat had been stinking up the place for several days, maggots had made their way to the scene. Now, every couple of minutes, they were slowly emerging from the fridge.

Important lesson: never stomp on a maggot that has been eating rotten flesh.

Turns out, smashed maggots smell as bad as whatever they were just eating. We had to evict them somehow, so Allen set me up with the wet/dry shop-vac as he headed out the door.

I spent the next 2 hours sitting on a chair by the fridge, watching for maggots to crawl out, and then sucking them into the shop-vac when they appeared.

Once I’d gotten the last one, I just put the shop-vac out on the curb. I didn’t have time to put a note on it warning about why it was there. It was gone within a matter of minutes. The Heights free-for-all freecycle system at its finest.

Allen came home, showered a second time, and a dear friend swooped in to take us to dinner. Allen had 3 martinis before the waiter had even taken our order. I’m telling you, that dead rat traumatized him.

We came home, drunk and somewhat calmed down. The house smelled fine. He patched the drywall while I did a top-to-bottom bleaching of the kitchen. I hit the grocery store and did the prep work for some breakfast stratas.

Brunch went well the next morning. Only one person who’d been over Thursday night came, and before she could ask about the smell, I took her aside and threatened her with a slow and painful death if she mentioned it in front of anyone else. Bill White won the election later that fall, and Allen avoided touching any and all electrical cords around the house for a while until he got over the trauma.

If I have saved one person from squashing a maggot, then this blog post has not been in vain.

This entry was posted in advice you didn't ask for, story time and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Smell Shock, Plus an Important Message About Maggots

  1. Brittanie says:

    Traumatized just by reading this.

  2. Awesome. You patiently sitting next to your fridge with a shop vac (like an aardvark) is a great visual. There’s something almost zen about it. I mean, if you ignore the gross out/death aspect.

    To mask the smell in our house, James bought conflicting varieties of plug-in air fresheners today. Apple-cinnamon in the living room, fresh linen in the bedrooms, lavender in the kitchen. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea in theory – in practice, however, it’s death, roses and nausea.

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