7. Sunday Bloody Sunday
The date was April 29, but it should have been April Fool's Day. . . and we were the fools that initially approached the Betty Crocker Estate with rose-colored glasses that now fogged and wilted by the day.
Benjamin had warned me that things were going to get worse before they could get better. But they were still getting worse, much worse, especially on that April Sunday when we decided to tear down the barn loft.
Located directly above the register area, this sub-ceiling was built of plywood and covered in antique-tin ceiling tiles. It was beautiful from afar, but its dirty little secret was that it doubled as a breeding ground for rats.
Of course we didn’t know any of this until the end of our first month as owners. Despite the number of traps we put around the barn, our rats and mice were fascinated with the birds and bees, populating faster than we could terminate them.
Our first hint of the rat bordello came just minutes before our March antique show began. It was our first event, hosted in partnership with the previous owner. We had officially closed escrow but didn’t have access to our home, which made that first sale beyond chaotic.
As she handed me the computer passwords, I noticed a red liquid dripping from the tin ceiling. This seemed odd since it hadn’t been raining, nor was there paint stored in this loft area where Christmas décor was kept year round. We both scratched our heads in bewilderment and agreed that the show must go on.
It wasn’t until a month later on “loft removal day” that Benjamin and I found ourselves living out "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Approaching the job with caution, Benjamin wore a facemask and insisted anyone close to the scene do the same. Two vendors were onsite, one working on her section and the other on-call to assist where needed.
Benjamin and the two vendors seemed to have it under control, which mentally took me from the rat death chamber to that of chocolate pudding pie. I still don’t know what came over me, but for some odd reason, I thought it an ideal time to surprise Benjamin — and two vendors — with his favorite dessert. We had both been working nonstop, meaning our bonding habits of cooking, traveling, surfing, hiking, and motorbike adventures were all shelved for our daily emergencies.
Meanwhile, Benjamin popped off each ceiling panel, tin-by-tin with a crowbar. As if choked for decades, the barn seemed to breath a little more with the removal of each rusty square. In the midst of the transformation, I heard my iPhone alarm sound, reminding me that my pie was set, chilled, and ready to serve.
With a dollop of cream here, and a sprig of mint there, I placed the finishing touches on my pie and waltzed back to the barn.
“Surprise!” I yelled. “I made you all a chocolate pudding pie from scratch.”
Hanging from the rafters, Benjamin was in survival mode with the two vendors standing below with broom handles poking at the ceiling.
“Get out,” Benjamin hollered toward me. “Get the pie out of the barn! It’s toxic in here.”
I knew I should save the pie, but I was frozen in shock. A rodent carcass had already dropped from the beams, and now they had another rat trapped in the corner panel. Worst of all, they had discovered the origin of the mystery red liquid. It was, in fact, birthing fluid left behind from the tribe of vermin.
Now, with the removal of each tin piece, there remained King of The Rats, a stubborn beast that hopped from one tile to the next until just one panel remained. Benjamin instructed the vendors to corner the rat with broom handles until he could return with his pellet gun to finish the job.
The moment he turned his head however, the King Rat jumped from the ceiling directly onto the shoulders of our dear vendor. It was massive, leaving behind dusty claw marks down her blue blouse. Benjamin screamed, followed by delayed screams of the ladies.
“Chucho! Lola! Get the rat!” Benjamin hollered.
In raced the dogs, chasing the rat from the front of the barn to the back corner section. I was still holding the pie.
Before long, Chucho exited the barn with a rat the size of his little step-sister Lola squirming in his mouth. The interesting takeaway about the horrific ordeal is that this wasn’t particularly a unique occurrence during our first months at the property. In fact, it became almost commonplace. There were days vendors would help me track down odors of decay, or assist in holding up curio cabinets that the dogs had tilted in a desperate attempt to reach their latest hunt. It’s a miracle more dishes didn’t shatter.
