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"A Fine Blue Powder"

This morning, we'll be hearing from first-time buyers whose home acquisition process didn't go quite as they expected. At 1 p.m. the polls will open, and Curbed Philly readers will vote for the story that's most horrific. That story will go on to compete on Curbed National with other regional winners for a chance to win a $2,500 home store gift card—standard contests rules apply).

My first house in Philadelphia was a small row house on Cypress Street in the Rittenhouse neighborhood. A husband and wife and their newborn infant offered it for sale; she had already moved with the baby to Nantucket, leaving him behind to sell the house. He was clinging to the last remains of bachelorhood and was dragging his feet on the sale. When the seller’s agent would show the house, she would dutifully offer apologies for the underwear on the floor, the Chinese takeout on the kitchen counter and for the overall odor of the place. She would throw open the windows hoping to clear the locker-room stink of the place.

At the first walkthrough I was handed a spec sheet and the usual disclaimer form. Everything in the house seemed to lean to the right; I couldn’t stand upright in the “finished” basement; the house had been retro-fitted with high-velocity central air but most of the aluminum foil ductwork was exposed; the washer/dryer was perilously perched on the second floor just promising a flood. But the living room ceiling was planked in knotty pine giving the house a warm, cozy, nautical feel, and it was the cheapest offering in the zip code.

The second time I saw the house, after the windows had been thrown open to air out the place, I was given a revised disclaimer. What had changed? Added were the words: “ We have seen a mouse.” That visit, pulling at the edges of the stained carpet that covered the stairs and floors, I discovered the original pumpkin pine boards – the coziness factor increased exponentially. Offer made; offer accepted; sellers flew in from Nantucket; closing went off without a hitch.

Months later I would notice a fine blue powder dusting my dining room table.

When a small leak in the living room meant removing one or two knotty pine planks from the “charmingly nautical” ceiling, things got interesting. Blue powder, dead mice, skeletons, and droppings rained from the ceiling. Removing the entire ceiling revealed dozens and dozens of mice in various stages of decay. The blue powder was poison, thrown in packets throughout the ceiling. The stink, once attributed to a sweaty athletic seller, was the stench of death.

“We have seen a mouse.” Yeah, thanks for that.