It was a season of cleaning, purging, and more cleaning. Every dangling wire and cobweb was dropped from the rafters, and Belinda sorted and labeled every crate, bin, and box. After she sorted the barn contents, she tackled the well house, and then the milk house where the old Miller Dairy Farm used to store their milk. Less than half of the décor was salvageable.
Meanwhile, I tried to keep tracking my hours on side jobs for clients so that money could trickle in for materials, labor, and repairs. Every day hit us with another defeat, taking one step forward and two steps back. I longed for the day those stats would change.
Nothing seemed to be working. I called in repairmen for the washing machine, the dishwasher, the fridge, and even the oven, which was then disconnected for two weeks. Ironically, we were living in Betty Crocker’s former estate with no access to an oven. The baking legend must have been rolling in her grave.
Benjamin took on repairs he could quickly solve like installing a new garbage disposal and changing out a cracked showerhead. My handyman became impressively handier by the day, often not by choice.
Poor Benjamin was pulled in 50 different directions, doing all he could to not crack with the rest of us. I loved him for that, staying calm in the eye of the storm.
By day we would work our full-time jobs, by night we would repair, unpack, and try to smile. We weren’t building a business from the ground up. We were building a business from underground to surface level. The hardest part was making it look good, when we knew deep inside it wasn’t.
Enter social media, something that neither Benjamin nor I were a part of — by choice. Nearly a decade earlier, we deleted all our social media accounts for the simple fact we felt posting our endless international travel and house renovations in Vista had weakened our humility. We no longer wanted to live a filtered and alerted reality, and so, one day we abruptly deleted our accounts and never looked back, that is, until Brick n Barn.
We knew we needed social media since that is how society now communicates. The world of Facebook had drastically changed in the years since we went away, and Instagram was beyond foreign to us both. Hashtags were no more than pound signs on a telephone and tagging people was something we equated with a game of chase.
We don't consider ourselves “old,” but we’re old souls, who would rather talk than text, dance than watch, sing than listen, live than exist, and travel than read about someone else’s journey. Now, as new business owners, we had to go where our audience lived — on social media. Posting is still not our forte, but we’ve made it work, one promotional photo at a time.
Between diving headfirst back into the world of social media, we created potential Brick n Barn logos and multiple comps to figure out who were are, and who we longed to be.
Benjamin ran dozens of ideas by his coworkers, each coming back with a different direction from the person before. So, we did what we do best. We united on our own direction, and ordered stamps, bags, tags, tissue paper, business cards, postcards, and all the other little promotional supplies.
My girlfriend, Rachel, who owns a marketing agency, kindly sat down with the two of us to host a branding workshop. Benjamin and I walked away with our personal branding values.
We wanted our customers to feel welcomed, blessed, untethered, and above all, known and recognized. By the end of the three-hour workshop, Rachel had helped define our demographic, our problems, our solutions, our culture, our product, our experience, and our identity. Getting to that lofty place seemed worlds away.
In the midst of sharing our vision, we did all we could to convince the vendors to hang in there with us, despite the potholes and bumps we encountered by the day. Their lives were in the barn, and for us, the barn was simply a fraction of our horror. The bulk of our pain resided in the house, specifically in the attic.
As we approached our one-month mark, the rat situation was getting under control in the barn, but only seemed to only worsen in the house. That’s when we called in two professional extermination companies; the first told us that in his 10 years in the business, he had never quite witnessed anything so extensive. The second exterminator advised us to immediately vacate the premises for fear we would have permanent respiratory issues. Worst of all, the two estimates — to clear the attic, seal the openings, disinfect the area, and lay new insulation — came in at over $7,000.
This latest news knocked the wind out of us. That night, I phoned my dad and proposed an idea, something I considered absolutely brilliant.
“Hey Dad . . . What do you think about grabbing a couple of hazmat suits and you and I tackle the attic together?”
Next story on "Channeling Betty" coming soon.